June 22-24, 2019
Little Tahoma from Ingraham Flats. Picture from a different trip, courtesy of Ian Bellows!
When i was a kid...
my family would always watch those "I shouldn't be alive" shows, where the protagonist gets caught in a scary situation in the outdoors, somehow survives, and tells the harrowing story to the captive audience on the other side of the screen. I hated them. Well at least, they made me hate the idea of being in the backcountry. I remember one day my dad asking, "Hey M, would you ever want to climb that?" Pointing at Rainier. "Uck, no" I responded. I couldn't imagine wanting to leave the security of my home to go sleep in the snow on a mountain that is going to eat you alive in a crevasse or blizzard or snowfall or any other horrific frigid scenario. Why would anyone be dumb enough to do that?! Luckily, I didn't spend too much of my life living in those fears, and by the time I mentioned climbing Rainier to my brother, both of us had found a lot of joy and life in the backcountry. I had attempted the mountain three times now, summiting twice, one of those being a planned overnight on the summit, and now I wanted to spend my fourth attempt with my little brother.
Mt Adams hiding behind the clouds from Pan Point.
Lil' T from halfway up the Cleaver.
Looking down to Ingraham Flats from the Cleaver.
He had never been on a glacier before, but with Dan and I having spent many years volunteering with Cascade Leadership Challenge, a nonprofit that teaches youth to be leaders through high-level outdoor experiences, we felt very confident leading newbies up the mountain. Alden, my brother, had invited his friend Ander along, and I had invited my two friends, Geneva and Meg along. It was set up perfectly so that we could have two rope teams of three, and we would stick together in case one of our teams needed a rescue. Having decided to do the DC Route, we landed on the schedule of spending one day to get up to Muir, spending the next day going over some training and moving camp to the Ingraham Flats, and then the third day would be our summit push. We bracketed in a fourth day as well, just in case we felt like we needed to spend one more night before going down to the car after our summit push. The trip started off with a bang, going up to Muir, and arriving before dinner. We set up our tents and cooked dinner, and then got ready for bed. While my ladies tent was warming up in our sleeping bags, we heard some laughing and ruckus going on over in the boy's tent next to us.
Big crevasses above the Cleaver.
I poked my head out to see Dan emptying Ander's pack into the vestibule, giggling to himself. "What's the matter?" I whispered, as quietly as I could to not wake up the tents around us. Dan came over to me holding a cut in half foam z-lite. "This is all Ander brought for a sleeping pad" he said, waiving the z-lite in the air. "We are emptying out packs and pulling out ropes for him to sleep on." Oops, I laughed. I knew Ander would be fine, if not just a little cold and uncomfortable throughout the night. "Good thing we have a training day to make sure everyone has their gear." I thought. Luckily that was the only gear snaffu, and while Ander said he wasn't necessarily comfortable, he said he wasn't cold. That's a win there!
Anniversary Summit with Dan!
We had fun practicing self-arresting in the snow the day after, practicing ice axe technique, going over roped travel technique, and Dan and I even showed them what a crevasse rescue set up looked like. Though we didn't expect them to remember, it was good for them to get a visual on it, and see the safety nets that we had on the mountain. We moved camp to Ingraham Flats, and had a leisurely dinner. Ingraham Flats is one of my favorite camps on the standard routes of the mountain. It is away from the crowd at Muir, has a great view of Little T, and also has a stunning view of the Ingraham glacier, which at times can look very foreboding and broken up. During dinner, I went over to Dan and gave him a big kiss and hug, "Happy Anniversary!" I said. He looked a little caught off guard, but then I saw it click in his head. We had both forgotten that today this was our one-year anniversary! I had only just remembered, looking down at my watch, but what a fantastic way to spend it - on the very mountain that we got engaged on. Our engagement was an epic story, but one I'll have to tell another time.
We had a nice little accidental anniversary dinner in one of our favorite places, and we all went to bed early to get some good sleep for our 1am wake-up the next morning. That morning, we all got up, groggily ate some food, and geared up for the day of climbing. Like most find on their first major volcano climb - it is hard to make yourself start cold, and almost always there is a break 10-15 minutes into the climb to shed a layer. "Better to break now than let yourself get sweaty" Dan and I reminded our teams as we prodded people to shed at least one layer. The climb went on pretty seamlessly, with the Cleaver itself being only a little rocky, but mostly snow covered. It is always nicer to walk up snow than it is to walk up scree. We made it to 13,000ft in no time, and took a snack break. People were tired, but ultimately in good spirits. Finally, and triumphantly, we crested the ridge to the summit crater, and saw our summit. Spirits were high as we grabbed a snack, stashed our packs, and walked across the flat field that the crater makes up to reach the true summit.
The team! From left to right: Ander, Me, Alden, Geneva, Meg, Daniel. (How'd my little brother get taller than me?!)
Standing on the tallest point in Washington always is a cool experience, and standing there with my little brother was a super fun way to celebrate a summit. Our team took pictures, signed the summit register, and Alden even saw the name of his friend who summited the day before! Congrats Tate! We went back to our packs and geared up again to head down the mountain. Our team slowly meandered down the mountain, going as fast as we could to avoid any icefall later in the day. When we made it down to our camp around 2, we decided we had plenty of time to go back to our car, so we packed everything up, made a quick pot of ramen for everyone to gobble down at Muir, and then marched down to the car, with a beautiful light of dusk starting to light up the Tatoosh range on our way down. Overall a successful climb, and one I am proud to have done with my brother! Now, Anthony, my other brother has got to get out on a volcano with me ;)