Rainier: Climbers in the Mist

17 Jun 1996 - by Debbie Benham

Wherever you go, whatever peak you climb, it's clear to me that mother nature rules! A storm front had moved in on Mt. Rainier when we arrived and moved out when we left. While we did not summit, visions of headwalls, icefalls, seracs, and deep crevasses linger in my mind.

Our group included: Kelly Maas, Paul Ward-Dolkas, Will Hirst, and myself, Debbie Benham. Greg McDonnell and his son, Sean, joined us for the hike up to Camp Muir. At a first sighting of Rainier from above, I was awestruck with its girth and massive glaciation. At last ready on Sunday, we headed up to Camp Muir, a sheltered plateau at 10,000 feet and basecamp to the "tourist route" of the Ingraham Glacier. It was quite a sight to see groups of at least 25 following the Rainier Mountaineering Guide.

Kelly was the first to Camp Muir and saved us a spot at the public hut which saved us the work of putting up tents. As we were preparing dinner, the National Park Ranger came in to get our names and numbers, as well as tell us the weather forecast - bleak - "Storm coming in. You may want to wait it out." We checked at midnight (clear); at 1:30am (windy); and again at 3:20am (howling). I decided to wait. We rolled out of our sleeping bags about 8 am, and looked outside. It was cold, and bright with wind blowing clouds up and down the glacier. After some discussion, we decided to rope up, head up and see what we could see.

Paul lead the way up the Ingraham Glacier direct route. It was fairly straight-forward as the Rainier Mountaineering Guides had flagged and pounded the trail. As such, however, it was "dicey" in spots, especially when you had to walk up and over a gapping crevasse. This was my first time on a roped team and I found I had to pay attention to the rope, watch where I put my cramponed-booted feet, and, simultaneously, look at the beauty around me. What a time - exciting, scarey and wonderful. At 12,760 feet, we stopped between and above Disappointment Cleaver and Gibraltar Rock. Tired, with more and more snow coming down, we headed back to camp.

On our descent, Tuesday, we awoke to a crystal clear morning! We saw spindrift on the high ridges above and socked-in, cloud cover below us. Mt. Adams rose above the clouds and we could have walked to his summit on that billowy carpet! At 9,000 feet, we hit white-out conditions. With Will as our prow, we took a bearing and steered our way to the trailhead at Paradise.

A thank you to all in our group for your experience and knowledge of glacier travel, and, for a wonderful trip!


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