Not Squally over the Nisqually Glacier
(Mt Rainier, 14411 ft)

4 Sep 1997 - by Arun Mahajan

On the 4th of Sept, on a non-PCS trip, two PCS'ers, Scott Kreider and I (Arun Mahajan) attempted Mt Rainier in Washington state. We were a part of a group of climbers participating in a seminar conducted by Rainier Mountainieering Inc (RMI).

On 1st Sept, with heavy packs, the caravan of climbers participating in this seminar slowly made it's way on trail past the flower canopied meadows around Paradise (5450 ft) and then on snow past wands that mark a beaten path to Camp Muir at 10080 ft in about 5 hours, gaining nearly 4600 ft in the process. We had a great view of the Nisqually Glacier and it's ice fall on the way up. The summit continued to be socked in on an otherwise clear day at the lower elevations.

Our group occupied the RMI bunkhouse on the ridge above the Muir snowfield. The next 3 days were spent in instruction and practice of various snow and ice techniques on the Cowlitz Glacier that is on the right (east) of the Muir snowfields and Camp Muir. This large glacier is not very severely fractured this year so it was very good to practice on. A certain roped travel instructional over this glacier took us to a saddle between the Cathedral Rocks and I stared in horror at the Ingraham Glacier that we were supposed to navigate the next day for the summit attempt. It is extensively crevassed by now and the madly arranged seracs seemed ready to topple over any instant.

A 4.30 am start on the morning of the 4th of Sept in multiple roped teams under the light of the headlamps got us going and we looked like fireflies as we traversed north and north-east over most of the crevasses on mild slopes to Cathedral Gap (10500 ft). Vary of rock falls in this region, we had donned our helmets. This is the middle of 3 gaps on the Cathedral Rocks. By going over mixed snow and scree we gained the ridge and were on the Ingraham Flats. The distant glow behind Little Tahoma Peak in the east was the sun working it's way up over the low clouds but it was still cold as we took a break and huddled in our down parkas. As usual, in this much cold, the energy bars that I had packed seemed to use up more energy to chew that they probably gave.

The sky was clear of the usual clouds as we started yet another eastward traverse to the base of the Disappointment Cleaver which is a rocky ridge and footing is a little tricky here. The rocks are very loose and can break off in huge chunks for no apparent reason and we carefully climbed up the spine of this cleaver spacing the rope teams so that none was in the direct rockfall path of the other, should some rocks get dislodged. As we topped the cleaver, the sun came up and lit up the Ingraham Glacier in a soft glow that took our breaths away. The rays of the sun filtering thru the jumble of seracs on the ridge is quite a sight. Our steep route over this spine soon dropped us to our next rest stop at the top of the cleaver (12400 ft), still halfway away.

The group pace was slow and the path we choose was steep and relentlessly uphill (right of the Ingraham Headwall) and we went past the point where the Emmons Glacier peels away. After the next break at around 9am we started for the final section, now travelling north and northwest towards the summit crater rim.

Finally, at 10.45 am we topped off at the west rim of the crater and then dropped down on the crater floor. To some people in the group, this was the end of the climbing and there was the usual celebrating, but I and most of the others dropped packs and walked the quarter mile to the other end, almost along the diameter of this huge tilted-bowl shaped crater to the ridge towards the true summit, Columbia Crest. Halfway up this final summit ridge, under some rocks that are curiously bereft of snow, lies the summit register where we too wrote our names and then hurriedly ascended the true summit. There were again sounds of much celebrating and backslapping amidst the cold winds that tore at our wind shells. All except Scott and I and four others, choose to turn around and walk across the crater floor, back to the main group. We decided to walk the crater rim to meet the group. It was an unforgettable 30 mins of airy walking. The cold air smarted our faces and eyes as we stumbled over the rocky rim, poking with axes for holes. We saw a cave, but didnt go down to explore. There is a system of caves and tunnels at the summit and atleast one lake/pool underneath but we lacked the time to explore. Apparently, there is even the debris of a small airplane that had crashed on top, years ago, but looking for that too is reserved for a later summit attempt. We could see Adams and Hood and Glacier Peak and the chopped off St Helens on this clear day.

At 12, we roped up again and headed down. Around 3.30, 11 hours after, we were back to Camp Muir in an incident free down climb. We did hear some rock fall in the Gibraltar Rock area, but none of that came our way.

As soon as we reached Camp Muir, I dropped pack/axe/crampons and wearing my sneakers went to the top of Muir Peak. It is a very easy scramble to the top, and there is a small metal plaque up there, on the side of a rock, a memorial placed by the Diepenbrock family to Jamie Diepenbrock and Willi Unsoeld who were tragically killed in a slab avalanche at nearby Cadaver Gap almost 20 years ago.

The RMI guides that were with us were in the true tradition of the great Himalayan climbers that have come from the American North West. Some of our guides had summitted Everest/Kanchenjunga/Cho Oyu and Shish Pangma, besides having climbed McKinley and Vinsson and in the Andes and the Alps and so the quality of their instruction was excellent and it was quite an honour and privilege to have had the opportunity to climb with them on Mt Rainier, the noble mountain that is their playground.

On the 5th of Sept, happy that we had done the summit, and also smelling kind of rich, we all got down to Paradise in under 2.5 hours. Most members of the group then repaired to bar in the nearby lodge and yet again there was much rejoicing as beer flowed rather liberally.

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