Mt. Rainier

18 Jul 1997 - by Mike Rinaldi

On July 18th Dewey DuMond, Jimothy Fahrni, Max Nachury and myself (Mike Rinaldi) left the Bay Area for a two day summit attempt of Mt. Rainier (14,411'). Rich Calliger was also scheduled to come along on this trip but had to cancel due to unforeseen business responsibilities. Our route was the normal Disappointment Cleaver. Jim, Max, and myself flew from SFO to SEATAC while Dewey flew from SJO. The trip started on a slight negative note when Dewey missed his flight from SJO, rebooked and arrived 3.5 hrs later than anticipated. We spent the time doing the only sensible thing one can do at any airport, namely, eating and drinking.

Once Dewey arrived we quickly packed into our Subaru Legacy rental (drives like a boat when loaded with 4 + gear) and headed off to Seattle for a quick last minute gear run at REI. We were all very impressed with the size, design, and incredible quantity of gear at this branch of REI. After spending way too much time (which almost came back to haunt us) salivating at all the great stuff we sped to Mt. Rainer NP. Arriving at 6pm we moved into our shoebox sized room at the Paradise Inn Lodge. Having arrived after 6PM we missed the opportunely to purchase climbing permits for the next day. The following morning we leisurely had breakfast at the Inn and waited for the climbing kiosk to open at 8AM. As it happened the weather for this weekends climb could not have been better. Blue skies to rival any Sierra summer day and no sign of any impending precipitation. Also we had a full moon to light the early morning start. Upon our arrival at the kiosk we heard the news that all permits had been assigned and absolutely nothing was left. Our hearts could be heard crumbling and cracking much like the Nisqualy Glacier high above us. We just stared at each other with a somewhat incredulous gaze. I was already thinking about abandoning Rainier altogether and heading North to Mt. Baker but thanks to Dewey's faith and stubbornness we just hung around the kiosk for another 20 minutes in hopes something would open up or someone would cancel. We were fortunate to wait since the rangers had miscounted the number of people assigned to camp on the Muir snowfield. We were the last party to be issued permits for that day!! With newly found energy we started our slog up to our camp at the 9300' level on the Muir snowfield. After a leisurely afternoon of sunbathing and napping we ate dinner and retired to a 4 hour attempt at sleeping. Since we didn't get to camp at Muir Camp we decided to get up at 11pm and start our hike by midnight. The extra hour would allow us to get to the Cleaver before the hordes ahead of us. The best laid plans....

When we arrived at the cleaver under spectacular full moon conditions we were surprised to see that a very long line of roped climbers were already snaking ahead of us. Their headlamps might of been a good advertisement for Bush's "Thousand points of Light". It was surreal to see the moonlit landscape with a magically-lighted centipede snaking up to the top of the cleaver.

At this point I started thinking that I might not be able to finish the climb since I was in terrible pain from my Asolo AFS guide boots. They seemed to be rubbing my heels raw and it was difficult to continue the hike. I popped 3 Advils and after a 20 minute pause started again. Thank God for pain killers. The pain turned to discomfort and I was able to continue.

We soon hit the literal traffic jam up the cleaver. This incredibly slow, sluggish, annoying, energy zapping pace lasted for most of the way up to the summit. Because of the huge number of roped climbers on the route it took us 7 hours to summit after leaving Ingraham flats at 2AM. We finally summited at 9AM. The consolation of the long slow slog was that we were able to witness one of the most beautiful sunrises I've ever seen. The Ingraham Glacier was spectacular. As were all the other glaciers along the route. Tension did rise among the climbers many times as inexperienced people would stop at places causing the folks behind to stop under dangerous areas where rock or icefall was a very serious concern. Later in the morning irate and impatient climbers would also try to snake around slower groups sometimes causing a mess with the ropes. When we reached the crater we were exhausted. I believe most of the exhaustion came from having to endure the deadly boring slow pace due to the many climbers on the route. At the crater rim a quick hike (sans ropes, crampons and pack) across the crater to the summit completed our summit drive. We were treated to fantastic clear 360 degrees view around us. Our moods slowly started to change from that of annoyance and psychological weariness to the beginnings of exhilaration at summiting one of the great peaks in North America. We spent about an hour in the summit area and then started the slog back down to our camp on the Muir snowfield 5000' feet below us. On the way down we witnessed two avalanches and many many rockfalls. One avalanche happened above two roped climbers who were also descending. They later said that they thought we were joking when we yelled, "Avalanche" from below. Luckily for them the crevasses above them swallowed all of the debris. Back at camp we melted snow, drank and packed for our descent. The drive and flight home was uneventful other than Max's iceaxe punching a hole into his duffle bag causing the airlines to hold his duffle and ship it on a later flight!!!

All in all it was a fantastic trip. This is the second year in a row that the Cascades have given us spectacular weather on the weekend of 7/18. Last year, Dewey, Brian Higgins, and myself climbed Mts. Hood, Adams, and St. Helens on three consecutive days of equally fantastic weather. Next year we're hoping to test the July 18th good weather sucker hole again when we attempt Mt. Baker in the North Cascades.

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