Conquering a giant
October 4, 2007
The desire to climb Mount Rainier. Where does this come from?
I think for the millions of people who live in Washington, just seeing the mountain is enough. It rises rebelliously above the skyline and hopelessly dominates the surrounding landscape. From Tacoma or Seattle, the sight is slightly hard to believe.
This is where you get the absolute best views of the entire mountain. You can see it rise more than 10,000 feet above anything else in the area, and it genuinely draws awe. People outside of Washington may have seen a picture or heard about its beauty. Or maybe they read that it’s known as the toughest endurance climb in the lower 48.
All these sirens call people to the mountain, and they come in droves. Many people have the desire but don’t have experience climbing on glaciers, in high altitudes or with serious exposure.
Climbing Rainier isn’t technical, but you need to know your crevasse rescue systems and have solid mountain knowledge or you can get into trouble fast.
Given all these factors, the best thing to do is hire a guide service.
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Guide services on Rainier climb the mountain every day, so they always know the latest route conditions and have extensive experience navigating the mountain.
Booking a guide service and a date is the first step. Next is training, and here in the Tahoe area, sites should be easy to find.
The final step is showing up and going through with the three-day climb.
Once at Rainier, you’ll spend your first day in an intensive climbing school learning techniques that will come in handy for the walk up the Muir snowfield on Day 1 of the climb.
The next morning you’ll be packed and ready to go, and fired up!
Everyone will head up to Paradise ” the starting point on the south side of the mountain at about 5,400 feet ” together in big shuttles. The day will consist of five hours of hiking, covering 4.4 miles and 4,600 feet up to Camp Muir.
Groups hike for one hour, then rest for 15 minutes. This cycle of hiking and resting will be repeated four times until Camp Muir is reached, and again on the upper mountain.
This first day of hiking will begin on a trail that sends you through a gauntlet of unbelievably varied and beautiful flowers such as the Magenta Paintbrush and Jeffery’s Shooting Star.
Soon you’ll rise up onto the snow and begin to get spectacular views of the Tattoosh Range, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood and, on a clear day, Mount Jefferson in central Oregon.
After about five hours you’ll be happy to have arrived at Camp Muir, where you’ll choose your bunk inside the hut and get settled in. Bedtime is early, around 6 p.m., because it is likely that you’ll be awakened for the climb around midnight!
Once roped up the following morning you’ll cross the Cowlitz Glacier to Cathedral Gap, which is all rock. This provides difficulty for some, as walking in crampons on rock is a bit interesting.
Once through the Gap you reach the Ingraham Glacier at 11,000 feet, and a place called the Ingraham Flats.
From the Flats you get onto the Disappointment Cleaver, a tricky section that involves a traverse and some scrambling up a rocky ridge. This part of the climb has more penalty than other areas, thus everyone needs to be “on it.”
After taking a break at the top of the 12,400-foot Cleaver, the group will traverse north out to the shoulder of the Emmons Glacier.
The route goes pretty much straight up from the Emmons shoulder, with switchbacks to avoid being too steep a trail. Somewhere around 13,500 feet is the last break before the summit. This is usually around where the sun rises, which often takes more than an hour to develop. But it can be spectacular!
Sunrises at this elevation regularly ooze strange liquid reds and oranges so deep in color that they seem to morph and swim with each other as they silhouette jagged mountains on the horizon.
After the sun rises, the views become fantastic as you can see all the glaciers of Rainier and all the mountains and valleys in every direction.
This last push to the summit is a bit less steep, and you’ll be traversing back to the south to get the crater rim.
On the summit of Rainier, at 14,411 feet, you’ll be stoked to be on top and to have a rest break.
Congratulations. You have made it half way.
This is a great place for photos, smiles and to begin thinking about the descent. The guides will remind you to keep your game face on for the long descent back to Camp Muir.
Once back at the parking lot, you won’t be able to believe that you were 9,000 feet up on top of that ominous peak that morning! It’s really a helluva feeling and something I’d recommend to anyone who loves a challenge.
Here’s where flip flops are worth their weight in gold. All you can logically think of is pizza and beer.
Luckily, there is plenty of that where you are headed …. back into the real world.
Part-time Tahoe resident Miles Clark might be best known around Tahoe for his appearances in local production company Adventure Film Works’ series of ski films.
The 29-year-old Clark regularly spends winters in Tahoe filming with AFW, skiing crazy lines at Squaw Valley, and generally doing all he can to convey his passion for skiing and mountaineering to everybody he runs into.
In years past, Clark has spent his summers in the Bay Area, working to save enough money to live the ski bum lifestyle in Tahoe during the winter. But this past summer, Clark headed north to Washington State to work as a guide with Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., helping guide their clients to the summit of Mount Rainier.
Soon Clark will return to the Tahoe area to continue to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional freeskier. He was recently selected to be a member of the Squaw Valley Freeride Team ” an elite group of Squaw skiers and snowboarders who help represent the mountain and impress the masses.
Look for Clark in this year’s Adventure Film Works documentary-style ski movie, “Weather We Change,” and on the mountain at Squaw Valley every powder day.