By: Ron Hudson
I took advantage of a work-related trip to the Seattle area and brought along my mountain gear for this 14,4 10' snow clad majestic peak. Friday night I met Cathy Reynolds at Sea-Tac airport and we drove about two hours to the mountains. There are some Forest Service roads just outside the National Park, so we didn't have to pay for a campground. Camped, then left the spot early Saturday and were at the Paradise Ranger Station when it opened at 6:30 to get the climbing permit. Then packed up and hiked the 4500' gain to Muir Camp at 10,000'. Although it had been hot (90) the previous week in Seattle, a weather change was forecast, even rain possible Sunday. It was 100 degrees in British Columbia (Douglas Lake) where I did a 24-hour orienteering event 10 days before. Also, there had been little or no snow on Rainier since June, so crevasses were open and the lower glaciers had hard ice. Little opportunity to do one of the less popular routes without being involved in some serious technical ice. And, with a two person rope team it's best to be on a route with others nearby if one of us should fall in a crevasse. We were prepared with the right gear, though, with prussiks, slings, carabiners, pulleys, ice screw, deadman, end bights of rope, etc.
We set up the tent, along with a dozen or so other tent parties (a number were just backpackers). There were 15 or so in the climbers' hut, and the RMI hut had its daily 25 or so clients. The word was to start at midnight or before to avoid soft snow and rockfall hazard, and many were preparing for that. However, people were coming and going throughout the afternoon across the Cowlitz Glacier next to camp. Also, the freezing level was to be at about 9000' rather than the 12-14K feet during the heat wave. So, we felt we could get some sleep and leave 2-3 AM or so. Got awaked by a number leaving at I I PM, then at I AM the RMI group was getting ready. We got suited up and left at 2AM; we were the last ones to leave Camp Muir. Did the traverse across the Cowlitz and up a rocky trail to Cathedral Gap. Left our crampons on for the rock the others ahead did, and left them on the entire climb. Also stayed roped together the whole climb; although we carried the rope in loose coils when we were on the rocky sections.
We could see in the waning moonlight there was a group camped (bivouaced) in the Ingraham Flats area which has campsite about 1000' higher than Camp Muir. Next we caught up with the RMI group when the trail went below the Ingraham Headwall; also about six climbers had turned back. Then another rocky trail went up Dissapointment Cleaver, that we followed, about 1000' gain. There was some rockfall hazard here, so groups had to keep aware of others above and wait to go at the right time. Pretty different from the other 3 times I climbed Ranier; all three it had snowed about a foot the day before, and new trail had to be broken. In 198 1, we couldn't tell there was rock underneath while going up the Cleaver. In 1992 1 didn't find the new-snow-covered route on the Cleaver, so we 3 followed the steps of one group in front of us and zig-zagged around crevasses up the Ingraham Headwall direct.
From the top of the rocky Dissapointment Cleaver the route traversed back left most of the way toward the top of Nisqually Cleaver. This way, difficulties of surmounting a number of ice cliffs were avoided. There were a couple spots with short ladders and gaping crevasses next to the trail, but they were marked. RMI must have loved the conditions; a good safe well-beaten path that a thousand or so people had already used. Very straightforward (easy routefinding) for me this time, where two years ago (on the Emmons Glacier route) I had to find my own route with no climbers ahead, breaking trail through 12-18" of new snow.
At the west end of the ice cliffs we proceeded upward toward the summit. The early climbers were coming down now and passed us; also we passed by the resting RMI group. On this south ridge, though, we got the fury of the cold wind. I didn't bring my warmest clothes or heavy boots for the summer climb. But the wind was 20-30 mph and temperature in the mid 20's. Fingers and toes were cold but manageable as long as we kept moving. I felt a bit weak and disoriented for a short while; but some food seemed to cure it. Cathy was a bit cold too, but had no problem except earlier with headlamp batteries that had to be changed. The icy wind was also a stimulus to push on quickly to the summit. Finally at the summit crater, and then to its far side and 200' higher to the true summit. Right at the summit it was not easy to stand up-wind about 50 mph. After a couple quick photos we descended back to the crater. Fortunately, we were in the worst wind for only a few minutes since it was from the northwest and the crater is southeast, shielding from wind. Interesting that only a few bothered to brave the summit fury as we did. Many of the RMI group didn't bother to cross the crater. We got to the summit at 9AM.
Then we went fast down the well-worn trail that I called the "mountain bike path" to warmer, less windier, and denser air. We hung out above the Cleaver rock and checked with the RMI guides if they wanted us to move a certain way to avoid rockfall. We ended up among their teams to minimize danger to them and to us. The lead guide forged a circuitous route and had us all move quickly among the room-size ice cubes and seracs of the lower Ingraham Headwall. I believe that is where I I people lost their lives 10 years or so ago when a serac broke loose above an RMI party eating their lunch.
It was hot in the sun then, but for only a short while as the clouds engulfed us just below Ingraham Flats. It even was snowing a bit! No more clear scenery back to the camp! Finally we got to the tent where things were warm and dry inside. So, 7 hours up and 5 hours down. Since we were not very tired, we could have gone back down the mountain then, but why descend into the clouds and rain when it was better weather at 10,000'?. It cleared up at Camp Muir and the wind stopped. So we ate, talked with others and caught up on sleep. We could see Adams, Hood, St Helens and other volcanoes in the distance. Went down Sunday morning; had to put on clothes as we descended into the gloomy cloud layer. Kind of a whiteout through much of the cloud layer with about 200' visibility. Also I slipped a bit on the hard Muir snowfield; I need new lugs on my boots. Not sunny back at Paradise, but the clouds were overhead. Drove back through traffic and left Sea-Tac in the evening.
So, all in all an enjoyable climb with some challenge to it in the wind. But no belaying or crevasse jumping as I did my previous two times, and there was plenty of ice and rock for scenery.
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