Climbing Mt. Rainier

You need three things to climb Mt. Rainier:

1. you have to be in the best shape of your life

2. you have to have good weather. If the weather is bad or marginal you might as well stay home and clean the garage.

3. You have to be healthy. No hint of a cold, sore throat, recent cold, of any illness in any group member, or you might as well stay home.

When I graduated from college (1972) I packed up all my stuff in my 1963 Ford Falcon and headed to Washington state. I had $400, which was a bigger stash then than it is now, a big bag of soy beans, climbing and backpacking gear, books and a bike. I headed for Washington, stopping long enough at Lake Tahoe to ride around the lake as a day ride, and hiking for a week in the Immigrant Wilderness. In Washington I went first to Mt Rainier, like on the first day. I stayed at a campground in the park, and set up my tent for sleeping. The second day I rode my bike to the lodge at Paradise and scoped out the facilities. The third day I packed up my pack and headed to Camp Muir at 10.000', with rope, crampons, ice axe, and my heavy boots. I was in pretty good shape, having backpacked for a few weeks in the Sierra and for a week around Lake Tahoe. 

The routine is to get up at 2AM for the trip to the summit, so you could get back down before the ice melted in the cliffs, and lots of rocks started coming loose over the climbing route. Below: Sunrise with the Stuart Range to the left center. 

There was a ranger present at Camp Muir, and he enforced the rule that from Camp Muir to the top one had to have a roped in partner. I walked around saying "single" like one does at a ski lift, and I found a guy who wanted to go to the top but didn't have a partner. We got up at 2, and headed up, me in very inadequate clothes, but we had sufficient gear. I had done some climbing in the Sierra Nevada, knew how to set a boot ax belay and how to self arrest with the ice ax. But the weather in the Sierra was very mild, and we could count on mild weather, and light clothes would suffice. The day was sunny, and we cruised to the top, me pulling the other guy all the way up. We got back down by noon, and I thought this was a great adventure. Below: the view looking down at the Emmons Glacier from above  Dissapointment Cleaver, at about 12,000'

The SECOND time I climbed Rainier (1973) was the next year, when Marc Dilley, my buddy from college, came up with his Dad and his Dad's friend. Marc's father signed us up for a guided climb, thank you very much, and I got to see how the guides did things. We had some ice ax practice, and learned their way of tying into the rope, and the next day we headed up, first to Camp Muir and then at 2AM to the summit. The weather was not good, with strong winds and stormy clouds. 

Still unprepared in terms of clothes, I had a poncho for rain protection, cotton jeans, ski gloves, and a wind breaker. We headed at a good pace, and we quickly saw that if one couldn't keep up with the pace of the group, they untied you from the rope, and left you, to be picked up by the team on the way down. We got to within a few hundred feet of the top and the winds and clouds were screaming over the top, and the day was dark and stormy, the wind blowing snow and ice bits. The guides declared that this was close enough and we turned back. On the way down I felt a tug on my rope, looked over my shoulder and saw my friend Marc flying over me. He was flying like Superman, but came down with a crash in the rubble filled gully in front of me. He had been picked up by a strong gust of wind and just flung like a rag doll. He wasn't hurt and we continued on. The wind was driving ice and moisture into my clothes and my cotton pants got wet, then froze. Every time I moved my legs the frozen pants pulled the hair off my legs, and I was getting cold and stiff. 

At camp Muir the visibility was about zero, and we wanted to get down out of the storm. The wind was driving ice pieces into our eyes, so you could not keep them open. One guy had ski goggles, and I had a compass. We tied the guy with goggles into the end of the rope, gave him my compass and showed him how to walk following a compass bearing that would take us to the lodge. We all grabbed the rope, closed our eyes, and hung on for the several hours walk down the snow fields. Miraculously, we hit the lodge and were glad to get the wet clothes off and get some warm food. 

The third time I climbed Mt. Rainier was a few years later with my brother Mike and friend Ken Primmer. The first two pictures in this blog post are from that sunny trip, which was gorgeous like my first trip. After the second Rainier trip I decided to get serious about rain and weather gear for the northwest, and I had wool pants, a ventile anorak, (this was the days before Goretex), and polypro or nylon clothing.