July 5, 2019
We’re climbing Mt. Rainier today. A 4:30am wake up call and we made our way toward the Glacier Basin trailhead to the start of the Emmons-Winthrop route. We checked in with the rangers and began a gorgeous hike to the base of the Inter Glacier. Wildflowers colored the landscape and the scent of conifers filled the air.
Having weight on my shoulders felt amazing! Even with a pack full of camping gear, mountaineering gear, and three days of food, I felt strong on the uphill. We reached snow at the edge of the Inter Glacier and threw our boots on. Once the grade of the snow steepened to about 25 degrees, we tied into a rope and started up 3500 feet of snowy uphill after the 1500 feet of trail elevation. While Chris and Tom were cursing the constant uphill, I was beyond excited to be walking uphill on steep snow. My legs felt strong and my breath was steady. This was nothing compared to cycling up Washington Pass.
The weather today was forecasted to be partly cloudy, but we watched a linticular cloud form over the summit. Mt. Rainier has a reputation of making its own weather and we were watching that firsthand. In front of us, the heavens was dancing. Clouds were spilling into valleys, launching off ridges, and exploding like fireworks. At one point, a cloud formed a lobster claw shape and came down on us, clamping down. I’d never seen the sky give such a show before.
We kept slogging uphill until we reached Curtis Ridge. Strong wind gusts knocked me over and we hastily put on rain pants and jackets as snow whipped in our faces. We unroped and found a descent on a loose slope to the other side of the ridge. The Emmons Glacier came into view and my eyes widened. The Emmons is very broken and gaping crevasses stretch down into blackness. I held my breath as we delicately tiptoed on the scree right above a crevasse. Now on the Emmons, we roped up again and followed a bootpack around man-eating crevasses. Camp Schurman came into view and we leveled out a patch of snow for our tents, rehydrated dinner, and collapsed into our sleeping bags.
July 6, 2019
Today, we rested. I woke up past nine and stretched in the tent, right ankle a little sore from being trapped in a stiff boot all day yesterday. From camp, we looked down at a blanket of clouds and basked in sunshine. It was a different world up here. Curtis Ridge had been shedding rockfall the size of cars periodically and I’m glad our route and camp was out of the way.
This is the first day in a while that I’ve had the chance to lounge around and relax. I chatted with my partners, chatted with other groups, and chatted with the ranger. The ranger gave me a lesson in reading complex weather charts and it’s looking like tomorrow will be a gorgeous day on the mountain. Chris, Tom, and I practiced crevasse rescue. I hope the mountain grants us safe passage on its snow bridges tomorrow. We leave at 3am to start the slog to the top of the mountain.
July 7, 2019
My 2:30am alarm couldn’t come fast enough. The air was humid and below freezing. I gathered the willpower to get out of my warm cocoon. I tied into the middle of the rope and off we went! My body warmed up quickly and I tried wiggling my toes to warm them up. The cloud bank was still floating below us and there was a faint smear of orange in the horizon. The snow sparkled in the beam of my headlamp. We silently followed a bootpack up the mountain and the crunch of crampons on stiff snow put me into a rhythm.
Soon we were crossing snow bridges. I spotted a hole in a bridge, probably from where someone’s leg plunged through yesterday afternoon when temperatures softened the snow. I was thankful we had cold temperatures to refreeze them. We kept crossing bridges, some thinner than others. We stopped to rest just as the glowing magenta sun began floating up through the clouds. We threw parkas on and watched the sunrise from 10,600 feet. The landscaped was tinted pink with alpenglow and the snow sparkled like diamonds. Clouds flowed over the ridges below us like big waves. If there’s a heaven, I can only imagine that it looks like this. No worries about work, the city, or personal problems. It was just me, my partners, and the mountain.
Tom wanted to descend, so we started making our way back to camp. Back at camp we made coffee, sat in the sun, and packed up camp.
We started making our way down to Curtis Ridge at 9 am via the Emmons and temperatures were alarmingly warm. Not great for the snow bridges. We came upon a bridge with two boot holes that had clearly plunged through today. Chris walked over the bridge and I was ready to arrest a fall. The bridge held. Next, I tiptoed over the thickest part of the bridge. It held. Tom followed. It held. Phew! A few more soft bridges and we were at the base of Curtis Ridge. We unroped for the loose scramble and took off crampons. Going up the talus was easier than going down two days ago.
The ridge took us to the top of the Inter Glacier and we roped up again. The snow here was soft and we plunge stepped down to about 8200’, where crevasses are no longer a worry. We were all pretty excited to unrope and glissade the rest of the way down the glacier. I took my harness off and sat down in the glissade track. The three of us giggled and slid down 3000’ feet of mountain in a matter of minutes.
The rest of the way down was a lovely trail lined with wildflowers, and soon we were back at the car with beers in hand, giddy to be back in the warmth of summer. We dried gear in the parking lot, dropped Tom’s rental gear back in town, and the guys dropped me off in Yakima. I grabbed an Uber to Leavenworth, not too far from where I stopped cycling.