Peak(s):  Mount Rainier - 14411
Date Posted:  05/22/2017
Date Climbed:   05/11/2017
Author:  michaelgrundy
Additional Members:   rohit
 Still Winter on Rainier   

It was finally time for Rohit and I to take that big step and move on to mountaineering in another state. Together, we had climbed all the 14ers in Colorado, and now it was time to travel further for our next adventure. We set our sights on Mt. Rainier as it was a great training ground for bigger peaks and also, it has glaciers! We decided to go at the beginning of May for two reasons. First, I was unable to go later in the year; and second, the conditions would be more like our ultimate goal: Denali.

We left our nice warm mountain town (Denver) on Tuesday, May 9th, and headed for the Pacific Northwest. Our flights got in pretty early, so we decided to do a little sightseeing since Rohit had never been to Seattle. We of course, hit most of the touristy spots ‚‘ Pike Place Market, Space Needle, gum wall, etc. The weather in Seattle was great (sunny and 75). We were hopeful that our trip to Rainier would have good weather, but unfortunately, the forecast was something different.

After touring around Seattle, we got some dinner at a local brewery and then drove to our hotel in the suburbs. After repacking our gear in the hotel, we got some sleep, woke up in the morning, and went to Ashford. We were able to take in some sights along the way and before we knew it, we were at the IMG headquarters, waiting to meet our team.

IMG Headquarters. Photo Credit - Rohit

That afternoon, we performed a gear check with our lead guide ‚‘ CJ, and then went to dinner with a couple of our team members. During the gear check, over half of the team was told the puffy jackets that we brought were not going to be good enough. Most of us had brought typical light weight puffy jackets (Mine was a TNF Quince Hooded Jacket) and the guides wanted us to rent giant expedition puffy jackets (like Mountain Hardwear Nillas). I was a little upset because the puffy jacket that I had was fine on all of the winter climbs I have done in Colorado. After a fair amount of debate, we all caved and rented a puffy jacket from IMG. We thought that there would be no way that we would need this giant puffy jacket! After a good meal, good conversation, and a few laughs (mainly about the stupid puffy jackets), we went back to headquarters and fell fast asleep in our tents.

Our tents. Photo Credit - Rohit

The next morning brought some anxiousness. We were all packed up and ready to go. The weather had already started to turn to rain in Ashford, so we knew that we were going to need some serious good luck to be successful. After all of the gear was loaded into the trailer, we all climbed into the van for the short drive in to Rainier National Park.

Loading the gear into the trailer.

The parking lot at Paradise was not what I have seen in other people's pictures. Most of the pictures I have seen on the internet contained green grass, the iconic stairs leading up the trail, and picturesque views of Mount Rainier. We had snow. Lots and lots of snow. The views of Rainier were non-existent. This was going to be interesting.

Selfie at the trailhead. The team is in the background.

Our team of eight clients plus four guides, got their boots on, strapped on their packs, and started to climb out of paradise with our rain jackets on. We were scheduled to take breaks about once an hour on the way up to Camp Muir. The guides set a nice slow pace, taught us the ‚Rest Step', and talked with us as we hiked through the rain.

Starting up the trail. Photo Credit - Rohit

Hiking in the rain.

Our views of the mountain on the hike in.

Things got interesting when we hit our 3rd break, somewhere on the Muir Snowfield. The wind picked up and the rain changed to snow and started falling hard. We all had to throw on our newly rented puffy jackets to keep warm. The next 45 minutes to an hour were spent climbing in a ground blizzard. There was just enough visibility to see the next wand marking the trail and the temperatures dropped. Some of the other climbers were concerned by the wind, but Rohit and I have climbed in this kind of wind before, so we were not worried. By the time we reached Camp Muir, the winds were between 40 and 50 mph and visibility was down to maybe 100 feet. - OK, maybe the big puffy jacket wasn't such a bad idea. We all stayed nice in warm in our giant puffy jackets!

(Sorry, I didn't take any pictures during this portion of the climb.)

During the final push up to Camp Muir, the group became spread out. Rohit and I were half of the four people that stayed in the front of the pack. The other 4 had fallen behind. As our lead guide ‚‘ CJ, brought us in to the IMG/RMI shelter, he radioed the other guides in our group to find out where everyone else was. They were still coming up the snowfield. After 10 minutes or so, 3 more team members showed up. Finally, 25 minutes after the first group made it, we were all back together and safe from the wind.

Rohit was able to take a quick video of the conditions: (The park service installed a fixed line for us to use in order to get to the restroom 20 feet away.)

We all hung out in the shelter for an hour to an hour and a half while the guides started cooking dinner and melting water. Once the guides came to get us, we all went over to the weather port, and had a nice hot meal of burritos. We sat around and talked about the game plan for the next day and before we knew it, we were heading back to the shelter for bed.

Our views on our way to dinner.

After a long night, we were up and ready to receive some training. The game plan for the day was to send two of the four guides up to Ingraham Flats to set up the tents that were torn down ahead of the storm and inspect the conditions while the rest of the team stayed in Camp Muir and work on cramponing, self-arrest, rope team travel, and snow anchor building.

Not a bad place for some training.

The team gearing up for practice in crampons. Photo Credit - Rohit

Rohit enjoying the morning.

Rope team training. The weather turns quickly up there. Photo Credit - Rohit

The weather was surprisingly nice all morning, but as the day drug on, it started to deteriorate. When the guides returned from Ingraham Flats, we had received an updated weather report and it wasn't looking good. It was too late in the day to move up to the Flats so we all decided to sleep in the independent shelter at Camp Muir, and leave early in the morning for our summit attempt.

The guides were supposed to come get us at some point in the middle of the night, but they didn't say when. The guides didn't want us focused on our clocks and instead wanted us to sleep. I had figured that if the guides were going to get us, it would be between 1 and 2 AM. By 1 AM, people started to use the restroom and I figured that I could wait until 2 AM. If they didn't come by then, they weren't going to come. Sure enough, as 2 AM came and I went to the restroom, I was greeted by high winds and tons of snow falling. I knew we weren't going to summit, so I went back to sleep. I slept great for the rest of the night and the guides came and got us around 6 AM.

The new plan was to travel up to camp at Ingraham Flats, repair the camp, and head all the way back down to Paradise. The team ate a quick breakfast, got geared up, and we set out towards Ingraham Flats.

Cowlitz glacier with over a foot of new snow.

The team getting geared up. Photo Credit - Rohit

Starting across the glacier.

The trip up was amazing and we had some of the best weather that we had on the entire trip. By the time we reached the Flats, I had stripped down to just a base layer!

Climbing higher!

The Ingraham Glacier. You can just barely see the high camp in the distance.

The high camp was buried under 2 1/2 feet of new snow! We were all pretty happy that we stayed down at Camp Muir the night before! This was the highest point that we reached on the mountain due to very high risk of avalanches, and we were alright with that. On this trip, the highest we would get was 11,100 ft, well short of the 14,411 ft summit. We had gone through some hell just to get up here and there was nothing that we could do to mitigate the danger. We took a short break, enjoyed the sun while it lasted, and then turned around to descend back to Camp Muir.

Views from Ingraham Flats. (High camp)

Picture from high camp. Photo Credit - Rohit

As we began our descent towards Camp Muir, the weather deteriorated yet again and we lost our views of the mountain. It seems like that was the theme of this trip: bad weather.

Weather starting to come in again. Photo Credit - Rohit

Once back at Camp Muir, we collected our sleeping gear (sleeping bags, sleeping pads, etc), reassembled, and started the trek down to Paradise in freezing fog and then eventually, more snow. Typical. The weather cleared for MAYBE 5 minutes on the way down, and we were blessed with a nice view of the mountain as a parting gift.

Descending the Muir Snowfield... in snow, again. Photo Credit - Rohit

Parting gift. Photo Credit - Rohit

The trip was a success, even if we didn't reach the summit. Rohit and I made some new and awesome friends, we got some glacier travel / rope team experience, and tested ourselves in some of the worst hiking conditions that we have ever been in. And we did all of that without getting hurt. Any day that you can walk off the mountain, is a good day.

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Comments or Questions
Heading there
05/22/2017 15:32
in July. Looking forward to it!

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