Peaks of Life was very excited for the much-anticipated trip up Mt Rainier on July 22nd, 2016! After months of building excitement, training and fundraising, six climbers (Saikat, Olga, Nijay, Scott, Schoban, and Katia) gathered in Seattle, many of whom traveled to Washington specifically for the opportunity to summit Mt Rainier with Peaks of Life. On Thursday afternoon, we met to do gear checks and then enjoyed the perfect pre-mountaineering meal at the Himalayan Sherpa House.
Early morning on Friday, Forrest and Connor met up with the group at Paradise to start the hike up to Camp Muir. Unfortunately, it rainy and wet with low visibility, and Connor and Forrest had to assure everyone that they would have a chance to dry out once they got above the clouds. Due to the number of people heading up the mountain Connor ran ahead of the group to secure us a good site at Camp Muir. After the long and soggy hike up, we arrived at the camp had built and proudly displayed the Peaks of Life banner and some prayer flags. The rest of the time was dedicated to acclimatizing, successfully drying out, and learning how to rope up for glacier travel. On Saturday morning, Forrest and Connor went over crevasse rescue techniques, and everybody had the opportunity to be lowered into a crevasse and then prusik climb back out.
Afterwards, there was time to explore camp Muir and try to relax and nap before it was time to start up the mountain. We were joined by Norm, Amy and Brooke on Saturday afternoon (members of the Peaks of Life team), and Norm was planning to lead one of the rope teams. Amy packed up treats for everyone! It turns out that the Rangers had given out an unheard of number of overnight permits, and there were 212 people up at Muir over the weekend. This made for a crowded camp, long bathroom lines, and the potential for long waits while climbing up the DC route due to bottlenecks. Scott reflected on this part of the trip:
I really appreciated the knowledge, encouragement, and enthusiasm that both Forrest and Connor displayed over the weekend. Being able to go down into a crevasse and climb our way out during our training was a pretty neat experience! I also appreciated when Forrest and Connor briefed us the day before we summited about what to expect, and how important it was for us to start on-time. They were very encouraging, stressing that they were confident in our physical abilities to get to the top, but at the same time, the tone of the brief made me realize that we were embarking on something serious, and that we needed to be diligent about what we were doing.
After a largely unsuccessful attempt to sleep, we were awakened around 9 PM and encouraged to get moving by semi-frequent announcements by Connor about his progress in obtaining coffee and “breakfast”. Everybody managed to eat, get their gear together, strap on crampons, and rope up by 10:30 PM, and we were off! We started out with three rope teams lead by Connor, Forrest, and Norm. It was a little surreal to be starting our trip just as it was truly getting dark, but there was a breathtaking view of stars and a beautiful orange moon as we headed up to the Cathedral gap towards Ingraham Flats. Mostly though, I think everybody was watching where they were walking. As we looked back, we could see a substantial number of other rope teams coming up after us, looking like little pinpricks of light marching slowly but surely through the darkness. At Ingraham Flats, Norm admitted that he wasn’t feeling as strong as he wanted to be, and we rearranged the teams so we had one team of five (The Dream Team) and one team of four (The Summiting Succotash), and Norm headed back down to Muir. We all secretly think the real reason he headed back wasn’t because of the cold he was coming down with, but because he had more important things to do—namely, propose to Amy! Peaks of Life extends heartfelt congratulations to these two on their engagement, and we were stoked to be part of their engagement weekend!
Shortly after Ingraham Flats, we encountered two crevasses that the guides had laid ladders across. This was interesting in the dark, and made communication crucial because we couldn’t tell when the person in front of us had crossed, so we had to be prepared to react in the event that someone slipped on the ladders. We made it across without incident, and continued forward to the Disappointment Cleaver. There wasn’t really any ice, just a steep rock scramble during which we all attempted to perfect taking in and letting out rope coils while maintaining a shorter rope to keep moving continuously as a team and not get caught on the rocks. This was also an interesting opportunity to learn that crampons are pretty effective at getting traction on rocks, although this will dull the crampons and make them less effective on ice.
We took semi-frequent breaks, during which we were instructed to eat whatever we could manage, although we tried to keep the time of these breaks to a minimum. We all started to feel the effects of the altitude, be it difficulty getting enough oxygen or the start of a headache or nausea that can be symptoms of altitude sickness. We struggled to eat and drink as often as possible, and not to tarry in any one location for too long because the cold started to set in and other teams passed us. This meant we were more likely to get caught in the bottlenecks, which were a useful moment for a breather but also made parts of the trip slow and cold. At the top of the Cleaver, we started up a steep set of icy switchbacks and passed through an area with snow pickets to clip in to for protection. Forrest and Connor supplied us with descriptions of what we were passing through, in addition to providing encouragement and expertise.
Time flew by. At times I stared at my feet and just kept in mind what Forrest, Connor, and Norm had told us: keep hydrated, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Parts of the climb are going to hurt. Our bodies are going to complain; this is part of mountaineering. We are going to push our mental and physical limits, and it is all going to be completely worth it…just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and we will get there. This proved to be a fairly accurate description, and suddenly the sky was starting to gain some beautiful red and orange hues, and the it was almost daylight! We stopped 30-45 minutes short of summit crater to watch the sun crest the horizon and watch the spectacular display of colors before making our final push! The wind was mild, and the first rope team arrived at the top about an hour ahead of the second team. We dropped our packs, refueled and hydrated, and tried to fight exhaustion. Normal people sleep during the night; we trekked up a mountain to 14,410 feet. Once the second team arrived, we shed all of our heavy gear and headed across the crater to reach the true summit on the west crater rim. We proudly signed the Record Book, with our names and for Peaks of Life. We truly climbed for more than a summit, as we raised over $11,000 for children’s healthcare!
We of course spent time on the summit celebrating, hugging, taking pictures, and sharing the mission of Peak of Life with curious fellow summiteers. Success! It was truly an amazing feeling to have gotten there, with a remarkable group of fellow climbers. Scott Meier reflects on this huge accomplishment with Peaks of Life:
I really appreciated [Forrest and Connor’s] enthusiasm about the whole climb. I know Forrest has been up to Rainier somewhere between 30-50 times. I can imagine that for him, summiting Rainier really isn't a big deal at all. I really appreciated that he realized how big this was for us though. Most of us had pretty much zero mountaineering experience prior to signing up for this trip, and to us, or at least to me, this was something on my bucket list. It is something that I'll remember forever. I felt like both Forrest and Connor were stoked that our whole group made it to the top, and that their excitement was truly genuine, which was awesome! One of the biggest signs that I enjoyed the trip and the experience in general is that I feel like I've been bitten by the mountaineering bug, and am already starting to think about which mountain I want to do next!
We spent more time than planned up on the summit, but re-arranged our rope teams and headed back down the mountain. This time we could marvel at the glaciers, crevasses, and seracs that we couldn’t see on the way up. The descent presented its own challenges, as Olga Alexeeva describes:
The hardest part of the Mt. Rainier adventure for me was the descent. I remember feeling lightheaded and shaky from nervousness when we approached the first rocky part of the climb down. From my past experience on Mt. Adams, I knew I'd be extremely slow, and I was terrified of having to slow the group down while moving through the treacherous sections of the trail, increasing our risk of being exposed to rock slides. Of course, the possibility of losing my balance and tumbling down a rocky mountainside, dragging everyone else down with me, was lurking in the back of my mind too.
As Connor and Forrest had explained again and again, though, conquering the descent proved to be yet another example of "mind over matter". While I tried to control my mental state, Forrest, who was roped in directly behind me, kept calmly offering suggestions and reassurances. Figure out where you're going to place your foot, and watch it go there. Take your time. If you slip, you're on a short leash - you won't fall. I won't let you.
Soon, my calm and rational mind prevailed. I knew Forrest was keeping an eye on me, ready to jump in if I lost my balance. I began to believe that I was in control of the situation - after several minutes, I hadn't slipped or had any close calls. Finally, I felt capable of coming down the rocks safely.
It might seem surprising, but my favorite part of the trip wasn't reaching the summit. From the outset, I knew that wouldn't be the hardest part for me. Instead, my favorite part was being able to overcome my fear of heights, falling, and rocks - which had resulted in more than one panic attack on my descent down Mt. Adams - and seeing myself climb down a mountain safely and efficiently, without incident. I couldn't have done it without the support of an amazing rope team, and especially Forrest - thank you for helping me overcome my fears and grow both mentally and physically.
The trip down went smoothly for both rope teams, with everybody arriving back at Muir tired and achy, but feeling happy and accomplished. A couple of us packed up camp and headed down immediately, while the rest ate some food and took a quick nap before heading back down the Muir Snowfield to the Skyline trail and then back to Paradise. We spent some time glissading down the snowfield and peppering one another with snowballs, although the paved portion of the Skyline Trail was very unforgiving on sore feet and knees. We were finally able to drop packs, load up the cars, and go in search of another great part of mountaineering…the post-climb burger and beers!
We had a beautiful weather window, a successful summit, and we raised a substantial amount of money to support families in need through Seattle Children’s Hospital! And there was an engagement! Beat that for an incredible weekend.