Gettin’ High in Washington – The Climb Part One


Thursday at 9AM. It’s go time. Chris and I are in a van with six strangers making nervous small talk. Since leaving Seattle, Mount Rainier has dominated our view, and the longer we drive, the bigger the mountain gets.

As we were on final approach to Seattle the day before, I was pretty excited to get a glimpse of Mt. Rainier from the plane. I snapped a quick photo as we flew by.

“Look! Mt. Rainier!” I said with a measure of relief to my seatmate. “Doesn’t look too bad!” He ignored me completely.

“Actually, it looks a bit, I dunno… small.” I blathered on as he continued to ignore me, “I’m climbing that tomorrow. I got this.”

A few minutes later, my smirking seatmate tapped me on the shoulder.

“Uhh, hate to say it, but you were looking at Mount Adams earlier. That’s Mount Rainier right there, son.”

“Oh. Shit.”

The van stops and four guides jump in. Four guides for seven people? And, one of them looks to be… a Sherpa? Uh oh. This might be more than I bargained for. Our climbing team consists of an Ironman triathlete, an X-ray tech, a skyscraper engineer, a banking executive, a foreign exchange trader and two sketchy looking WWE TV crew guys. Awkwardly, I wonder if we have the right stuff to make it to the top.

Our guides include Craig, who, besides having summited Mt. Everest twice also has 410 summits of Mt. Rainier under his belt; Devon who has a wicked gleam in his eye and over forty summits of Mt. Rainer to his credit; Tom from England with his self-described ‘funny accent’ and a bunch of first ascents; and finally, with a beaming smile, and a Mt. Everest summit on his resume as well, Jangbu Sherpa.

There was no doubt. Our guides are all rock stars. I hope my training was enough to keep me from being “that guy.”

Let’s Climb!

After an eye-opening lesson on how to properly pack a backpack, we shoulder our loads and hit the trail. That’s right, I didn’t even know how to load a backpack right. What am I doing here? Craig tells us that a large part of being a mountaineer is looking like a mountaineer, and his tips help me at least look the part.

Chris on the Climb

The start of the climb is easy. We follow a well-defined, gently sloping path as it meanders by fields and streams. A couple of goofy marmots mess around on some rocks; everyone gawks at this wildlife sighting.

Marmot on Rock

We march on in single file. Soon we’re in the snow. Off come the comfy shoes, on go the double plastic mountaineering boots. For the next two days snow is where we will remain.

Guide Jangbu Sherpa – No Sweat

We settled into a pattern fairly quickly. Climb when told to climb, stop when told to stop. When you stop, sit on your pack, put on a warmer jacket to retain body heat, then eat and drink something. The guides run the show, but they have the big picture in mind. It’s pretty simple. If our group can’t hit certain waypoints in a certain amount of time, we won’t summit. Our goal is to be climbing fifteen feet per minute. On some terrain, such as the fairly gentle slopes we’re on, fifteen feet per minute isn’t all that difficult. In fact, it feels slow.

“Break’s over! Let’s get our packs back on and get moving!”

With that, my view changes from this:

to this:

At some point, a shirtless hero wearing only shorts and sneakers blows by our hiking train, his hapless girlfriend in tow. I am still kicking myself for not getting a picture of this wonder in action.

About an hour later, the snow gets more rugged. Thin cracks start appearing in the snow. It’s amazing how far those small cracks travel. Some of the cracks get bigger, and we have to jump over them. After hopping over one particularly large crack, Craig calls a break, and we sit on our packs.

Craig walks away, and returns about ten minutes later. He noticed a ranger standing next to the shirtless wonder that blew past us some time ago, and went to find out what had happened. Evidently, the guy somehow managed to fall into the crevasse we had all hopped over. He was trapped for about twenty minutes until the ranger was able to pull him out. The guy was extremely lucky, and this little incident drove home the seriousness of what we were doing.

Craig Explaining Why Crevasses Are Not Your Friend

For five hours we climb, gaining the requisite fifteen feet a minute until at long last, Camp Muir, our home for the night, is in sight. We arrive at Camp Muir an hour later. Nothing on this mountain is a close as it seems it should be. We are taken to a small hut called the Gombu after Sherpa Nawang Gombu, who passed away in 2011. Nawang was a cousin of Tenzig Norgay, a cook on the very first successful Everest expedition, and was the first man in the world to have climbed Mt. Everest twice. Nawang also climbed Mt. Rainier extensively.

The Gombu consists of a few shelf like bunk beds. The tired team pile our stuff on the shelf, and start laying out our sleeping gear. With the proximity, the night promises to be a long, loud one.

My Bed – All the way to the Left

Bed set up, I explore Camp Muir.

Chris at Camp Muir

About an hour later, Craig invites us to the kitchen tent, where Tom, Devin and Jangbu have been cooking up a little surprise.

After climbing, shepherding, answering questions and encouraging us the whole day, our guides were busy making us BURRITOS (!) while we were unpacking and resting. And, to make it authentic, the guides even had Mariachi music playing. As a final bonus, which made me an Alpine Ascents client for life, they had my all time favorite thing, right there in the red tent.

Sriracha – Nectar of the Gods

I love this stuff. I literally put it on everything. Salad, French Fries, fillet, soup… Everything! Hell, I put Sriracha on my Sriracha. This was well and truly the Best Day Ever.

With plenty more to come… <– CLICK HERE FOR THE CONCLUSION

Categories : Climbing

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