Ascent of Mount Rainier on 1994-07-20
|Others in Party:||Glenn Slayden|
|Date:||Wednesday, July 20, 1994|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Elevation:||14411 ft / 4392 m|
Ascent Trip ReportMonday, July 18:
Glenn and I slept late before eating breakfast and sorting through our gear some more. It was a very overcast day, and it might have even sprinkled a little bit in the morning, making us glad we had put off our expedition a day. All reports were that Tuesday and Wednesday would be clear and sunny, so we were definitely psyched for tomorrow. It was terribly hot out again today, especially for Seattle--up into the nineties.
After a bit Glenn and I went out to run some more errands, using my beat-up car. Back at Glenn's apartment by 4 PM we returned to the task of getting our gear in gear. We first laid out my rope and figured out how best to tie in, putting tape marks at the right places. We also decided to practice getting out of crevasses by throwing the rope over a tree and climbing it using our ascender systems. We found a tree near Glenn's apartment, near a playground teeming with kids, and soon found ourselves the center of attention as Glenn set up the rope by climbing the tree and setting up some webbing and I prepared to ascend. I was using simple prussik knots around the main rope, and once Glenn had figured out how to belay me I got used to using the "Texas" prussik system by easily scaling the rope with my knots.
It was then Glenn's turn, and he used his mechanical ascenders to climb the rope in much the same way, our captive audience of kids watching. We pronounced our practice a success--although a tree is hardly a crevasse, it was good to play with the gear to get a feel for how exactly one ascends a rope. I climbed the tree to get the webbing and rope down.
Back in Glenn's apartment Asda had returned from work, and we organized some more, further split up common stuff, and finally started actually putting stuff in our packs. Glenn barbecued up some steaks for dinner, and afterwards we at long last finished our interminable packing. We each had an overstuffed pack (mine my ancient Gregory Snow Creek, Glenn's his newer Lowe) ready to go, plus our skis and clothes for tomorrow morning. We wanted to get an early start tomorrow, so went to sleep early, at 10 PM. I again slept on Glenn's fold out-couch, comfortable despite the heat.
Tuesday, July 19:
Glenn and I both woke up at 5 AM, our alarms going off at about the same time and Glenn coming out to make sure I was awake on the fold-out couch in his living room. We both had some cold breakfast, changed into our clothes for our climbs, and threw our heavy packs and skis into the back of Asda's Ford Explorer, parked near Glenn's apartment. Asda was up at this ungodly hour, and we said good bye to him and were on the road towards Mt. Rainier by 5:30 AM. It was a perfectly clear day.
The drive from Redmond to Paradise, the main visitor center on the south side of the mountain, was uneventful, except we were surprised at the amount of traffic on the roads. It was light out for most of the drive, and we used a shortcut to bypass curvy sections of WA 161 and 7. The gate at the border to Mt. Rainier National Park at the Nisqually Entrance was not manned, so Glenn just drove on through, and then up the increasingly steep and winding road, at high speed, up to Paradise. The few other cars on the road out this early were happy to pull over for us, and we arrived at the largely deserted Paradise parking lot (cf. Joni Mitchell) at 7:45 AM.
In 1992 we had arrived at 1 PM, and hadn't been able to find a parking space amid the chaos of tourist hordes, but now we were able to park in the spot closest to the start of the trail, just a few feet away through a construction site where dump trucks were doing some kind of work. Glenn and I got our packs out of the car, started attaching our skis to them, daubing on fantastic amounts of sunblock, and attending to other pre-trip chores, but our careful organization of the past two days meant that this task didn't take too long.
I went over to the ranger cabin, which was closed, and then returned at 8 AM just as a ranger was opening it up. I had the forms we had already filled out, but the Park Service had just changed the form and I had to fill out a new one, just one for our party and not two. The ranger signed it and gave me bags for waste without grilling me at all about my experience and preparedness, and I don't think he even looked at the abbreviated climbing resume I had just written down, either. In 1992 the ranger had asked me if I knew about 2-man crevasse rescue, and I told him I did even though I didn't. Now I really did know, but I wasn't even asked.
Back at the car we got our packs ready, made last-minute trips to the under-construction bathrooms, took some pictures, and finally shouldered our approximately 75-pound weights. The skis on the packs made up a good chunk of this, and we hoped to hike up to some snow soon so we could put them on and reduce out pack weights. We had considered leaving skis behind if there didn't appear to be enough snow, but on the drive up it seemed there was plenty on the mountain. We left the car at about 8:15 AM.
The first part of the route was on the infamous asphalt nature trail network, and we slowly chugged uphill, our hard plastic boots and ski poles clomping and clicking on the pavement. The cool of the morning was nice, because it was a very bright and sunny day, with not a cloud in the sky. The trail we chose led to a flat viewpoint atop a little hill, and shortly after that the trails became hard-packed gravel. After a rest to take more pictures, we came upon our first snowbank, off to the left of the trail. Happily, we took the skis off of our packs (they already had their climbing skins attached), stepped into our Ramer alpine touring bindings, and were soon skiing uphill.
However, this first snowbank petered out quickly, and we soon had to put the skis back on our packs. The amount of snow was very disappointing, and was much less than Glenn would have guessed given what he had seen in the same spot a month earlier. The next snowfield that looked good was to the right of the trail, so we crossed a fragile alpine meadow to it and resumed skiing. Here Glenn installed his "super climbers", special pegs that raised his boot heels a good four inches above his ski, to aid in skiing straight up steep inclines. My climbing pegs were only about an inch high.
We skied up this next snowfield until we were below a small cliff to our right, which the trail climbed with a big switchback, so we took our skis off again, put them back in our packs, and toiled uphill on the rocky trail to the top of the cliff. The trail then crossed some small snowfields that didn't merit the bother of putting on our skis, as well as crossing Pebble Creek (7200 feet), the highest up the tourist trails went. Near there we finally found a snowfield that looked like it was continuous with the huge ones higher up, so we put our skis on for what we hoped would be the last time. We generally used these halts to take a rest, where we would drink water, eat, and slather on more and more sunblock. I even put some on the back of Glenn's calf, where there was a hole in his long johns (which we both wore, to avoid having to use a whole bottle each on just our legs).
Our snowfield ended, of course, and we had to portage our skis over a rocky stretch of a few yards by carrying them up to another one, which, after another twenty minutes or so of uphill slogging, ended too. The lack of snow was a real bummer, and had we known about its extent we might not have used our skis, but it had really seemed like there was plenty. Anyway, one last, long portage brought us up to the lower right (as you look uphill) corner of the huge Muir Snowfield, stretching all the way up to the ridge of Camp Muir. At last we could continuously grind out the uphill feet on the snow without distraction.
Glenn, who had been to Camp Muir a few months earlier, pointed out to me where on the ridge up above it was, and we started the long, long uphill trudge towards that point. The skis were excellent to have, since we didn't have to worry about footing on the snow, sinking in, sliding back, or anything else besides simple upward progress. In a few places the huge snow slope got especially steep, and we had to switchback to keep our skins from losing their grip in the snow--mine, much older than Glenn's, especially had problems.
The quickest route to where Glenn thought Camp Muir was led through an area with rock outcrops, which was a pain in the neck, since we had to portage our skis over a couple steep, narrow bands of crumbly talus. At least the rocks offered a nice place to sit and rest, since on the snow we had to sit on our packs or else get our shorts wet by sitting on the snow. Above the rocks we resumed slogging, and after a bit I saw the black and aluminum shape of the RMI hut at Camp Muir on the ridge ahead, but well to the left of where Glenn had said it was--we could have bypassed the rocks to the left and stayed on snow, but it was no big deal. Glenn and I changed course and, each in our own separate world of slowly advancing one ski at a time uphill, got a little separated, one reason being that I was switchbacking more on the steep final slopes of the interminable snowfield.
We finally arrived at Camp Muir, a desolate rocky saddle on the brown ridge separating the Muir Snowfield from the Cowlitz Glacier, at about 2:15 PM, six hours up from Paradise. The ridge held several structures: a squalid stone public hut with primitive bunks, the sturdy wooded RMI hut, a ranger's cabin, and a couple outhouses. We took off our skis, temporarily left them standing up in the snow at the top edge of the Muir Snowfield, and crossed the saddle, between the two main huts, to look for a campsite on the Cowlitz Glacier. There were several tents already pitched, and only one pre-excavated platform, which we thought we'd use, until we noticed a battered tent on the rocks that looked as if it had blown away from it. Reluctantly, we elected to excavate out own tent platform in the sloping snow of the bottom of the first large, gentle, trench-like "hollow" of the Cowlitz Glacier.
We dropped our packs, retrieved our skis, and then, using our handy ice axes, made a rudimentary tent platform by cutting and filling snow. We set up Glenn's two-man A-frame tent and anchored it securely using special bags, that, when filled with snow and buried, provided very secure anchors. There was utterly no wind at all on this sunny, cloudless afternoon, strange for one of the windiest semi-inhabited places on earth, but we saw the fate of the battered tent, so were extra careful.
After getting our home for the night all set up, we faced one major chore: making water. We had each drank almost all of the three quarts each we had brought up from the car, and we needed gallons for tonight and for the summit attempt tomorrow. Lack of water had been probably number one on the list of factors contributing to our failure in 1992, so Glenn fired up his Coleman Peak 1 Stove, I started mining chunks of ice to melt, and we put them in a pot.
For the next four hours or so we ran the stove continuously, using a bottle and a half of white gas, and made about three gallons of water. We each had three quart bottles we filled up as the main water for the summit attempt, then a gallon jug we thought we'd leave in the tent for when we returned, and then we melted more snow to use for our dinner--dehydrated meat and potatoes, with Glenn even making some pasta later. The afternoon was sunny and warm, and we would both lie and rest inside the tent when not fiddling with the water pot, adding iodine tablets to it (since we weren't bothering to boil it all), pouring it into bottles, or mining chunks of ice to melt (which, happily, had a surprisingly high water yield) with our ice axes. The water was brownish from the iodine, and full of dirt and rocks from the snow, but that didn't matter.
A woman ranger stopped by at one point to get our names and make sure that we knew what we were doing, which we seemed to demonstrate to her satisfaction after a five-minute conversation. A large party returned to the many tents in the same hollow as ours and started packing up their camp, including their windblown tent, but it must have taken them literally three hours--each time one of us would look up behind our tent, we'd see them futzing with their gear. They finally got all packed up and left at about 6 PM, leaving us with the only tent in our hollow, and with only two other tents in the next hollow out. There were lots of people up in the public hut, which we'd see when we made the short hike up a snowbank to the outhouse, but only three tents was a surprisingly low number--usually the Camp Muir tent city was much larger.
By sunset Glenn and I had melted all the water we would need, we had drunk enough of it to require about eight trips each up to the outhouse, we had eaten lots of food in addition to our hot dinner, we had taken lots of pictures, and we had gotten our gear ready for our summit climb tomorrow. We agreed to wake up at 11:15 PM and try to be on the trail by midnight, so after setting the alarm on my altimeter watch we both crawled into our sleeping bags on this warm evening and tried to sleep, hard while it was still light out (although the sun had set). We each had to make one last trip to the bathroom, but by 8 PM or so we were asleep, leaving us only about three hours of rest.
Wednesday, July 20:
Glenn and I woke up at 11:15 PM, the earliest I had ever "gotten up" in my life, and we donned our headlamps and started getting ready for our final assault on Mt. Rainier. We each wolfed down lots of high energy cold food, I preferring mini Snickers bars while Glenn drank some of his liquefied PowerBars. We decided to each take our large packs, instead of taking just one and trading off, even though they would be severely underpacked. One reason was that, at the last minute, we decided to take the full gallon jug of water in addition to three quarts each we were taking, and two and a half gallons of water (20 pounds!) was a bit much for one person to take.
After eating breakfast and getting dressed, we stepped outside into the pitch blackness of midnight and got our gear together. I was wearing my polypro longjohns, heavy Gore-Tex pants, pile jacket, and Gore-Tex parka, plus two pairs of skiing socks and my heavy red Kofflach Valuga Light ski mountaineering boots. On my feet I strapped on my well-used but dependable SMC crampons, and used my wool mittens to keep my hands warm in the windless chill. I put my climbing harness on, and tied a double figure-eight knot through it at the marked point one-third the way along the rope, and coiled the long loose end around my torso. I rigged up prussik loops of smaller cord around the rope, just beyond my knot, and put them in the pocket of my parka. I also had a couple spare carabiners around my waist, a rapelling/belaying figure-eight, and a spiked snow picket. Completing my wardrobe was my pack, my felt baseball cap with ear flaps, my army-surplus helmet for rockfall, a Petzel headlamp powered with lithium batteries, and, of course, my ice axe.
Glenn was attired in much the same way. He had snap-on crampons instead of the kind that required elaborate straps like mine, and his prussik system included mechanical ascenders instead of simple prussik knots. We were separated by the middle third of our 165 foot long rope, and if one of us had fallen into a crevasse, the plan was for the non-fallen person to self-arrest using the ice axe, then anchor the rope in the ground using the snow picket we carried on our waist, plus the second one we each had on the outside of our packs. The victim would use his prussik system, knots in my case and ascenders in Glenn's, to climb up and out of the crevasse. If there was a problem, such as the rope knifing into the edge of the crevasse, we each had coiled around our torsos enough rope to be able to drop a fresh line down to the victim, the reason why we each tied in one third of the distance from each end.
Getting ready with all this gear took some time, especially in the darkness, although a last-quarter moon that rose shortly after we awoke helped a little bit. We finally set off at quarter past midnight, one of the first parties to leave, and we easily found the broad path in the snow that led us on a long contour across the relatively crevasse-free Cowlitz Glacier. The snow was firm and icy, and our crampons worked well. After we were about three-quarters of the way across the glacier the path in the snow forked, and we took the steeper fork and were across the glacier, at the Cathedral Rocks, half an hour or so after we started.
Here we removed our crampons, since the route was on a path that steeply wound up and over a ridge of crumbling, unstable volcanic rock. The second person in our group carried most of the rope between us coiled up, so it wouldn't get caught or tangled on the rocks. The path was easy to follow, and we soon emerged atop the rocks, passed another party, hiked along the ridge, and then came to the Ingraham Glacier, a much larger and more serious one than the Cowlitz.
Here we halted and put on our crampons, I taking much longer than Glenn because of my straps, and continued uphill on the broad, unmistakable snow path. We could see lights ahead in the distance marking the route, but not too many, since we were still early. After a bit we passed a whole ton of tents pitched at Ingraham Flats, a popular camping spot used by RMI for their 5-day programs, then started crossing the main body of the Ingraham Glacier, marked by a couple of yawning chasms. One had to be crossed on a snowbridge, near a serac the size of a car. However, the route across the glacier was really quite direct and straightforward compared to how it had been in August, 1992, when the glacier was more like an icefall and the route wandered up and down and around like crazy, avoiding much bigger crevasses and seracs.
We finally arrived at the base of the miserable rocks of the Disappointment Cleaver, where we again halted to remove our crampons after negotiating a tricky section of path at the edge of the glacier that had a handrail rope for guidance. We were behind a large group of people at this point, and we followed behind them as we fought the steep, crumbling scree of the cleaver. We had lost the path here in 1992, and we were glad to have people ahead of us showing us the way. Unfortunately, they were kind of slow, so we eventually passed them anyway when they stepped aside.
The rocks of the cleaver gave way to some steep snowy sections, so Glenn and I had to stop to put our crampons back on, during which we were passed again, but once we got going, we had to pass this group, which might have been the same one. Basically, the ascent of the Disappointment Cleaver was very confusing to me, due to the darkness and all the other parties on the route, and all I remember is some very steep sections of snow, passing various parties and having occasional conversations with their members (one commented on my ski boots), Glenn and I both seeing different guys in front of us loose a step-in crampon off his foot, and lots of miserable rock and uphill toiling.
At last we reached the small flat area atop the Disappointment Cleaver (12,400 feet), the best rest spot on the whole climb. It was still dark, meaning it must have been about 4:30 AM or so, and we stopped to eat more carbo and sugar filled food and guzzle more water. We seemed to be in good shape: we had no gear or rope problems, we had plenty to eat and drink, we weren't too fatigued, and, although not the first group heading up, we were definitely in the first half of groups, since the huge RMI party was still behind us. We now took off our helmets, too, since we were above any rockfall danger. We felt confident as we left our rest and started up the final snow dome.
This last part of the climb, the 2,000 vertical feet above the top of the cleaver, was the real killer--just endless plodding up a switchbacking path on nothing but steep, crevasse-marred snow. The path was a deep trough, and, after trying to walk on its steep surface using the flat-footed "French technique", I found it was easier to walk on the outside lip of the trough, cutting stair-like steps into its side with my crampons. The air was definitely thinner up here, but Glenn and I were in shape, so we just slowly rest-stepped up. I got into a simple rhythm: place foot, inhale, place other foot, exhale. Soon I had to take one entire breath per footfall, and near the top I was into a three part rhythm: place foot, breathe, place other foot, breathe, plant ice-axe, breathe.
About one-third the way up the final snow dome the sun started coming out, so we turned our headlamps off and I got out my camera so both Glenn and I could take lots of pictures using the special 800-speed film we had loaded. I tried to remember where we had turned back in 1992, but all I could determine as the path led us higher and higher was that we certainly didn't get to 13,700 feet as I had thought--13,400 was a better estimate, and it might have only been 13,200. We took lots of rests, drank lots of water, and I think that Glenn even broke out his bottled oxygen setup at one point. We passed parties, but I think we were passed by more on this part of the climb, especially when we pulled off the side of the path to sit down and rest.
At long last we suddenly arrived at a rocky outcrop that marked the rim of the crater--essentially, the top. Ecstatic that the long slog was over, we sat down to rest on the rocks with the many other people there. We still had to cross the shallow crater to the highest point, the Columbia Crest, but that looked trivial. We ate more food, and, since we had drunk a lot of our water, we refilled our quart bottles from the gallon jug. When Glenn pulled this out of his pack it was a triumph of sorts--the others resting on the rocks were incredulous, but at least we knew that we wouldn't run out of water. We probably could have sold the precious liquid for five dollars a cupful. I made up some Gatorade, using much less water than recommended, making for a disgusting, syrupy liquid that nevertheless provided me with a nice energy burst similar to what Glenn was getting from his PowerBar goop.
Glenn and I decided to leave our packs behind for the short hike across the crater, but we stayed roped up, if only because it was be a pain to get tied in again. A trench-like path led down from the rocks at the crater rim and crossed the shallow, snowy crater depression, about a third of a mile across, and then climbed up through a particularly deep icy trench to some low-angle rocks. Here I became gripped with summit fever, since I could see the flat snowy area atop the rocks that was the top, so I started muttering to myself "We're going to get you", "Finally, you bastard", and other such thoughts as I quickened my pace. Glenn, however, was out of breath, and couldn't keep up behind me on the rope, so called for me to slow down. So we took one last very brief rest a few feet below the top, where I took a picture of Glenn, and then, at 8:15 AM, we walked up the last easy snowy yards to the Columbia Crest, at 14,410 feet the highest point of Mt. Rainier, the Cascade Range, and the state of Washington. It was my 48th state high point, reached on the 25th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's historic moonwalk.
The summit was somewhat anti-climactic for me. Perhaps this was because Glenn and I had planned our expedition for so long and so well--nothing had gone wrong at all, so it was almost like the issue of reaching the top had been decided a couple days ago as we meticulously planned and packed. I get a lot more emotional when there is more adversity to overcome, for example, on my climbs of Granite Peak (1991) or Monte Rosa (1993).
Anyway, we took a long rest at the summit. First we took pictures of each other--Glenn in a "Rocky" pose, and me with my ice axe over my head, and then got some of the others on top (the number ranged from about ten when we arrived, including a RMI guide and only a few of their thirty clients, to two when we left) to take pictures of the two of us together. We then we untied from our rope and rested. The view was expansive in all directions, since it was a perfectly clear day. We could see north to Mt. Baker, south to Mt. Jefferson in Oregon, and west across Puget sound to Mt. Olympus. The skyscrapers of Seattle and Tacoma were visible, and we could even just make out the prominent Tacoma Dome (the Kingdome was too far away). I later figured out that Mt. Jefferson, at 152 miles, was the furthest away point we could see. Due to the curvature of the earth, though, the view from Rainier theoretically only extended for 147 miles--we could see Mt. Jefferson only because it was 10,000 feet high, since it's base was literally hidden by the earth bulging out.
Glenn and I also drank more water, ate a little bit (I had a Pop-Tart), wandered around a bit, went to the bathroom off the east side, and, after about a half-hour or so, decided it was time to leave. There was only one couple left on the summit with us, and we had them take two more pictures of us sitting down together with Puget Sound in the background. We then got all roped up again and started back down the strangely gentle summit hump, and then down the rocky section. There was a register here that Glenn had seen on the way up, so we stopped to sign in, but the book there, left by the Mazama Hiking Club, was totally filled up. We scrawled our names the best we could before handing the tattered notebook over to the couple that had been on top with us, and then easily traversed the crater back to the rocky rim where we had left our packs.
We took another rest here, where Glenn broke out his tiny oxygen bottle and mask, like he had a few times earlier while we had been above 13,000 feet. There was a guy resting next to us that was part of a party planning to go to Mt. Everest, using real special mountaineering oxygen sets, and I think he found Glenn's little first aid setup amusing. I didn't use any, not feeling a need, maybe because I had much more high-altitude experience than Glenn.
We shouldered our packs after our rest, once I had gone to the bathroom again, a good sign that I was drinking enough. The hike down the 2,000 vertical feet of the summit snow dome was easy and uneventful--we plunge-stepped down easily in the sun-softened snow, passing a few parties, slowing down only when passing huge, cavern-like crevasses, and taking lots of pictures. The path was steep, and we had to be somewhat careful, but both Glenn and I had a long history of being able to really book on downhill hikes.
While we were on the lower part of the snow dome we saw the last group of climbers toiling uphill--wearing cotton army surplus clothing, with a manilla rope tied around their waists. Glenn and I realized that these guys were us in 1992--they seemed about as inexperienced, and were at the same point on the mountain as we had been at the same time of day. We wondered how much further they'd get before turning back, and guessed it wasn't much further.
At the top of the Disappointment Cleaver we rested again, noticing that we had caught up to the large RMI group, most of whom hadn't gone to the actual summit--I found this very odd, that the RMI guides and most clients were satisfied with attaining the crater rim. After more water and food, and putting our helmets back on, we took off again, now stuck behind the large RMI group, which was slowly making its way down the steep snow slopes of the upper cleaver. The path we had taken in the morning had gone straight up this very steep slope, but the RMI guides were now making a safer, more gradual switchbacking snow path, which we decided to take advantage of. Glenn and I were thrown into a stop-and-go mode, though, since we kept bumping into the last RMI guy. This was frustrating, but we liked the new, less steep path, especially since it avoided a section of crumbly rock we had ascended in the morning, and passing a group of thirty or more was impossible.
At the lower reaches of the upper cleaver snowfield the slope was so steep that climbers on higher switchbacks would send snowballs and miniature avalanches down to the climbers on lower switchbacks, but nothing serious--I shouted "Snow!" below when I dislodged an especially large snowball, but it harmlessly rolled between two RMI climbers, and I doubt it would have hurt anyone anyway.
At last the steep snow ended and the path took us to the crumbly rock of the Disappointment Cleaver, where our progress was still slowed by the RMI group. At least we had no problems following the faint path through the miserable crumbling scree, but near the bottom of the cleaver, just above the final traverse on rocks, the RMI group halted for a long, long time, and Glenn and I began to fume, stuck behind them. We finally tried to find out what was going on, talked to the rearmost RMI climbers, who didn't really know at all, yelled down to the guides, and were told by one guide to wait. We saw the first RMI rope team go off on the final traverse of the cleaver over to the Ingraham Glacier, the most dangerous section of the whole route for rockfall, figuring that the reason for the delay was that RMI wanted to make sure that it was safe for their clients.
Finally a RMI guide noticed our plight, and, after we told him that there were only two of us, they allowed us to pass their huge group and go ahead. We carefully but very quickly forced our way past the six or so rope teams queued up on the narrow, rocky path, saying "Excuse me. . .thank you" as we brushed by everyone, our crampons scraping on the rock. We carefully started the final traverse underneath the dangerous, unstable rocks of the cleaver, but soon bumped into the rear of the first RMI rope team. They were exceptionally slow, which annoyed me, since the idea was to minimize one's time in areas exposed to rockfall, but there was little we could do. Maybe the lead guide was preparing the route.
We finally broke out onto the Ingraham Glacier, peppered with fallen rocks, and kept right behind the RMI rope team until we were out of the danger zone, where they pulled off to the side to wait for the rest of their group. I told the guide as we passed to thank the other guides for letting us by, and then we booked on down the Ingraham Glacier, resuming our accustomed speed. We blew by the huge tent city at Ingraham Flats, and then plunge-stepped down the slope to Cathedral Rocks. It was now late morning, and very hot under a cloudless sky, so the snow was mushy and perfect for downhill cruising.
At the beginning of the Cathedral Rocks we took our last rest, drank more water, removed some clothing layers, and removed our crampons for the last time. From there we climbed down the rocks, easily following the dusty, switchbacking path down to the Cowlitz Glacier, the final obstacle being a huge sea of mobile boulders the size of bowling balls that made for poor footing and caused a terrible racket as we crossed. Once on the glacier we followed the slabbing snow path across without incident to our tent below Camp Muir. It was a little past noon when we arrived.
Despite how well everything had worked out, Glenn and I were still very fatigued at this point--all the planning, conditioning, water, food, and gear in the world can not dull the effects of climbing from 10,000 to 14,000 feet and back over steep and difficult terrain. We rested a bit, and drank more of our water, and decided that a little over one quart was enough to get us both back to the car. This was, in hindsight, a big mistake, for we later realized that we should have fired up the stove and melted more water. Instead, just wanting to get down, so we started taking down our camp after we had rested twenty minutes or so.
Breaking down the tent, and then stuffing it and all of our other gear in our packs, were annoying chores, and once we had our 50-pound packs ready to go, we got ready for our ski descent of the Muir snowfield. Glenn said he really didn't feel like skiing in his state, and I wasn't feeling too great, either, but we had little choice--hiking downhill with them on our pack would be ludicrous. We carried our now skin-less skis across the rocky ridge, put them on, and got ready for some challenging skiing. Both Glenn and I were expert skiers, and the slope was nothing we hadn't handled before easily, but we were handicapped by the heavy packs on our backs, the alpine-touring boots and bindings whose performance was nowhere near that of standard downhill gear, the choppy bumps and hollows in the snow surface, and our general fatigue.
I started off first, and after my first few turns in the mushy snow I felt I had gotten the hang of it, and was ready to cruise on down. My form--mainly wide snowplow turns--was terrible, but the time I was saving, plus the neat concept of skiing in mid-July, made it enjoyable. I noticed, though, that Glenn was going much slower than I was. I waited for him, and when he caught up I tried to psych him up by reminding him of what a good skier he was, but when we started again I found that once again I was getting way ahead of him. I think he was slowed by a combination of factors: an extreme fear of falling with a huge weight on his back, boots that were more for mountaineering as opposed to my more ski-oriented boots, lack of backcountry skiing experience (this was only his third time with his gear), and general fatigue and foot pain.
So I waited for him the best I could, at one point skiing down a long, long way and waiting for the tiny figure way behind me to catch up. We were quite a tourist attraction for the dayhikers on the Muir snowfield, but I avoided showing off, since, like Glenn, I didn't want to fall. Despite Glenn's slow skiing and need for rests, it wasn't too long before we were nearing where the snow petered out into rocks. Glenn and I had decided earlier to go down the way we had come up yesterday, and I had pointed it out to him, so when we got close I cruised on down to the short, steep snow slope abutting rocks where we had gained the upper snowfield yesterday.
I waited for Glenn to catch up, but he skied to a much higher up point on the sloping snow, and we yelled back and forth a bit over who was at the right place. I was pretty sure, and after a while, as Glenn took off his skis and started hiking over rocks, I did the same, and, as I followed a path down to the next snowfield, became convinced I was right. I caught up to Glenn at the start of the next snowfield, where he was putting on his skis, and he admitted I was right. We were now pretty thirsty, and we had totally run out of water, but still had to put on our skis for another, much shorter run. Towards the bottom of this small snowfield I schussed a section of rough, wavy snow, and paid the price by falling very gently at the base of the snowfield, the only fall Glenn or I suffered on our whole trip. Unfortunately, this was in full view of the nearby trail, where the RMI group was hiking down.
Glenn and I then put our skis on our packs and started hiking down the rocky trail past Pebble Creek and down towards Paradise. My feet started to hurt terribly on this last stretch, since hiking steep downhill on gravel and pavement wearing hard-shelled ski boots is never a good idea. After descending the steep switchback of the trail, Glenn elected to put his skis on for a very short run down a snowfield, but, not wanting to take off my pack, take the skis off, put them on, and then repeat the process in reverse, all for a couple hundred yards, I decided to plunge-step on down the snow, which wasn't too hard on my feet. Glenn and I made it to the bottom of this snowfield at the same time anyway.
Once Glenn had gotten his skis back on his pack he took off for the car, and I was left behind badly, slowed by the excruciating pain in my feet. The retreat to the car was turning into a repeat of 1992: Glenn was far ahead, I was intensely thirsty, I had to take the plastic shells off my boot and hike down in the inner slippers (I carried the shells in my arms instead of trying to tie them on my pack, though), and I provided quite a sight for the many tourists on the paved trail. One Japanese family videotaped me slogging down, and I was asked how the skiing had been a couple times, but I was in no mood to be friendly--I just wanted to get to the car, take off my boots, and drink a gallon of water, and nothing else interested me. I was also a little bit mad at Glenn for running off ahead again--while skiing I had been waiting up for him.
Almost delirious, I finally arrived at Asda's green Explorer at about 4 PM. Glenn's pack was visible inside, but the car was locked and I saw no Glenn. I dropped my pack on the ground, took off my slipper-like inner boots, and staggered over towards the restrooms in my socks, desperately in need of water. Halfway there I met Glenn returning, and the full bottle of cold water he offered me totally erased any hard feelings I may have had at being left behind and locked out. I swigged over a pint in one draught, and, back at the car, threw my pack in back and got together my regular clothes.
Glenn then drove us down a little to the visitor center/restaurant complex, where he kept the engine running to provide air-conditioning while we changed our clothes--just taking my socks off was a major chore. We then decided to get dinner in the Jackson Grill restaurant, so turned off the car and went inside. It was hot out, but it felt great to wearing regular clothes and, especially, shoes. We walked very stiffly into the restaurant, looking like we were lame, and ordered big dinners and big drinks. At this point we were not nearly as thirsty as we had been in 1992, but Mt. Rainier had still taken its toll.
|Summary Total Data|
| Elevation Gain:||8991 ft / 2740 m|
| Elevation Loss:||8991 ft / 2740 m|
| Distance:||13.8 mi / 22.2 km|
| Quality:||9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)|
| Route Conditions:||Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb|
| Gear Used:||Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Skis, Ski Poles, Tent Camp|
| Weather:||Pleasant, Breezy|
| Elevation Gain:||8991 ft / 2740 m|
| Distance:||6.9 mi / 11.1 km|
| Route:||Disappointment Cleaver|
| Trailhead:||Paradise 5420 ft / 1652 m|
| Elevation Loss:||8991 ft / 2740 m|
| Distance:||6.9 mi / 11.1 km|
| Route:||Disappointment Cl.|
| Trailhead:||Paradise 5420 ft / 1652 m|
|GPS Data for Ascent/Trip|
GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks: climbed and unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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