Ascent of Mount Rainier on 2015-06-21

Climber: Darin Wilson

Date:Sunday, June 21, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Rainier
    Elevation:14411 ft / 4392 m

Ascent Trip Report

Wow...this was quite the trip. I organized this climb with my AZPeakBaggers group. There was a total of 6 climbers. We stayed at the Whittaker Bunkhouse the first night. It gave us a chance to all meet and get to know each other. Ashford is such a fun place.

Friday morning we drove to the TH. We hiked to Camp Shurman on Friday having to rope up once we found snow. The climb up the snow field felt good. It was nice to be on snow. There was actually a fairly sketchy section close to Camp Shurman that a fall would result in very bad news. When roped in and climbing with new partners, it's always a thrill not fully knowing their skill and abilities.

We spent a pleasant night in Camp Shurman. There were probably 30 climbers in camp. The weather was cold but very nice.

Saturday we spent the day at Camp Shurman resting and acclimatizing. Saturday was a successful day for other climbers coming off the mountain. The weather wasn't bad but was improving for our summit attempt.

There was was a lot of communication and discussion on Saturday during our down time. One of our group told me that he had probably found his high point for the trip. I was glad he had decided to stay at Camp Shurman, sensing and witnessing his struggles to that point. I had expressed my concern to another climber about this person knowing what lied ahead of us on summit day.

Sunday we woke around midnight and was on the trail by 1:00 a.m. It was a clear, calm night and the climbing was magnificent. One note I would like to make is the conditions on the mountain. Due to a lack of snow the previous winter and the warmer than average temperatures, the conditions were much more difficult. It was a mountain with late season, August conditions, rather than June. This proved difficult for our first time mountaineers!

The ascent went very well. We navigated beautiful, vast crevasses. We climbed a short ice pitch requiring front pointing and the use of our axes as tools. Once we found ourselves just below the crater rim, one climber decided he was gassed and couldn't climb any higher. The official summit count was 4 of 6. Two females and two males. Charles Miske and I found ourselves to the true summit, Columbia Crest. The sky was clear and sunny with fairly strong winds. The winds provided fairly cold temps. After maybe 20 minutes on the summit we started our descent. This is when our trip took a turn for the worse.

During our break on the summit or shortly prior, I recall on of our female climbers having a fairly heavy cough. Thinking back, I recall hearing her cough and not remembering her coughing early in the trip. It was a cough that sounded like she was recovering from a severe chest cold. Keep in mind, this was someone that I had never met before and didn't know her personality. One thought was she was being dramatic and attempting to draw attention. Boy was I wrong.

As I lead the team down, I knew I needed to keep a fairly steady pace. They were fairly tired and we had a long way to go. If you're a climber, you know the descent is typically the most dangerous portion.

It was a struggle to keep them moving in a somewhat moderate pace. I remember having to literally pull on the rope to keep them moving. Finally I called back to them and told them we needed to pick up the pace. The climber with the cough was somewhat upset with me saying she couldn't move any faster. My reply was that you might not like me right now but we need to step it up. I felt my responsibility at that point was to make sure we kept moving and cover ground getting us off the mountain and back to Camp Shurman. Around 13,000' our coughing climber told me she couldn't move any faster because she felt like she couldn't breath. Even more reason why we needed to keep moving down!

Well, her condition deteriorated rapidly. She was moving at a snails pace. At around 12,600' we were at a crevasse that required a small leap across. Knowing this was probably not possible for her, I short roped her below the leap to a weak snow bridge and brought her across safely. Once she crossed she collapsed in a stupor. Her communication skills were almost gone; meaning she was stammering and not making any sense. At this point we all knew she was experiencing HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). At this point we all decided we needed immediate help. She was certainly not getting herself off the mountain and there was no way we could get her down. We had a lot of steep terrain left.

Luckily I was carrying my Spot Tracker. I pushed the S.O.S button to request an emergency evacuation. This was fairly intense knowing I had just signaled to everyone that we had an emergency. At the time I was unaware that my wife was contacted by Spot and told that I had signaled for an emergency. I can only imagine her fear.

Once you press the S.O.S, you know you've signaled for 911 but have no idea the response time or the logistics of a rescue. I decided to attempt to make a cell phone call to 911. Believe it or not I was able to reach 911 dispatch and let them know we were in need of immediate assistance. She was not doing well. Another climber and I were with her making sure she didn't stop breathing. Her breaths were very shallow and you could hear the fluid building in her lungs. I knew she didn't have much time. This was a very frustrating and very scary time knowing that she was deteriorating rapidly and really not knowing if help was coming and if it was coming when they would arrive.

We soon heard a helicopter approaching. They did a fly by and then left. You can only imagine how we felt. We thought they were there to take her off the mountain but flew away. After several follow up calls with 911 dispatch and constant attention being given to a fallen partner the helicopter returned. This time with a medic hanging about 100' from the heli on clipped to a line. They pilot hovered allowing the medic to unclip and assess our rapidly failing partner. She seemed barely alive at this point. I'll be honest, I was doubting her survival. Once he realized her condition, he radioed that she was definitely a priority and that they needed to get her medical attention ASAP. We put her in a vest, clipped her to the suspended line and off they went. It was rather surreal watching her hang lifeless 100' from the helicopter lift off into the sky. We were all grateful and relieved that she had been rescued, but still didn't know her ultimate condition and if she would survive.

Now that she had been rescued we still had a long way to go. Not only did we have a long way to go down on very steep terrain, we now had additional gear to haul. They lifted her off the mountain but left her full pack for us to care for. Nonetheless, we all made it back to Camp Shurman safely. As you can imagine, we drew a lot of attention at Camp Shurman with the story of our heli rescue. It felt good to be down, but we were all very concerned for her survival and well being.

The following day we packed camp and headed down to the TH. I personally hauled her back from Camp Shurman to the end of the snow. This was very taxing but for some reason took upon myself to care for her gear. Once we reached the dirt trail we split up her gear and hauled everything to the parking lot.

All in all this was an amazing trip. It was an amazing trip for many reasons. Not only was the conditions and climb epic but we had reached the summit. The day after we summitted, all climbers attempting that day were turned back due to weather. The last detail that made this trip most epic was the news we received once we got back in cell phone reception. I had a text message from our fallen climber that she was in the hospital and recovering; alive and well! She was very grateful for our quick response and life saving care. The doctor told her she was probably within about an hour of perishing. She didn't perish. She summitted and lived to tell her story!!

A most epic adventure!!!
Summary Total Data
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb, Ice Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Ski Poles, Tent Camp

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