Ascent of Mount Rainier on 2016-09-14

Climber: Jeremy Benezra

Others in Party:Guides - Josh
Climbers - Brian
Date:Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Rainier
    Elevation:14411 ft / 4392 m

Ascent Trip Report

Talk about a New Year’s resolution: I booked my Rainier climb on January 1, 2016! I knew I wanted to climb with a guide service and I chose IMG (International Mountain Guides). Last year one of my goals was to learn a standing backflip, which was a fun one to work on and check off my list. Training for Rainier was a bit less fun, more grueling, hiking more than 120 miles over the summer, almost all of that on steep hills and tough trails, going for peaks.

My climb of Rainier started on Sunday afternoon with a gear check in Ashford, WA at the IMG HQ. I met the other 5 climbers who would join me on the climb. These brave souls were from all over – Holland, Geneva Switzerland, various parts of the US, and they knew each other through commodity trading. Who knew there was so much activity in trading soy beans and sorghum?

The gear check was very thorough. The guides literally wanted to see every layer of clothing and every piece of equipment to make sure we were fully prepared. If a piece of gear didn’t make the standard you could rent high quality gear from them. My trusty leather hiking boots which have treated me so well were deemed great for every peak in Washington except for Rainier, so I ended up renting plastic double boots. I was worried of undertaking such a journey in boots I’ve never walked in before, but they fit me well and treated my feet right.

After gear check we parted ways. The 5 other climbers had a hotel in town. IMG offers tent platforms on their property so I rented one of those, had a quiet dinner and was asleep by 9pm!

I woke at 6, made final preparations to my pack and then we met our 3 Mountain Guides who would instruct us, inspire us, cook for us, and hopefully keep us out of the bottom of crevasses. Together, the 3 guides had over 200 successful Mt. Rainier summits and something like 13 successful Mt. Everest summits. I was in good hands! Josh, Justin, and Eric were really cool guys and awesome guides, and it was great climbing with them.

We loaded up and drove into Mt. Rainier National Park. We shouldered our packs (mine was about 40 lbs) and left the Paradise parking lot at about 10am. Paradise is at an elevation of 5400 feet above sea level. Our pace was really easy, and we stopped every hour of hiking for a 15 minute break. About 6 hours later we finished ascending the Muir snowfield and arrived at Camp Muir, at 10,188 feet of elevation. We would be staying in one of the old huts up there. About a month ago I tent camped at Muir in warm weather. This time it was much chillier and I was colder in the hut this time than I was in my tent last time. We had an early dinner in the mess tent. Our guides cooked up some incredibly tasty burritos w cheese and guac and all the fixings. There wasn’t much left to do after dinner but rest our bodies, so we all hunkered down to sleep on the plywood bunks at about 8pm.

The next morning our guides woke us up at 7am and we met at the mess tent for breakfast – fluffy buttermilk pancakes. After breakfast we had glacial training on proper usage of our ice axes, crampons, and rope work. One climber in our group decided he could go no further uphill and headed down.

The remaining 5 climbers and 3 guides left Camp Muir at about noon. We traveled across the Cowlitz Glacier roped together in rope teams for safety. That way if someone fell and started sliding, hopefully the other team members could arrest the fall. Also, if someone fell into a crevasse, the other members of the rope team could catch the fall and rescue the fallen climber. We had 3 rope teams, 2 composed of 2 climbers and a guide, while my team was just me and my guide, Justin. It took us 90 minutes to get to our high camp at 11200 feet on the Ingraham Glacier. To get there we had to cross the glacier then ascend the loose rock of Cathedral Gap. Our camp was looking directly downhill at Little Tahoma, the 4th highest peak in Washington. When you look South from Seattle at Rainier, Little Tahoma is the big bump left (East) of the main peak.

We rested in our tents for a bit, had dinner at about 5pm, organized our gear for the next day’s summit bid, and tried to think about sleep at about 6pm. We knew we’d be waking in the wee hours.

I slept fairly soundly and was well rested when our guides woke us at about 1220am. It was painful to get out of a warm sleeping bag but that mountain wasn’t going to climb itself… We donned our boots and warm clothes and had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate. Then we kept getting ready. You could see the excitement in everyone’s faces. We left behind our sleeping bags, spoons and bowls, and other unneeded gear so our packs were as light as possible. By 145am everyone was ready for battle, fully armored in helmets, climbing harnesses, crampons, Gor-tex, and ice axes. We ascended into the darkness.

We crossed the snow, ice, crevasses, and ladders of the Ingraham Glacier to make our way to Disappointment Cleaver. At this time of the year, the Cleaver has lost most of its snow and we were treading uphill on loose rock and gravel. We had our first break at the top of the Cleaver, approx 12300 feet of elevation. It was dark, cold, and brutally windy as we drank water and ate snacks. At every break we would take off our packs, put on our puffy down jackets, and sit on our packs. When the break was over we’d stuff the puffy back in our pack, don our packs, and head uphill again.

By the time we got to High Break, at about 13500 feet of elevation, the sun had started to rise and the colors of the horizon were magnificent. It was too cold and windy to take off my glove and pull out my camera, but believe me it was quite a sight. We continued on, through running belays, more ladders and crevasses. The sun was fully up but it was still frigid and the wind was still biting.

Looking at an extremely steep section ahead of us, with stair steps chopped into the ice, one guy in our group let us know he didn’t think he could make it. The guides told us how close we were to the summit, and everyone pushed on together. Finally I could tell that there wasn’t much more above us, the peak was near, and we hit the rim of the summit crater and descended into the crater.

Everyone was psyched and congratulating each other on a successful summit. I wasn’t done yet though. The highest point of Rainier (and Washington state) is across the crater and a couple hundred feet higher, and for me it doesn’t count until I’m at the highest point. 2 guides, another climber, and I crossed the crater to sign our names on the summit register. I could see slightly higher ground above though, and demanded to tag the true summit. The other climber didn’t want to go further, so him and his guide headed back down. A little after 7am, my guide Justin and I climbed the last few feet to stand on the summit of Mt. Rainier, the Columbia Crest, at 14,410 feet of elevation.

Justin pointed out Puget Sound and Lake Washington, Crystal Mountain, Yakima, etc. We took some photos, and after about 60 seconds on top we headed back into the crater to escape the torturous wind.

Regarding human waste, there is a pack-it-in, pack-it-out rule in the Rainier National Park. And when nature calls, one needs to pack it out and back down hill in what’s called a blue bag. I joined an elite club by having to use a blue bag at the summit crater, at over 14,000 feet of elevation.

At about 8am we headed down, down, down. Still roped up, as we were in steep, crevassed terrain. Now that it was daylight, we were seeing some of the terrain that we traveled earlier for the first time. We all had a, “We climbed through that?!” moment. I was happy it was dark when we made our way up as seeing some of the gaping chasms and crevasses in full daylight was a bit scary. Gazing down into the crevasses mesmerized us as the colors changed from light blue near the surface to dark blue and black in the depths.

We made it down to our high camp on the Ingraham glacier, where we loaded up our sleeping bags and anything else we left behind at camp for the summit climb. We ate and drank and took off layers as the sun was coming up and it was getting warmer. Our climb from camp up to the summit was about 5 hours, which our guides said was a great pace. We spent about an hour on and around the summit crater before heading back down, making for about 9 hours from the time we left camp until we returned to camp.

We continued down and arrived at Camp Muir at Noon where everyone relaxed for about an hour as the crevasses, steeps, and unsafe terrain was behind us. We kept heading downhill and after Pebble Creek, where there was no more snow, we took off our heavy boots to put on our approach shoes (like tennis shoes). What a relief! We had been wearing our heavy boots from 1230am until 230pm, 14 hours. Some of the guys started to slow down due to achy knees and blisters. I felt pretty damn good, no aches, no blisters. Down at Paradise at 4pm we loaded the van and headed back to IMG HQ at Ashford. The climber who decided to stop his ascent and head downhill at Camp Muir met us with cold beer. What a guy!

We had a small debriefing, returned rented gear, signed their summit board, received a certificate of successful summit, tipped our guides and parted ways. After all we went through together, leaving made me feel like it was the end of summer camp when everyone has to go home. I drove back to Seattle, dragged my gear inside, showered, and was asleep in no time. I had been up from 1220am til 930pm.

The next day I was surprised by not feeling very sore. I felt my calves a little from walking so long in crampons. My lips and nose were a bit sunburnt. And that was it! Those hard training hikes all summer paid off.

Climbing Rainier was a goal of mine for several years and I’m happy I decided this is the year I actually do it. Conquering Rainier was quite an accomplishment and the culmination of a lot of hard work. I really enjoyed the camaraderie of the other climbers and guides and I enjoyed making our way through tough terrain, though the cold and wind made it a bit miserable at times. I’ll finish with a famous mountaineering quote:

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be fun for it to be fun.”

Note - GPS track was taken from Eric's (guide) peakbagger page. A few of us ascended further to Columbia Crest.
Summary Total Data
    Grade/Class:Grade II
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Ski Poles, Guide, Hut Camp, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Cold, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Start Trailhead:Paradise  
Descent Statistics
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Jeremy Benezra
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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