Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Climbing Mount Rainier


Route on August 1st, 2015

Climbing Mount Rainier this July/August was a unique experience for me. I learned how dynamic a glaciated mountain climb can be. Last winter's low snowpack and the warm temperatures of late July made the standard Disappointment Cleaver Route unapproachable due to large crevasses. Once above the cleaver, instead of heading straight towards the crest, the route veered west over the Ingraham headwall and past Gibraltar Rock. Then it traversed back toward the crest above Disappointment Cleaver. See above.

Climbers on the Muir Snowfield
Mount Adams in the background

Climbed from Paradise to Camp Muir. Reached Muir around 4:00 P.M. Dave Hahn laid out the logistics for the forthcoming climb. We then ate, repacked, planned, and bedded down by 6:00 P.M.

The majority of photos, unfortunately, were taken during this short time at Camp Muir. Once the climb began, photos were only taken at rest intervals to avoid distractions. This insured that focus was placed on good footwork and objective hazards. The downside of this was, that for a photographer, stunning images of ice falls, crevasses, and dramatic exposure were sacrificed.

Dave Hahn giving logistics at Muir
Camp Muir from RMI hut

Guide's hut at Camp Muir
Looking across the Cowlitz Glacier towards Cathedral Gap

Camps on the Cowlitz Glacier

Began climbing at 12:30 A.M. to take advantage of cold temperature holding the mountain together. The night was clear and the almost full moon illuminated the mountain. Could not have asked for a more beautiful experience going up. We crossed the Cowlitz and climbed through Cathedral Gap. Took our first break at Ingraham Flats. Next, we climbed up Disappointment Cleaver. The cleaver was mostly void of snow. It involved class 3 climbing with crampons; I welcomed the snow once we were off the cleaver!

There really was no difficult climbing on our route up Rainier. There were two ladder crossings over crevasses and a few areas of significant exposure on snow and ice ledges. The guides mitigate these hazards. For example, on the aluminum ladders, two 2X6 boards were lashed together on top of the ladders to make a solid platform on which to cross. It was like walking across a twelve inch sidewalk. In the areas of exposure, fixed ropes were installed. These accommodations made very real hazards manageable and boosted the confidence of neophyte climbers. For the average adventurer, the guides provided support so one could just enjoy the journey. They did not eliminate risk or eclipse the personal responsibility of the individual climber, but did help manage the risk in areas of extreme hazard. I think the skills taught and the experiences gained were a heck of a deal from RMI.

Solvieg Waterfall, RMI Guide

Dave Hahn, RMI Guide
The upper mountain was wonderful. I was in heaven. The glaciated landscape was spectacular. At times it was just surreal. Towering ice cliffs and vast crevasses disappearing in darkness were other-worldly vistas to me . I savored these sights. Again, as a photographer, I was disappointed not to have been able to make images of these experiences. Yet, I understood the objective hazards that necessitated complete focus on your responsibility to those roped together with you. The following few images are all I could make once on the upper mountain. The first is out of focus but I like the composition.

I am including several photos taken by guides or other climbers who were able to document some of the climb on the upper mountain.

Made the crest and walked across the caldera to reach the Columbia Crest at 14,411 feet. Signed the register and snapped a few images. Then headed down.

Walking out of the caldera to the Columbia Crest

Dave Hahn letting out a summit howl

I actually have a photo of me on the summit!

I got lucky with this shot. I could see this guy fiddling with his pack in the lower left of the frame. I anticipated him getting up and walking to the little dip in the ridge. Snapped at the right time. I think it's a great summit shot.
The rim of the caldera
Liberty Peak from the Columbia Crest
Dave Hahn teaching about Nieves Penitentes in the caldera
Coming down we took a break at Ingraham Flats. I snapped a few photos. Most of them of the Ingraham Headwall and dramatic ice cliffs above us. From this break, we walked down to camp Muir, packed our stuff and headed down the snowfield back to Paradise.

Break at Ingraham Flats

Above Ingraham Flats
Above Ingraham Flats
Ingraham Headwall, 8/1/2015
Hiking back to Paradise
After our post-summit get together at Whittaker Base Camp in Ashford, I headed to the Wildberry Restaurant for a hearty Nepalese dinner of chicken curry, lentil soup, rice, bread, and vegetables. The restaurant is run by a Nepalese family who offer traditional Himalayan cuisine. The night before the climb Peter Sisler and I thoroughly enjoyed the chicken curry, and the night before that, I had sampled their Sherpa stew. Anyway, Peter and I had made informal plans to eat there again after the climb. After eating a few slices of pizza at the post-summit social, I excused myself from going to the Wildberry. An hour later my body was telling me I needed more solid carbs and protein. The chicken curry dinner was calling me. Headed to the Wildberry. I savored a delicious Himalayan meal basking in the post-summit glow. That's just the way I like climbing closure... a great meal.

a shot of the team before leaving Camp Muir

For more trip reports of other mountains visit

1 comment:

Peter Sisler said...

Great climbing with you Larry! Nice write up and photos.
Loved the upper mountain. I'll look at these again and remember a fantastic trip.