Summiting Rainier

May 9-14, 2021
Climbing Mount Rainier

Climbers walking across the crater at the top of Mount Rainier
Crater from Columbia Crest (photo credit: bnewbold)

Freshly back from the summit of Mount Rainier and I’m still having trouble putting my thoughts together. Swirls of memories and emotions interject at random but certain scenes stand out. In a surreal moment, the dawn breaks across the Eastern horizon, lighting up giant towers of broken glacier all around us with that particular soft golden glow, overpowering the headlamps that had been paving our way since hours prior, suddenly making known the dramatic world of steep ice and bottomless crevasses all around us. That was certainly one pinnacle of the experience, but other lessons will remain with me for longer. In and around that moment—the desperate gasp for breath, the tug of rope, trust in your team and tools, cold snow underfoot, the desire to learn and master, and of course, the mountain, alive under us, belching steam and snow and rocks, the main character.

Led by a handful of amazing and capable guides: Dustin, Jack, Steve, Dom, and Dave Hahn; our team of 14 (including Ana, Mako, Mika, Bryan, and myself) summited Rainier as part of an RMI 5-day Muir Seminar. We took the Ingraham Direct route, the last day it was in commission for the season. I don’t have words to express the awesomeness of our guides, or the feeling of being surrounded by so many people who are also so compelled by mountains, or just how extremely f-ing lucky we got with the weather. B and I took the seminar to learn the skills that would enable us to get out on our own and climb the Cascade volcanoes (and climb Rainier, ofc). We took away a lot in that regard, but the seminar also opened my eyes to possibilities, my own limits, and a hazy sense of how much mountaineering knowledge still remains out there to be learned and experienced. Having stared at Rainier every chance I could for the last seven years and made our way up to Camp Muir on several occasions within those same years, I had my own expectations for the climb. But not much could prepare me for the feeling of getting back to Ingraham Flats midday after 9 hours of trekking, and turning around to catch the first glimpse of the headwall in full daylight, and thinking, that was ridiculous and I can’t wait to go back.

Five people standing at the top of Mount Rainier on a clear day bundled up looking happy
Summit elation (photo credit: bnewbold)

Among the more humorous memories… the obsession with bathroom breaks, cause serious mountaineers have to get serious about pooping; the junior guide who arrived around dinnertime after summit day with a full-size window on his back, who dropped it off at the bunkhouse with a chipper “that was heavy!” and proceeded to pull out a power drill and circular saw from his still full pack; my unfortunate (but minor) tooth chipping, a friendly reminder that ice axes are in fact made of solid metal and should be wielded conscientiously, especially 20 feet down a crevasse; Dave calling the route we took “sporty”; and most powerfully, people, after a year of quarantine, actual people, with stories and faces and remarkable experiences. That was nice.

Here’s what we covered in 6 days:

  • Day 0 — Gear check; basic skills; knots
  • Day 1 — Ascent from Paradise to Camp Muir
  • Day 2 — Ice axe arrest; walking on rope teams; setting anchors
  • Day 3 — Crampon skills; ice climbing; crevasse rescue
  • Day 4 — Summit day
  • Day 5 — Fixed rope; rappelling; descent from Camp Muir to Paradise
Part of the Ingraham glacier on Mount Rainier with a distant climber
Another team further above
Two rope teams descend down the Ingraham headwall
Gnarly bits on the Ingraham headwall
A climber rappels down into a crevasse wearing crampons and holding ice axes
Many pointy things on one person (photo credit: bnewbold)
A climber ascending Muir peak from the Cowlitz glacier side on fixed rope with a guide watching from below
B climbing fixed rope on descent day
A hazy and beautiful sunset from Camp Muir, with Mount Adams (Pahto) and Mount St Helens (Loowit) in the distance
The triad: beautiful all day all night