Mount Rainier Summit Trip Report
After months of anticipation, training drama, self-doubt, and perseverance, I arrived. I summited Mount Rainier on May 21st, 2018. just one week before my 30th birthday.
This project started 6 months ago when I was thinking about my ambitions and projects. I realized that my climbing career was leaning towards longer and easier, and I was most interested in remote climbs that required backpacking. I did my first alpine climb, the east buttress of Mount Whitney last year, and realized that my heart was in the bigger mountains. I am less of a climber, and more of a mountaineer. I have experience moving in the mountains, but I was missing one key skill: Glacier Travel. My good friend Joyce mentioned casually one night over a Joshua Tree campfire that she was interested in mountaineering, specifically, an ascent of Rainier as training for her own ambitions to climb Denali one day. Its so hard in this world to meet someone whose objectives line up with your own, so I jumped in. A month later we were signed up together for a 4 day mountaineering school and summit with RMI guides.
The training went okay at first. I stopped climbing and focused more on my school work, weights, and cardio. I was running 12 miles a week. Around the end of march I climbed Mount Baldy in my mountaineering boots. My feet didn’t like that too much, and I felt pain in both my right foot and left knee. I went to the sports injury doctor. The xray revealed a possible metatarsal stress fracture. I was over doing it. He prescribed using the elliptical. I had less than 8 weeks until my summit so I started working hard to mask how much I started to worry. I could be totally jacked but with bad bones I wasn’t going to get myself up Mount Rainier. I started doing weighted stair master trips, an hour at a time, 3 times a week, with a 20 pound kettle bell. When I wasn’t in the gym, I was wearing a boot. The pain in my foot became just intermittent instead of being a constant gentle throb.
1 week before the climb the sports injury doctor told me I was in good health to attempt Rainier, and to just turn around if my feet hurt too much. I honestly don’t think that was very good advice. Because that’s what I would have done anyway. (In retrospect, staying off my feet when they started to hurt may not have required medical school either.) So I decided that I definitely wasn’t going to climb Mount Rainier if I didn’t try to, and flew to Seattle.
Day 1 and 2 of the 4 day summit climb were orientation and mountaineering school, respectively. I found these days worth their weight in gold. I knew how to self arrest already, but combining that with glacier travel rope team strategy gave me confidence that I didn’t have before.
On Day 3 we started up the standard route with our overnight packs to camp Muir. We wore our mountaineering boots and trekking poles for this portion of the hike. RMI told us that they would take care of shelter, sleeping pads, and hot water. That saved me 10 pounds of packing. I would estimate that my backpack up to camp was around 25lbs. It was a far cry from the 35-45lbs they mentioned, but I reckon that as a smaller person my clothes probably weighed less. I also brought less food than some of the bigger men on the trip. Even though the trip up to Camp Muir is considered, like, the pre-trip, its certainly nothing to sneeze at. The route is 5 miles long with a 1000ft of elevation gain per mile. I would compare it to the mountaineers route on Mount Whitney. RMI had a policy that we only cover 1000ft per hour, and that we take breaks on the hour. This is much slower than I normally would have gone, but I appreciated being forced to take a break. I think learning how to conserve my energy was one of my take aways from this trip.
I felt great at Camp Muir. I had a little bit of a headache but that’s par for the course for me at 10,000 feet. I was feeling good. I was bright, positive, energetic, and not in the least fatigued from our big journey wearing heavy boots. My expectations on how exhausted I was were being exceeded tremendously at that stage.
We went to bed in the guide bunk house around 6pm. I slept between two large kind men in the crawl space of the bottom bunk. As expected, I had a restless high altitude sleep, but managed to get a solid 3 hours. We were politely woken up at 12:30am and instructed to meet with our rope teams after donning our upper mountain gear to include ice axes, crampons, harnesses, boots, gaiters, and heavy layers.
The second day was broken up into 4 legs on the ascent, and 4 legs on the descent, but the descent was all the way back to the parking lot to take the shuttle back to ashford. The ascent intervals were similar to the first day, where we rise around 1000ft and take a 10 minute break. We were told we were allowed to consider turning around only at the first two breaks. The guides strongly suggested that we consume ~200 calories at each break, drink 1/3rd a liter of water, and use the bathroom if we had to. Peeing was awkward roped up to two men, but it was hard to be bashful at 2am in the darkness.
The first leg was done completely in the dark. It was tough, but I took the small steps like they told us to, and I found a deep breathing rhythm that helped me maintain the required rope distances. I felt surprisingly bright, positive, and energetic at the first break. I have never felt better at 11k feet in my life. I could tell my vim was annoying my guides and my fellow team members, but my psyche was real and they couldn’t damper how strong I felt. I felt just as strong, just as fantastic at the second break, and around this time, the sun came up. The sun revealed unreal incredible views. We were above the cloud line, and it felt like we were climbing into the sky. My expectations were being exceeded left and right. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect.
I was starting to feel the burn in my thighs around the third break, but it was the sort of pain I normally would have felt on the first day. We were passing the no turnaround point like it wasn’t a thang.
I felt tears come to my eyes as we moved over the rocky rim of the summit crater. I felt so strong. I had that moment in my mind for 6 months, and for half of that I fought the fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Now I was summiting the hardest mountain in the lower 48 stronger than I have ever summited a major peak in my life. I trained, I came, I conquered. I high fived everyone. I signed the summit register. I hugged Joyce, I jumped for joy. I was that energetic. Everyone else was doing fantastic too. We had a 100% success rate on both teams, all 18 peeps. This is something quite rare for Rainier, they say.
Everyone was hurting on the descent, but it uses different muscle groups and we descended without issue, and without epicing. It was devastatingly hot on the descent, and I was still wearing my thermal base layer pants. I sweated so much. We got down to Camp Muir, removed our technical gear, and glissaded back down to the parking lot. When we sat down for beers back at base camp around 5pm, everyone was looking chipper, happy, and grateful. I myself was feeling surprisingly alive after an 18 hour summit day on only 3 hours of sleep.
Two days later, back in San Diego, I am still riding high on the summit. It was worth every moment, every step, every dollar it took to get there. I am already dreaming about my next adventure. Maybe Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, or Denali? I suddenly have my eyes one of the seven summits. The world out there, and it has never felt more accessible to me.
Thanks to Joyce, for being my travel partner. I am looking forward to our future adventures together, and I am glad that we had this trip to establish that foundation.
Thanks to RMI for putting another skill in my toolbox. I never summited stronger and I think the techniques I learned at the mountaineering school were invaluable. I will use them on every trip from now on, I can tell.
And Thank you to Christina Dale for being the head guide on my expedition. Such an inspiration. Shout out to Dustin and Grayson for their emotional support and believing in us.
So much love, all around.
More photos from the trip below!