Mt. Rainier carries its own personality and is a very unique climb, quips one of our climbing guides. It may not compare against the Himalayan climbs, but there is something special about climbing Mt. Rainier. During my usual evening runs near Kerry park, I would observe the tourists clicking away their picture-perfect selfies against the backdrop of the Seattle skyline and Mt. Rainier. I knew that I would be climbing this beautiful volcano at some point in time, and that would mark the revival of my mountaineering skills. With all the international travel over these years, that day kept getting deferred further into oblivion. When I lost my passports in Greece a couple of months back, I knew I needed to take a pause and spend a little more time in the emerald city. And that was a great opportunity to register for my climb.
There are multiple routes that one can choose to climb Mt. Rainier. Most follow what is called the DC route, or the Disappointment Cleaver route. Emmons route is another popular route, with a much more involving backcountry experience compared to the DC route. I signed up for the DC route, although ultimately, we ended up taking the Ingraham glacier route – a route which stays safe until spring, after which the many crevasses tend to become unstable. I chose to climb with IMG, and immediately signed the necessary papers when a slot opened up in June. There are only three outfits commissioned to leaded guided climbs – IMG, RMI, and Alpine Ascents. IMG and RMI have their bases in Ashford, while Alpine Ascents are based in Seattle. IMG and Alpine Ascents share the same infrastructure on the mountain, so they alternate their climb days. As you would imagine, the slots fill out quite a bit in advance – it’s a much coveted climb in the Pacific Northwest, and Denali prep climb for a lot of people. It doesn’t need any prior climbing experience, but being generally fit and comfortable in the outdoors helps make the climb a lot more enjoyable.
We gathered at the IMG base camp in Ashford the evening before the climb to meet the guides, do a gear check and rent any missing equipment such as avalanche transceiver, harnesses etc. IMG has a few tents for their guests to stay, so I stayed back. The weather forecast was looking really dicey, so we left rather anxiously for the park. Packs adjusted, gear secured, we made our way to the Camp Muir, our first stop . Weather was lovely for the first half of the ascend, but intense wind and snowfall really battered us on the rest half of the hike. The winds continued to howl for rest of the evening, and the groups attempting to summit that night had to all turn back because of the conditions. We stayed at the comfortable IMG wooden refuge.
Day 2 was an easy acclimatization and glacier traverse skills practice day. For folks who aren’t familiar walking with crampons, roping up, self-arrest and other fundamental skills, this is a great day to practice. The weather had improved a lot, so it was a lot of fun doing basic exercises with the group. Unfortunately, a couple in our group had to turn back because of heart complications, but the rest of the group proceeded to the Ingraham Flats basecamp. It was a short 2 hour ascent, but what I found to be the most beautiful section of the climb.
The night at the base camp was quiet, with an early dinner, keeping hydrated, and getting some rest for a midnight start for the summit. We woke up at midnight, had breakfast and geared up for a march into darkness. We were the first group heading for the summit, but it progressively got a lot busier with at least 10 other groups making an attempt at the summit. The weather was still foul during much of the ascent, with winds hovering around 30mph. All of us had all our 5 top layers and 3 bottom layers on. With climbing altitude, we were now all walking at snail’s pace.
The Summit itself was non-descript, given the flat top, and the cloud cover didn’t help either. But nonetheless, we had to do capture the customary summit pic. Unfortunately, another one from our group had to descend from about 13k feet. The descend from the summit was grueling with about 7-8 hours of almost non-stop walking with intervals of glissading, removing the warm layers, and counting every step, making it a 15-hour day in total. If you are thinking of climbing this beautiful mountain, committing yourself by signing up for the next available climb is a great first step! If the slots are full, I highly recommend subscribing to their mailing list for cancellations. Keep climbing!