Dates: September 8-10 2011; June 2019
Distance: ~15 miles
Elevation: 14,410 feet
Vertical gain: 9,100 feet
Bathrooms: Flushing toilet at Paradise, Fixed outhouse at Muir
Mt. Rainier was my first attempt at a state highpoint in September of 2011. After that experience, I temporarily set the mountain aside while I embraced the goal of standing on the highest natural point in each state of the Continental U.S. I have since reached those other 47 state highpoints. Now, I’m turning back to where it all began.
How the Idea Formed (September 2007)
All of those years ago, I had no idea what it took to attempt a mountain like Mt. Rainier. I’ve always been drawn to the outdoors, so when I found myself in Seattle in September of 2007 and saw the mountain, I had to go there. It wasn’t even a choice I’d stopped to ponder. On the fly, I rearranged my schedule of sightseeing in Seattle to go see the mountain up close.
We did a beautiful short hike near the base, then made our way to the Visitor’s Center at Paradise. I started reading signs about how people went to the top of Rainier. It had never occurred to me that anyone would attempt such a feat. I kept saying aloud, “wow, people go to the top of this…”
Shaun advised me (repeatedly) not to get any ideas and I assured him that I wouldn’t. But, several months later, I found I hadn’t stopped thinking about getting to the top. I had kept it to myself and tried to contain the urge, but I needed to climb Mt. Rainier.
Attempt #1 (September 2011)
For those next few years, I talked to anyone who would listen about Mt. Rainier. Probably from my incessant chatter, I managed to recruit Shaun and his Dad for this pilgrimage.
We began with what I remember to be a 4 hour gear check at the IMG headquarters in Ashford. [Note: writing this eight years later is all coming from inside me and may be slightly different from how it played out.] Never before had I put so much thought and preparation into each item I would carry on a hike. All of our heads were spinning as we left for the night with our packs ready for the adventure.
The next morning we rejoined with the climbers and guides at IMG and rode in a van to Paradise. We took care of our bathroom needs then hit the trail.
For the next six hours, the pattern was to climb an hour then rest on our packs to refuel and hydrate. Slogging up the snowfields with a 40 pound pack for approximately 5,000 feet of elevation gain might as well have been a stair master with unstable footing while carrying a small child. It was grueling work.
Having never done something of this magnitude, I just about crawled into Muir that afternoon. Our guides got us settled into the fixed bunk house and showed us how to locate the IMG food tent and the bathroom. We rested and hydrated while they cooked us dinner, then journeyed over to the food tent as a team.
Sleeping at over 10,000 feet for the first time in my life, I battled a raging headache. Add to that, I felt quite gross sleeping in the same clothes I’d just spent six hours sweating in. But, this was all in the name of adventure.
The guides described the second day as an “active rest day,” which, in retrospect it was. But, at that time, required energy that I didn’t feel I had. We awoke to blueberry pancakes and the advice of getting fresh air to combat the headache, both of which put me in a more positive frame of mind.
After breakfast, our team ran through crampon techniques, use of the ice axe, and how to function together on a rope. Once the previous day’s climbers returned from the upper mountain, we were clear to proceed up to the Ingraham Glacier.
We hiked for a little over an hour, gaining around 1,000 feet of elevation to the next camp. We worked out who slept in which tent, then found the bathrooms, which were essentially open air snow caves – one for each gender.
The guides cooked us dinner, then sent us to bed around 4:00 pm with the promise of awakening somewhere around midnight. That night, I slept in my winter hat with the mummy sleeping bag completely covering my head. It was cold, but I somehow managed a few hours of sleep, perhaps feeling better than the night at Muir.
Awakened somewhere around 1:00 am (I think), we joined the team for toasted bagels with melted cheese. Everyone then had a few minutes to layer up clothing, put on crampons, grab our packs, and begin the final leg to the summit.
Around 3:00 am the wheels came off. My rope team had run out of endurance. I, feeling rather diminished physically and spent mentally, decided it was okay to turn around with the others since I’d had my adventure. At the time, it felt like the right decision. I’d never taken on a mountain of this magnitude. I wasn’t ready mentally or physically for these demands. My feet were blistered and sweaty from the rented double plastic boots. I didn’t have a good sense of how to balance the mental toughness through the physical discomfort. The goal, while in me, wasn’t what it is today.
We returned to our tents, grabbed a few more hours of sleep, then went on a relaxed, guided tour of the crevasses while about half of the team summited. We returned to Muir for a long rest, then made our way back to Paradise.
Attempt #2 (June 2019)
It feels poetic to conclude my long-term goal in the very place it began. Friends who have climbed at least one other highpoint with me will join in the quest for #48. I feel so fortunate to partner with a team who not only supports my mountain obsession, but is adventurous enough to join me on such a meaningful, and hopefully celebratory climb.
I have since gained more experience in the mountains. Physically, I’m in a much better place than I was in 2011. And, my mental game is stronger than ever. I feel ready. I feel prepared and battle tested. I want this mountain more than any of the 47 others I’ve climbed. I’m truly ready to stand on the summit of Mt. Rainier.