We did it! Early Tuesday morning, Peter and I made it to the summit of Mount Rainier at 14,411 feet. Although extremely tired from the two days of climbing, I am so excited and pumped to have helped Peter achieve this goal and follow through with something I doubted I could achieve myself. It was such a special experience and I’m glad I got to share it with my best friend.
The trek started early Monday morning at Paradise at the base of the mountain. We set off on foot at 6AM but were soon on skis to make the climb go faster and use less energy. The goal was to reach Camp Muir (staging point for the summit climb at 10,000 feet) around lunchtime to avoid the afternoon heat. We couldn’t have asked for better weather as it was bluebird and gorgeous the entire time. Our group started with 6 guys and 3 girls who joined us to the first lookout point. The guys continued on from here; however, Bob (Peter’s brother) decided at about 7,500 feet that the climb was going to be a bit much for him at this point and decided to head back. At any other time in his life, Bob would be fit and capable but he’s the father of a 7 month old so his time and energy have been devoted elsewhere of late. I helped Bob down about 1,000 vertical feet to make sure he was at a safe point and then continued on, solo, to catch up with the others at Camp Muir. It was too bad he couldn’t continue but it was the right decision at the right time and one we all were expected to make if we were feeling less than confident in our skill, fitness, or health. I reached the Camp at about 2:00PM and spent the rest of the day relaxing, boiling water, eating, and preparing gear for the summit push which we would begin just after midnight. In the late afternoon, Andrew and Steve also decided they were not feeling up to it as they were feeling the effects of altitude and the climb to Camp Muir. Again, it was unfortunate that they wouldn’t continue on as they had put so much effort into making it this far. Initially, we were supposed to be two teams of three but now were down to just three: AJ, Peter, and me. Camp Muir was in a gorgeous location, looking out at other large peaks, including Mount Adams, Hood, and Saint Helens.
I laid down at about 8PM, knowing that I’d be up again in just a few short hours and was actually able to sleep for a couple. At midnight, we were up with a few other teams ready to make a summit push. A.J. decided at this point that his feet were just not up to the task and he knew he’d have to turn around shortly if he started. So, now we were down to two, Peter and me, and the decision whether to go on as a two person team or not. We thought we should at least try, see how we feel, and decide en route if it was manageable or not. I was glad at this point that we were going to give it a go as I would have been disappointed had we elected to abort the attempt. The two of us set off in the dark, headlamps on, roped together, hoping for the best. It was quite a sight to look up the trail and see groups of little white lights moving slowly up into the darkness. We had to climb at night because during the day the sun heats up the snow and glacier and adds too many dangerous elements to contend with. On one hand, I enjoyed climbing in the dark because I couldn’t see anything and had no idea how high I was or if there was danger around me. All I could focus on was one step at a time. On the other hand, it was pretty scary not knowing where we were headed!
The route was tough as it took us through snow, across glacier, on rocks and scree. There were some parts that really made me nervous, like crossing a 5 foot wide crevasse on a ladder and jumping over some smaller ones. Each time, Peter told me not to look down but of course I did anyway! It was scary to look down into the crevasses and see huge, deep cavernous rooms that could swallow us up if we weren’t focused. For the most part though, the trail was pretty straightforward to follow. The last hour was probably the toughest though as we followed steep switchbacks that seemed to go forever. At this point, because of the altitude, we were moving at a snail’s pace and taking 20-30 steps at a time and then stopping to rest. Every time we came over a new roller, thinking we were closets the top, we looked up to see another huge expanse that we needed to cover. It was discouraging and overwhelming, however, we knew that we could get it done at this point if we just kept plugging along. Finally, we reached the crater at 7AM where we stopped to refuel and rehydrate. From here you could dump your pack and unrope, walk across the crater, and scramble up the last 100 feet to the summit. We were the only ones there when we made it and it was truly a spectacular and special moment. It was incredible to look down on giant mountains below us that looked so small. You could see forever. I felt such a sense of empowerment and accomplishment for getting to the top, but also, I was so proud of my friend Peter, for achieving his goal despite having an extremely compromised lung capacity. It was amazing to which him persevere, without showing any signs of discomfort or agony or breathing disability. In fact, he looked as competent and comfortable as the best climbers we saw on the mountain. Over the course of the entire climb, I’d estimate that about 50% of the people who started the climb to the summit had to turnaround because of illness or lack of fitness – Peter completed this task without a hint of problem. It was impressive and inspiring to witness. I was thrilled, for my own sake, that I also had no issues adapting to the altitude and did not feel too stretched physically, beyond what would be expected.
We didn’t spend too much time at the top as it was cold, windy, and we knew the sun would be affecting the snow in adverse ways. Also, we still had a few hours of down climbing. Each step down was greeted with a fuller breath. Our legs were tired and wobbly but we made sure to move slowly and cautiously as this is when you can make mistakes or lose focus and fall. We returned to camp around 11AM, greeted by the rest of the group, smiles, hugs, and high fives all around. We took about an hour to rest up, refuel, and pack up, before descending the rest of the mountain on skis and foot. It was such a welcome relief to reach the bottom, hug the rest of the group, and say that we did it. It was such a team effort – even though only Peter and I reached the summit, it took the effort and energy of everyone to make it happen. I’m so grateful for the support that everyone contributed and I know that Peter appreciates what everyone did to help make his dream come true.
In total, Peter and I climbed more than 10,000 vertical feet over 21 hours with very little sleep (or experience, in my case). It was grueling and exhausting, easily the most physically challenging and scariest thing I have done in my life. At the same time, it was one of the most rewarding and empowering. I can’t put into words the feeling of standing on top, considering all it took to get there.
After two days of camp food and cliff bars, the Yak burger and momos (traditional Nepalese dumplings) at the Himalayan restaurant in Ashford tasted pretty amazing!
What a great experience – thank you Peter for the opportunity and thanks to everyone else for the support. Now we just have to ride back to Vancouver!