We arrived at Ashford Washington in the morning of July 4th. There were tourists everywhere for the holiday weekend, but our thoughts were not on flags or fireworks, we were here for the mountain. We checked into the Whitaker Bunkhouse and then went to the ranger station to get our climbing permits. There was a huge line just to get in the park; perhaps this was not the best weekend to have chosen to tackle Rainier. We got dinner at Wildberry, a favorite eatery of climbers that is owned by a former Sherpa from Nepal with excellent food, I highly recommend the huckleberry pie. After dinner we did a final gear check and hit the sack, we would have gone right to sleep but the local guides across the street were having their own little celebration of our nation’s independence. They were not quiet.
We awoke the next morning at 630, after a quick bite to eat and and some coffee we were off. We arrived at Paradise (alt. 5400 ft.) and registered our climb with the local rangers. After a quick picture we began to make our way up to Camp Muir which would be our jumping off point for our summit attempt. For this initial trek we didn’t need any technical gear so we just enjoyed a leisurely hike up the snow field. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. We got to Muir around 2pm and set up shop: tents, water, and food were first on the list. We spoke to the rangers and learned that the forecast for the evening was 50mph winds and rain. Fuck. That’s just great.
Fortunately we had planned on resting a day at Muir to give us all a chance to acclimate and rest, so we just had to endure a long night of cold and wind. If you’ve never slept in a tent in high winds, it equates to trying to sleep inside of jet engine, it is not very cool. The wind was ripping through camp all night, and made sleeping near impossible. When we got up around 10am we were surprised to find that the wind had died and the temperature was on the rise. This instantly lifted our spirits as we were making our summit bid that evening.
We awoke at 10:30pm on July 6th. We made some coffee, ate some hot ‘breakfast’, gathered our gear, and set off on the route. We got out of camp just before most of the other climbers and there were only a couple groups ahead of us on the route. You could see the train of headlamps behind us. It was actually kind of a cool sight. We made our way up to the Ingraham Flats and crossed over to the start of the Disappointment Cleaver. Why do they always name these things like that? As my brother said, “Why couldn’t they have called it Fluffy Bunny Way?” We started climbing the Cleaver and the damn thing didn’t seem like it would ever end (which is why it was named Disappointment). Just when I thought we were getting close to the end I looked up and could see headlamps about 1000 feet above us. Shit. We have a long way to go. I just kept telling myself: one foot in front of the other, keep fucking going you pussy!
We eventually reached the end of the Cleaver, and were approaching the summit as the sun began to break the horizon. We rounded a corner and I finally could see the volcano crater rim. We had arrived at the top of the mountain. It was just a short distance to the summit. We were standing on the summit at 530 am. We were all very proud of the time we had made on our first unguided ascent of Rainier. A few quick pictures, some water, and a bite to eat, then it was time to leave. Now we just had to walk all the way back down, except now we could see where we were walking. Let me tell you, it’s a lot freakier when you can actually see that you’re crossing massive crevasses, or walking down an 8 inch path with a 2000 ft drop to your right. We took our sweet ass time getting down, we were in no hurry. The descent went pretty smoothly outside of a few blisters and a small route variation. The last ½ mile was spent in silence. We were all pretty tired.
After a quick power nap we packed up our bags and descended back to Paradise, eager for a beer, a meal, and relaxation at low altitude. It was a good trip. I honestly can’t say enough good things about the team we had. Jeong led us up the mountain like a boss; Chris was unwavering; and Nick kept the mood light. They can be my wingmen any time.