Sunday, September 30, 2007


Wow - I can hardly believe that it's already October. It's even more unbelievable that it's been a MONTH since my trip to Mt. Rainier! Time just doesn't stand still for anything, does it?
All is going well on this front - school, work, and unpacking the house are keeping me busy busy busy. Steve just got back from a whirlwind trip to Las Vegas last week and I realized that I cannot sleep alone in this house just yet. Too many noises that I can't identify in the dark.... Since I don't have much to report, I'll fill this post with lots of pictures. The first few are of the house - the new tree we planted in the front yard last weekend, my new mum, and an activity that came to an abrupt end when we realized our climbing shoes leave big black marks on our brick walls....

I have been squeezing in some riding here and there, as well. Not as much as I'd like and definitely not as much as I should be doing to prepare for the Iceman in a little over a month but I'll be stepping it up in the next week. I have been commuting to my class downtown on Mondays and it's a wonderful flat and easy ride. Steve and I rode our mountain bikes at Yankee Springs Rec Area on Friday and had a blast in the early fall weather. Then it was off to Lansing for the Kisscross race downtown along the river. I haven't done a cyclocross race in two years but had a great time in the "C" division, duking it out with a guy on a single speed who beat me by a wheel at the finish line. It didn't matter - I was just happy to be make it over the barriers without falling on my face. Here a few photos:
And it just wouldn't be right of me not to include a picture of Steve in his race. It IS a mighty fine action shot, if I do say so myself.....Have a great week and I'll try my hardest not to let another month go by without a new and exciting post from me!

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Story

It took a few days but I'm glad to say that I can walk normally again and my feet no longer look like puffy sausages. I figure I'd better do my recap now before the weekend starts and I get busy having more fun.....

I flew into Seattle on Thursday morning (8/30) and met up with my friend Jessica and two other people who were also doing the climb. Although I've been to Seattle before - for a few hours while on a crazy Greyhound bus trip - it was foggy so I had never actually seen Rainier prior to this day. No need to say that I got the chills when I saw it from the airplane window.
From the airport we had an hour and a half drive to Ashford where Whittaker Mountaineering and RMI Guides are based. More spectacular views of the mountain kept us shouting various expletives for most of the ride. Also an interesting thing we learned was how to pronounce Puyallup, which was a town along the way. Surprisingly it's not "Pull 'em up" like we all thought. It's Pew-wallop. Go figure. Once in Ashford, we settled into our bunk spots and got our gear figured out. I ended up renting a pair of crampons (the spikes you wear on your boots for glacier travel), two pairs of gloves, and a big puffy parka. I brought two big puffy parkas with me but unfortunately they just didn't seem like they'd be substantial enough. Thank God I rented one..... more on that later.

On Friday (8/31), we departed Ashford for the Paradise trailhead in Mt. Rainier National Park. From there, we hiked for a little over an hour until we found some snow. For the next few hours, we learned how to hike on glacial snow (with and without crampons), how to hike as part of a rope team, and - most importantly - how to stop yourself in the event of a fall. And not just in theory - we had to demonstrate that we were capable of stopping ourselves using our ice axes and the techniques they taught us. I wasn't able to take pictures this day since we were so busy but here's a mental image: Sue, sliding headfirst downhill on her back, trying to flip over and dig the pick of her ice axe into the snow. And failing miserably..... :) Luckily the guides were very patient with us and allowed us a few tries.

Friday night was spent unpacking and repacking for the climb and trying to figure out if I had enough food to last me through the next two days. My food consisted of a hodgepodge of Pop-Tarts (which do not travel well in a backpack), trail mix, Clif bars, crackers, candy bars, hotdog bun ham sandwiches, and some canned chicken and couscous which was to be my dinner the night before the summit. The gear I packed was my full Gore Tex (pants and jacket), puffy parka, soft-shell pants and jacket, thermal top, wool base layers, extra socks, gloves, overmitts, sleeping bag, and ice axe. All in all, I'd say my fully loaded pack weighed around 30 lbs, a much welcome change from the 45-pounder I'd been training with.
Saturday morning took us once again to the Paradise trailhead. From there, we hiked up up up the Muir snowfield to the high camp (Camp Muir) at 10,000 feet. It was about a 5-mile hike and took about 6 hours. The weather was gorgeous - bright and sunny - the route gave us a steady view not only of the big mountain that awaited us but also views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt. St. Helens in the distance. Here are a few pictures from the way up.....

It was a little after 3pm when we reached Camp Muir. After a short meeting with the guides, we had about 3 hours in which to reorganize our packs (packing only what we would need for the summit which was basically food, water and extra clothes) and eat our dinners. Although I swore it wouldn't happen, I had NO appetite at this point due to the altitude. I was also feeling pretty headachy and nauseous. I made my dinner and managed to choke down about six spoonfuls of it before I'd had enough. The view from the camp was gorgeous, though. You could no longer see the summit - just the Cowlitz glacier that lead up to Cathedral Gap. It wasn't very cold - maybe in the 50's - but the wind was a steady 20-25 mph which made it seem nastier than it was.

At 6pm, it was time to go to bed. I felt like a naughty kid having to go to bed early! It was still bright and sunny outside and we're all in our sleeping bags trying to get some rest. I'm sure I can speak for everyone else when I say that no one got any decent sleep that night. Could have been the fact that we were all excited or that we were all trying very hard to not have to get up to use the privy outside after drinking tons of water before bedtime. I did finally break down and go outside and I'm glad I did. It was dark by that time and I'm fairly sure I've never seen as many stars as I saw that night. Combined with the light from the moon, the wind, and the subtle outlines of the ridges and rocks around me, it was surreal.

Sometime around 11:30pm that same night, we awoke to the sound of one of our climbers puking outside the bunkhouse. The guides heard it, too, and decided that since we were all awake it was a good time to get up and start getting ready to head to the summit. Still feeling a bit nauseous (although much better off than the puker, who had food poisoning), I cautiously ate what I could of my unrecognizable Pop Tart and slammed a quick cup of instant coffee. Then it was time to put on packs, crampons, and harnesses and rope up. Our rope team - Team Rockstar - was Nancy (from New Haven, CT), Jessica, and I along with Chad, our guide.
We started out for the summit around 1:30am on Sunday (9/2). In the glow of my headlamp, I could only really see a few feet ahead of me as we made our way over rocky Cathedral Gap and onto the Ingraham glacier. It was so cool to see the twinkly lights of the rope team that was about 500 yards ahead of us, giving us a preview of where we were headed. Due to the late season snowmelt, the route descended nearly 500 feet at one point in order to go around a large rocky ridge. The normal route takes climbers up and over the ridge. It shortens the route but is a steep brutal climb and I was definitely okay with going the easier way around the bottom of it. We continued onward and upward after that, steadily gaining altitude. We could see the lights from Yakima and Seattle in the darkness. Before long, the sun started to rise and turned everything orange - absolutely gorgeous.
We would take a break after each hour of climbing to take our packs off and eat and drink. Each rest break was getting colder and colder and I was so thankful for my big puffy parka. It was very difficult to have the motivation to eat or drink since I just simply wasn't into it but I knew I was burning mucho energy and needed the calories to keep going. Here's Nancy and Jessica on a break. Note the slope in the background.... ouch.
The climbing also got steadily harder. Although my breathing was surprisingly fine, my muscles were screaming. The guides taught us how to "rest-step" which basically builds a momentary pause into your stride where you lock your back leg to give your muscles a brief rest. However, there definitely comes a point where rest-stepping is excruciatingly hard and I hit that point over and over again as we got closer to the summit. That's where the mental part comes in - you know your body is absolutely shot and yet you still have to convince it to keep going. I hate to admit it but at any point above about 13,000 feet, I think I would have happily agreed to start the descent.

So after a particulary long, steep, and windy section Chad (our guide) says we're in the home stretch. Since Rainier is a volcano, there is a crater at the top. But you first have to climb up and over the crater's rim. We're climbing up toward what looks like the top of a rim and I'm getting more and more excited as we get closer. Imagine my devastation when we reach the top of the 'rim' only to see that there's at least another 200' to climb. At this point, the wind is blowing 30-35mph into our faces, making each step a battle to get solid footing on the ice. I am completely exhausted - mentally and physically.

But obviously this story has to have a happy ending. There is nothing like coming over the crest of a mountain that you've just given everything you have to climb. We summited around 8am after 6.5 hours of climbing. The group ahead of us was already in the crater, cheering for us when we came up and over the rim. It was very cold (around 20 degrees) and windy at the top but we stayed there for about 45 minutes - long enough to take some pictures and eat a frozen candy bar. Here's Team Rockstar and a very cold Sue.
The descent was next and while it was nice to use different muscles, it was still pretty painful and tiring. But also interesting to see where we were. For most of the ascent, we had either been in the dark or had our backs to the scenery below us. On the way down, it really hit me as to how high we actually were. It also made me somewhat thankful for having done some of the climb in the dark because you only need to step over a bottomless cravasse once to get a bad case of vertigo. I wish I could have gotten a picture of some of these cracks but that would have required standing in a pretty unsafe place. No sense in tempting fate, I guess. Here some of my favorite photos from the descent - once we got out of the clouds it was breathtaking.

We continued down to Camp Muir, where we had about an hour to repack the rest of our gear, eat, and rest. From there, we essentially slid down the Muir snowfield on our crampon-less boots. By far, this was my least favorite part of the climb but what goes up must come down, even if you're tired and in lots of pain! After what seemed like an endless descent, we made it back to the trailhead and onto the RMI bus to go back to Ashford. The mood in the bus was a mixture of exhaustion, pain, and pride in our accomplishments.

After we returned our rentals and received our summit certificates, we loaded up the rental car and took off for Seattle. Jessica and I stayed in a much-deserved posh hotel room with a bed that felt more like a cloud. It was nice to feel hungry again and even nicer to get some sleep. We were only a few blocks from the public market in downtown Seattle so after an amazing $15 breakfast on Monday morning, we spent a few hours exploring and walking off the lactic acid in our legs. I fell in love with Seattle and can't wait to go back.

So there's my story. I still can't say for sure if I'll attempt something like this again - although I have an inkling to believe that I will. It was definitely an adventure in the true sense of the word - hard work, overcoming fear and pain, and enjoying the view from the top. Now it's on to other things for the rest of the year like settling into our house and getting back into study mode for school. But, in a way, this makes it all a little bit sweeter knowing that I've already accomplished my biggest goal of the year. The rest is just the home stretch - and that's the best part.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Dishes Are Done, Man

9/2/2007; 8am Pacific time; 14,410' above sea level; summit crater of Mt. Rainier...... whew!