4 weeks ago, Jack and I decided to do an up-and-over of Rainier. Recovering from an injury, Andrew graciously offered to assist us with a car shuttle between Paradise and White River so we could traverse the mountain. It was on! Jack, a close family friend, triathlete, and skilled & speedy climber, booked his tickets from California. I reserved multiple climbing permits so we could decide on the exact route closer to the date, based on conditions.
I continued training, and reviewed my rope skills and crevasse rescue technique weekly. I kept a close eye on climbing conditions, feeling anxious due to predicted new snow fall and high freezing temps, resulting in increased avalanche risk. We needed to carry full avalanche gear- beacon, probe, and shovels.
On Friday, we decided on the Emmons route and drove to White River. As we packed our gear in the lot, I saw a guided party who had just descended, and I asked how the climb went. Their pit test revealed snow propagating from 70cm below on Wednesday, so they did not continue due to avalanche concern. Luckily, a melt-freeze cycle over the next 24 hours likely stabilized the snow a bit more for our attempt. We knew we’d decrease risk by climbing quickly in the middle of the night, while the mountain was at its coldest.
We started the approach from White River around noon.
We arrived at Camp Curtis, a small rocky on the shoulder of Inter Glacier, at 5pm. Curtis is located before the very popular and higher Camp Schurman, where I originally hoped to get permits, but Schurman was full. Thankfully, Curtis was actually better- we had the entire camp to ourselves with a great 360° view.
We set up camp, shoveling snow into our bivy spot- better to sleep on snow than mud. We melted snow for drinking water and ate dinner- I brought a whole home-made pizza (a la Andrew), and Jack brought a large deli sandwich.
Back at the White River lot, Jack convinced me to ditch bivys to shed weight from our heavy packs. We camped in the open air with just our sleeping bags and blow-up pads. It was surprisingly comfortable and warm in our wind-sheltered spot. We tucked in around 7pm. Jack fell asleep quickly, but I only managed to get an hour of sleep.
Our alarm woke us at 11:40pm. We were disappointed to see the moon had shifted behind the mountain, making for a very dark climb. After breakfast and packing, we roped up and started at 12:50am.
The climb was quiet- we only saw two parties before us. Jack and I took turns leading. We didn’t take many pictures- we were laser focused as we looked for terrain traps and crevasses in the darkness. Although there were tracks dispersed around, there was no obvious boot pack. The wind was a sustained 30MPH. The temperate was unusually warm, above freezing.
We gained on the party in front of us as they struggled on an icy traverse. Instead of climbing behind them and losing precious time, Jack began ice-climbing up a more direct 50-foot ice wall. ALRIGHT, then! I followed, swinging away, telling myself “just go”. I’m glad Jack lead that one 😅
Jack took the following photos during a 5-minute break. We did not take pictures as we climbed.
I asked Jack to lead the next section, where we had to end run a large crevasse and then cross a bergschrund, which required a few ice climbing moves. The wind caught me at a certain angle as I leaned in towards the bergschrund wall, and my shovel handle flew out of my pack, right into a crevasse. 👀
Soft and funky snow motivated us to keep moving through the last push, and we made it to the crater rim around 6am. After barely seeing anyone all morning, it felt odd to see lots of climbers from the DC route. We unroped and slowly walked the final ridge to the summit, both a little bonked from our pace on the glacier. The winds were relentless at 60MPH, so we didn’t take any pictures. After crouching at the true summit and exchanging a fist-bump, we descended to the wind-protected and rocky summit register.
During the whole ascent, I could not stomach eating solid foods. I drank liquid calories and forced down two gels. I usually eat a lot outside, especially on Rainier climbs. This time was different- maybe it was my constant adrenaline concerning the conditions. Jack handed me a single square of chocolate and implored me to eat. It took all my strength to eat it, one tiny bite at a time.
We walked across the crater rim to the more popular Disappointment Cleaver route, shoveled out by guides and always full of large parties, for our descent. I lead down, often assuming a split squat position to hold my stance against the high winds. The route was straight forward with no large crevasse or ladder crossings, so we never used any of the guide’s runner pro. We moved quickly, passing other parties in front of us.
On the rocky Dissapointment Cleaver, I noticed a lenticular cloud forming over Little Tahoma. I hate anything that resembles an electrical storm, and rock fall hazzard is serious here, so we continued to move.
After getting off the cleaver, we passed Ingraham Flats camp with a pep in our step. But the route on Cathedral Rock became slippery, with slushy snow on top of gravel and dirt, and we both tripped around a bit. My legs are all banged up to prove it… I am used to banged up legs by now 😬
We arrived at Camp Muir, full of hopeful climbing parties and skiers. Jack and I sat on a rock, boots off, taking a moment to eat. We wondered what time it was, so I checked my phone. We both guessed at was early afternoon, but it was only 9:30am! We burst out laughing, nearly hysterically.
With all the glacier travel finished, we packed up our gear for the last hour(s?) down the mountain. I kind of kept up with Jack as he ran all the way down the Muir Snowfield- 4 miles and 5,500 vertical feet to Paradise, dodging day hikers along the way.
We checked out at the ranger station and walked to the lower Paradise parking lot, where Andrew and Burt awaited us with cold water, sandwiches, and cinnamon rolls.
Rainier Summit Traverse Totals
Total Elapsed Time: 24 hours
Total Distance: ~18 Miles
Total Gain: 10,800 feet