Monthly Archives: February 2011

Descending the Hill

Sleeping next to strangers was more comfortable than expected, perhaps because the intensity of the hike up to Camp Muir waisted me. I fell asleep listening to people from all over America (and the world) complain about headaches from the altitude- weaksauce. Our highways go above 10,000 feet in Colorado, I thought.

Shuffling bodies and mumbling voices awoke me in the morning, I thought it was still dark, I had to pee. I started to listen to what everyone was saying, “It’s a beautiful day”, yeah right, “It’s gorgeous out there”, define gorgeous, “Great day,” oh suuuuuure. I honestly expected nothing more than blowing snow, bitter cold, and maybe a bit brighter grey light than yesterday.

My bladder convinced me to get out of my sleeping bag, find my clothes (still wet), assemble my armor of Gore-tex, and go out side. At first I was shocked at the brightness that rushed me. As I adjusted, I looked around. I saw this:

Without even a chance for my mind to react, my emotions took over and I submitted to the overpowering force of God’s glory. I didn’t have any tears, perhaps the air was too dry, but I know that I couldn’t catch my breath and that I felt deeply penetrated by a demanding and relentless beauty. Gem of a moment in my life.

I don’t remember peeing after that. Scary thought now that I think of it. I just roamed around the camp, stunned, in Awe. This unveiling of my surrounds was so intense because I had not even seen Mt. Rainier from afar before now. My only perception of Rainier was clouds and a wicked storm. Now I was above the clouds, in heaven, and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

After our final efforts to absorb our magnificent environment up on the hill, we began packing up to head down. Because of all the new snow and the ninety mile per hour winds the night before (that we hiked in), the avalanche danger was too much and we had to take our final opportunity of good weather to descend.

I left without even seeing the summit, but it didn’t matter to me. My adventure quota was overdone and being buried alive didn’t sound so great. I was at peace with the mountain, and that was most important. Turning our backs on Camp Muir, Harry, Joel, and I began descending the Muir Snowfield, and I descended with satisfaction. 

Part 10,000

Camp Muir is the basecamp for the majority of Mt. Rainier climbs. It perches atop the Muir Snowfield at ten thousand feet above sea level. Within this basecamp are a few choice spots for pitching tents (I assume), some outhouses, and then two main shelters. One of which is specifically for Rainier Mountaineering Inc., the other, is owned by the National Forrest Service. I heard word of these shelters during my hike up the Muir Snowfield (read: while I was freezing).

I was hauling you-know-what up the snowfield and began catching up to guided groups. Earlier, some of the guided groups were turning back, the weather being too extreme for them. Not us! No, no, no! What’s a little ice pelting your face at 60 miles per hour? As I passed a guide and one of his clients, I heard the client ask the guide’s opinion on the conditions. Much to my affirmation, he said that the weather was “full on”.

I quickly began to hate everything. I knew that those shelters were coming, but not soon enough. I felt like I had certainly suffered enough and that now I deserved to be relieved, it was becoming too aweful. But hiking in a whiteout makes for prolonged suspense when it comes to looking for your destination. When I did look up, all I saw was white. Very discouraging.

However when I did see the shelters, I asked a nearby guide which belonged to the National Forrest Service. He pointed, I ran.

Then I got tired, and trudged in total agony. So close! All I knew is that I wanted to be relieved from the pain I was in. And let me elaborate on this “pain.” It was psychical pain, but also very emotional. Mainly it was emotional because I didn’t want to die. As far as surviving goes, I was doing it. But I knew I was certainly in a situation where I needed to make sure that I continue surviving, lest I freeze to death.

Completely distressed, I approached the door of the shelter and pulled on the handle. That didn’t do anything. So I yanked like my life depended on it- wait a second…. After a moment of me thinking it was locked, it relented. Stepping inside, I was met with darkness and murmuring voices. I had just been in a total whiteout for a hours and I still couldn’t see, only now it was the inverse. I took a step forward and bumped into something hanging from the ceiling. So I just stood there, blind, and a little bit stunned. Eventually, my eyes adjusted and I started to make out my surroundings.

People began asking me if I was going up or coming down. Going up, I said. They couldn’t believe me, they had been there since the night before, captives of the storm. The park rangers had told them to wait it out because of the severity of the weather. And then I pop in. They thought I was loony. I told them that I had two more coming and they said they would make room for us (which meant that they would have to go from being crowded to completely crammed).

Joel and Harry arrived (in that order about 15 minutes apart), and I watched as each of them entered the shelter and experienced the same stupefying affect of the darkness. Once they came to, we all shared in the uplifting relief of warmth, security, and a Russian man who gave us crackers with slabs of butter on them. 

Part Duex

So there we were in Seattle. For couple of days, we waited out the storm by hanging around just outside of Mt. Rainier National Park. After following the local weather broadcasts, we learned that the only clearing in the storm was to be Thursday morning. So we decided to brace the storm and hike up to Camp Muir on Wednesday (in the storm) so that we could go for the summit on Thursday.

On Wednesday we met up with our climbing partner, Harry Chistensen, a fellow Mountaintech who responded to our search for a third person for our rope team. He was local and experienced, but better yet, a solid man of God who completed our little team magnificently. We then drove up to Paradise (trail head), and went into the ranger station to acquire permits. The rangers inside were already swapping stories about experiences they had already had in the storm. When we told them we were planning to head up the mountain, they seemed impressed. With excited but also nervous energy, they gleefully ensured us that we were in for it.

Walking out of the ranger station, I felt like I was taking a big step into a big, black pit. What was next? Blizzards are not for hiking, right? Storms are not for going above timberline, right? And then began hiking, through slushy snow… in the fog… and then drizzle… and then rain… and then there was wind.  And then the wind blew harder… and then the rain froze… and then we hurt. 

 

Part One Point One

Crevasse rescue: is the process of retrieving a climber from a crevasse in a glacier. Because of the frequency with which climbers break through the snow over a crevasse and fall in, crevasse rescue technique is a standard part of climbing education.

A day before Joel and I headed up the mountain, we wanted to make sure we were both on the same page for crevasse rescue. So in the massive amounts of snow right next to the trail head parking lot, we practiced. What we learned is that neither of us wanted to fall into a crevasse, nor, have to rescue each other. 

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