Flashing Mount Rainier

It’s just the need to break up the weekly routine which finds me out in Washington State. No, I did not travel by the usual conventional means; I hitchhiked across the Trans-Canadian Highway from Ottawa to Vancouver. Three thousand miles is a long way to go, but my lust for adventure and mountaineering has finally brought me to Paradise.

Paradise is the name of the ranger station from which the majority of people register to climb on Rainier. The weather looks very promising and the name Paradise is certainly fitting. The sky is clear blue and the snow a dazzling bright white unlike the cloudy and bug-infested Adirondacks I left two weeks ago. It is Saturday, June 23, and our adventure has begun.

Approach

The weight of my pack slowly settles on my back. We have been hiking for a couple of hours now, and it is noontime. A mile and a half ago, we passed the last of the spruce trees on┬áRainier’s slopes. It’s all rock, ice, and snow from now on. While many hike onwards up to Camp Muir, we branch left and down to the Wilson Glacier. We follow the tracks of a large party going our way, members of The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based climbing group.

As we move quickly by a few stragglers, I can’t help but grin. My ears catch a woman’s complaints of wet and numb feet. Her leather boots are totally soaked and we’re only three miles up the mountain. Wearing plastic boots, my feet are dandy and warm. Jim’s homemade Supergaitors shed the wet, slushy snow. Our advantage in footwear is certainly a big help in our summit push.

But my grin soon is replaced by a gasp. The steady plod uphill saps the remainder of my breakfast energy. A few French bonbons inspire me up, up to where Jim slowly uncoils the rope and unpacks his lunch.

“Dave, it’s time…”

And so it is. The sun is gone and the cool, mountain air chills us. It is 1 AM and after crunching on granola bars, we rope up. The Mountaineers below us are already on the move, still two hours behind US. Naturally, my headlamp doesn’t work, so Jim takes the lead.

Soon I am all alone on this 500′ slope, in the pitch dark. The slushy snow of yesterday is now hard-packed and frozen. Our crampons grate their way upward, with our ice axes placed shaft-first into the slope for balance.

Eighty feet above me, I can make out Jim, or rather his lamp, scouting the couloir, lighting up the area like a tiny search beam. Up we continue, with the rope taut, our only link together. I keep remembering my Adirondack experience on frozen waterfalls, the Eagle Slide on Giant, the North Face of Gothics, Chapel Pond Slabs all the practice I had then is paying off. If either of us slips, both of us would slide 2000′, like runaway rockets, down into the yawning crevasses on the glacier below.

But my confidence in my skill enables me to place that fear behind me, never letting it get out in front. As the slope lessens, the wind picks up. Suddenly I notice it is light out and Mount Adams glistens in the alpen-glow. The wind creeps through our bones and we continue. More French bonbons enable me to keep on going. My desire to go forward weakens, but Jim keeps going, and I’m roped up with him.

I can see Jim somehow standing up, ice axe raised high, as the wind lashes him with spindrift. Yes, we finally made it. Since the winds are so strong, about 80 mph, we jump into the summit caldera to get out of the blast. It is 8 AM.

Sure we knocked the bastard off but where was the calm and serenity so often quoted in all the books? All there was to do up here was freeze, so we opted to descend.