Saturday, August 11, 2012

Trip Report: Mt. Rainier, August 05-06, 2012

It has definitely been a slow year for me. Mt. Rainier at 14,411 feet was the first major peak I completed this year, hence the lack of updates. I'm afraid it will be even slower from now on due to obtaining full-time employment.
Mount Rainier as seen from the Paradise Trailhead.
Mount Rainier as seen from the Paradise Trailhead.
Anyway, Rainier has been on my mind since completing all the 14ers here in California last year, but I never took the initiative to plan it. I guess you can say I became lazy. Luckily, my friend Kevin, who climbed Mt. Tom and some Palisade Peaks with me last year, took the initiative and reserved permits back in April for an early August ascent via the Disappointment Cleaver Route. Despite obtaining the permits that early in advance, we didn't actually do any of the planning until 2 weeks prior.

In case you're interested in climbing Rainier, here's some beta:

Beta
To climb Rainier, you must obtain a permit either by reservation ($20) or by walk-in, unless you plan to day-hike it. You will also need to purchase a climbing pass ($43 for each adult over 24), which is good for the entire year. You will also need to have a partner/team unless you apply for a solo permit (requires extensive solo, glacier travel, and rescue experience). You must also check-in at the ranger station before your climb and fill out the permit. There is an equipment checklist on the permit and the rangers will question you if you don't have all the equipment. We were questioned on how we were going to build a snow anchor as we didn't bring any pickets and how many days of fuel we had. Wag bags are also required and provided. Be warned that they are not nearly as nice as the ones you get on Whitney or Shasta. They are just two small plastics bags and a couple wire ties. No kitty litter, no target paper, and no toilet paper. The good thing is, there's solar toilets at Camp Muir.
2012 Mount Rainier National Park Individual Climbing Pass.
2012 Mount Rainier National Park Individual Climbing Pass.
Mount Rainier Wag/Poop Bag System.
Mount Rainier wag/poop bag system.
The Disappointment Cleaver (DC) Route is the easiest and most popular route to the summit. It starts from Paradise (~5,550 feet), is class 2-3, nontechnical, ~14 miles round trip, gains ~9000 feet, and normally takes people 2 days to complete it. The route is very easy to follow in good conditions and not so easy in bad conditions (seems obvious right?). Check conditions before you go! I believe from mid-July to early August, Rainier has the most stable weather and best conditions.

To give you an idea of what we brought with us in terms of gear, here's the list we used. I compiled the list using a combination of the NPS recommended gear list and from prior trips. Keep in mind that this is for an early August ascent with excellent conditions on the DC route.

Individual Equipment Team Equipment
Altimeter
Backpack
Balaclava
Boots
Camera
Carabiners (minimum 4)
Cell Phone
Crampons
Down or Synthetic Parka/Jacket
Duct Tape
Ear Plugs
Food & extra food for emergencies
Gaitors
Gloves and Mittens, Winter Hat, Sun Hat
Emergency/Space Blanket
Harness
Headlamp and extra batteries
Helmet
Ibuprofen
Ice Axe
Knife
Map & Compass
Matches/Lighter
Prussik Slings (3)
Signaling Device (whistle and/or mirror)
Sleeping Bag - comfortable to 10F
Sleeping Pad
Socks and Sock Liner
Spoon
Sunglasses and/or ski goggles (dark lenses)
Sunscreen and Lip Balm
Toothbrush and Toothpaste
Trekking Poles w/ Snow Baskets
Wag/Poop Bag
Water Bottles
Waterproof/Breathable Jacket/Shell
Waterproof/Breathable Pants
Wool or Synthetic Baselayers
Extra Fuel for Emergencies
First Aid Kit
Rope
Shovel
Snow Saw
Solar Charger
SteriPEN
Stove, Fuel, & Pot
Tent
Toilet Paper

As you can see, we didn't bring with us any pulleys, pickets, ice screws, or wands as recommended by NPS. I'm not saying that you shouldn't bring any of those, you absolutely should. We only opted to not bring them because we assessed our abilities/experience, route conditions/safety, weather, and the likelihood that we would actually need to use any of that equipment. We had also devised a rescue/safety plan in case we did need to self-rescue without that equipment.

The Trip
Our team consisted of 4 climbers: Andy (me), Kevin, Jacquelyn, and Yen. Three to four is the ideal number in a single rope team. We left the Bay Area around 6:30AM on Saturday, 08/04, and arrived in Ashford, WA around 7:30PM. We found a rugged spot in the National Forest near Kernahan Road and spent the night there. The next morning, we woke up early, drove to Paradise, and checked in with the rangers around 6AM. We then made breakfast burritos, packed/organized our gear, used the bathrooms, and were ready to go by 9AM.
Our team at the Paradise Trailhead.
Our team at the Paradise Trailhead.
Our packs were pretty heavy, or heavier than what we were used to. I was at about 37.5 lbs, Kevin was almost at 45 lbs (he carried 4 liters of water while the rest of us only carried 2), Jacquelyn was at 33 lbs, and Yen was at 34 lbs. Our permit was good for 1 night at Camp Muir and another at Ingraham Flats. So we had plenty of time to climb and get down. We definitely over packed as we had enough resources for probably 4-5 days on the mountain.

The hike began at 9:20AM at the Paradise trailhead. We took the Skyline Trail, which is 4.1 miles to Camp Muir. The forecast predicted the hottest weekend of the year for the Northwest. So as soon as we started, we were already drenched in sweat. It was excruciatingly hot. We didn't want to pack shorts for this sole purpose, so we stripped down to our underwear and it soon became more bearable. Yeah, we got weird looks from families and other hikers, but we didn't care. 
Skyline Trail. 4.1 miles to Camp Muir.
Skyline Trail. 4.1 miles to Camp Muir.
In our underwears hiking up to Camp Muir.
In our underwears hiking up to Camp Muir.
We hiked at a reasonable pace, took several breaks, and arrived at Camp Muir around 2:00PM, ~4.5 hours later. Yen struggled a bit to get to Camp Muir and wasn't so sure she'll be able to keep up with us for the rest of the trip. Thus, she opted to stay behind and so we decided to change our itinerary a bit to accommodate this. Originally, we were supposed to stay at Camp Muir for the first night and then hike ~1 mile to Ingraham Flats for the next night and summit from there. I felt safer leaving Yen behind at Camp Muir rather than Ingraham Flats, so we decided to cut our trip short (2 days vs. 3 days) and summit out of Camp Muir the next morning. 
The view from Camp Muir looking back down.
The view from Camp Muir looking back down.
Camp Muir at ~10,080 feet is quite the spot to set up base camp. There's a hut that you can stay in on first-come first-serve basis, there's solar toilets that may or may not have toilet paper in them, there's a ranger station, and there's a few other huts/buildings used by RMI and perhaps other guided services. Most climbers will make their summit attempt out of Camp Muir including the guided groups. After setting up camp here, we refilled our water bottles, ate our dinners, organized our gear, and went to bed around 6PM. Make sure you bring ear plugs because it gets very noisy at Camp Muir!
Muir Hut.
Muir Hut.
Solar Toilets.
Solar toilets.
Our camp at Muir.
Our camp.
Melting snow for water.
Melting snow for water.
Our alarms were set for 11:30PM. It took us about 45 minutes to gear up and get going. So we started out of Camp Muir around 12:15AM. Why so early? Well, for one: we weren't exactly sure how long it will take us to summit, two: this also seemed like the most common start time here, and three: the forecast was for a pretty warm night (upper 40's at Camp Muir, upper 20's to low 30's at the summit, and freezing at 13,500 ft), so it's best to start as early as possible. We definitely weren't the first team up as there were already headlamps crossing the Cathedral Gap while we were still at Camp Muir. And indeed it was pretty warm, I was only wearing my upper base layers starting off. The snow was soft enough that we did not put on crampons until after the cleaver at nearly 13,000 ft.

We arrived at Ingraham Flats ~1 hour later. This was where we first encountered visible crevasses, but still nothing that we had to cross. Our first crevasse crossing was a bit higher up from Ingraham Flats and it wasn't a big deal at all. I can't remember the exact number, but there were maybe about 5 crevasses total that we had to cross. For the most part, the snow bridges were solid and we felt pretty safe, so we remained unroped going up all the way to the summit. We were able to move pretty fast this way. Although, there was one questionable snow bridge, so we decided to rope up on the descent.
This was our first crevasses crossing after Ingraham Flats.
This was our first crevasses crossing after Ingraham Flats
It was quite beneficial for us that it was so warm and that we did not have to put on our crampons until after the cleaver, because you'd either destroy your crampons (who cares if you rented them right?) or you'd have to take them off and put them back on crossing the Cathedral Gap and Disappointment Cleaver. It is recommended to move as fast as you can through these two sections due to the rock fall hazard. Having crampons on slows you down, but so does the process of taking them off and putting them back on. Also, either unrope or shorten your rope if you decide to rope in for this. Having a rope dragging around the switchbacks would only increase the risk of rock fall. It's unfortunate that I did not capture the rock falls we saw in that area, but believe me when I say this...a helmet might not save you if you are caught in a major rock fall in that area. So ascend early and come down fast!

Most of our ascent was in the dark, so there's nothing interesting to show or say about it. It's just a long uphill hike. The first light appeared in the distant horizon a little after 4:30AM. We turned off our headlamps shortly after 5AM. They were dying anyway despite using high quality rechargeables. The sunrise was at 5:45AM and we were at the center of the summit crater by that time. We reached the true summit at 6AM, ~5.5 hours from Camp Muir. The views, colors, and experiences were just amazing. It was both cold and warm with heat radiating from the ground (volcano effect?). You can see the steam rise from the floors. Just take a look for yourself.
Hiking up the Disappointment Cleaver.
Hiking up the Disappointment Cleaver.
First light in the morning.
First light in the morning.
More light, no need for headlamps anymore.
More light, no need for headlamps anymore.
Entering the summit crater.
Entering the summit crater.
Traversing the crater while watching the sunrise.
Traversing the crater while watching the sunrise.
Taking our crampons off to make the final hike to the true summit.
Taking our crampons off to make the final hike to the true summit.
Steam rising from the floors.
Steam rising from the floors.
Almost there!
Almost there!
We were the 2nd team to summit and had the entire summit to ourselves. The first team was maybe 5-10 minutes ahead of us. It wasn't too long before many other teams followed behind us. We quickly took some summit photos, signed the register, and got the hell down before the weather turned. Apparently, there was a storm developing that wasn't in the forecast. Rainier seems to have its own weather system. If we were 30 minutes or so slower, we would have probably summited in complete white-out conditions with wind and snow blowing in our face. Luckily, we woke up early enough and ascended fast enough to avoid it.
Rainier Summit Photo.
Rainier summit photo.
Rainier Summit Jump Shot Photo.
Rainier summit jump shot photo.
Signing the Summit Register.
Signing the Summit Register. (It wasn't actually at the summit, but slightly before it)
Beautiful sun rays seen from the summit of Mt. Rainier.
Beautiful sun rays seen from the summit of Mt. Rainier.
Roping up for the descent. Bad weather behind us.
Roping up for the descent. Bad weather behind us.
More bad weather above us.
More bad weather above us.
We roped up for the descent right after leaving the crater. It was beneficial as the route became quite congested and passing parties can be a little dangerous. We also lacked confidence on one particular snow bridge (photo below). 
A snow bridge we thought was questionable, but ended up being pretty stable.
A snow bridge we thought was questionable, but ended up being pretty stable.
A look inside that crevasse.
A look inside that crevasse.
Another look inside that crevasse.
Another look inside that crevasse.
Once we arrived back at the cleaver, we unroped and removed our crampons and hiked back to Camp Muir fairly quickly, arriving at 9:30AM, ~3 hours from the summit. After taking a short nap, we packed up our gear and headed back down to Paradise, leaving at ~12PM and arriving at ~2PM.
A view of our descent. This was taken from around the cleaver.
A view of our descent. This was taken from around the cleaver.
Coming off of the cleaver. Little Tahoma Peak in the background.
Coming off of the cleaver. Little Tahoma Peak in the background.
A crevasse, Little Tahoma Peak, and Ingraham Flats.
A crevasse, Little Tahoma Peak, and Ingraham Flats.
Back at Camp Muir.
Back at Camp Muir.
Team photo descending the Muir snowfield. Rainier with bad weather in the background.
Team photo descending the Muir snowfield. Rainier with bad weather in the background.
Another team photo.
Another team photo.
Descending the Muir snowfield.
Descending the Muir snowfield.
After returning to our car, we drove to Ashford and ate lunch. We then headed straight to Portland for showers, a bed, and beer at Deschutes Brewery. Our day started at 11:30PM and ended at 11:30PM. Epic.
Lunch in Ashford, WA.
Lunch in Ashford, WA.
Beers at Deschutes Brewery in Portland, Oregon.
Beers at Deschutes Brewery in Portland, Oregon.

More Photos

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