Washington’s High Point ~ Mt. Rainier
That would be Mt Rainier, Columbia Crest; 14,411 ft above sea level. Did you know that climbers who have aspirations of climbing Mt Everest or Denali will climb Mt Rainier as a prep climb? Mt Rainier is the most heavily glaciated mountain in the continental United States with quite a few routes to get to the summit.
The route taken with the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer is via the Disappointment Cleaver. The day starts early with an arrival at Alpine Ascents headquarters in Seattle no later than 6 am. This is because it takes a few hours to drive to the mountain, and you still have to hike to Camp Muir. The hike is only 4 miles but nearly 4700 ft in elevation.
The Paradise parking lot is where you disembark, altitude 5400 ft. You change your clothes and say goodbye to the van. It’s boots up from here. The Alpine Ascents guides do a fantastic job of pacing the ascent. It is so easy to over-walk your breathing and then get out of breath, with fatigue soon arriving. A gentle, easy pace makes the climb more enjoyable. There are breaks every hour to grab a quick bite, drink fluids, and start back up the mountain. This is a steep climb, it’s not easy, and your pack weighs about 40 lbs.
Camp Muir is stop number one on our Mt. Rainier summit climb, altitude 10,188 feet. The ascent will take anywhere between 5 to 7 hours depending on weather and the climbers’ fitness levels. This is the spot where you stay the night in the guide’s hut, which is a nice way of saying plywood shelter with bunk beds. Hydration is important to acclimatization, as well as simply spending the night at this altitude. This night is truly key to maximizing your success.
The following morning, snow school is conducted to help people become familiar with walking on the snow, in crampons, and using an ice axe. Then off you go to Ingraham Flats (11,100 ft). This is over the Cowlitz Glacier, so you are roped up and using your crampons. There is a traverse on snow, then on rock through Cathedral Gap, then another traverse to the Flats. This route will take you 1000 feet higher in altitude, which also means you start out summit night 1000 feet higher—another key to success. Here you rest, drink fluids, and get ready for the summit!
Around midnight, you “awaken” (it’s okay if you don’t sleep), eat breakfast and off you go again! The route goes up and then to the right to the Disappointment Cleaver. This is a huge stone outcropping that is sometimes filled with snow early in the season, and more rock as the season wears on. Walking on rock with crampons takes vigilant attention, and this is a steep area but it’s very doable. A break is taken at the top of the Cleaver (around 12,500 ft) and again at “high break” which tends to be around 13,200 to 13,500 ft. Tidbit: Early in the season, the guides will actually create a spot for “high break” and chop out platforms for you to sit on and rest. This is part of their route maintenance and care of the route.
Soon the sun comes out and you see the rocks of the crater rim as you look up the mountain. You’re nearly there! You enter the crater rim and are amazed at what you just did….you made the summit! The crater rim is like a huge football field of snow with a rim of rocks around it. The true summit is across the crater to Columbia Crest. Don’t forget to sign the register in your excitement!
On the summit, high 5’s abound, cameras are clicking, everyone is excited and congratulating one another on the successful journey. If it’s a nice day, you can see for miles – with views of Mts Hood, Adams, Jefferson, St. Helens and more. About an hour is spent at the summit, weather permitting; eating, drinking fluids, photo-ops, selfies, etc.
On the way down, you get to see what you ‘missed’ on the way up (since you were in the dark much of the time). There are beautiful seracs, huge crevasses off in the distance, and more climbers coming up the mountain as well as going down. This is a beautiful route, full of versatility in terms of what you are climbing on (rock, snow, ice). It is a monumental achievement to get to the summit and such a sense of accomplishment. Training pays off in a big way—the more prepared you are, the better your chances at success. In 2010, 10,643 people attempted to climb Mount Rainier; 4,920 of them actually reached the summit (Credit: NPS website).
Climb to Fight Breast Cancer climbs have remarkable summit success. Barring weather issues, the great majority of climbers make the summit. Part of that success is training preparation, which cannot be underestimated. The other part of the success is the route taken, the speed of ascent, and amazing guides from Alpine Ascents International. Together, we make a fantastic team. Together, we fight our way up the mountain to fight breast cancer.