Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Trip Report: Mt. Rainier - DC Route

So I got this hair up my ass in early June of this year after climbing Mt. Hood that I would like to climb Mt. Rainier this year as well. I started asking around to see if I could recruit anyone to come along for this adventure, or at least find a partner for it. After asking around, I had a partner lined up. Her name was Ashley. Which was perfect, we were going to do an all-female, alpine ascent of Mt. Rainier in 1 day. I couldn't have chose a better way to do it. After emailing back and forth for a few weeks trying to work out which route we would take, and what our plan of attack would be, we still didn't have anything solid nailed down. The weather had been warm on the mountain the week prior to me getting there, so we waited until we got to Mt. Rainier National Park to make our decision on our route. We only had one day to do the climb, as compared to the 2-3 days that most climbers take to climb the mountain. I should have known that this was going to be a grueling task, but I thought that I was in good enough shape that I could just force my way up the mountain with some discomfort but still make it.

The path up to the snowfield
Prairie flowers on the way.

For educational purposes, Mt. Rainier is the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States and stands at 14,410 feet. It is an active volcano and is listed on the Decade Volcano List. It has about a 50% success rate for climbing it with most climbers being turned back because of inclement weather or poor conditioning. On average, Mt. Rainier claims about 3 lives per year.

The summit of Mt. Rainier. Please note, that is 6.5 miles away from this point.. This picture does not convey how big it is.

Once we got to the climber check-in and talked to the ranger we decided on the DC route instead of the Emmons route as we had originally talked about. He said for a single push the Emmons might be a little too long, that the DC was a better option. So around 5pm after reorganizing our gear and trying to eliminate 3 items from our packs we set off on the long slog up to Camp Muir at 10,080 feet. It took me 4 hours. I say me, because Ashley is a beast and could have run up that junk in about 3 hours if she wasn't being nice and waiting for me. The hike to Camp Muir was foggy and the snowfield was pretty slushy.

Sunset on the snowfield on our way to Camp Muir

The slog up the snowfield. This was the view that my back got the entire way.
At Camp Muir we entered the climber's hut around 9 pm and found some climbers who had hauled a keg up there to celebrate, celebrating. I laid down on the concrete floor at this point because there was no room left on the wooden benches. I had a headache, was dizzy, and a little nauseous. I guess I was starting to feel the effects of the elevation. We rested in here for about 3 hours. Ashley was kind enough to melt snow for us for water and to heat up some pad thai and another noodle package that had basil in it. I laid back down on the concrete floor after this and tried to sleep... instead I just shivered for 3 hours dozing in and out of sleep, hating life.

Around 11 pm, Ashley tried to wake me up but I was NOT feeling it. I felt like complete crap and did not want to get out of camp at this point. I was cold, stiff, and acting like a miserable cow to be honest. She let me lay there for awhile longer while she melted some more snow for water. She came back in at 12:30 with warm water bottles, and was able to coax me into life and encouraged me to get up and go climb. I'm very glad she did because anyone who knows me, knows that I lose all will power to live, let alone do physical activity when I am sleepy and have been given the opportunity to sleep.

Getting our gear together and getting ready to go
At 12:30 am I get up, get around, and start getting my gear organized. We head out of camp around 0100. Trekking along unroped at this point and in the dark we get into a rhythm, and about an hour passes. We hit a point where we need to rope up and put our crampons on, as there is a big crevasse coming up. It was a nice break for me... I have never felt so out of shape in my entire life as I did at this point. We get all setup and continue onward and upward, eventually coming to a steep scree section of loose rock. We start making our way up this at a slow pace due to heavy mountaineering boots and crampons just plain sucking to climb rock with. This is the part that makes the Disappointment Cleaver route, disappointing. There was so much loose rock and scree that it really was quite lucky that neither one of us fell. Being roped up probably wasn't the best idea, but it was rather steep so it seemed like a good idea at 2 O'clock in the morning and we couldn't see all that well. Around this time, the scariest thing happened in my opinion.

We are moving along, and I am out front. Well somehow I get us off route, not all that surprising considering we were on loose rock, in the dark, and both very tired. I come to a nearly vertical rock/ice face... the rating on this route is only a II... there should not have been a near vertical rock/ice face with a black abyss below it. I look up, there isn't much to hold onto with gloved hands, nor will my axe hang from anything. I start kicking my cramponed foot into the ice and I can't get my crampon to bite into the ice. I keep kicking a few more times with no luck. I tell Ashley that unless she's leading us across that, I'm not comfortable with it and think we should turn around. She agrees, so we luckily turn around and start heading back the way we came looking for clues to where we are on the route. We see headlamps from other climbers and just start heading toward them... over very loose, very steep scree. It sucked and I was wondering the entire time what the fuck I was doing up there. Around this time we hear a thunderous crash. I have never heard an avalanche. I have seen them, but I have never heard them. It sounded like thunder, and because I had not seen anything come down I actually thought it was thunder. I looked up at the sky, but everything looked clear. That is when I learned it was an avalanche.

Sunrise around 0530
Sunrise with an alpine glow
We eventually get back on route and continue upward in the dark. At this point the slope of the mountain was about 30 degrees at it's steepest, maybe 40 degrees on the scree sections where we got off route. We get back on snow, which makes life a whole lot easier for us. I'm going pretty slow still but feeling ok and still going upward. Just stopping to breathe every 100 steps. Yes, I was counting. I needed something to focus on. Around 0530 we come to the first ladder that is in place to cross a deep crevasse... this was after waiting about 20 minutes in line to get to the ladder to cross. The ladder is laying horizontally across about a 5 foot wide, deep blue crevasse. There are boards on it that are all splintered from crampons. Ashley goes first, clips into the fixed rope that is there, and reaches the other side. She ties into the anchor that someone had left there, and belays me across. Alright, fantastic we have made it across, we keep going upward. As we are traversing this very narrow side of the mountain where it was foot in front of foot, we come to another ladder over a crevasse. First, we needed to navigate around this big nubbin of ice that was sticking out on our already thin ledge. We dug our axe in on one side of it, hand on the other, and hugged our way around it. It was a very long drop down with a huge crevasse below this... not making it around this nubbin wasn't an option.

Traffic jam at the first ladder crossing

We head up the next ladder which is again horizontal and allowing us to cross a 4 foot wide blue crevasse. Again, the boards across the ladder are all splintered and really sketchy looking. One of the rungs on the ladder is broken, and the whole contraption is held in place by 2 pickets that someone had left in place. We make it across it easily and keep going upward. We then come to our third and last ladder. This one is vertical, covering a 2 foot wide crevasse that had icicles hanging from it. We go up the ladder, tie into the anchor and wait for the traffic jam to keep moving upward.

The vertical ladder.

What the vertical ladder was being used to get over.
We continue our long climb upward at this point with nothing exceptional or scary happening. Around 0700 we look at the time and discover that the sun is beating down on the mountain, it is entirely too warm. We ask some climbers on their way down how much longer until the summit. It was about 2 hours still and we were just under the "High Break" area which is around 13,500 feet. Only 910 vertical feet, but a 2 hour climb up still. At this point we contemplate continuing to go upward for 2 hours, which would make our total climbing time from Paradise to the summit being 12.5 hours. We made the decision that we should turn around because it was just entirely too warm, we were getting tired and unsure of how much we had left in us, and we were not sure what we were going to encounter lower on the mountain. So we start our decent. As we are descending we hear a second avalanche trigger on the other side of the mountain and this confirms our decision to turn around. The traffic jams at the ladders continued on the way down, and the snow bridges were in pretty bad shape on our way down. 

Long traverse

The point that we decided to turn around
Climbing is sort of funny in a way... we made our ascent during the night, so we really couldn't see what was around us and what terrors lay below us; however, coming down it was a bright sunny day. I saw everything around us. All of a sudden those huge steps I had to take to cross a crevasse were not nearly as benign as I had thought during the night. Looking up and seeing a huge serac hanging over our heads, barely hanging on to a rock face which had spewed rocks all over the path we were on, all of a sudden, was a whole lot more nerve wracking. The boulders that lay on the glacier, directly in front of us, were all of a sudden more ominous when you looked up and saw that they had sheared off of the rock wall that was directly above your head.
On our way down

We had just made it to the bottom of this glacier.
My helmet and hat didn't want to work together.
We get back to camp around 11:30 am and take our boots off, take a rest, and drink some water. Poor Ashley, her feet were blistered so badly at this point that she's taping huge blisters to be able to wear her boots still... and she has to wear her boots for another 4.5 miles to get back to the car! We take a rest here, but after about 30 minutes we have to get going otherwise we are both going to bonk because we had been awake for 26 hours, and exerting serious amounts of energy for 15 hours of that time. We continue our descent through this arduous snowfield and luckily get to glissade down for a good part of this... which was super fun! I'm surprised we didn't wear holes in the butt of our pants! We get back to the path where all the tourists are and keep heading down. At this point, we split up because Ashley has to pee something fierce, and I'm just too tired to walk any faster.
Glissading down the snowfield

That is a lot of crevasses! Taken from the scree of the Disappointment Cleaver

Long hike back.
This slog back to the car was the most arduous, tiresome, grueling part of the entire climb. It was terrible! My feet had blisters on the bottom from wearing plastic mountaineering boots for so long. I was annoyed with the people who had sandals on and were not carrying heavy packs. I was annoyed with the man who was carrying a 70 Liter pack stuffed to the brim on a day hike. Who would carry a huge pack like that on a day hike if you don't have to?!?! Plus, he was wearing Asic sneakers so it's not like he was training for anything. I was just annoyed with everything and everyone. I was tired, I was cranky, and I just wanted to eat a damn cheeseburger and drink something other than warm water. After what felt like eternity, I finally make it back to the car. It was a 19 hour round trip from Paradise to our stopping point and back. We decide to go to RMI guides to eat at their bar because someone told us they had awesome burgers... which turned out to be totally lame, our food sort of sucked but we were starved so we ate it anyway and then started the long journey back to Seattle. It was probably the longest drive of Ashley's entire life. We tried to keep the conversation going to stay awake, and luckily she had an apple in the back of the car that she was able to nurse for the last 30 minutes of the drive.

It was so warm I could take my glove off and not be cold. Weird.
Mountaineering is no joke. It is by far the most challenging thing I have ever tried to get myself into physically and mentally. After the climb a few people asked me if I enjoyed myself and I couldn't really give an answer because the pain of the descent was too fresh, the terror from that one near vertical ice/rock face lingering still... but after a couple days of rest, sleep, and food, I found myself dreaming of being back in the mountains. I found myself psyched about trying to do it again next climbing season, excited to see the moon with the mountains in the backdrop again, sunrise above the clouds, the sound of silence, and the simple thought process of just climbing. I think about nothing else when I'm doing this and it is a nice break from reality. I can't say that I actually enjoy alpine climbing... I really like the idea of it though. Alpine climbing is all about perfecting the art of suffering. The better you are at suffering, the better alpine climber you will be. I am going to continue to perfect my art of suffering as I find myself day dreaming regularly about my next excursion into the mountains.

All done. 19 hours later.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Partner Call

So I had a conversation yesterday with one of my favorite people on the planet. This conversation, as benign and casual as it appeared to be, had me awake for quite some time yesterday afternoon when I was hoping to nap instead. Staring out the window, listening to the snoring from canine and human alike, I wondered what is the most important aspect of a partnership to me. As a woman who has refused to settle on anything in her life ever, I sat contemplating what makes a good partnership, and if maybe I am actually a terrible partner as I can be uncompromising sometimes.

A relationship is a partnership. It is not ownership, it is not a dictatorship... it is a partnership and it should be approached in the same way that we select our friendships. It is my opinion that you should be wonderful friends with the person that you decide to spend the rest of your life with because eventually the passion is going to die out, our asses are going to get saggy, and we are all going to be hideous when we are 70. We treat our friends with respect, admiration, love, and humor.... often times treating them better than the people we are in intimate relationships with. Our relationships should be treated the same way. 

All too often, people claim to love someone yet they disrespect them, cheat on them, lie to them, use them, manipulate them, and have absolutely zero regard for the other person's feelings. They claim to love them and yet they let their friends talk badly about them in public and show a malevolent disposition toward them.... they treat the "love of their life" worse than they would treat a complete stranger, and yet they say they love them. That's not love, it is called comfort. It is a fear of being alone that keeps people like this together.
When I was 20 years old I made a half-ass decision in the heat of the moment to get married. I married a man that I barely knew, we had a year and a half of wedded bliss, and then we split up. I don't regret this decision as it helped guide me into better decisions and taught me that there are consequences that come with our actions. The pain that I caused him taught me that you can not tread lightly when it comes to other people's feelings and that when you say you love someone, you need to treat them accordingly. It taught me what commitment was and it scared the shit out of me for a long time to ever commit to anyone else.

Somewhere in the time that has passed in the last 10.5 years since then, one person was able to break through that fear and showed me the joys of a loving, stable, relationship that was built on mutual respect and friendship. For this, I owe him my eternal gratitude, for he taught me how to love someone other than myself. While we had a great run while it lasted, unfortunately, we discovered along the course of our relationship that we were not meant for one another as a lasting couple. This discovery did not end our friendship, just our relationship. This ended a few years ago and the last three years of my life has been spent being mostly single, figuring myself out and what I need from a partner. Finally, I think I have it figured out.

I need someone that will climb mountains with me... metaphorically and physically. The trust and commitment that goes into a climbing partner, is the same level of trust and commitment I need. The friendship and bond that is developed in a crag is the same I need from my significant other. I feel like my heart and my head are on the precipice of war sometimes as they don't always agree with one another, but as I lay there feeling contentedness wash over me and sleep start to take over, I realized exactly what a partnership means to me. I realized it doesn't have to be definable by other people's definitions and it doesn't have to answer to anyone else. It is the West Buttress of Denali and it needs to be conquered together, as equals, with mutual respect, love, fear, and above all else trust.

P.S. It is my dream to climb Denali in the next few years.