About 10 days ago I got an email from one of the friends I climbed Hood with asking if I wanted to climb Rainier. It contained a short description of the hike and ended with “It will be a miserable and wonderful experience. You in?”
He honestly didn’t even need to ask. Even after it was all over and I could barely stand, when simple things like opening a beer would cause me to cramp up, did I feel the same way as I did then - of course I was in.
I think I have reached a stage in my life where simply because something is difficult is not reason enough not to do it. When I look back at the past year one of the things I think of most fondly is my Summit of Hood back in June. Whenever I am about Portland and I catch a glimpse of Hood I can’t help but feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment knowing that I conquered such a gigantic mountain.
What better gift to myself than to be able to claim that I conquered another mountain?
The Rainier summit is at 14,411 ft compared to Hood’s 11,249 ft. In several of my shots there is a mountain called Little Tahoma that seems tiny when on the mountain. It is actually only 100 ft smaller than Mount Hood.
This climb up Rainier is much longer than Hood was. The very last part of Hood, where you need an ice axe to self bellet yourself is probably more technically challenging than anything I encountered on Rainier, but beyond that Rainier is in a different league of difficulty because of the endurance you will need.
Rumor has it that someone went from the parking lot to the top of the mountain and back in 5 hours. We would be traveling with a 90 liter pack filled with gear, food and clothing, which would mean we would be traveling much slower than he did.
Weight was always on my mind. None of my gear is particularly light. My pack is about 15 years old and no where near being ideal for climbing mountains with. I elected to leave my relatively heavy Nikon D90 + Sigma 10-20 combo that I adored on Hood home in exchange for a much lighter (if damaged) Canon G9. My G9 has been through quite a bit so it is filled with dust and if I ever tried to change its focal length it would lock up and give a lens error. I really wish I could have spared the weight but realize that many of the shots that I did get would not have happened if I had to fumble through my pack constantly to retrive my camera.
The hike involves leaving early in the morning from the Paradise parking lot with all your gear. From there you will travel roughly 4 hours to Camp Muir. The trip up was relatively easy. I was fresh and my pack felt light. Despite the length of the hike most of the people doing it were approaching it as a day hike - so up to Camp Muir and back.
Like many others though we were in it to go all the way. We arrived at Muir shortly after noon and then spent the next 12 hours sleeping, filtering water and cooking. We were really concerned about having to carry a tent so we sprinted to Muir to make sure that we had a spot in the first come first serve hut that is available to climbers for free.
We were able to get good spots and shortly after the place filled up with people who would be waking up the same time as we did to tackle the mountain. It seems everyone had the same plan and woke up around midnight to eat some breakfast, gear up and head out for what would be much more difficult climb than the first half of the mountain.
By the end of the climb I was so exhausted that I had to break frequently to make the short walk to the actual summit. Without realizing it I was nearly on the verge of tears as we celebrated the climb. Was it the hardest thing I had ever done? Maybe. Most exhausting? Definitely.
The hardest part of the experience was realizing you had to climb all the way back down again though. Shale and sliding snow made for a really uncomfortable trip down.
How long does it take?
Total trip broke down to:
- Hike to Camp Muir: 4 hours
- Resting at Camp Muir then waking up at midnight: 12 hours
- Hiking from Muir to Summit: 8 hours
- From Summit back down to Muir: 5 hours
- From Muir to the parking lot: 3 hours.
So in total about 32 hours.
My favorite moments were waking up in the middle of night, gazing up at a perfectly clear star-filled sky, and seeing St Helens silhouetted by the glow of Portland.
I also enjoyed catching the first glow of the morning sky on the mountain and watching it change the color of the landscape.
Finally I enjoyed butt sliding the rest of the way down the mountain and arriving at a wild flower filled mountain fed stream that meant we would have water to drink that didn’t involve melting snow.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of the pictures. The rest of my shots and video from the trip can be found at on my flickr set.
All pictures taken with a Canon G9