My climbing adventures have been sadly limited these days; living between a Caribbean island for university and Dubai to see my family isn’t totally conducive to mountaineering, plus my dad’s knee operations have kept him from serious climbing these last couple of years and so big expeditions have been off the cards. (On that note, him and I actually managed to go bouldering today – so that’s a huge step towards being back on the mountains for him!). However, I did manage to get back on the snow and ice earlier these summer holidays on the popular Mt Rainier – it was completely awesome. As climbing always is.
This one was quite different for me, because it was the first “big” (it’s 4,395m) mountain that I’ve ever climbed unguided. The team we pulled together was brilliant – there was a friend from our Everest summit team in 2012 who I was ecstatic to be climbing with again, two friends that I’d met in Grenada and a friend of a friend from Canada who loved the mountains as much as I do. Everyone was pretty strong, and we had a fair amount of experience between us. With that and the fact that it was to be a new personal altitude record for two of the team members plus one person’s first ever mountain meant that the whole trip was able to be a lot of fun.
We took 3 days to summit: The first day we had driven down to the park in the morning to get our permits and so didn’t get going until afternoon. It was a long slog up to Camp Muir with very heavy bags, and a lot of the snow was punchy – not much fun with the extra weight, but the trail was well traveled and being in the mountains again made up for the discomfort. Everyone made it up to the camp before it was too dark, and the views as the sun set were spectacular. This first day in particular really reminded me of Mt Elbrus in Russia – it had the same wide, pretty consistent snow slope the whole way up. We set up camp and began melting snow for water, but it was much colder than I was expecting and having been at sea level the entire year I was feeling the altitude, so we all disappeared into our tents relatively quickly.
The next day we spent brushing up on essential skills for the summit push. We climbed up just above the camp to practice, or in some cases learn, how to ice axe arrest and perform crevasse rescue. We also decided on the rope team order and practiced roping up and moving a little just to get in the swing of things before the following day, this was really good to have done as some members of the team had never moved on a rope before and we’d obviously never worked as a rope team together before either. All in all it was a really productive rest day and I think we all felt much safer having gone through the skills. We’d decided to stay based at Camp Muir instead of moving up to the higher camp before summit day, mostly because the higher camp was actually full, and it turned out to be, at least for us, a much better game plan. The other camp was only 2 hours at most above Camp Muir, and having to dismantle camp, take heavy packs further up the mountain and then set up camp again the day after the big move up to Camp Muir would probably have been detrimental to us, and a rest day with skills was much more rewarding. We also all felt (as far as I’m aware anyway) as if that extra couple of hours really didn’t make much of a difference to our summit day performance.
So, we get to summit day. This was a horrible 1am start, but it was good weather, although quite windy, and we moved fairly quickly with everyone coping fine on the rope. I led our ascent, which felt pretty damn cool to be honest. We hit a bad queue up the side of the mountain about half way through the ascent, but the slow pace was probably a blessing in disguise for the team, especially because the cold was a lot more bearable at this time in the morning and we were in no danger of running out of time for the descent. On another side note, the alpine glow before sunrise and then the actual sunrise in the mountains is something that I can never quite get used to: It’s absolutely breathtaking.
We all made it to the summit successfully, crossing some pretty big crevasses en route. It was also quite an experience to walk straight across the middle of a crater to get to there. It felt great to be on the top with friends, especially with people who had never had this type of summit before and to be able to share their excitement, and to have got there by ourselves. The descent was uneventful; we took it steady, rushed through patches that were prone to rockfall, and made it back down to camp safely. We had an unfortunate event where one person’s crampon broke, but that was coped with fine.
The descent from Camp Muir back down was relatively unpleasant, as the sun was baking hot and we punched deep through the snow with every step, but being able to sit down and slide a fair amount was brilliant fun and made it far more enjoyable.
All in all, a completely successful climb! I have no idea when I’ll next be able to get back into the mountains, but I’ll certainly post in here when I do, and hopefully by that time I’ll have news or plans of a next big expedition. For now, I’m sticking at sea level and am starting training to swim the English Channel next summer with a very good friend of mine – exciting stuff.