Last April, when warm weather and dusty snow seemed to call an end to the Colorado spring ski season, we booked tickets to the Pacific Northwest and set our sights on some peaks in the Cascades. But when winter made a surprise comeback here at home, we were faced with a decision. We could head up to Rainier and Hood as planned, or we could stick around and try to get Christy’s remaining 14ers skied. Wisely, we opted for the latter, but we were then faced with the challenge of trying to make use of our canceled plane tickets and car rental vouchers, and wondered if we would ever salvage any part of our planned Northwest getaway.
So when Lindsay Reither, a former Aspen Highlands ski patroller and IMG mountain guide, offered us an invite to join her and some ski patrol friends on a late August Rainier climb, all it took was a quick glance at the calendar and a call to Frontier– we were in.
Christy and I climbed Rainier in 2002, along with Chris Carmichael and Jann Stoeckl, and it was a thorough ass-kicking. We almost didn’t pull it off. Early May conditions and rookie mistakes (which I like to call “learning moments”) made for a real challenging climb up the Fuhrer Finger and descent of the the Kautz Glacier. Five years later, I returned with Chris Davenport and found things to be much easier– we casually left camp around noon, climbing the Fuhrer Thumb in T-shirts and visors, and skied the Wilson Headwall near sunset.
So returning to Rainier again, I was looking forward to seeing a new route and Christy sought some redemption from the 2002 beat down. Plus the popular route up from Paradise to Camp Muir to Disappointment Cleaver (DC) and Columbia Crest is a classic of sorts, one that all serious climbers should see at some time.
Rainier is big, and not just in a physical sense. As anyone who has seen through the airplane window while en route to Seattle will testify, it’s an enormous mountain. By standards in the lower 48, with it’s dozens of different routes and huge vertical relief, it is in my opinion, unrivaled. In addition to it’s size, it has also played a huge role in laying the foundation for mountain climbing in this country. The early community of climbers who got their start here have made and continue to make huge contributions to the sport. Furthermore, the massive guiding “machine” that operates on it’s flanks is impressive in it’s own right– RMI alone employs some fifty or so guides here– and along with IMG, have served as models for other guide services around the country to emulate. While anyone of these topics can be discussed at considerable length, I’ll just sum it up briefly here and say that if you’re at all into mountains and climbing, Rainier is a must-do, and the more times the better.
For us, it was a quick trip, leaving Aspen on Thursday, heading up to Camp Muir on Friday, summiting Saturday and getting back home on Sunday. It wasn’t rushed, but rather one of those precision strikes. The weather had to cooperate and everything had to go according to plan or we might have come home without a summit. Sure, it was a little bit of a gamble to head there without any extra weather days, but our options were limited. We could either take a chance on the three day itinerary, or not go at all. And we all know what the chances of pulling something off are when you don’t go at all.
So eight of us– Christy, Lissa, Lindsay, Angie Bloomfield, Craig Chalmers, Nick Laws, Chris Halsey (who was unfortunately sidelined from the actual climb with a foot injury) and myself– met in Seattle and we nailed it. Everyone had a great time. Here are some pics from the day on the Disappointment Cleaver.
It was an awesome trip and a great group. Maybe we should make it an annual event.
And it’s such a photogenic place there may have to be a follow-up post with more pictures.