Rainier Mountaineering Inc (RMI) 5-Day Mountaineering Seminar and
Mount Rainier, Washington
(Actually, this is an edited version of my personal journal entry for this trip)
Day 1 - Saturday, May 16, 1998
I was awake at 2:00 am, lists running through my head. Had I gotten everything? Think
again, then again, this was not the trip to forget something important. Finally, the alarm
went off at 3:00 am. I quickly got up and put in a new pair of contacts, dressed and was
ready to go by 3:30. I made a quick update to my website, checked the weather for Seattle,
and we were headed for the airport around 4:00 am.
Suzie accompanied me to the airport where I caught the 5:45 flight for Atlanta. Upon boarding the plane in Atlanta for the flight to Seattle, I asked the flight attendant if we would fly over Mount Rainier, thinking what a bonus it would be to get a photo of it from the air. She said, "Maybe, we sometimes do". We were about 35 minutes late departing Atlanta, not taking off until around 9:25.
We were served a rather substantial and quite tasty breakfast consisting of an omelet with OBrien potatoes, a bagel with cream cheese and grape jelly, a small cup of fruit and some yogurt. It was a good meal.
Nearing approach to Seattle, the pilot announced "Ladies and gentlemen, over on the left side of the plane you can see Mount Rainier and will be able to see it throughout the approach as we circle around". Dough! I was on the right side of the plane. But, just before we landed, I craned my neck and looked backwards out of my window and was able to see it. I grabbed my camera and took a few quick photos before the clouds shrouded it from further view. That was my first time ever to see the mountain. It was an impressive sight, literally quite breathtaking.
I called for the shuttle and arrived at my hotel about noon. Then stepped across the street and had lunch at Dennys. Upon returning to my room, I opened my backpack to get my sunglasses out and discovered that one of my Nalgene bottles had been broken in transit. "Oh well", I thought, "Good thing Im headed downtown to the REI store, Ill just pick up a new one". Then, as I stepped outside and was putting on my sunglasses (my glacier glasses), one of the arms broke. "Oh no!" I said out loud, "Im gonna need these". I hoped maybe I could get spare parts at REI.
After about an hours wait at the bus stop, I caught the bus that goes by Westlake Center. (This was my first time to utilize public transportation, it was an experience within itself.) I got out at Westlake Center and consulted my map of downtown to find Yale avenue, where the REI store was. It was about an eight or nine block walk, so off I went.
The store was very impressive, but I had my broken glasses on my mind and headed for the sunglasses station. The clerk there directed me to "Camping Repair". I found it and was helped by a very nice man who replaced the broken arm free of charge. (And they werent even REI glasses) I told him why I was in town and he wished me luck on my climb. Needless to say, I was very pleased with the service. My mind now at ease, I took a while to wander around the store. It is indeed a very neat place and I picked up a photo of Rainier called "Sea of Clouds".
Now, back to Westlake Center to catch the monorail out to the Space Needle. I enjoyed a nice visit there and took a few photos from the top. However it was cloudy and the mountain remained hidden from view. "Will I ever get to see this thing before my climb?", I wondered to myself. Oh well, now if I can just manage to catch the right bus back to my hotel
Day 2 - Sunday, May 17, 1998
After a leisurely morning in my room, I walked back across the street to Dennys for breakfast. It was a cloudy, drizzly 46°.
I headed down to the front desk with my gear around 11:30 and arranged for the shuttle to take me back to the airport. We were supposed to meet there around noon.
Upon my arrival at door 6, our pre-designated meeting spot, I would find that about half the group was already there. I was soon greeted by Joe from REI Adventures and he checked me off his list. We waited until around 1:00, having one "no show", and then we boarded a bus headed for the Paradise Inn.
We stopped en route at Summits for some of us to rent various gear. I needed a parka and several others needed packs, sleeping bags or parkas themselves.
As we neared the park, it began to rain. Then, as we drove higher it changed to snow. By the time we reached the inn, it was snowing quite hard. A few of us helped unload all the equipment and piled it in the lobby of the inn. We had a short meeting and then, some of us with our new roommates, adjourned to our rooms.
My roommate, Ed, and I decided to take a walk down to the visitors center. It was a nice place with some very informative displays about the mountain. It was still snowing outside and whenever we would run into anyone from our group the discussion always turned to the climb. Most of us wished we could at least see the mountain, but that would have to wait.
We met in the restaurant for dinner around 6:30. Ed and I were joined by a nice couple from San Diego, James and Suzanne. Upon the others recommendations, I had the grilled salmon, it was very good.
Our room was not very large, being long and narrow with two twin beds offset along either wall. There was a small sink in the room, but the bathrooms and showers were down the hall. I set the alarm on my watch for 6:00 am and we called it a night.
Day 3 - Monday, May 18, 1998
I slept restlessly through the night, I guess I was excited. The restaurant opened for breakfast at 7:00 am and Ed and I were among the first there. We were again joined by James and Susie. I had oatmeal pancakes which were pretty good, but the service was very slow, with James and Susie not even getting all of their order.
Just before we left our table, a tall older gentleman came in and was seated a few tables over. "Isnt that Lou Whittaker?" Suzanne asked. None of us knew. When we were paying our check, we asked the cashier and she didnt even know who Lou Whittaker was. We were all surprised at that. (Lou Whittaker has been guiding on Rainier since before he was 20. He is now mid-sixties. In addition to several other notable climbs, including K2, he led the first American ascent of the North Col route on Everest in 1984. His twin brother Jim was the first American to summit Everest, doing so in 1963. He and his brother founded Rainier Mountaineering Inc.) We gathered over at the guide house just before 9:00 am, the doors were still closed. Then, suddenly they opened and we were greeted with a boisterous "Good morning everyone!, come on in and lets get everyone checked in and get your gear for the climb". It was in fact Lou Whittaker. While we were taking care of the business of checking in and renting and test-fitting our gear and then going over a gear list with one of the guides, he walked about talking to us and telling about some funny occurrences from earlier climbs. "One guy tried to take towels and a plush bath robe, he thought there was a lodge at the top. Someone else wanted to carry up a watermelon".
I needed an ice axe, boots and crampons. I tried on the plastic boots and was surprised at how comfortable they were. My size was 11 ½ . When the guide covered me on my gear list, he noticed I had a water bottle attached to the shoulder strap of my pack. He asked me to remove it because it would be a distraction during the climb. When climbing, you want nothing but your ice axe in your hand and you must be ready at all times to arrest a fall. We would be allowed to drink only at breaks. This took a little getting used to for me, since I had trained in 80 and 90 degree weather and had to keep a constant flow of water coming in. After the addition of crampons and ice axe to my pack, it weighed about 45 pounds.
Finally, at 11:00 am, we headed out the door. It had been snowing all morning and just as we stepped outside, the sun came out and we all dropped our packs to remove our shells. It was 52°.
We started off in snow from the very beginning at Paradise and soon we were on the seemingly interminable Muir Snowfield. I was somewhere in the middle of the line. We took four breaks on the hike up to Camp Muir, by the time we first rested, we had climbed out of the clouds and the mountain was in full view. It was magnificent.
At our first break, especially since we were now in full sun, everyone began to slather on the sunscreen, me included. But, since the sun was behind us, I didnt put any on the front of my neck. Because of the reflection from the snowfield, I got a pretty bad sun burn there, as well as the bottom of my nose and inside (yes, inside) my nostrils. That caused me as much discomfort as anything else throughout the trip.
At one point our chief guide, Brent, was walking along beside me during our trip up to Muir. I asked him how many times he had summited Rainier. 159 was his reply, he had been doing this for 13 years. I would later learn that he summited Everest in 91 and leads trips to McKinley as well.
The second pitch was the most difficult and I was ready when break time rolled around. By now some people needed to use the bathroom. Well, theres nowhere to go to conceal yourself from the others. This posed a particular problem for the women in our group. They would go 2 or 3 at a time and stand between the group and the person going.
We arrived at Camp Muir at 5:26. Our hike up had taken 6 hours and 26 minutes. Personally, I was feeling pretty good. We sat about the business of choosing sleeping spots, with the guides recommending that the coldest sleepers take the upper bunks as it was warmer up there. I had planned to grab a bottom spot but they were all full by the time I got in the bunkhouse and I ended up in a middle-level slot.
We were served tuna-noodle casserole for dinner, it was pretty good. Also we were supplied with containers of hot water or "hots" as they would later become known, for making hot chocolate or hot tea. We were supplied with water for drinking, but since water is somewhat of a precious commodity on the mountain, requiring fuel to melt snow as its source, we were asked not to use it to wash our dishes. For that, we would just go outside and grab a handful of snow and scrub out our bowls. It worked pretty good.
The guides came in and talked with us until about 8:45 and afterwards we all began to bed down for the night. As I laid down, my thermometer read 40°. I was having a great time, but I wished I could call Suzie to say goodnight.
Day 4 - Tuesday, May 19, 1998
I slept very little throughout the night, I was too warm. My bag was rated at 5° and it was much warmer than that in the bunkhouse. I got up and went outside around 2:45 am and the stars were incredible.
Around 8:00 am or so, one of the guides came in bringing a big pot. "Hotcakes, get em while there warm". Everyone grabbed their one bowl and spoon and lined up. They were quite good and were accompanied by a gallon jug of syrup and a large tub of butter.
Before the instruction for the day started, I had a few minutes to take a few photographs around camp. On about the forth one, my camera battery failed. "Oh no, and this is just the second day on the mountain!" I thought to myself. Luckily, in anticipation of just such an event, I had brought an extra. But to be safe, from then on, when not in use, I kept both of them in a pocket to keep them warm and had no more problems. Plus it warmed up later in the week.
Todays lessons would start with the basics - ice axe handling and self-arrest. We practiced arresting falls from all positions - face down, head uphill - face down, head downhill - face up, head uphill and face up, head downhill. After spending a good bit of time rehearsing these arrests, we took a short break and were then instructed in how to properly put on crampons and practiced learning the French technique of cramponing on a snowbank at camp. Then came lunch - macaroni and cheese with wieners cut up and mixed in. Actually, it wasnt bad.
After lunch, we had our first experience traveling in a rope team. We roped up and took a walk out on the Cowlitz glacier where we learned how to manage the rope through corners and got a feel for keeping the proper distance while climbing. I was third in a team of five. As we approached a crevasse I was both excited and a little apprehensive when I saw our guide turn and cross a snow bridge over it. This was the first time Id ever been around anything like this and it was quite thrilling. As I crossed it, I took a quick look off of each side, it was both beautiful and scary at the same time. The ice-blue depths seemed like a forever patient predator, very alluring and simply awaiting a mistake by one of us surface dwellers. I could not contain a smile as I crossed. At one point while we were on a decent incline, our guide yelled "Falling!" and fell to the ground. Immediately the whole team leapt into the self-arrest position. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly and efficiently we stopped his "fall."
Later that afternoon, the guides set up a few ropes leading down into a large bowl-shaped snowbank near Muir peak. Here we learned how to travel on a fixed rope, how to use an arm rappel, and even tried some ice climbing techniques on the snowbank
Finally, back in the bunkhouse for a dinner of salad and Ziti pasta with garlic bread. We all seemed hungry and the hot food felt good going down. After dinner, a few of the guides came in and we had a knot class. This was also when we made our prusik slings which we would use the next day during crevasse rescue training. The day had been mostly cloudy with frequent snow showers and temperatures in the 30s.
Day 5 - Wednesday, May 20, 1998
I slept a little better the second night, still too warm though. The night had been windy and it had snowed some. Todays breakfast would be French toast, again with syrup and butter. It too was good.
This mornings instruction was on how to install or construct snow anchors. We learned about pickets, deadman, snow flukes, ice screws and bollards. It was cold, maybe in the low 20s and the wind was blowing an estimated 40 mph at times. It was snowing hard and often even reaching white-out conditions. Nevertheless, we stood around and paid attention as best we could. I think this was the only time I remember being uncomfortably cold.
A rope team of three of the guides was sent out this morning to try and mark a route for us for the following day. They only managed to get to around 12,000 feet before having to turn back due to the weather. That didnt bode well for our summit attempt tomorrow.
After a lunch of soup, we roped up and headed back out onto the Cowlitz glacier. We approached a large curving crevasse where we would practice crevasse rescue. While another client and I dug a snow seat to belay from, the others set up anchors to be used in the practice. We would make a 3-person team with the last person being lowered into the crevasse by the belayer. Then the middle person would hold the weight of the "victim" in self-arrest while the first person "led" and came back to the anchors to do the rope work and rig for the extraction. We would do both "C" and "Z" pulley configurations using both prusiks and Jumars (mechanical ascenders). This was really neat. Each of us got to try out all four of the positions and it was a very informative demonstration. The "victim" was lowered about 50 feet into the crevasse, which I guessed to be around 125 feet deep. This was quite an experience for someone who has lived all his life in Alabama. Even though the weather was pretty windy up topside, the deep stillness of the crevasse seemed to swallow up the sound reaching down from above. One could only hear muffled voices trying to communicate unless they were right over the edge. Again I had to smile.
We headed back to the bunkhouse a little early, tomorrow was scheduled to be our summit bid. After a dinner of burritos, the guides came in we began to talk about the next day. The weather forecast didnt look good. Brent (our chief guide) said that we probably had a 50/50 chance of even starting. But he said he would start checking the skies around midnight and wake us if things looked better. He said the latest he would come get us was 3:00 am, or that he might wake us at that time to tell us we werent going so we could rest easy. They had, however, already assigned us to rope teams so we could be ready. I was on Neds team, along with three others. We then talked about what to wear and pack and he advised we should get to bed by 7:30. The flurry of activity that followed was pretty much chaotic and I finally made it to my sleeping bag at 8:15.
Day 6 - Thursday, May 21, 1998
I awoke at midnight and checked my watch. I lay awake in my bag too excited to sleep. I checked the time again - 1:00, no Brent. Again at 1:45, still no Brent. "Hes not coming", I thought to myself. Then, at 2:02, he opened the door, "Good morning everyone, I dont know what yall have been doing but somebody must be living right cause things have cleared up outside". "Yes!" I said quietly as I hurriedly sat up. He gave us a clothing recommendation of lightweight polypro underwear top and bottom with heavy fleece pants (if they had full side zips) and a light sweater or fleece and shell for top. He said we needed to eat and be ready to walk in an hour. I made a run for the bathroom and found myself standing in line. While there, I had a few minutes to check out the stars. They are really something to behold from such a vantage point.
I finished dressing and gobbled down a bowl of bananas and cream oatmeal with some of my home-dried bananas added in. Mmmmm . I rummaged through my snack bag and grabbed several packs of Gu, Powerbars and Snickers to go along with the two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with which we had been provided.
Outside to ready my pack and put on crampons. Snap! One of the toestraps broke on my left crampon and one of the guides had to get me another one. Anyway, it was time to clip in. I was fourth on our team of five. We would from this point on be collectively known as "Neds rope".
It was 15° with no wind. A beautiful starlit night. We had received two feet of snow during the night which meant we would be "kicking trail" the entire way. "Neds rope, ready to walk" our guide stated. I took my first step toward the summit at 3:33 am. Our team was third or forth in a line of six rope teams. As we made our way across the Cowlitz Glacier, the last quarter moon, Venus and Jupiter were just rising in a celestial ballet off to our right. This was just another of the incredible sights that will fill my memory for years to come. As I looked forward and rearward at our group tromping through the night, each headlamp a small speck of light bobbing around in the darkness, it looked like a string of tiny white Christmas lights making its way across the glacier. I remember thinking simply, "thats pretty".
We climbed through the gap in Cathedral Rocks and then onto the Ingraham Glacier. As we continued across, I was amazed at the huge seracs jumbled in piles along the way. Gigantic blocks of broken glacier the size of houses or larger all askew from the forces of time and gravity, a truly awesome sight.
Now it was time for our first break, on the Ingraham flats just above Little Tahoma. There was already sufficient light to pack away the headlamps, I think it was around 5:00 am. We all dropped our packs, put on our parkas, sat down on our packs and began to eat and drink. I downed a couple of packs of Gu and a bite-sized Snickers bar, then got my camera out to capture the breaking of dawn behind Little Tahoma spectacular. While at this break, Brent made us aware that since we had received new snow, there was now a concern of avalanche danger and this was something the guides would really be looking at as we continued to climb. A few people were having some trouble with the altitude and decided to turn around at this point so one of the guides roped up with them and they headed back to Muir. We were around 11,000 feet.
The usual route from this point would ascend via Disappointment Cleaver, but the glacier was really broken up around there so we would take a route that would lead further out onto the Emmons Glacier and then turn upward toward the summit. This would require us to ascend for a while, then descend about 200 vertical feet to gain the "shoulder" of the Emmons, then resume our ascent. In other words, we had a bit of a routefinding exercise to do. During this, my team climbed up to a spot about 100 or so vertical feet above the others looking for a shorter way onto the shoulder, but we were cut off by crevasses and eventually had to descend and follow the lower route. I hated to give up the elevation we had gained. Finally reaching the shoulder of the Emmons, we began the long slog of switchbacks heading upward, breaking new trail all along the way.
At our next break, a few more people decide theyd had enough so another rope team was formed and guided back to camp. We had stopped a couple of times along the way for one of the guides to dig an avalanche column to assess the risk. It seems that the heaviest snowfall was between 12,000 and 13,000 feet so we werent out of danger yet. Since we had fresh, clean snow, the guides said we could "farm" some to supplement our water supply by adding small amounts at a time to our water bottles. This would prove valuable later in the day.
We soon resumed the monotonous routine of rest-stepping our way upward. "I dont hear anyone breathing!" one of the guides would yell. He was referring to "pressure-breathing", a technique we were introduced to before we ever started the climb. A deep breath and an elongated, forced exhale through pursed lips describes the procedure. I found it to be effective and utilized it every few steps. But it was easy to forget to do. We were now in really deep snow and the going was arduous. Now I understood why this is known as the longest endurance climb in the lower 48 states. However, I seemed to be holding up okay.
During the monotony of the endless switchbacks, my mind would turn to other topics and I found myself thinking about Suzie a lot. I felt very fortunate to be where I was and have someone back home who loved me and had supported me in this endeavor. I felt a deep appreciation for my life and a profound gratitude for all the experiences Ive had. "Life is good" I said to myself, "life is good."
At one point we stopped and I didnt know why. It seems someone on the team behind me had "punched through" into a crevasse. He fell up to his armpits and then caught himself. I would later learn that two other people had had a leg go through up to the thigh. When walking back past these holes, it was kind of eerie looking into them and seeing no bottom. Then youd think "What am I standing on?" and move on quickly.
Another break, a little over 12,000 feet now. This last segment of the climb had been really tough, I mean really tough. The going had been very slow. Here the guides said, "Ok, if youre not feeling real strong at this point youre gonna have to go back. We have 3 more hours of what we just came through before we reach the summit". They began to ask each person how they felt. Brent asked the guy in front of me how he was doing, then I heard him ask Ned "Whos that next person?" I was partially hidden from his view by some people. "Thats Ron, hes been doing great" Ned replied. That made me feel really good. I was glad I had trained. They talked to several of the clients and decided who would continue and who needed to turn around. Our group of 20 clients and six rope teams was whittled down to 12 clients on three teams. It was 10:30 am. Brent said we needed to summit by noon to be safe. "Going up is optional, coming down is mandatory" he would say. Meaning we had to save enough energy to safely descend to base camp. We began to climb again.
As we ascended, on this cloudless, windless day, I noticed the sky was an extreme deep blue from this elevation. Another of those memorable sights.
Again with the monotony step, step, place ice axe, pressure breathe, step, step I began to do the math. If we were around 12,000 feet and it was 10:30, at this pace I doubted we would make the summit, over 2,000 vertical feet away, by noon. My heart sank, but my feet kept going.
Before I knew it, I looked up to see we were stopping for another break, it was noon. We dropped our packs and dug out the food and water and sat down. After a few minutes Brent stood up in front of us and said "Great job everybody, Im really proud of what weve done today. But were still an hour away from the summit so Im going to turn us around here". My head dropped into my hands. I still felt strong. I knew I could make it. I had trained so hard. "Doesnt he know what it has taken for me to get here?" I thought. No, he didnt. He had the responsibility of the safety of 12 people on his mind. He radioed back to Muir we were turning around. We were at 13,600 feet.
Descending was brutal. With the warmth of the afternoon sun the snow became wet and sticky. It balled up terribly in our crampons. Every two or three steps I had to whack my boots with my ice axe to dislodge the clump from my foot. My feet slid and twisted around with each step and I seemed almost to be in a constant state of a controlled fall rather than walking. I tried to be careful with my knees, but there was really nothing different I could do. I was thankful I had worn my neoprene braces as a precautionary measure. It was hot too. By now we were all down to our last layer and the sun had us sweating with a vengeance.
At one break Ned remarked, "Descending doesnt get much worse than this". The guy behind me at the end of our rope asked "What if we just take the d___ things off?" (Our crampons) "Ok" Ned replied. We did so and it was much better, but still slippery. Another thing we tried was plunge stepping. At the corner of one switchback Ned headed straight down the mountain through fresh snow. He instructed each of us to step just to the side of the tracks of the one in front of us. This was much better I thought. The snow was knee-deep and offered a more stable step as it would "break" your momentum without you sliding around. However, when we intersected the next switchback, we got back on the trail. I was really hot by now and continued to farm snow to add to my drinking water.
At our next break, I remembered I was carrying a family picture of Suzie, Tyler and me. I sat down beside an apprentice guide who was now in front of me on our rope and asked him to take a photo of me holding the picture up beside my face. I had planned to do this on the summit, I wanted to take them there with me. I had also planned to write this in the summit register; "I dedicate this climb to my wife Suzie, stepson Tyler, dog and training partner Max, and friends Owen, Skip and Kyle. Psalms 118:24" to show thanks for their support and having to listen to me yap about this trip for over a year. While we were stopped, he told me how this was a really hard day to climb the mountain, that we had done good to get as high as we had. I told him what I had done to prepare training-wise and he seemed impressed, he commented "Its nice to see somebody with that kind of passion."
We had passed another of our rope teams while we were plunge stepping and we waited on them to catch up as we took our last break on the Ingraham Flats. I was surprised to learn that one of the women on that team was being short-roped back by their guide. He had her pack on his and she was tied in about 6 feet behind him.
It was a long, slow trip back to Muir. We finally trudged into camp at 4:40. Thirteen hours and ten minutes after we left. I was very tired, but not totally spent. While waiting on our dinner of climbers stew, I busied myself taking a few photos around camp.
I finally sat down and took my boots and socks off. Then while removing my liner socks, I watched as a quarter-sized piece of skin came off with them from just below the inside of my ankle. This happened on both feet. Fortunately, it looked worse than it felt for it was just the very top layer. I had not even felt anything while I was walking. A quick cover from the first-aid kit the next day and they were good as new.
After dinner some of the guides came in and we had an overview discussion of the past weeks events, then we asked Brent to tell his Everest story and he agreed to recount it for us. It was very interesting. He then asked if anyone was interested in doing some ice climbing early in the morning and only three of us raised our hands, most everyone was ready to head back down to Paradise. I wanted to climb.
I bedded down at 9:20. Again I was too warm. I got up at 11:30 and just went to stand outside to cool off. It was another beautifully clear night and I stood for several minutes looking at the stars. I was even fortunate enough to see a shooting star burn its trail across the sky. There was that smile again. What a trip this had been.
Day 7 - Friday, May 22, 1998
"Ok, who wants to go ice climbing?" were the next words I heard. It was 6:30 am and I sat up and raised my hand. Now there were about 10 of us who wanted to climb. We quickly ate some oatmeal, then dressed and stepped out to put on our crampons. It was another beautiful day. We formed two rope teams and headed back out onto the Cowlitz Glacier to the same crevasse where we had practiced our rescue techniques. A couple of the others cleaned out the same snow seat for a belayer while I drove two pickets in the snow to be rigged with a Jumar as a back-up.
While I was setting up the anchor, Brent said "So Ron, I just heard about this Mega-Man training routine of yours", flashing a big smile. Evidently, he had spoken with the guide I talked with the day before. "Yeah, I wanted to do whatever I could to maximize my chances" I replied. We talked about it a little bit and he seemed a little impressed.
I was second to climb and this time we were lowered much further into the crevasse. We were using Brents ice tools which were designed more for climbing than the standard axes most of us had. Again I was impressed with the beauty deep within the glacier.
I began to climb. The ice this far down was pretty good, but got softer nearer the top. Kicking the front points of my crampons into the ice and swinging the picks of the axes into the wall was an exhilarating experience, especially when I realized I was climbing under my own power, hanging by mere millimeters of purchase on the shear vertical wall of ice. Finally I reached the top and made my way out. My forearms were torched, Im sure my technique could use some work. Was I smiling?, you bet!
After everyone had their turn, we packed up and headed back to Muir where the others were already packed and ready to hike back down to Paradise. I snapped a few more photos for today was finally clear enough to see Mt. Adams (47 miles away), Mt. Saint Helens (52 miles away) and even Mt. Hood (105 miles away). The last few of us quickly packed our packs and we began the decent at 10:30 am. We stopped for a couple of breaks on the Muir Snowfield and at the last one took group photos of us and the guides and cooks. There were two spots steep enough for us to do a sitting glissade, those were fun and a nice break from the downhill tromping. Shortly after, we descended into a heavy, misty fog. It had been so clear and sunny at Camp Muir, but now we were in this wet cloudy world. We reached the guidehouse at 12:30.
Most of us went across to the inn and spent about an hour or so in the Glacier Lounge talking about things past and things to come. Then out to the bus which would take us back to Ashford to return rental gear and then on to the Nisqually Lodge where we would stay the night. I found a new appreciation for a shower and a few minutes in the hot tub proved soothing to fatigued muscles.
Back on the bus again and off to a restaurant called Alexanders for a celebratory dinner where we were presented with our certificates of completion for the mountaineering seminar.
After returning to the lodge, a few of us sat around the hot tub talking more about the trip and doing some photo swapping. Then finally back to the room where I readied my things for the morning departure and went to bed. After five crowded, noisy, restless nights in a row, this nights slumber would be blissfully deep.
Day 8 - Saturday, May 23, 1998
The bus was to leave at 8:30 am and we arrived at the airport at 10:30 am, my flight was at 3:00 pm. I tried to check my bag, but they wouldnt let me before noon. A couple of the other guys were able to check theirs and we went to a restaurant for lunch. One of them had an earlier flight and left us before long, the other guy, my roomate, Ed, and I sat and talked for long time. We then killed time cruising the gift shops where we watched a couple of videos, one on Rainier and one on Alaskan bush pilots. Finally at 2:00 we separated and went to our respective gates.
As we cleared the clouds in our climb skyward, I looked out my window and there it was, the mountain. This time I was on the right side of the plane. I took several more photos of it and then just watched. I watched it for a long time, recognizing Anvil Rock and Gibraltar Rock, figuring out where Camp Muir must be, guessing where all I had been and where we had climbed to. I wanted to say to the man behind me, "Look, right there, I was there just yesterday." I watched it as long as I could. At last it was obscured by some thin clouds and it faded from view. I wondered if Id ever see it again, Im still wondering. I turned my face toward the front of the plane, toward home. Again, I had to smile.
On the flight home I finished reading "Into Thin Air" which Owen had given me sometime before I left. I had a new perspective on the story.
We landed in Birmingham around 11:00 pm, about 15 minutes early, and I wondered if Suzie would be there yet. She was, along with Tyler and my parents. It was good to see them, it was good to be home.
° ° °
As a footnote, I suffered absolutely no ill effects from the altitude on this trip. No headaches, no nausea, not even loss of appetite. I never even took a single aspirin. Maybe I was just lucky this time, maybe my training had helped.
On June 11, 1998, three weeks after our summit attempt, there were two teams of climbers being guided by RMI descending the Disappointment Cleaver around 2:30 pm when they were hit by an avalanche. The avalanche swept one team off the edge and they were held by a fixed rope which stayed attached at one end. The other team managed to self-arrest themselves and escaped injury. Several people on the first team received broken bones and sprains, and there was one fatality. He hung on the rope for several hours before they could get to him. Although he received internal injuries in the fall, he was hanging is a drip zone and ultimately died of hypothermia. He was dead when the rescuers were finally able to reach him.
Ned, the guide who guided my rope team, was one of the guides on this trip.
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