Two years in the waiting, this year's guys trip was perhaps the most anticipated yet. Mount Rainier is the most prominent and most glaciated peak in the continental U.S. At 14,411 feet it is the 5th tallest and certainly one of the most dangerous mountains in the country. Needless to say we were all pretty stoked to give it a go. Bram put it into perspective when he stated in an email "I am as excited to climb Rainier as I was for my honeymoon."
This years group included the regulars, myself, Rocky, Roman, Bram, Rhett and then we also picked up some locals Nick and Derrick and then of course the person we are all indebted to for making the trip possible our guide Darrell.
In an attempt to ward off blister as long as possible, Rocky and I wanted to start the hike in running shoes, then when the terrain turned bad we would put on our boots. We asked Darrell how soon we would be encountering snow on the trail. "As soon as you leave the parking lot." We thought he was exaggerating a bit and so we wore our running shoes to the trailhead.
When we got to the parking lot and saw the trucks parked next to 35 foot high snow banks we quietly changed our shoes.
As we started the hike there was thick cloud cover and no sign of the summit. Within a couple of hours we started to clear the clouds and almost instantly we went from gray skies to blue and spectacular views of Rainier and the clouds covering the valley.
Emerging from the cloud cover.
Roman with the summit in view. The summit didn't look that far away and distance wise it wasn't. It was just that darn elevation.
The climb requires a staggering 9000 ft of elevation in 9 miles. That is 3000 more than Mt. Whitney requires in 11 miles. Basically that means it is steep and for the Smart brothers that means blisters. Try as they did to spare their feet, Roman's and Rocky's both got hammered. My were spared thanks to a generous gift from Bram. He got me the Air Jordan's of hiking boots and my feet never faired better.
Darrell leading the charge. He was impressive to say the least. Despite being 18 years my senior and exactly twice Roman's age, he kept right up with everyone. After the weekend was over I didn't know whether to be more impressed with his pharmaceutical hook-ups, his patented water basketball "flying hook shot" or his mountaineering skills. OK, I guess it was his mountaineering skills.
Darrell gave Rocky a chance to lead the charge for a while. Slowly the clouds were getting further away.
Finally at Camp Muir 10,000ft, I found a bored and lonely Rhett. He had already staked us a sweet spot and set up a tent. He's also not a bad photographer and he's available.
We spent the evening melting snow for the next days climb and eating a smorgasbord of Mt. House dinners.
Roman enjoys a Mt. house. I had two other pictures of Roman in this exact pose looking much less photogenic. It was hard for me to refrain from posting them, but I did.
Pictured right here is the Walrus. It doesn't look like a 4 man tent does it? But Darrell claimed it was as long as you are all short and not scared of touching the person next to you. I usually fit that description no problem but Darrell and his pharmaceuticals were making me a little nervous.
We turned in at about 9:00 to get three hours of sleep before the Midnight wake-up-call. The best conditions for climbing Rainier is when the weather is the coldest so you start at 1:00 in the morning so you can summit and get down before the snow starts to get soft.
At midnight I put on my crampons for the second time ever, got roped up and we started climbing in our two teams under a full moon bright enough that a head lamp was optional.
The 3 hours of sleep wasn't quite enough for Roman,
This was the first time most of us had done any technical climbing on a big mountain and it was in the dark.
Despite the darkness I still noticed enough live threatening hazards to get my attention on the way up. I will admit it I was a little nervous more than once.
Everything was going without a hitch until we got to about 12000 ft. We had just made it through the most technical section. That is when most of us started to feel the effects of the elevation. But have no fear our wise leader had his pharmaceutical hook-ups on hand. They had been the butt of every joke the night before in the walrus. A prescription drug that starts with a V and is meant to rekindle the love life in relationships. Yes that's right, Viagra. Darrell's secret weapon against altitude sickness was a bottle of Viagra that he rushed out to the pharmacy for the night before the trip. He claimed some Himalayan study had been done to prove that Viagra allowed you to do more work at higher elevations. Basically those desperate enough or adventurous enough partook. I was not one of them, but Nick was and about 1 minute later he hurled.
It was a barf with a pretty sweet view.
This is where some doubts started to creep in. Nick had just spewed and Derrick was not feeling good either.
We climbed another 500 feet and Nick barfed again. (I had the courtesy not to take a picture of it this time.) I thought to myself "Two-thousand feet to go and he has already barfed twice. He is not going to make it."
Derrick and Nick.
As you can see Derrick was not looking much better.
Rhett was constantly wanting to push the pace. If the Viagra had any adverse effects on him you couldn't tell.
We went to 13,000ft and stopped again. This picture isn't big enough to tell but the look on Darrell's face is screaming, "I wish I hadn't taken that Viagra."
We choked down enough Cliff Bars we should have all been sick.
I had never been on any mountain that felt that high. We were so high it felt like we were going skydiving. Throw in the cold wind and the it felt like we were climbing Everest.
Finally team Viagra had to relinquish Bram as he had not partook and put him on our rope. Our new 5 man team struggled up to the crater and from there unroped and climbed to the summit.
Bram and Rocky just about to take the summit.
Me on top of the state of Washington.
After our hike back across the crater, this is how we found Team Viagra. Fast asleep on the summit. They had gutted up and made it. The effort by each of them was inspiring, but Nick's effort was superhuman. To throw-up twice and still have 2000 feet of tough climbing to go and suffer through it. That was pretty tough.
We let Team V have a nap while we relaxed on the summit.
Rocky re-taped his blisters.
Eventually we all got a picture on the summit together.
The trip back down wasn't as physically demanding but probably more dangerous.
Most accidents happen on the descent as the snow has turned soft.
This is where you don't want to end up. We crossed 4 or 5 crevasses. They were all small ones that we were able to just jump across.
Rhett led us up but I got to lead our team down. The unobstructed view was sometimes a little nerve racking.
If Roman falls here there is a giant crevasse below him and if we can't stop him then we will all end up there together.
The good thing about climbing in the dark is I didn't notice a lot of the most dangerous parts as we were going up, but you couldn't miss them as you were descending.
Team Viagra plus Bram posed with a crevasse big enough to swallow a house.
When we finally got back to Camp Muir we couldn't believe we still had 5000 feet to descend, but we were able to glacade a good chunk of it and that got the spirits up.
Roman going into a tail-spin.
Finally back to the parking lot. Rocky pledged to never put on his boots again. He made a memorial to them and left them in the parking lot.
The trip didn't officially culminate until we got spoiled a few more times by Sheila's cooking and then our two climbing teams had to face off in a vicious game of pool basketball that actually resembled UFC more closely than basketball and that is no exaggeration. Bram led all scorers and Darrell got voted most inspirational. Darrell is awesome to be around because he somehow shows no signs of getting old. His game of water basketball is still as violent and lacking in finesse as ever. You think "Dang if Darrell is still this big of stud I don't have any excuse to let myself get old." I hope I can still play a sport who's only rules are no eye poking or fish hooking when I turn 54. That sounds like a pretty good life goal to me.
All in all Mt. Rainier was as epic as it gets and well worth the wait.