1500 Tuesday. We made it to the top of Rainier this morning and just got back to camp. I’ll write it up later, maybe on the drive home if I can stay awake. Haven’t slept since 0500 or so yesterday, and we have to break camp, climb out a bit then hike out the relatively easy (and downhill) trail. Everything hurts on everyone, so it’s not going to be fun.
1545 Monday. We have one last shot at the summit starting tonight. Forecast is better, and what we saw of the snow today Bob thought encouraging. The lower route should hold together for ascent in the dark. Higher up we will likely have to make our own way, but it will be light by then.
We spent the morning and early afternoon setting up anchors above a crevasse to practice rescue a couple hundred feet higher along the route. That devolved or evolved into some belayed crevasse climbing. We were down climbing to a ledge then climbing back up, but I explored a bit left on the ledge, jumped a bit and was trying to make it across the end of the ledge to the next wall, separated by a branch of the crevasse, when the whole thing fell out below me. I think both my axes came out of the relatively loose snow wall of the crevasse. Or something. A few seconds later the ledge came apart enough to hit the bottom. Fucking thrilling, and that was enough crevasse climbing for me.
Back to base camp for lunch/dinner, melting more snow and getting everything dry for tomorrow. I really was not feeling like going up tonight…but instead I want to hike out. That’s not an option, so why sit here when I feel strong enough to go along on the attempt? We will try to wake up at 2230 again and hope for better weather.
Like last evening, a group showed up here and is gonna be noisy for a while. It’s a guided IMG group, so our quiet corner of the mountain turned into a circus, complete with large tents. They got here a while ago, though, so hopefully we will get some sleep.
0730 Monday. In an anticipated but far from inspiring turn of events, we had to cancel last night’s attempt. We woke up a bit before the 2230 alarm. Bob poked his head outside the tent and immediately said “no,” but he, I, Michael and Bill stood around looking hopefully at the clouds for a while anyway before headed back to the tents.
It was the right call, because the forecasted rain and thunderstorm finally materialized a couple of hours later. We’re standing in the sun now, having rebuilt the snow kitchen and reburied tent stakes, but we would have been in trouble had we been on the route during the storm.
We went wrong in trusting the forecast for yesterday morning. Several parties summitted (or tried) in relatively good weather. We had preemptively delayed at the trailhead. When we did that, though, we allowed for an extra night on this end of the trip. That leaves us with another shot at it tonight. It remains to be seen whether we trust the route, which was already melting out, after this morning’s heavy rain.
We are planning to do some crevasse-rescue practice and then decide.
1715 Sunday. We are prepped for an attempt tonight. We changed to a single rope of five: Bob, Micah, John, Bill, me. Michael is dropping out of the climb and staying at BC. I get it…this has already been amazing, especially today being up this high on the glacier, with the summit looking (it’s not) a short way above us, and he was feeling the worst of us.
We were all liking the idea of having two separate rope teams to aid in crevasse rescue. Since we will not have that, we are carrying a second rope.
The route is falling out, but there are options further to the right on the Winthrop Glacier, which joins the Emmons just above us here. A little rain this afternoon did not help. We’ll see how it goes, and if conditions aren’t right we won’t summit. If they are, and if we are strong enough, we should be up there around 8 or 9 am.
Time to try to get a little sleep before the alarms go off.
1430 Sunday. We reached our base camp a couple of hours ago and have been busy making a wind break, sitting area and stove enclosure out of snow. Camping on rock is an option here, too, but Bob loves making a very temporary home out of snow, it seems. Bill and Michael went the same way, and Micah and John are up on the rocky area.
The climb this morning started on the old, large lateral moraine that shows the former extent of Inter Glacier. That brought us to the current reaches of Inter Glacier, where we roped up (mostly for practice and getting to know that type of travel together) and put on boots and crampons. The crampons were overkill most of the way but didn’t hamper us. The surface most of the way was a few inches of icy, wet, somewhat loose snow on top of a harder layer.
We climbed to the ridge near Camp Curtis, then unroped for the short rock/snow descent to the Emmons Glacier, which greeted us with a beautiful, huge, twisted crevasse. I’ll add pics later, because I do not want to waste battery life on those uploads. We roped back up for the short climb on the glacier proper (finally) to Camp Schurman.
Progress was frustratingly slow. I have more doubts now about our ability to summit tomorrow. We are planning to leave earlier, waking up at 2230 tonight and leaving as soon as we can. We will have the ropes and as much gear as possible set up before we try to sleep (which should be soon). That might give us enough of a shot. But while I came up with little effort beyond fighting off boredom, others were struggling. We have 5000′ to go on somewhat steeper slopes than today’s. I don’t see everyone making it, which means none of us will. Frustrating, because I’m feeling strong, and the wx, while far from suitable for perfect conditions, appears to be cooperating well enough.
1230 Saturday. As is obvious from my ability to post these (and from Bob answering his phone), we have cell service here at our low camp. This wasn’t the case at the campground last night, but we are a bit higher and can look back down the White River valley. My phone is still off or in airplane mode most of the time to preserve battery life.
Today’s hike was 3.1 miles on a decent trail. We are around 6000′ now — lots more to climb. Tomorrow we will get an early start to beat the heat, hike a mile and a half to where the trail runs into the Inter Glacier, climb that to the ridge off the end of Ruth, then drop to the Emmons Glacier, which will be our home until we turn back to the cars. We will climb a little on the Emmons and end up tomorrow at Camp Schurman, our high camp. Tomorrow brings boots and ropes if not crampons.
Nothing much else to do until it’s time to sleep, so we each walked up or down the trail a bit, filtered some water, snacked, etc. The views from this area are not as wide-open as those from this morning’s trail, because we are close enough to have ridges blocking our look at the route. I’ve been reading my Kindle (in the tent to avoid the flies) and am having a cup of chocolate chai. I’m hoping an early dinner turns into an early bedtime followed by an early start tomorrow.
0400 Saturday. I saw the route yesterday for the first time. It was easy to pick out the boot track of the previous Emmons Glacier climbers from below the Corridor continuously to the bergshrund as it weaved around crevasses. The Corridor now seems more aptly named, or at least more obviously advantageous: to the left and right of it are the largest icefalls I’ve seen on a mountain I plan to walk on.
There are much, much larger and more thrilling ones on the Annapurna range, of course. But even from here, where the Rainier fills as much of the skyline as Annapurna South and Fishtail combined fill from Pokhara, I don’t feel the same kind of longing I do looking up at those. I don’t think that’s because my deep love of staring up at mountains has faded by living near them. I think it’s both because this mountain feels attainable and because my mind is filled with thrill and anxiousness more proximate to the task at hand.
Yesterday, the mountain looked smaller from here than it does sitting by itself as viewed from home and from Seattle. I know we are just about exactly 10,000′ below the summit, but it just didn’t look like it. Seeing the tiny lights of other parties make their way through and above the Corridor just now brought it back to scale. That reminds me that this is my first time seeing that. Other than the flags on the top of Annapurna, I’ve never seen evidence of climbers above me on a big peak, and just like Annapurna, their tiny showing of existence makes the mountain look even larger.
Camping here last night in the NPS campground was an accommodation to the forecast. We can’t climb in lightning, and lightning is forecast for tonight through tomorrow night. It’s probable that we will delay a night at high camp to let it pass, though we will get up and ready at 2300 tomorrow to see if the time is right.
Today will be an easy hike, though with heavy packs, to our low camp at Glacier Basin. We are taking our time on the approach. We could push to high camp in a single day, and many parties do, but that would likely tire us enough to hamper our ability to summit and descend to the cars the next day.
Rope teams are set. Bob, Micah and Bill on the first;, Michael, John and I on the second. I don’t really care where I end up. Pace on the rope will be what it is, and this route is sufficiently non-technical and our respective experience levels insufficiently differentiated (other than Bob’s, since he has climbed Rainier three times among other things) that it does not much matter whether one is leading. Regardless of position, no one can fall without self-arresting, roped or not. We’ve trained for recovery from a fall, but we don’t want to use that.
It struck me first as I was thinking about what to say here that I am perhaps not the best person to do this. So many of you were there for much more of my grandma’s life. Some of my fellow grandchildren lived with her and grandpa over the years – and all of you lived closer than I – so you each saw more of her than I did. Her kids have a whole generation on us and knew their mom better than we ever could. Grandpa, with whom she shared her life so well, was there for all of the challenges and all of the fun. And her siblings, cousins and dear friends knew her as we could not; they heard her hopes and dreams, moments of disappointment and times of happiness in ways that sometimes kids and grandkids do not get to share.
I thought of all of you and wondered how I could fill the gaps beyond my own experience of my grandma, whether I should try to learn more about her from you or just tell you what I know. When she asked me to do this – first, a few weeks ago when it seemed far too soon to be having that conversation – then last week, when it no longer seemed too soon and I stood outside their house sobbing, knowing that we were actually saying goodbye – she must have known I didn’t know everything that could be said. God knows she planned every other detail of today well in advance and down to the last bit of design of the program.
But what I really wonder is if she knew that she picked to remember her for you today the grandchild with the worst memory. I’m serious – if I tried to tell you stories about my grandma, you would see people around you whispering to each other about what really happened. My memories are usually reduced to mental pictures, remembered sounds and smells. Grandma’s memory in her last days was better than mine, and she reminded me of all sorts of things past. People, places, events – everything is reduced in my head to whether it was positive or negative, good or bad.
So I will tell you what I remember, and it’s very short: my grandma, your mother, your sister, your cousin, your aunt, your friend and your wife, was good. She was consistently, patiently good, and she was good to all of us. I know this best through her love and care for her family, of course. Having raised a large family of their own, no one would have blinked or second-guessed Dean and Deb for taking what money and time they had and spending it on themselves once the kids were gone. They could have been wonderful parents and grandparents that loved their family but saw them mostly on holidays and birthdays, enjoying some much needed peace and quiet in between. Of course, this expansive family averages a major birthday party every couple of weeks, so they may have to skip a few.
No, I don’t think there’s ever been peace and quiet at their house for longer than a few days. When their youngest child left for college, their first grandchild was already eight years old with many more on the way. The gap between grandchildren and great grandchildren was even smaller. There was no retirement from family, and they kept giving themselves to us. Of course they enjoyed their time away: trips to Florida for spring training, visits to grandkids spread around the country, and most memorably flying for four years to Lezlie’s spring softball tournaments on a single pair of airline tickets because they managed to get bumped every single year – all of this somehow enjoyed despite grandma’s deep hatred of flying. And it was great as I got older to stick around after the crowds of noisy family left their house, seeing them sit down, pour each other drinks, relax and enjoy their job well done. They really did enjoy their life together.
But, with most of their time and energy, Grandma and Grandpa raised all of us to a greater or lesser degree, because each of us – kids, grandkids (maybe it’s too early for the great-grandkids) – each had our ups and downs and needed help along the way. That help was never far away, even if it was just knowing that grandma and grandpa cared. It was easy to take for granted that they would be there every time we dropped by unannounced – or that they would always be at every play or concert or recital or softball, hockey, volleyball, soccer or basketball game (and I probably missed a few sports there). They sat through several generations of those events that most parents dread the first time around! Family was an unquestionable duty for my grandma, and she took it so very seriously, but it was family that gave her so much joy.
And through all of these decades of so little selfishness, so little taking and so much giving, grandma took care of grandpa, and he took care of her. Their love and patience for each other to the very end was wonderful to watch – it’s unbelievable to me how they didn’t give up on each other for 55 years.
Is this where we raise our bloodies in a toast? Because I’m not sure how to end it.
We will miss you, grandma, every day thinking of something to show or tell you the next time we see you. But know that you live on in grandpa and in your kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, all of whom you showed how to be truly, selflessly good.