Part II of my Mt Rainier climb up Disappointment Cleaver is really a completely separate trip report from Part I. Earlier in the week I missed the summit of Rainier because the altitude knocked my climbing partner on his ass. To add insult to injury, Mt Shuksan had repelled me due to sloppy snow conditions. So I was halfway through a week long climbing trip and I had yet to tag a summit. The summit of Rainier was going to be had and that was that.
Despite the bad luck of the first half of the trip, I was actually feeling pretty good about this time. My mindset, as well as Ben’s, were rock solid and we were ready for some mountaineering punishment. I had a little chat with him about the “rest step” and the “mountaineers pace” and I was confident that slow and strong was the way to get to the summit.
Compared to Part I, the hike to Camp Muir was perfect. Just look below.
The weather was perfect because a high pressure system rolled in from Canada the day prior to our attempt. I like high pressure systems because they usually provide cloud free skies and good climbing conditions. On our summit day the sky was cloud free but the weatherman predicted some pretty windy conditions.
High winds are nothing new to me. After a Mt. Washington winter ascentwith 98 mph gusts, I thought a windy day on Rainier would be no problem. So we started off with our slow but strong pace.
The climb went without a hitch all the way to the top of the Cleaver. I was climbing in a light fleece and the breeze was just enough to keep me from breaking a sweat. As we started to get to the top of the Cleaver the wind was picking up and just about everybody in the Rainier summit train stopped to add a layer. I put on my hard shell and grabbed my gloves and hat in preparation for what I knew was going to be a windy climb.
As an aside, the OR windstopper gloves that I recently bought rocked my world. Even in some ridiculous winds they kept my hands warm.
At this point nobody seemed to want to be first in the train to the summit. It was dark and windy and I guess there is a false sense of security in seeing head lamps in front of you. I think that kind of rubbish gets you killed. So off I went into the darkness.
I couldn’t tell you how long I slogged but there is a natural ledge a ways after the Cleaver. It’s like the mountain said rest here please. So I pounded a GU, drank some water and enjoyed the sunrise.
At this point the wind was really picking up. I’m about 200 lbs and the gusts would push me around. It was a gentle reminder that I was on a big mountain and even though the altitude was wearing on me I had to stay alert.
After what seemed like forever I could see the rim of the summit crater. There was a certain point about 100 meters from the rim that the wind became utterly ridiculous. I was basically leaning 45 degree into the wind just to not be blown over and Ben who is only 155 lbs literally got airborne. There is nothing quite like planting your ice ax to keep your buddy from flying like a kite.
The wind made me fight for every step. It was a battle and all I could do was laugh at how strong the wind was. As soon as I cleared the rim though and went into the crater the wind died. I was relieved to be out of the wind, but I literally had to tow Ben into the summit crater. Now that is some strong wind.
Not many people can say that they have had the summit of Rainier all to themselves. But since we were the first party in the train and all the sane people had turned around, the summit was mine for that moment.
I make this sound kind of peaceful when in actuality Ben was giving me a seated hip belay as I crawled my way up there.
The wind was absolutely ferocious to the point that I couldn’t even hold my head up and look into it. Comparing the wind to the 98mph gusts on Mt. Washington, I would say the wind was easily 100+mph. Just look at the way the rope is flying and the snow is blowing off my crampons. It was intense.
The summit was not a place I wanted to hang out long and Ben agreed. Once we were back down in the crater it was relatively smooth climbing. There were a few other parties that were battling the wind on the way up but most reasonable people had turned around.
On the way down I actually paused to take a few photos and I think some of them turned out pretty damn good.
When we got down to the rest ledge I got the show of a lifetime. On the day prior, Camp Patriot had taken a few disabled veterans to the summit of Rainier. Camp Patriot is actually a pretty cool program. They give wounded soldiers the opportunity to enjoy outdoor adventures like climbing Mt Rainier. To celebrate the soldiers successful summit bid, Camp Patriot had arranged for two F-15 fighters to fly over Camp Muir at exactly 8AM. I think I had the greatest Rainier descent ever because I got to enjoy a F-15 flyover from above. I cannot describe how cool it was to see these jets break through the clouds below me and hit their after burners. For about 15 minutes I watched our military celebrate its finest. Here is a link to a story about the flyover. (link)
After the jets flew off into the sunrise the climb was uneventful and soon enough I was boiling some chicken flavored Ramen at Camp Muir.
It was a good day by anyone’s standards.
If you’re interested in what gear I took, check out my Mt Rainier gear list.