Trip: Mt Rainier - Ingraham Direct
Trip: Mt. Rainier - Ingraham Direct
A Problem of Pain and Willpower on Mt. Rainier
Everything hurt. A broken leg loop restricted my movement and pinched my balls in an odd way. I was breathing too hard. I was exhausted and grumbled to myself. Gusts of wind knocked me off balance. My mind became preoccupied with frustration at the discomfort and I did not want to be on this mountain.
A few days ago my housemate and steady climbing partner Stephen mentioned that the weather was looking good and asked, "Rainier?" I immediately said yes as I'd been wanting to climb it and the thought of my first ascent being a winter one attracted me. Winds were forecasted at 45mph on the summit. The day we left the forecast said 60mph but we figured it was worth a try. We learned from a skier on our descent today that the updated forecast from the morning said 90mph summit winds. I believe it. The winds picked up noticeably around 12000 ft as we gained the large plateau above the Ingraham Glacier headwall and only continued to increase in brutality the higher we climbed. By the time we reached our high point at 13400 ft, the wind was consistent and intense- it knocked me clean off my feet during one gust. From an observer's view the sky was sunny and blue excepting a thin layer of wind scoured ice and snow streaming off the peak in contrails and cyclones. But to us it was a frigid, stinging whiteout, obscuring our view to such a degree that continuing on seemed out of the question. It felt like being in the Himalaya, or so I assume- it's just the kind of image of mountains you see on TV and in movies. Nevertheless, such conditions were new to me and I felt truly in a wild place.
While interesting in its own right, the nature of Rainier this day brought something out in me. It revealed the crossroads of my will and my ability and the meeting of resolve and pain. I grumbled tremendously much of the way, even complaining to Stephen about it in the hopes that he would comfort me, swaddle me, and tell me we could go down now. Right. I was unable to articulate my rationale only because I knew my reasons would sound insignificant. I'm exhausted, I'm slow, I kind of don't like pain. Stephen told me, "If you want to relax at the beach you're in the wrong place. What did you expect?" The truth is, I wasn't sure.
In fact, I was unsure about my desire to be on the mountain and to attain the goal of the summit. Is this amount of discomfort worth it? It would be nice to be at home and not acutely aware of my mental and physical shortcomings. I judged myself. My will faltered and my resolved withered. Yet I kept moving and mostly because I knew Stephen wouldn't stop, but also because I was unsure of how I'd feel about myself if I demanded we turn back. But I knew I couldn't force that. I was so unsure I could not have demanded anything, and so I kept moving.
When we reached 13400ft and found ourselves in an interminable veil of piercing wind and snow we knew there was no going forward for us. "This is when we call it!" Stephen yelled above the howl. I said "Yes!" and then I hollered in some kind of victory. To be sure I was happy to begin the descent, but I wasn't relieved. I could not be relieved because I had not formulated my own defeat. Instead the mountain had the gift prepared for me and I traveled there to receive it. An unimpeachable sense of rightness overcame me as I sat in the squall, having found and acted upon a resolute will, reluctant and weak though it was, until I could go no farther.
Mountains are rather like good therapists whose open listening compels us to talk, to ask, to discover. Today I have questions: Where are my fears born and where do they die? What is the nature of willpower and how does a person harness it? How do I reframe the meaning of pain?
All answers require action- what will my next step be?
Harness, pickets, 2 ice screws, avy gear, two sleeping pads, one sleeping bag, lots of layers, goggles, one trekking pole each, and one ice axe each.
Snow varied in quality- floatation used to Camp Muir. A beautiful day.