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[TR] Mount Rainier- Disappointment Cleaver 7/30/2005


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Climb: Mount Rainier-Disappointment Cleaver


Date of Climb: 7/30/2005


Trip Report:

I decided late Friday afternoon to head up to Rainier and possibly make a summit bid. I hadn’t made an attempt since 2001, and I’d been wanting to make another one ever since. This was the first good weekend I had to go. But I hadn’t been training for it and I don’t consider myself to be in very good shape right now, so I wasn’t going to set my heart on it. I figured I would go prepared, and if I felt good I would keep on going. If nothing else, I would get to spend some time somewhere on one of the most beautiful mountains in the world.


So, Friday night was spent hurriedly getting my shit together, including borrowing a few necessities from my boyfriend and making a last minute trip to REI 15 minutes before they closed. I packed and repacked before going to bed so that everything would be ready to go when I got up … which happened at some ungodly hour the next morning. I found the drive to Rainier in the wee hours of the morning to be quite relaxing and refreshing.




I made it Paradise just before 6:00 AM, signed in with the rangers, got dressed to go and was headed up the trail by 6:50 AM. Luckily there were still wildflowers to enjoy!




I also saw a couple of deer but they were rather camera shy. I had packed as lightly as I felt could and had the lightest pack I’ve ever lugged up the Skyline trail. This bode well for me, and I felt really good. I felt even better when I concentrated less on the physical act of hiking and just enjoyed the splendor of being in Paradise. I was still not ready to emotionally commit myself to a summit attempt, though - I would leave that decision for later.




After what seemed like forever I arrived at Camp Muir. A check of the watch revealed it was only 10:30 AM – my best time ever and another good sign. I hadn’t rushed on the hike, and while I was tired I was definitely not exhausted. I think I was more affected by having only gotten a few hours of sleep that night. I found a spot in the public shelter so I wouldn’t have to bivy outside, and I quickly set myself up for nap. Napping in the shelter is a difficult endeavor at best but I was actually able to get some much needed rest. There were lots of people up there, coming and going.




At some point I got up and made a visit to the lovely ladies who were the rangers on site that day. It sounded like the route was in good condition and when I inquired about particular concerns for myself they mentioned one particular snowbridge at about 12,600 ft. I was also anxious to continue on, so I asked about timing and they gave me some great information. I spent some time basking in the beautiful weather, watching many, many little ants clamor down the scree to return to Camp.




I went back to the shelter to get more rest. At some point I decided that the best plan of action for me would be to try to have my possible arrival at the summit coincide with the first usable light of the day -- at about 4:30 AM. I figured if it is supposed to take 6-8 hours from Camp Muir to the summit, I should plan on it taking me at least 6.5 and maybe 8 or more … so if I left at 10:00 PM, the soonest I should arrive would be at first light. It was settled then - I would leave at 10:00 PM. I had a lot of time to kill until then, so I rested, made many visits to the solar potty (thanks to all of the water I downed on the way up), ate some food, prepared my summit pack, and rested some more. I couldn’t figure out how to set the alarm on the altimeter watch I had borrowed so I drift in and out of a restless sleep to check the time and listen to the gusts of wind outside. At 9:30 PM I got up in the dark shelter amidst the sleeping climbers and tried to quietly do the last few things I needed to do. When I stepped outside to put on my crampons I was relieved to find it wasn’t that cold. It was a beautiful night and I felt really good. It was the first time it really hit me that I was going to attempt the summit – the first time I felt a pang of excitement. What was before me seemed enormous even though I could see nothing of it. At that moment I was alone in the world, and yet I was overcome with joy. It was 10:00 PM and I was off …


This isn’t the route I had been hoping to attempt this year, but being this late in the season I had determined it was my best option. And because this it is the route just about everybody is doing right now and there hasn’t been any new snow for awhile, it was very straightforward. Walking in the dark across the glaciers was spectacular. (It took me back to my very first volcano climb - Mount Baker in 2000, where I had fallen in love with the enormity of and – what seemed to me – the purity of glaciers .) I found myself walking with my head down so I could see the only place there seemed to be anything going on, and all I could hear was the crushing of the snow with each step and the ping of the end of my ice axe on the snow beside me. I am convinced this is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world.


I was a little ways past the tents on the flats in an hour. It had felt much longer than that, so I was a bit surprised when I saw that I was making good time. That and the fact that I was feeling good helped me relax pretty deeply about my feeling out of shape in the normal world. I began to think I could really do this.


I kept looking behind me to see if I could see anybody else coming. I think it wasn’t until I was pretty close to accessing the cleaver before I saw other headlamps heading my way. I kept plodding along at a fairly steady pace that seemed to get ever so slower as time passed. I drank often. I popped part of a Gu at some point. And every now and then I would stop, turn off my headlamp, and look up at the great blanket of stars in the sky. Alone, in the darkness on a beautiful night, standing on “The” mountain watching stars shoot across the sky … It was like a beautiful dream.


It wasn’t all so calm and carefree, though. It was actually pretty tough going. I could feel the affects of the altitude. (I wished I had still lived at 9,000 ft instead of sea level!) At some point during my climb I was pretty happy I couldn’t see what was around me. I could tell things were steep here and wide there, but not being able to see the bigger picture kept my fear in check. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of (and not on top of) the other, on getting good plunges with my axe where it mattered, on breathing deeply, and on keeping myself hydrated and fueled. I came across the crevasse the ranger had told me about at about 12,700. It wasn’t thin so much as it had two holes widening on either side of what was left of the bridge in the middle. I swung my axe hard as far into the middle section as I could reach and with a pull it was manageable. I stepped over the other side and continued on my way.


I could see lights up high. I figured it was people coming down from the summit. The lights slowly got closer and closer until I finally reached the party. They were facing me and said I could pass. I walked past the three of them and stopped to rest awhile. Then the third one started up the mountain past me. It took me a minute to realize what was going on. I yelled up at him, asking if they were going up. He said they were. I told him I had thought they were going down and I started back up so that I could get out of their way.


At some point the wind had picked up … and at some point it had become pretty fierce. The last 1,000 ft to the summit rim were amazingly tough. On the leftward switchbacks I was fighting against a severe headwind, and I was cold. I found myself stopping so often that I started counting my steps. If I took 25 or 30 before stopping again I considered that good. There were a few times when I could only take 15 before I would need to actually sit down and rest. Every time I stopped I would turn off my headlamp. I had already lost my AAA batteries an hour-and-a-half into the climb and I was really afraid I would lose the 4.5V before I made it to the top. I took to hiking by the dim crescent moonlight where I felt I could manage it.


And in that dim moonlight I finally reached the crater rim. It was 3:00 AM. Was I reading my watch right? Yep, 3:00 AM. It had felt like the hardest slowest push I had ever made up something in my life. There were times I had wanted to lie down and take a nap, and I probably near would have had it not been so cold. And yet I had managed to make excellent time. Not excellent timing, though, as first light wouldn’t for another 1.5 hours!


The trail leading to the rim was a trough and there was no mistaking it up to that point. Where to go next was unclear. I walked around looking for tracks but my headlamp was so dim at that point it was pretty much useless. Okay, the summit is on the other side, but how do I get there? My instincts told me to go straight but right off the rim there appeared to be a crevasse. I could step over it but I couldn’t see far enough to tell what was on the other side. That seemed to be asking for trouble, and not knowing what was over there I wasn’t ready to take that risk. I got out my guidebook photocopies of the route from both Beckey and Gauthier. It was eerily windy, and it was difficult to manage the papers with gloves on. They confirmed that the summit is on the other side, but no mention of how to get there. I looked around again, trying to see with a headlamp that was just about juiceless. No good. I got the papers out again and they were ripped away from me by the wind. I looked behind me and could see no headlamps approaching. It was too cold to sit there and wait for the next party or for it to get light – whichever would come first. I was already shivering uncontrollably and had only been there for 15 minutes. I was overcome with disappointment. The rim wasn’t good enough for me; I wanted to summit. I decide to head down and find the first party behind me. I told the leader of my plight and meekly asked if I could follow them so that I could actually summit and sign the register. He was okay with that, and I let them pass and followed them back up to the rim. I think it was 3:40 AM or so the second time I reached the rim. We all walked across the crater and they showed me where the register was. I could barely move my fingers to sign my name. Then I braced myself against the wind and followed the trail up to the summit. I was there, but I sure didn’t want to stay long. Luckily two guys had just gotten there and I asked one of them to take my picture before I got blown off the summit.




The elation of summiting gave me some newfound energy, and I adopted a brisk pace as I walked back past the register to the trail across the crater. There was a sliver of red showing on the horizon but it was too cold to hang around and I just enjoyed the sunrise as I descended.




I crossed paths with every group that was headed up that day. It made for a lengthy descent. Sometimes I had to wait for up three parties to finish ascending a section before I could pass. I didn’t mind waiting, though. I was overjoyed from having made the summit and I was in a beautiful place on a beautiful day to stand around and take in the view.




On the way down it was amazing to see everything I couldn’t see on the ascent. It made it seem more like a round-trip than an out-and-back. I didn’t feel like stopping to take pictures of much, but I found this one crevasse interesting if only because it looks like there’s an asterisk inside. It made me laugh.




After I scrambled down the scree slope and was back on the glacier walking towards Camp Muir, I finally felt like the climb was over and it had been a success. It was a tremendously spectacular feeling. Inexplicable really but surely understood by others who have done this.




The hike from Camp Muir to the parking lot was long and painful. I was exhausted beyond belief. It took me 3 hours and 15 minutes because I had to stop so often to relieve my feet. I would have crawled if that wouldn’t have been more painful than walking.




I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend ...

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Nice work. Excellent report. cool.gif

2 questions:

1) Was it as easy as you make it sound to get a solo permit?

2) Would having skis make the slog down easier?



hey joe, thanks!

1) not sure where i made it sound easy to get a solo permit. ( this page has info about obtaining the permit and a link to the application.) i had actually applied for (and received one) last year and never took advantage of it. this april i just updated a few things on my old form and re-sent it.

2) are you talking about skiing from the summit or from muir? i was headed down from muir by 8am so the snow was still pretty firm. i don't think i would have wanted to ski that, especially with how exhausted i was. but i saw 7 or so people hiking up with skis/boards as i was going down the skyline trail. it would probably have been a fun, easy [and corn-ridden] ride once things warmed up. thumbs_up.gif

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thanks, ivan. i just sent a link to this tr to my parents! evils3d.gif

ha, i gave up trying to share cc stuff w/ my respectable associates years ago!


seriously though, good job - climbing shit solo and facing intense personal doubt can be very liberating - true fight club shit (oops, sorry mom!) wave.gif


to good old fashioned christian-values! bigdrink.gif

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Climbing down and then back up? Is this showing off or something?

yellaf.gif no. i really would rather have just sat on my ass and waited for someone to show up. tongue.gif but it was seriously too freaking cold. i determined it was better to keep moving even if it meant losing vert i'd have to regain. it was worth it. thumbs_up.gif

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Omigod! It's that beautiful woman who was in the climber's hut getting ready at an ungodly hour! Yup, I'd rather sleep in a tent or bivy.


We saw you on your way back down, about 13,000 or so. We were a party of two.


What a beautiful night it was!


Thanks for the TR and awesome pics!

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skyhigh: yes, those are with the s410 and no tweaking afterwards except for the size. the big ones are about 40% of normal (at max size/res, which is how i take all of my pics). despite some limitations it really is a great camera for how small it is and i've been pretty happy with it.


peakbetty: thanks! blush.gif i really did try to be quick and quiet but i guess the quiet part is pretty much impossible. crazy.gif i hope you and your partner had a great climb, too! i wish i had taken some pics of the beautiful sunrise ...

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