Sunday, June 06, 2010

Mount Rainier Summit Attempt of 3 June 2010 - A Triumph Over Adversity

Day 1: On Tuesday, 6/1/2010, as a member of our IMG guided eight-man team, I began climbing Mount Rainier with summit fever, an emotion which would soon be overcome by one of more significance; a desire to survive the summit attempt.

Our climb began at Paradise, a small village in Mount Rainier National Park, and it proceeded up toward the base camp, Camp Muir. While climbing the steep, snow-laden mountain slope toward Camp Muir we could see a rapidly approaching storm. As the storm struck we found ourselves climbing in a whiteout, visibility was very low, the snowfall becoming heavier, and winds significantly increasing.

Upon reaching Camp Muir we entered a “rustic”, rodent infested shelter (called the “Gombu”) which would become our home for the next two days. Just as we began unloading gear from our backpacks the storm intensified with a surprising ferocity. As we were settling down and thinking only of resting, curiosity struck – how ferocious had the storm become? We opened the shelter’s door to peer outside and were greeted with a stinging, howling blast of wind, snow, and ice pellets which roared through our wooden shack. We slammed the door shut.

Although the outhouse was a mere 20 feet beyond the shelter’s door, no one considered venturing outside for ANY reason; traveling those 20 feet seemed far too risky.

Actually, the shack’s dilapidated door, the outhouse, and the “wind tunnel” separating the two became major points of interest (for obvious reasons) as we hunkered-down with thoughts only of surviving the storm. Reaching the summit no longer seemed as enticing as it once had been; getting to the cook tent was the immediate challenge.

During Day 2 of our odyssey we remained within the shelter while attempting to stay dry and safe. Only basic needs would lead us outside and even then for only brief periods of time. For safety sake, anyone venturing outside ensured others knew of their destination and reason for leaving. As the day progressed with no relief from the storm we became aware of the extreme avalanche danger developing along our proposed route to the summit. Indeed on this morning another climbing team had aborted their summit attempt, traversed back toward our shelter and, before reaching it were caught in a slab avalanche which swept them 60 feet downhill. No one was injured and all made it back to our shelter; they were shaken and fatigued but also in good spirits.

Day 2 became one of training for crevasse rescues. Our guides set up ropes and slings within the shelter, devising various rigging systems designed for the rescue of climbers fallen into glacier crevasses. As we practiced assembling these systems I noticed the other team, those recovering from the avalanche had become very quiet. My guess is that a few were sleeping soundly and others were keenly observing us.

Now it was Day 3 and it was a beautiful, clear, sunny day. We were originally scheduled to summit in the early hours of this day. We were to climb from Camp Muir across the Cowlitz Glacier to Cathedral Gap. From there we would proceed to Ingraham Flatts and take the Ingraham Direct route to the summit. Even though the day was a beautiful one and the storm had temporarily passed, avalanche conditions continued to present dangerous risks. We aborted our summit attempt in favor of continuing on a traverse across the Cowlitz Glacier to Cathedral Gap. At Cathedral Gap we were rewarded with spectacular views of surrounding peaks, snow-capped mountain ranges, volcanoes, and blue skies.

This was a triumph over adversity. I now savor the triumph as well as the adversity and hope my future climbs will be as rewarding. Of course, good weather would be nice.

Mt Adams (view from Camp Muir)

AAI Weatherport Cook Tent

Preparing to rope-up for Cowlitz Glacier Traverse

Traversing the steep Cowlitz Glacier

Climbing team at Cathedral Gap

Little Tahoma

Mount Adams (View from Cathedral Gap)

Paul at Cathedral Gap

Paul at Cathedral Gap

The Climbing Team


  1. Hi, Paul, I don't know you from Adam, but I know your folks, and I know that they are so very proud and astonished that thier son is off doing these amazing, adventurous things! Your photography is breathtaking. I grew up in Wyoming, so I know about wind-driven snow and drifting like you showed--I think you may have climbed in the Tetons (I lived in Jackson for 17 years) Great show!!! Mary O'Connor, former Treblemaker

  2. Hello Bryan,
    The guides will totally check-out your clothing to ensure it will best protect you. If they decide you need something more appropriate for the weather they will let you know and you can rent it right there; they really do know best.

    Tips: Bring a wind-proof balaclava to protect your face and neck. I think you can rent the pair of heavy gloves, goggles and glacier glasses that will absolutely use. Really though, get a windproof balaclava and bring 4 ozs of sunscreen.

    Many people believed the hike to Camp Muir was the most difficult effort they have ever made - it is very strenuous: don't be discouraged, you will do just fine.

    Try not to bring too much food for snacks, it's heavy and you will want to keep you pack weight to 35 lbs or less.

    Whether you summit or not, you can look forward to a great experience.

  3. Hi Mary - thanks for the compliments. I know all about Treblemakers and the fine musical performances you all provide.

  4. Great Report Paul, I will send you a link with my pictures shorlty.

  5. Thanks Nick. I look forward to seeing your pictures.

  6. Hi Paul!

    I haven't had the pleasure of personally meeting you yet, but have heard plenty of great things about you from my brother Ron and sista Tess there in Port Orchard!

    Naturally, I was concerned about all of you after receiving updates from Tess and was relieved to hear you all returned safely!

    Ron, Tess and I have had some wonderful experiences and great memories in the great outdoors together! Mt. St. Helens, Half Dome (twice) and the Sierra Buttes just to name a few... The common denomitor is that the weather has always been perfectly gorgeous! So, with that being said... I will make a genuine effort to attend next years summit dream in hopes that the weather Gods are with us (plus we'll probably go in July...)! I want to see my brother finally check this bad boy off his bucket/life list, so he can move on to new ventures! ;)

    We're doing Mt. Whitney this September and will do Mt. Shasta for additional training, but know that Rainier's a whole different animal and she will receive the respect she deserves!

    I hope all is well for you and yours! I look forward to meeting you soon! Would you be interested in joining us on Mt. Shasta?


  7. Hello Wes. Thanks for commenting and nice to meet you.

    Yes, it was quite an adventure. You have been hearing about me from Ron? Hmm...he's just kidding OK?

    Mt Shasta does sound inviting. I am always interested in such pursuits. I'll talk to Ron soon to see what's up.

    Soon this summer I plan to take a couple of rock climbing classes near Jackson Hole and the Teton Range.

  8. Paul,
    Thanks for sharing your adventure. Sorry you didn't summit but like previous comments, we have zero control over weather/snow conditions. I had the great fortune to summit Tahoma on 14 June 2009 with RMI.
    Was one of the hardest experiences of my life. I really have no desire to try it again!! Looks like you had three times more snow on the ground than we did. Was a very long day. Left Muir at 0130, reached the summit at 0830 and didn't make it back to Paradise until 1630.
    Hope you enjoyed your adventure just the same. I agree with you, the climb from Paradise to Camp Muir with a full pack was very strenous. We had to hunker down, drop our packs & spread out for 40 minutes to endure hail & lightning strikes. That was way to scary. Blew in b4 we knew what hit us.
    I definately have a greater respect for the power of Mother Nature.
    All the best & thanks for sharing.

    Don Czeczok
    Silverdale, WA

  9. Hello Don,
    Thanks for the comments.
    Yes, it was also for me a very memorable experience on many levels. There was so much snow. After the storm struck, backpacks, iceaxes, etc...that were left outside of the shelters were completely buried (and frozen over) in a matter of hours. I noticed that the Camp Muir 10-day weather station data was not collected and probably could not be transmitted for at least 24 hours during the worst part of the storm. I have seen pics from other team members recently that show the weather station instruments completely iced over.

    By the way, congratulations!

  10. Hi Paul,
    This sounds like a wonde
    rful adventure for those of you who are well trained, equipped, and physically able. Just to think that there are only a few who not only can to this(attempting to summit Mt. Rainer or any other mt.) but who experience the thrill of seeing the beauty that most of us will never see.
    I too, am glad you and all the guides and members of your team returned safely.
    Dad says he'll see the top of
    Mt. Rainer from an airplane.

  11. Hi Mom,
    Right now, since I meet all of the criteria you mention for making these attempts, I am going to try as often as I possibly can!

    Oh...Dad's plan is a wise one; seeing the top of Mt Rainier from an airplane is his best option - he doesn't exactly meet all of the prerequisites for climbing. I wish him well on his attempt to see Rainier's summit from an airplane; alas his chances may be no better than were mine!