Our route up the Winthrop Glacier on Mt. Rainier

I’ve just returned from Rainier. Going back to climb the mountain that took my friend’s life, and nearly killed me, means this trip was very important to me and my teammates.  In addition to the usual struggles, fears and joys that mountaineering brings, this climb was packed full of emotions, memories and meaning.

Here are the best moments and the scariest:

Best Moments:

Alan, Stan, Rodney, Jim, Scott (R to L) on Mount Rainier

  • Looking over my right shoulder at midnight and seeing the long moon shadows of my team mates upon the glacier’s surface.  Their headlamp beams all pointed right at me, assurance that their eyes were locked on me as I bridged across a yawning crevasse filled with hungry blackness.  We continued climbing through the night (short video).

Approaching via the Emmons Glacier

Morning alpenglow on Rainier

Sunrise high on Mt. Rainier

Happy to be on the summit of Mt. Rainier (14,410 ft), July 31, 2012

  • At the end of our descent, watching each of my four rope mates take their final stride off the glacier, knowing that they were safe now on solid ground, and then exhaling as I too stepped off the glacier.

Scariest Moments:

  1. Stepping wide across two obvious crevasse cracks in the first 50 feet of our glacier travel.  The danger (and the old fear-filled memories) came straight at me right away.
  2. Straddling a narrow crevasse

    Stepping across dozens more known crevasses in the next 24 hours, and innumerable hidden slots lurking beneath the snow.
  3. When leading the rope up into the Winthrop Glacier’s jumbled ice fall just after midnight, the low-angled moonlight made a bulging hill of broken ice blocks look like a giant dragon, rising from within the glacier.
  4. After our successful summit, we had to go back through that same jumbled icefall, except now it was under the pounding mid-day sun which weakened the snowbridges across the many crevasses.  Conditions were the precisely the same as when that hidden snowbridge collapsed beneath me and Mike twenty years before:   wet, soft, isothermal snow.  Even our elevation and time were the same – 11,000 feet and just before noon.  I moved to the front of the rope and Alan handed me all the protective pickets and ice screws.  As I clipped them to my harness, preparing for the day’s most dangerous hour, I confessed: “This is exactly the situation I did not want to be in.”  I yelled back up the rope to my team mates, “You ready, Boys?”  They each signaled agreement with a crisp shout or a raised ice axe.  Encouraged by their focus and commitment, I calmed myself with this thought: Whatever happens, they’ll get me out.

We began the final descent towards the glacier’s edge, safety and home.

Visit here on Wednesday 8/8/12 for part 2 “Return to Rainier – The Most Important Moments”