I did not make the summit of Rainier, I could not keep up with the group. The disappointment I feel is beyond my vocabulary to describe.
What was it like from my perspective… drink 1 gallon of water and read on. This continues from the last last entry (7/17/02.
After going to the bathroom for the 10th time, I left work at 3:00 PM on Wednesday afternoon, my Explorer had been loaded with my gear since the night before. John, another Lung Association climber, and I carpooled to Ashford, arriving at Whittaker's Bunkhouse around 6:30 PM where we would spend the night before the climb.
John is a veteran Lung Association climber, as well as, avid climber in general. He has attempted Rainier 3 times, with one successful summit and has been a wealth of information and support for me as a novice. On Monday he emailed me and told me to drink a gallon of water each day before the climb. The purpose is to super hydrate at the cellular level, which would help against headache and nausea caused by high altitudes. The side affect would be, as expected, numerous bathroom trips.
During the three hour, hot, slow, rush-hour drive to the mountain I mentally reviewed the contents of my 40 pound pack in my head.
Sleeping bag, duct tape, first aid kit, emergency blanket, down parka Gore-Tex (water and wind proof) pants, jacket with hood, and over mitten shells. Fleece pants, pullover jacket, vest and mittens. Polypro, long johns, 2 undershirt shirts, 4 pairs of socks, stocking cap, and glove liners.Gaiters, headlamp with 4-extra batteries, glacier glasses, ski goggles, 48 SPF sunscreen, lip balm plastic bowl, eating utensils, 3-1 quart water bottles, 2-16oz water bottles, 2 sports bras, one pair of hiking shorts, bandana, ear plugs, 2 cameras, brimmed hat, tooth brush and past, ibuprofen, comb, hair holder, toilet paper, powdered Gaiter Aid, 3-bagels w/peanut butter, 3-peeled oranges, zip lock baggie of beef jerky, 3-hard boiled eggs, granola and the Pilchuck flag. I still needed an ice axe and crampons which would be rented once I got to Ashford.
Not in the pack was my plastic climbing boots and ski poles. I couldn't think of a single thing that I had forgot or was missing. John told me that his pack weighed in at about 55lbs! Holy cow! What was in there?! Some extra stuff and a few celebration beers... like a 6-pack.
Once I was in the room at the Bunkhouse,
additional gear rented, and re, re checked my pack it was about 7:00PM and time for the Lou Whittaker's prep talk. Lou talked for about a half of an hour, and gave us words of encouragement, as well as a few jokes and stories from his climbing past adventures. He was also very pleased to learn that Group 3 climbers (our group of 23) raised $95,000. We were not told how much the Groups 1 or 2 raised, but we were told that group 4 had raised the most. We then had the traditional American Lung Association group photo taken with Lou and, if we wanted,individual photos too. I was on a mission to get a photo with Lou since I had made a promise to a very special sponsor.
Early on in my fundraising I approach a
contractor for the company that I work for, Pilchuck Contractors. I made the proposal to the President, in exchange for $1000 donation to the Lung Association I would take the Pilchuck flag to the summit of Rainier. Of course the proof would be a framed photo from the summit, as well as a signed poster from Lou, and a photo of the Pilchuck flag with Lou. Fully expecting a counter offer for a donation amount I had the pleasure of opening an envelope (less than a week
later) with a $1000 cheque made out to the American Lung Association from Pilchuck. Lou was more than happy to have his photo taken with the Pilchuck flag (one with and without me in it) =).
I can not say that I slept much Wednesday night… maybe a few hours. But the bed was comfortable and it was very nice to know that I did not have to get up early and drive from Seattle to Ashford by 8:00 AM Thursday morning.
The 24 of us were split into 2 teams, A & B, I was in B. The purpose of that is to make the climb more manageable by staggering the starting times. Team A would always be about an hour ahead of team B.
The shuttle left Ashford and arrived at Paradise around 10:00AM, by 10:30 AM team B was on their way to Camp Muir at 10,000ft. The sun was out down in Ashford but not at Paradise, the guide said that we would likely be above the clouds once we got to the 9000'level and we were. Having been to Camp Muir 4 times already this segment of the climb was not something new for me, but knowing that this was finally the day that I had been waiting for definitely made the trip special. We arrived at Camp Muir around 4:00PM and huddled in the sleeping quarters. Team A got the West wall of the hut, and Team B was on the East.
Just so you have an idea of the hut that I am talking about, it is approximately 12 feet wide by 20 feet long by 12 feet high, and it sleeps 25. Divide the 20ft into thirds with the two outer thirds being sleeping bunks stacked three high.
At 5:00 PM the lead guide came into the sleeping hut and gave us an idea of what to expect for the next 22 hours. We got out helmets, harness and our rope team assignments. Our group of 23, split into A team of 12 and B team of 11 was further split into rope teams of 3 or 4 with a guide for each team. Our guide was Mark, then climber Shari, Robert, myself, then John.
Dinner was brought to us at 6:00PM, chili with beans, corn and rice. Although a potentially dangerous combination with 24 people in cramped quarters, the food was hot and very tasty with no noticeable side effects that I detected.
Lights out (although still plenty light outside)/quiet time was sometime about 7:30 PM. I brushed my teeth and put in my earplugs and attempted to sleep. After laying still for a few hours getting up once to go to the out house, and listening to many others getting up to go to the outhouse I think I did get some sleep, not allot.
11:30 PM Thursday night and Team A was being waken up, since we are in the same sleeping quarters Team B was awake too but not to get out of bed for another 45 minutes. Our turn came once Team A was out side and getting roped up.
12:45 AM Friday morning we were getting our avalanche beacons strapped around our chests, harnesses buckled around our waists and upper legs. We were told to ware fleece pants with long johns, our upper bodies should have our base layer on under a fleece jacked at a minimum, glove liners would be fine to start the morning out with. We had hot water and instant oatmeal, Pop Tarts, breakfast bars and other cereal bars available for our morning "breakfast". I had a couple of breakfast bars and some fresh fruit that I had brought. My stomach was very anxious so I didn't want to put anything in it that would
not be likely to stay down. By 1:15 AM we were divided up into our rope teams and getting a lecture from our guide, Mark.
On the way up from Paradise Mark wore a Hawaiian shirt and was very chatty and happy-go-lucky,this morning thought his demeanor was much different. He told us that all fun and games were to be set aside and that he was there to get us to the summit. If at any point he is yelling or making demands to not take it personally but to just do what he says. He reminded us that the key to the summit would be our ability to concentrate on rest stepping and pressure breathing.
There would be 4 legs to the summit, split up with 3 breaks. We would have 10 minutes of break to get water and food in our bodies and to stay warm. The first thing we were to pull out of our packs at break was to be our parka and to have food and water bottles shoved into the pockets for immediate accessibility. He then asked if we had any last question. I must admit, if I had a question I can not remember if I asked it or not.
I got my crampons on and hoisted the much lighter pack on my back. For the summit I only needed to have my Gore-Tex, food, water, camera and Pilchuck flag. Mark called us to the rope and clipped us in position, there was about 40 feet of rope between each climber. 1:45 AM, headlamps on and secured to the top of our helmets we were the last rope team to leave Camp Muir.
From the moment we left the camp I felt like I was learning how to walk for the first time. I just could not get into a rhythm with the crampons on, ice axe in the left hand and rope in the right. A couple of times I caught a crampon on the opposite leg gaiter and nearly fell. I finally got into a breathing and stepping pattern that seemed to be familiar enough to maintain along the 18" wide trail crossing the Cowlitz Glacier. Then came scramble up the steep, loose rock of Cathedral Rock Ridge to get through the gap to the Ingraham Glacier.
Crampons work on snow but not on rock, and especially on loose rock and sand. Nearly every scratchy step was enhanced by the spark from the steel meeting rock, making a noise that is nearly like fingernails on a chalkboard to my ears. The ropes that held us all together for safety would wrap around rocks and get tangled in our feet. I was literally crawling on my hands and knees to get up and over Cathedral Rock's rocks. "I hate ^@#$&@#$ rock" I cursed to myself, but that doesn't mean others around me did hear it.
We weren't very far into the rock climb when Shari announced "I'm gonna throw-up!" Our rope stopped and she did. Mark's immediate response was "Do you feel better?" like as if she had been drinking too much and needed to throw-up in order to continue on drinking. Shari said she did not, but that she could continue on. About another 100' and we got the announcement again, "I'm gonna throw-up!" This time she really let go of everything, all the way back to our dinner of chili w/beans corn and rice. I felt so bad for her but welcomed the momentary stop in the rocks. By the time we finally reached our first break spot Shari had thrown-up a third time and was extremely fatigued and still nauseated, a condition called Acute Mountain Sickness.
Break was after about an hour of cimbing from Camp Muir on the flats of the Ingraham Glacier. Mount Tahoma was silhouetted against the morning sky, you could barely tell the difference between the black peak that is the third highest in the State and the pre dawn, dark blue sky that was the easterly horizon. Of course having only 10 minutes to rest before moving on I quickly stopped noticing the amazing surroundings and flopped my pack on the snow, whipped out the goodie filled parka and put it on. I was thirsty… I momentarily flashed back to the two days of drinking a gallon of water and wondered how I would have felt if John had not told me to drink it.
Mark and another guide got Shari into a sleeping bag and put into a snow bed that was safe until a rope team could return to get her.
Mark returned to us and gave us a warning about the next leg of the climb; he called it the 'crux of the climb'. Instead of an hour of climbing it was going to be nearly two hours of climbing before our next break. We were going to go across the most dangerous part of the climb and up the most difficult, we either needed to be committed to going the distance or stay
behind. The remaining 3 of us were in it for the long haul.
I was fighting a headache and asked Mark what to do about it. He wanted to know how bad it was "stabbing?"(which could be an indication of a high altitude cerebral edema)I said it was slightly throbbing, he told me to drink a bunch of water and pressure breath harder while we got moving.
"Okay, let's get going, Mark said" and so I took off the parka, shoved it back into the pack, put the pack back on and started pressure breathing really hard and forceful. Within about 50'the headache was gone and I felt as good as one could feel at 11,000ft at 2:45 AM operating on little sleep, with some adrenaline in the dark.
Once across the flats of the Ingraham Glacier we got to an area the John has told me was 'the bowling alley' also known as the Ingraham Icefall. Since it was still dark, I was not able to see what we were moving under but Mark had
stopped us and coiled our 40'of rope length down to about 10' between the each of us. He said this was an area that we want to move VERY quickly through and that the trail is very narrow. My headlamp revealed a trail that was covered with debris and about 10" wide, It felt like we were walking under a ledge. Since this area was called a 'bowling alley' my assumption was that the climbers were the pins and something else (like hunks of ice)was the ball. We moved quickly and quietly through the area and to the base of Disappointment Cleaver.
This massive rock formation separates the Ingraham Glacier from the Emmons Glacier and is about 1000 feet… sometimes it is ok not to see what you are doing. I looked up at this thing and saw at least 4 other bodies directly above me, and there were others around and above them. My cheapie headlamp could barely light the path let alone shine to the top of this thing. I distinctly remember thinking to myself "Oh-My-God!", and at that moment my stomach let out a loud growled for food. I was suddenly very
hungry, but we were on a mission to get to the top of this thing before we could take a break.
I remember there not being a noticeable trail to follow, and many other climbers all around clawing their way up this… thing. It was so steep! And every time I looked up to see if it was going to end… I couldn't see the end to the rock and the beginning of sky! I stopped looking up and focused on breathing and stepping or clawing. I was so thirsty and really hungry. We finally got onto a trail that was a constant switchback and extremely steep.
John told be to look over my right shoulder. The morning light finally started reveal what we were on and over looking. "Good God Almighty!" It was the sea of clouds that you see from a plane with mountain peaks sticking up through it. The crevasses were enormous! I started to get dizzy from looking at it. I focused my eyes and thoughts back on the trail and on pressure breathing, but I was so thirsty I just wanted to stop long enough to get some water. I didn't need to sit or do anything but get some water.
Mark called back to Robert, "how ya doing Robert?" I could not hear his response, but I knew what he said. Mark then called to me, "how are you doing Brenda?" I yelled back " The rope is tight and it is because of me… I am so hungry and thirsty I need to stop for just a moment and get some food!". Mark called back and said that we are 400' from the top where we will take a break, I needeed to wait another 25 or 30 minutes. I said ok, but I was not ok.
I deteriorated further and further from that moment on. I could not keep the rope slack between Robert and myself and I knew I was pulling him tight against Mark. My slowing was not going to get us to the to the break in 25 or
30 minutes. I hollered again, "Mark, I really need some food".
Mark stopped climbing and coiled us all together, I thought for a moment that we were going to get to take a moment and grab a bite to eat and drink, but instead Mark unclipped my pack and took it off my back. He strapped it on to his
pack and started moving again. My eyes filled with tears, I felt so humiliated, I needed food and water, I did not need someone to take my pack.
Before the rope uncoiled between Robert and I, John was standing behind me on the trail and he put his arms around me. I asked him if he thought that I was still going to be allowed to climb, I don't remember hearing what John's answer was but I don't think he said yes.
Without my pack I was lighter and able to get closer to the break area. I could see others from Team B waiting but we were still a good 100ft away… I was starting to get very dizzy, and almost lost my balance a couple of times, I felt like a staggering drunk. No matter how hard I tried to concentrate and tell my body what to do,
I couldn't get it to do it! And the rope was tight again, I was pulling on Robert again and I couldn't keep up with him to make it go slack. I was so hungry, thirsty and now cold.
I finally staggered into the break area and Mark was in my face with a very pointed question… "You are finished now right?" He was standing between my pack and me. I felt confused, angry, broken
and ashamed. Food, water and a warm parka were being held hostage until I gave him what he wanted to hear. "Yes" I said.
4:30 AM. With the parka on and the super concentrated 16-oz of Gaiter Aid, beef jerky, a half a quart of water, and bagel with peanut butter in my body, the world returned to being full of color. The rising sun made the mountain a salmon orange/pink color. I could feel the warmth of the morning raising and clarity started to return.
Because we were behind schedule John and Robert didn't have nearly enough time to rest and recover before heading off onto the next leg of the climb. The blasted schedule was so important to stay on.
While John and I were preparing for departure from Camp Muir I had asked him if he would be willing to take the Pilchuck flag to the summit if something were to happen that I could not.
Before John left with the new rope team for the summit he got the flag and I gave him one camera. I still had another one with me so I was able to take sunrise photos and get photos of the return trip to Camp Muir.
There were 6 of us that did not summit. 8:00AM on Friday morning we returned to Camp Muir while the rest that went on from Disappointment Cleaver were standing on the summit of Mount Rainier.
John got photos of the Pilchuck flag from the top of Rainier. It took two guys to hold the flag against the 45+ mph winds.
Mark said that we should be very proud to have reached the elevation that was the equivalent to that of Mount Adams, the second highest peak in the State. I looked at him and said, "If we wanted that, we would have climbed Mount Adams".
My brother, David, phoned me this morning and said… "I thought you were crazy to do this in the first place, you
aren’t thinking that you have to go back and do it again are you?" Of all the people in the world he was the last person I thought would ever ask that question.
I left behind something at the top of 12,400' Disappointment Cleaver that was suppose to go to the 14,410'summit.
"Duh, Dave! As many attempts as it is going to take, including one more yet this year!"