Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mt. Rainier - Disappointment Cleaver Route with the Three Musketeers plus Juan

About a month ago, I came down with a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out). Kyle and Liam had signed up to go to Mt. Rainier with a few other ACC members and although I was trying not to let it get to me, I was definitely jealous. I asked a few questions about switching shifts at work and managed to weasel my way onto the trip with less than 2 weeks to go! It was a bit of a mad scramble to get the necessary permits (I was able to just add myself onto the camping permit but had to get my own climbing permit). I had to learn how to send a fax and wait for the permit to arrive by snail mail but luckily it all arrived with days to spare and I was incredibly excited to be going along! At the last minute, our trip leader Juan had to pull out from the trip, causing his friend to also bail. Suddenly it was down the the three musketeers: Liam, Kyle and Jenny (the three amigos as Juan would say). Some trip planning and beer drinking sessions occurred and we were feeling ready to tackle the mountain on our own. At the final hour however, Juan was able to come on the trip again. A few recalculations of gear ensued and the pre-trip faff was complete. Onwards to adventure! We met in Fernie BC on the morning of Saturday June 14th loaded up with Tim Horton's donuts to make our way Mt. Rainier National Park. 
Welcome to America! It smells like freedom down here
 It poured rain most of the drive, but we were lucky enough to get some sunny weather through the Columbia River Gorge. What a beautiful area. We made good time through Washington and arrived in Ashford, WA in time to check into Whittaker's Bunkhouse, the Basecamp for the RMI guided groups and pretty much anyone else who is attempting Mt. Rainier.
Columbia River Gorge
 The bunkhouse fills up pretty fast, even in the early season, so Juan was the only one who had a room. The rest of us had to make due with the much more luxurious (and expensive) guest cottage that sleeps 4 and has its own kitchen, washroom and fireplace! 
Whittaker's Bunkhouse during a rare sunny break
Juan and Kyle, the team tricksters
We spent two nights in Ashford, which allowed us to prepare for the climb on Monday. Sunday morning was spent looking around the guide service shop picking up some souvenirs and last minute supplies. Then we drove up to Paradise in the National Park to visit with the rangers, pick up our blue bags (to remove your poop from the glacier), register for our climb and get even more souvenirs. It was grey and steadily drizzling so we hadn't even had a chance to see the mountain at this point. Such is life in western Washington I suppose. 
The guest cottage

 We had a huge dinner of fajitas before heading to bed early in preparation for the next day. Excitement was in the air.
Relaxing after packing up for Monday's hike to camp Muir
We awoke to more overcast skies and drizzle, but as we approached the Paradise Trailhead, it began to snow. We did a bit of last minute reorganizing of gear before heading out from the overnight parking area.
Snow at the trailhead
Upon recommendation from a ranger, we tried to take a shortcut from the lower parking lot to the main trail (which sees heavy traffic and is marked with flags by the guides) by following a drainage directly up to the trail, rather than walking up to the day parking lot where the trail actually starts. Initially we started following the wrong trail, then we got turned around and basically spent the next two hours wandering around in the fog, probably only a few hundred metres from the trail and parking lot at any one time. Eventually we just backtracked to the day lot and started from the beginning of the obviously flagged "highway" that we had somehow missed. So much for an early start!
Lost in the fog
 Once on the trail, it was very easy to follow. There were lots of other groups hiking up, most of them guided. There were also a large number of groups coming down after having summited that morning. The stories of success made us optimistic about our own trip and broke up the monotony of the slow grind up through the dense fog with very little in the way of landmarks to measure our progress.
One of the many guided parties making their way up the Muir snowfield.
The walk up was not hazardous and we didn't need to rope up or even put on crampons. This allowed us to move at our own pace, although we would regroup every so often to make sure everyone was doing alright. A few hours into the hike, we magically emerged from the cloud and were able to see our destination a few hundred feet above us. We stopped for some pictures and regrouped with Juan before making the final push to Camp Muir (10,080 ft/3072m above sea level).
Emerging from the cloud with Liam waiting ahead. Note the highway we were able to follow up!
Camp Muir was bright and sunny and full of people arriving, departing and getting ready to climb the next day. We set up camp and started melting snow to make some water (a continuous process up there). It was great to be able to get out of the mountaineering boots and relax in the sun after a long hike.
Ranger cabin and guided party tents at Camp Muir
Looking out over the sea of cloud below
Public shelter at Camp Muir 
Setting up our camp at 10,080 feet
During the night, some weather moved in. The wind was howling and it felt like the tent was going to blow away at times and snow would swirl into our tent during big wind gusts. Kyle and I barricaded the tent to keep the snow from coming in and lay awake for most of the night, listening to other parties get up to go for the summit and return unsuccessfully a few hours later because of the high winds. The alarm went off at 5am (as we were going to have a very early bedtime that night) but it still sounded terrible outside so we spent a few hours hunkered down in the tent reading. Liam and Juan had got up and were nice enough to serve us oatmeal in bed! Now that's service.
Hanging out in the tent to stay warm
We emerged from the tent around 7am after the wind had died down a bit. It was a glorious morning. We took advantage of the clear skies to rope up and scout out the first part of the route from Camp Muir to Ingraham Flats. It was good to stretch the legs and figure out how we worked as a rope team as Kyle and Liam had never climbed with Juan before. It was also nice to get some pictures as the next time we would be through this area, it would be pitch black.
Looking back down at Camp Muir and a large guided party on the glacier below from Cathedral Gap
Working our way up to the ridge of Cathedral Gap
Ingraham Flats camp above an icefall with the Disappointment Cleaver in the background
Upon returning to camp, we spent the rest of the day relaxing, taking pictures, eating and packing up for the night to come.
The non-guided camp area with Cathedral Gap in the background
The small peak above Camp Muir was a great place for photos 
Liam looking epic with Mt. Adams (12,281 ft) in the background 
Camp Muir from above
Happy Kyle
Happy Liam
We crawled into our tents at 5pm. It was strange trying to sleep when it was so bright and warm in the tent but even still, 11pm came quickly. The night was perfectly clear with lots of stars and no wind. We had a meal (breakfast?) of oatmeal and roped up, eager to get on the trail. Another party started just before us and we were able to see their headlamps bobbing along ahead. The moon was huge and orange and almost bright enough to light the way. We started for the summit at 12:30 am on Wednesday June 16th.
Walking up the mountain in a little bubble of light was very surreal
Looking down at Ingraham Flats from the bottom of the cleaver to see a string of headlamps coming up the glacier after us
We made our way past the higher camp on the Ingraham flats and started up towards the Disappointment Cleaver. On our way we passed some huge crevasses, but the guides had done a great job of flagging the safest path through them. Occasionally we had to step over a slit at the end of a crevasse but usually we were walking parallel to them, only able to see as far as our headlamps and keeping a close eye on the ground ahead. We reached the fixed ropes that the guides use with their clients but continued on beside them. We reached our first traffic jam on the Cleaver where clients that looked like they had never really used crampons before were taking it very slow. As we made it passed the fixed lines on the steepest part of the cleaver, the wind was blowing hard over the ridge. Brrr!
Light on the horizon as we made our way up the Gibraltar Shoulder. Note headlamps on the top of the cleaver
After the cleaver we slowly worked our way up the Gibraltar Shoulder above the Emmons Glacier. There was enough light to turn our headlamps off at this point (4am). We had to move slow because of the altitude and so that the group was moving together as one unit. It was difficult to pass anyone up here because walking off the path was much more challenging. We were going so slow up the mountain that I had to wear my parka even though we were climbing a mountain! At the "high stop" that the guides take a break at, we passed a son and his dad (age 61) on their way to the top. Very impressive! There were two different ways to go at this point and we chose the left fork since there were lots of people going right and it was very slow moving. Our route took us out around the bergschrund, while the right fork went straight up it on a ladder. I think our way was a bit easier and more direct?
Sunrise over little Tahoma (peak in foreground)
Amazing views at 5am
Me and Liam following a client up the Gibraltar Shoulder 
Busy day on Rainier. Looking down the Shoulder at the Cleaver, Emmons Glacier (left), and little Tahoma
Morning alpine glow on the rope team as the sun rises 
Taking the trail around the bergschrund
 Finally we were able to see the crater rim! There are steam vents all around the rim of the crater that form steam caves in the snow. We were able to get past the moat formed by the steam by crossing a small snow bridge that was well marked by the guides. Once in the crater (~7am), we took off our packs and rope and walked across the crater to the true summit (14,410 feet/4392m). The altitude was noticeable up there and walking too quickly resulted in hyperventilating and difficulty breathing. Although we were excited to summit, we still had to take it slow.
Approaching the crater rim
Liam was the first to summit
On the summit, we took tonnes of photos and pulled out our Rainier beer cans that we had carried all the way from Ashford. We also took a few minutes to check out one of the steam caves which was warm from the steam and quite sheltered from the wind. Liam would have like to go exploring more but at the time, we were just happy to be there and mentally preparing for the long climb back down that we still had ahead.
Photo shoot at the top
Great success 
The three musketeers with beer
Looking down at the crater and beyond
Rainier with a rainier and Mt. Adams and Mt. Baker in the background. I could only drink about 1/3 of my beer before I could feel it going straight to my head
Liam the cave explorer in the entrance to one of the steam caves
The whole team at the summit!
Unfortunately, we were only half way done as we still had to get back down to Camp Muir. We had a quick bite to eat and roped up again for the descent. This time we were able to see everything that we had missed on the way up in the dark. The sun warmed us up quickly and soon we were stripping off layers and applying copious amounts of sunscreen. By the time we reached Camp Muir, were were all pretty dehydrated and cranky.
Big, deep crevasse
Me stepping over the big crevasse
Looking down at Ingraham Flats from the cleaver. Huge crevasses all around!
Cranky Kyle doesn't want any more photos, he just wants water
 The whole climb had taken us almost exactly 12 hours from camp to summit and back to camp again. We took a few hours to hang out, melt snow and snack before dismantling our tents and starting the walk back down to the Paradise trailhead. The walk down was much more enjoyable than the walk up. I was quite envious of the climbers who had brought toboggans or skis up with them, but I was still able to slide down a bunch of the way on a garbage bag!
There were lots of bum slides on the way down which was much more fun than walking 
It only took us 2.5 hours to get down from Camp Muir (compared to about 6 to get up). When we got to the bottom, we were surrounded by tourists and a few Chinese girls wanted to get a picture hugging me for some reason (I was very smelly at this point). It was still very foggy in the valley and we couldn't even see the mountain that we had just climbed! We spent the night at a motel in Selah outside of Yakima and had one of the best night's sleep that I have every had! On the way home, we stopped at a view point and were finally able to get a glimpse of Rainier shrouded in cloud.
On our way home 
Our first and last view of Mt. Rainier

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Valleyview (5.9 Sport)

As part of the ACC Calgary Section annual rock review, I got a chance to get out climbing with Ken, Allen and Orvel for the first time! The original plan was to climb Dan's Delight on Bankhead Buttress of Cascade but after talking to others and checking the weather it sounded like a recipe for an epic so we settled on the much shorter Valleyview, a 6 or 7 pitch (depends on which topo you use) 5.9 sport route also on Cascade. We got off to a leisurely start of 10am and struggled up the steep scree approach. Once at the bottom of the climb, we were able to scramble up to an anchor station and Ken started us off by leading the first five pitches.
Ken leading us to victory
 This was my first time climbing in such a big group but it was nice and social and relaxed. The weather was great and we were able to take our time without getting too cold.
Looking down the climb at the remaining snow in the valley
 The climb itself was really fun, lots of solid rock and high friction moves. The cruxes were well protected so even though some of the moves had very little in the way of handholds, nothing got too scary. Ken and Orvel did a great job of leading all day, leaving Allen and I to follow which was good fun too. I also got a chance to try out simul-climbing which was a first.
It was a very social belay station day
Me working my way up behind Allen
Orvel getting his shot at leading
Even with the four of us, it only took about 6 hours to do the whole climb from the car and back down to the car. I feel like this would be a good route for someone looking to do a quick, non-committing route as there are rappel anchors at all the stations and pitches are very easy to link. 
Rapelling down