Mt. Rainier - Ingraham Glacier

June 26 - 27, 2000

Dave Svilar, Dan Svilar, Dan Lawty, Darryl Doland, Jeff Peterson, Les Prusik

Somehow my dad got stuck being responsible for everyone's gear for the trip.  My poor dad can barely pack his own bag, but he had managed to arrive at the Paradise parking lot on Mt. Rainier with four stoves, four ice axes, seven pairs of gloves, and enough other gear to equip a small army for an assault on the mountain.  Perhaps I would have been more suited for the job, but I had just returned from a post-college graduation trip and was busy trying to stay unemployed. 

Thanks to my dad everyone had gear for the climb, except for my dad who didn't have his own ice axe.  Our team started up the long slog to Camp Muir while Dan Lawty volunteered to stay back until the guide service opened and he could get an axe for my dad.  Most of us took our time on the way to Muir enjoying the clear skies and the behemoth of a mountain growing ever larger as we approached.

Me taking it easy on the way to Camp Muir.

We all staggered into camp at different times.  Dan, Jeff and I were first to arrive so we started hacking out a spot for two tents from a previously existing trench in the snow.  We had left the trail early in order spend the afternoon at Muir resting and acclimating to the thin air (10,200 ft.).  I went over to the ranger's hut to get some route beta and was informed that avalanche danger was high on our intended route by late in the day.  Earlier in the week an RMI guide had been hit in the head by falling ice and had to airlifted off the mountain.  After hearing this I decided we needed an early start as we would likely be moving slowly. 

My dad fiddles with gear at our camp which seems picturesque from this vantage...

 

Jeff, Darryl, Dan, Les, and myself at our cooking spot near camp.  The buildings behind us are outhouses.  Perhaps not the most pristine camp, but on the upside none of us had to use the dreaded blue bag.

Out of our group of six I was the only one who had been trained in crevasse rescue (scary thought), so we went over some basic techniques.  I'm not sure I would ever take as many inexperienced climbers on a mountain like this again, but at least if something went wrong we had brute force on our side.  In an epic tale from years past Dan and Darryl had rescued a friend out of a crevasse on Glacier Peak, so although we lacked technique we weren't completely lacking experience.

Our goal was to start before 1:00 am in order to avoid being stuck behind the RMI guide service.  The guide service takes hordes of people up the route every day of the summer creating a human ant-trail of climbers ultimately creating logjams on the route.  We were late getting started and paid the price as we followed the RMI groups all the way to the top.

Even having to share the mountain with the hordes it is still a thrill to climb in the dark.  All you can see is the few feet in front illuminated by headlamp, the string of headlamps of other parties in front and back, and the dark outline of the mountain above.  Halfway across the Cowlitz Glacier we heard the unnerving sound of rockfall from above.  This is a bad enough sound in the light, but when it falls in the dark all you can do is hope it doesn't fall in your direction. 

Crossing Ingraham Flats we took a rest break.  Thinking we were alone I was startled by a voice almost directly beneath my feet.  There was a man laying pathetically in a sleeping bag on the snow.  Apparently he was a client of the guide service and hadn't been feeling up to the challenge, so they had just given him a sleeping bag and told him they'd pick him up on the way back.

We ascended the Ingraham Glacier crossing a major crevasse on a bridge supplied by the guide service.  As the sky began to lighten we weaved through enormous seracs littering the Ingraham Glacier making slow progress behind the RMI teams.  Sunrise on Rainier is a highlight that everyone who climbs Rainier remembers forever.

Looking down on "Little Tahoma" (11,000+ft.) high on the Ingraham Glacier.  Photo: Les Prusik

 

Darryl and I cross a snowbridge over a crevasse.  Mt. Adams in background.

The upper portion of the Ingraham seemed endless, especially having to follow the RMI groups.  When we did have the opportunity to pass we just didn't have the horses.  A couple on our rope team were feeling the effects of the thinning air including my dad who hadn't felt well since Muir.  If there is anyone who can endure it is my old man.  What he lacks in physical prowess he makes up for in shear guts.  If there was a race for sick people I'd put my money on my dad every time.

We finally reached the summit rim and I shook hands with each group member as I reeled in the rope.  Reaching the summmit of Rainier is an accomplishment for anyone, but I was particularly excited for Dan and Darryl.  They had spent years staring at the mountain and unlike many other climibers who "bag" Rainier they had put in their time on smaller peaks.  We made the short traverse to the summit.  My dad had already stood on top of Rainier a few years before, and should have stayed back at the rim, but the endurance king stumbled on.  From the summit Dan and I spotted all the towns in the valley as well as other peaks.  Jeff gave his mom a call on a cell phone.  I must've been feeling the altitude more than I realized because I couldn't seem to get an annoying Britney Spears tune out of my head.

Dave, Darryl, Jeff, Les, Dan Lawty, Dan Svilar on the summit.

The hour was getting late and I was starting to worry about avalanche conditions on the Ingraham Glacier.  Twenty years before the worst accident in North American climbing history occurred in the same spot.  As is common with an inexperienced team we took an exceedingly long time to descend the route, stopping to change clothes, eat, put clothes back on, etc.  The rest of the group must've thought I was obnoxious for yelling to keep moving through the lower Ingraham, but I didn't care.  There was a couple very recent and very large avalanche debris and I wanted out of danger.  We finally reached the safety of Camp Muir and slowly packed our camp.

It turned out to be a successful and fun trip, but I had to re-evaluate the responsibility of taking inexperienced climbers up Rainier.  The likelihood of something going wrong is slim, but what if it did?  We may have had to rely on our nemesis, the RMI teams to help us out.  As fun as it is to take people up Rainier for the first time I decided that in future climbs there will be a higher ratio of experienced climbers on board. 

-written October 2002

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