7.20.2006

The Big Lump of Rock and Ice: Rainier Part 1


Otherwise known as Mt Rainier, the highest point in the state of Washington at 14,411 feet above sea level. The weekend of our trip finally arrived as last Friday we boarded the plane and headed to Seattle. From the airport there is still a hundred mile plus drive to the National Park itself. Along the way we stopped to load up on supplies outside of Tacoma, where the clouds started to break just enough to be able to see the peak. Its huge! Its no taller than a lot of the mountains in Colorado, but the bottom of the mountain is much lower. Colorado's peaks start at 9-10 thousand feet, but the bottom of Rainier is as low as 2000' in places, that is over 12,000' of vertical rise! When viewed from cities like Seattle and Tacoma on a clear day it is quite impressive, especially considering you are at sea level looking up at the peak 100 miles away. After we arrived in the park we drove around taking pictures of the peak, set up camp at Cougar Rock campground and then went for a quick hike to Comet Falls to stretch our legs. We then came back to camp to have a quick pasta dinner and get our packs ready for the big climb.

We registered at the visitor center and hit the trail around 7am. Our first objective was to hike the Skyline Trail, popular with tourists, from the visitor center at 5300' to the base of the Muir Snowfield at 7200'. Most of this part of the climb was in the misty fog of some lingering low level clouds. At the base of the snowfield the clouds periodically started to break revealing our first up close glimpses of the peak. We took a snack break and put on sunscreen before pressing on. As we climbed through the last of the clouds the view of the peak cleared up, and beghind us in the distance we started to see some of the neigboring peaks such as Mt Adams and Mt St Helens. A little higher up we started to see Mt Hood and Mt Jefferson, both of which are in Oregon. We made it to Camp Muir at the top of the snowfield at about 10,200' in only 5 hours. Here there are a few toilets and a bunkhouse, but our camping spot was to be on the glacier itself. We ate a quick lunch and started to build our camp. We set up the tent, built a few wind shelter walls out of snow and then dug out a nice little kitchen area for ourselves. There was still some time before dinner so we laid our gear for summit day and assembled our summit packs and then killed time by making a snowman. It was the unofficial mascot of the camp and several other campers got pictures of it as well. Our neighbors at camp were actually a couple of other guys from the climbing forum we are on, including two from Colorado. It was fun getting to hang out with them, and beneficial too as we ran out of stove fuel while making water. There is no "water" source at camp, instead you have to melt your own from the glacier, which takes a lot more fuel than we expected! After dinner we got the rope ready and went to bed, despite it only being 7pm. Summit day was going to be an early rise! I will continue this story tomorrow, stay tuned! Here are some pictures to hold you over...

The first glimpse through the fog:



Topping out on the snowfield:



Camp Muir, you can see our snowman in front of our gray tent near the center: