As we continue to pick our way down the northeast face of Mount Rainier, weaving between yawning crevasses and building-sized blocks of ice, I can’t help but think to myself, “So, THIS is what a storm feels like.” I have been in bad weather before. I’ve been cold, hungry, and wet more times than I can begin to count. Years of winter mountaineering and ice climbing have jaded my opinion of what bad weather is and have created in me a strange fondness for misery.
But being at 13,500 feet and exposed on the massive Emmons Glacier seems to bring about this epiphany. Our position, along with the thin air and raging wind, makes this particular storm, despite being in early June, feel of a more violent disposition than others I’ve encountered. It feels bigger – like everything else on this hill, the storms feel massive, too. It feels like we’re toys caught in the grasp of a cold, glaciated machine. We are tiny specks, completely insignificant in the grand scheme of the mountain.
Despite our seemingly miserable position, something odd was afoot in our collective psyche. During a brief lull in the wind, I catch a glance of my partner. He’s a few feet below me, picking his way between two small crevasses while I traverse above him. He looks up. I smile and hold up my ice-laden ax. He answers with a hearty laugh. “This is perfect,” I think. It’s exactly what we came up here for. As many alpinists will agree, this is why we get up in the morning. We are having a full-on adventure – getting our collective butts kicked by a big, powerful mountain.
And the best part is we didn’t have to fly halfway around the world or hire porters to get here. This mountain is an American treasure. Surrounded by a national park, it’s open for adventure every day of the year.
As we continue our descent, the harsh conditions begin to abate. The wind stops gusting so fiercely, and visibility improves to the point where I can see my partner. We emerge into clearer weather at around 10,000 feet. From here it’s a relaxed walk down to Camp Schurman and the comfort of our high camp.
Another memorable trip is in the books.
Author Scott Hotaling has worked as a volunteer climbing ranger on Mount Rainier and has been to the summit 17 times. Recreation aside, Subaru-owner Hotaling is a graduate student (his research is focused on high-elevation ecosystems) and landscape photographer.
With 41 primary climbing routes covering a wide range of difficulty and commitment, Mount Rainier can offer challenge and excitement to even the most seasoned mountaineer. For detailed information, along with great aerial imagery and mountain commentary, a would-be Rainier climber should pick up a copy of Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide, by Mike Gauthier.
Gauthier is credited with founding the climbing ranger program at Mount Rainier and has spent much of his career climbing, rescuing, and living in the park in all seasons.
In addition to information about the primary climbing routes up Mount Rainier, the guide also contains route details pertaining to Little Tahoma, a spur of the Rainier massif to the east, which is also Washington’s third highest peak.