On July 17th, IT intern Alec Walczak boarded his flight for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in the pursuit of summiting Mt. Rainer, a 14,411 foot peak in Washington State. His journey began on the morning of July 19th with Alec’s friend from home, six other climbers, and four expedition leaders at Paradise Jackson Visiting Center (5,000 ft), which is the main visitor center on Mt. Rainier and the starting point of the ascent.
The first day of climbing consisted of scenic hiking up snow and trails below the tree line of the mountain. The group was met with warm temperatures and cloudless skies that allowed them to hike in short sleeve clothing and enjoy the sights; Alpine meadows, waterfalls, and other naturally beautiful spectacles served as a welcome distraction from the treacherous terrain a few thousand feet above. After five hours of hiking and a few rest breaks, Alec’s group reached Camp Muir (10,000 ft). Camp Muir is located at the beginning of the cloud line and contains a few stone huts and wooden cabins. Once the climbers and instructors ate dinner and had a brief review of the second day’s itinerary, they settled into their cabin to rest and recharge for the next two days.
Following breakfast, the climbers spent the morning learning to use their equipment (harness, ice ax, crampons, avalanche transceivers) and practicing climbing techniques meant to conserve energy and protect themselves (i.e. self-arrest, where climbers dig their ice ax and feet into the snow to stop them if they are falling down the face of the mountain). Once training was completed, everyone packed their gear and left Camp Muir for Ingraham Flats (11,100 ft). The hike to Ingraham Flats was completed in harnesses and traveled up snow fields and steep, rocky trails. Two demanding hours of hiking later, Alec and the other climbers settled into their tents, ate dinner, and were in their sleeping bags by 6:00 P.M. to rest for a few hours before the start of their summit bid at midnight.
Day Three: Summit Climb!
Alec, five other climbers (two dropped out after reaching Ingraham Flats), and three guides commenced their summit bid in freezing cold weather and pitch black conditions at 12:30 A.M. In headlamps and down jackets, the group hiked two hours up Ingraham Glacier and into the rocky, physically strenuous terrain of Disappointment Cleaver. The group took their first break at the top of the cleaver, where another climber voluntarily bowed out and descended back to camp with a guide. The rest of the climb consisted of traversing up the face of the mountain in icy paths no wider than six inches. While hail storms and depleted oxygen intake were substantial obstacles, Alec, four climbers and two guides made it to the first summit at 7:30 A.M.—Success Cleaver. Alec, two other climbers, and one guide, however, decided to push on for Columbia Crest (14,411 ft), the highest point on the mountain– and successfully made it to the top!
The remainder of the day was spent descending and taking breaks for water and food. Alec and his fellow climbers reached Paradise Jackson Visiting Center at 3:00 P.M. They boarded their bus for Seattle where hot showers, warm food, and a night of celebrating awaited them.