Fadgen's Adventures

Fadgen's Adventures
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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Celebration of Life - Mount Rainier - July 24-25

Mount Rainier
Earlier in the year John Platt surprised me with an invitation to climb Mount Rainier this summer with his buddy Brian Mahon for their annual Celebration of Life event.  It took me a while to accept the invitation, mainly because of the mountain's magnitude and my perceived fitness level.  But, after a while, I gladly accepted.  John’s trip report as well as the meaning of the celebration of life can be obtained here: http://www.splattski.com/2012/celebration/index.html

Somehow I was able to convince John to add Dylan to the trip after I had convinced Dylan’s mother that he needed a break from working all summer at Camp Meriwether.

The plan was to hike up the Kautz glacier route which John and Brian had climbed last year.  John had told me all about the trip, commenting that it was mainly a snow climb and not too difficult.

In addition to John, Brian, Dylan and I, Tom Martin (an old friend of John’s) and John’s daughter Mariel were joining us.

The groups travel arrangements were varied: John and I drove over from Boise on Tuesday; Dylan took a bus from Tillamook; and Tom flew in from New Hampshire.  The four of us met before noon at the Portland airport.  John’s daughter Mariel, who was supposed to arrive at 5PM, was a little late after her plane from Boise was caught up with President Obama’s visit to Portland.  Eventually she landed and we made our way to Castle Rock, WA, to Brian’s house, for a quick dinner and some rest. 

After a short 2.5 hour drive from Brian’s house to Rainier’s main lodge at Paradise, we finished packing gear, purchased our climbers passes, and were off at about 7:30AM.  The initial view of the massive mountain was incredible!
J. Platt photo

We quickly hiked up Paradise’s trail system before separating from the heavily traveled Disappointment Clever route, at Glacier Viewpoint and dropped down to the Nisqually glacier.  Here we stopped to separate into two teams of three and roped up.
The teams roping up
From here we threaded our way around and over crevasses, never having to take more than a large step to “jump” over these large cracks.  It was a little spooky when you looked down inside the crevasses, since the bottom wasn’t visible.   It turns out the planned route wasn’t going to work due to lack of snow, so we improvised by climbing up onto the Wilson Glacier via a small rock filled chute.  With our hearts beating fast, we quickly moved through this chute with one eye watching for rock fall.

Once on the Wilson Glacier, we travelled almost straight up a section called the Turtle.  Having no idea on why it is called the Turtle, I can only speculate it is due to the pace we (or more appropriately, I) was moving up the mountain.

Once up the Turtle, we stopped for lunch and to gaze at the scene around us.  It was an amazing day with amazing views all around.  The pictures do not show the magnitude of the mountain.  In looking ahead, I could see the Kautz ice cliffs where we would be camping.  They looked very close, but it took us another 3 hours to reach them.
Brian, Tom, John and Mariel at lunch

Crevasses along the route
Almost to camp!
We eventually reached the camping area at 11,100 feet around 3PM and proceeded to slowly make camp.  It seemed like I was moving very slow.  I’d do one thing and have to sit down and rest – Dylan was the same.  Don’t know if it was the altitude, the earlier exertion or a combination of them both.  But it was slow going.
Dylan enjoying the view from camp
We eventually widened an area to hold two tents while John dug out some snow for another tent platform.  After filling water bottles and cooking and eating dinner I settled in before sunset to sleep.  Other than Tom and Brian chatting I didn’t hear anything till it was time to get up at 2:30AM.  Dylan and I both slept through the large crescendos that were created when the ice cliffs above us calved off the mountain!  That was a good thing.

2:30AM came pretty early, but we eventually woke up and started breakfast.  Some had coffee and oatmeal and others had granola.  After a this quick breakfast we were off in the dark for our summit bid.  The first obstacle we came to was a 30 foot rock-down climb to reach the Kautz Glacier. Dylan and I rappelled down using the fixed rope, while others down climbed while hanging on to the rope.  Once down we started zigzagging up the steep show chute until we reached an icy section. 

Smiles all around while waiting for their turn on the ice
At this point Brian free climbed up the icy pitch and, using an anchor left by a group of guided climbers, belayed the rest of us up.  It was a bit of a calf burner front pointing the crampons into the ice, but a lot of fun!
Dylan climbing the ice pitch
Once past the two pitches of ice, it was up, up, and more up.  After a short while the marine layer enveloped us and visibility was reduced to 100 feet or so.  I was at the end of one rope with John leading and Mariel in the middle and could occasionally catch glimpses of John as we progressed upward. 
Still sunny as we head up

Dodging crevasses in the fog
The weather teased us with occasional sunshine, but eventually even that petered out.  We progressed upward, weaving our way around crevasses that we could barely see.  After a short bit I looked up and noticed Dylan, Brian and Tom hugging each other and realized I had 50 feet to go to the summit.
Summit shot - myself, Dylan, Mariel, Tom, Brian, and John
It was great to be on top – it was cold, windy, and the visibility was maybe 50 feet!  We hunkered down behind a short ridge for a while before deciding we needed to head down before we became too cold.

I led our rope team down, following the team of Brian, Dylan, and Tom.  They quickly moved out of sight in the thick clouds as we progressed a little more cautiously (read-slower).  The plan was to follow our tracks down the mountain, but in the clouds and flat light the tracks were difficult to see.  After one tentative move, I found the main set of tracks and followed the other team around and through the crevasses in the fog.

We quickly moved down following our tracks and broke through the fog at the top of the ice chutes.  On the ascent we used the guided group’s anchors, but we had passed them on their way down earlier and they had pulled the anchors.  Brian created an ice axe anchor and used this to belay Tom and Dylan down to a rappel belay station below.  Here, these two set up an anchor around an ice bollard anchor, backed up by an ice screw (Sounds like I know what I’m talking about!)  You must be mountaineering anytime you can put ice bollard and ice screw in the same sentence!
Brian belaying Tom
Dylan rappelling
Now it's my turn

From here we had two ice pitches to rappel down and then a steep pitch where we front pointed facing the mountain before we had an easy walk back to the rock climb before camp.

Once back at camp, we took a bit of time to reload on food and water.  We then packed up and hit the trail down.  Dylan was roped up with Tom and Brian and these guys did a bit of “team” glissading (butt sliding), while John, Mariel and I decided to stick with staying on our feet.  Dylan told me afterward that team glissading is the only way to travel down!
Heading down
The route down was long and hot, with steep sections interspersed with crevasse jumping.  We had one particular stressful portion where we were traversing a steep section on the Wilson Glacier with a large rock band/crevasse directly below us.  Once past this section, it was a matter of putting the pedal to the metal and getting back to the car.  Seems like it took forever to get back to Paradise with the long day we had already experienced, but we eventually made it around 7:30PM.

Mount Rainier Stats
Distance: lots!
Time Car to Car: 18 hours
Elevation Gain: 9000 feet

1 comment:

larry szurgot said...

Absolutely amazing. I get vertigo just looking at some of those pictures. John, you must be staying in good shape. That climbing looks like a workout.
That one picture of the crevasses with the big chunk in the middle gives me the eebie jeebies. That would be a heck of a ride if that were to break loose.
Barb says you guys are nuts.

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A team of adventurers consisting of John, Tamara, Taylor, Dylan, and Shadow Fadgen