Here's where you peruse WACer trip reports and post your own for everyone to see. Remember: Never let the truth interfere with a good story!
|Mailed to WacList|| |
Hitchhiker on Mount Rainier|
Alvaro Torres was waiting patiently in front of the Paradise Climber's Ranger Station on Thursday morning when Jim O'Rourke and I rolled into the parking lot five minutes late (He was obviously wanting to change the reputation he developed during the climbing class. The gummy watch I gave him must have worked!). Fortunately, Alvaro agreed to let us climb with him even though we were late.
We planned a four day, leisurely trip. Permits were not a problem. We had decided to camp below Camp Muir on the first night and didn't need a permit. The next two nights would be spent on Ingraham Flats, which had plenty of space.
The first two days were uneventful. We climbed up to approximately 9,000 feet the first day and made our camp below Anvil Rock. The second day, we climbed up to Camp Muir and took a break. Camp Muir has to be one of the ugliest places on the mountain. It looks like a shantytown, stuck on top of a pile of rocks where the mountain flattens out a bit. There is a public shelter (available for overnight stays on a first come, first served basis) a ranger station, shelters for Rainier Mountaineering (RMI) guides and clients, barrels full of human waste (all neatly tied up in blue bags, thoughtfully provided by the climbing ranger) and a solar toilet. There is usually a crowd of people. A couple of rangers, some day hikers, a bunch of climbers and the RMI "lemmings" who are guided up the mountain with minimal knowledge of how to take care of themselves. I don't recommend camping there (at least without nose and ear plugs). We roped up, put our helmets on and headed across the Cowlitz Glacier through Cadaver Gap and onto Ingraham Flats. It wasn't long before we were selecting our campsite from among several deserted sites. Then on to dinner, and bed. That night two parties joined us with four climbers each.
At 10:00 PM, both Jim and I woke up and went outside the tent to pee. Our great weather had vanished. We were in the midst of a whiteout. I went back to bed and willed the weather to change. We slept through the 12:00 AM alarm (I have great earplugs!), waking at 12:25 AM when I woke up and had an urge to check the time. The weather had cleared and we decided to get moving. We didn't leave camp until close to 2:00 AM (I can't believe how much time it takes men to get dressed!).
The route was in great shape (a clear trench up the mountain). We went out of our way once to climb above a crevasse on the Ingraham and proceeded up Disappointment Cleaver, the steepest part of our climb. The moon was dark, so the stars were brilliant against the clear, black sky. As we climbed, the light to the east gradually increased into a beautiful red sunrise. We passed by several crevasses and jumped across one that was about two feet wide (If you are planning to climb this route, there is one crevasse above 13,000 feet that may be a challenge. Going up, it looked ok, but when I came down, I noticed that the ledge we landed on was pretty thin. Below it the crevasse opened up into a deep hole).
Up and up, finally we got to the crater rim. Our destination was a brief hike across the caldera and up about 100 feet. We unroped and made our way over, stopping first at the summit register to sign our names and then on up for pictures and congratulations.
Here is where the hitchhiker comes in. As Jim was resting by the summit register, a lone climber, John, signed in and asked if he could join our rope team for the trip down. Jim said it was ok with him, providing the rest of his team did not object. So John left his pack and went on up to the summit.
John had taken the one-day RMI course on climbing that is intended to prepare individuals to participate in a guided tour up the mountain. They teach rope handling, self-rescue and enough ice axe skills so the students can tell one end of the axe from the other. RMI didn't have room in any of their guided summit tours, so he joined up with two classmates. Unfortunately, the other guys got scared on Disappointment Cleaver and turned around. He continued up the mountain alone, hoping to catch someone he could rope in with (he was not aware of the minor detail that roping in required a harness!) or a party that would let him hang onto their rope as he went down. At the top, he looked around for a group that would be willing to take him down.
When Jim told me about John, I was not pleased. Particularly after getting a good look at him. He was wearing a rubberized rain suit and carrying a light daypack. He had ice-tea in his water bottles with lots of caffeine to keep him alert (and dehydrated). Alvaro swore he was wearing cotton under the rain suit. He did not have a helmet or climbing harness, but he did have good plastic boots, crampons and an ice axe (all rented of course).
The decision to take John down on our rope team was a hard one. It was clear to me that he did not know how to descend safely. He was dangerous to himself and others. I wasn't sure that we could stay far enough ahead of him to avoid any stuff he might knock down on us and I wasn't willing to delay my departure until he was a safe distance below me. I finally decided that I wanted this guy right where I could see him.
There was also the possibility that John would kill or hurt himself going down alone. I didn't want to live with that possibility. I have used my first aid training way too often.
We had a brief discussion with John about our expectations, agreed upon some basic rules, rigged up a diaper style harness using webbing and a locking biner and roped him up in front of me. Jim led us down, followed by Alvaro, then John and I took the rear.
John kept his word. He followed instructions very well and learned the fine art of plunge stepping on the way down. As an added benefit, I am now an expert at getting into self-arrest position quickly.
Once we got to Ingraham Flats, Jim and I tried to get John to stay. We gave him food and water (Alvaro even sacrificed one of his 11 power bars). He seemed pretty disoriented, but insisted on continuing down to Paradise. He also gave us his name and phone number and promised us dinner Sunday evening. An hour or so after he left, we discovered his ice axe.
The next day as we packed our things, several parties came down early. The weather had changed. There was a cloud covering the summit and wind gusts of up to 70 mph. Many climbers didn't leave base camp and RMI turned their groups back very early.
So, we roped up and went down to Camp Muir. I checked in with the Ranger to see if John had made it down to Muir. The Ranger said that he met John when he came into Camp Muir because other climbers reported seeing a lone climber stumbling alone across the Cowlitz Glacier. He gave John a lecture and told him about the fine for climbing alone, without a permit (John didn't get the fine). The Ranger didn't know if John hiked down from Camp Muir that evening or not.
The rest of the trip down went very quickly. We tried to glissade down the Muir snowfield. It was OK, but not nearly as much fun as Mount Saint Helens or Adams. At times, it was considerably more effort than plunge stepping down. The last two glissades were short, and steep enough to build up some speed.
At Paradise, I stopped by the Climbing Ranger's Station to check our party out. I told the Ranger's about John and they checked their climbing register and saw that he had checked out the previous evening.
By the way, Jim and I had beer and pizza with John on Sunday evening (and delivered his ice axe to him). He is pleased to have lived through his adventure and very grateful for our assistance on the way down to Ingraham Flats. At dinner, he said that he knew it was stupid to go up Mount Rainier alone, without any real training. So, if he knew it was stupid, why did he go? He said something about living in Seattle and looking at Mount Rainier every day since he was eight years old. He had dreamed of climbing to the top and was convinced that this was his last chance to make it to the summit.
Sounds crazy, doesn't it?