Mount Rainier - Disappointment Cleaver, August 2001
With relatively short notice, Ben hopped on a plane from San Diego for the opportunity to once and for all summit Mt. Rainier with me. I picked him up from the airport after work and drove to the Ohanapecosh Campground within the national park. The following morning we discussed our options with the park ranger. We had intended to climb the Fuhrer Finger route. However, it was in poor condition and we would have to navigate the lower Nisqually Glacier in a whiteout. Not having had any experience on the Nisqually Glacier before, we opted to climb the relatively straight forward DC route (AKA the 'Al Gore route'). Besides, by this point, we were desperate for success. After a huge breakfast at the Paradise Inn, we packed up and set off for Camp Muir.
We arrived at camp Muir and got to the task of setting up camp utilizing a spot that was already partially dug out when we arrived. Afterwards Ben took advantage of the perfect weather and worked on his tan. We woke at around 12:00 that night. Ben wasn't feeling too hot...must have had something to do with the sleeping pills he took. I also had a bit of a headache from all the whiskey I consumed a few short hours earlier. I'm not quite sure what took us so long, but we started our climb just before 2:00am. We made good time until we got onto the cleaver and had to wait-out the usual RMI traffic. Fortunately, we were well above the cleaver by the time the sun began to rise. The expansive summit crater had to be crossed in order to reach the true summit. It was a little windy up on top but it wasn't unbearable. And then...Finally! After seven attempts no less!! Paradise could be seen way down below while Mount Adams rose prominently from the horizon. Beautiful!
And then there was the descent. As he put it, Ben was having "issues" getting down the cleaver. There were problems with his crampons coming loose. The sun, elevation, exertion and dehydration were also obviously taking their toll. Access on and off the cleaver itself was facilitated by a sketchy staircase cut into the side of a wall of snow/ice. In the morning under hard snow conditions the staircase was a relative non-issue. However, the narrow and steep stairs had softened, melted out and turned very slick by late morning. The fixed line offered some measure of security, but not much. The narrow ladder/bridge spanning a crevasse just after the staircase also spiced things up a bit. Ben tripped while crossing the bridge and and nearly fell into the crevasse. I was taking in the slack as this happened and almost shit myself!
With the worst behind us, we relaxed at Ingraham Flats and enjoyed the views over toward Little Tahoma. After reaching Camp Muir, Ben promptly passed out in the tent. I tried to sleep but was too energized to do so. We opted to stay another night instead of slogging back down to Paradise. Our neighbors did the same and offered us some of their extra food as we were getting low. The late summer sun burned strong throughout the afternoon. This was beach weather! Knowing what the heat does to weakening snow bridges this late in the season, I feared for the stragglers getting off the mountain safely. The forecast for late the next day was for stormy weather and possibly even snow. We timed this one just right for a change!
We took our time packing up that following morning and had a casual walk down the Muir Snowfield back to the parking area. Pretty soon we were back beneath the clouds and indeed it appeared as if weather was once again moving in. For once we didn't mind, but let me tell ya, it sure felt good to have finally tagged the summit. Dare I entertain a Liberty Ridge climb now?
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