- Melissa Arnot
- Alex Barber
- Bridget Belliveau
- Jake Beren
- Zeb Blais
- Katrina Bloemsma
- Katie Bono
- Nick Brown
- Adam Butterfield
- Anne Gilbert Chase
- Lance Colley
- Sean Collon
- Leon Davis
- Elias de Andres Martos
- Paul Edgren
- Mark Falender
- Leah Fisher
- Eric Frank
- Steve Gately
- Josh Gautreau
- Casey Grom
- Dave Hahn
- Walter Hailes
- Mike Haugen
- Bryan Hendrick
- Andy Hildebrand
- Joe Horiskey
- Nick Hunt
- Tyler Jones
- J.J. Justman
- Levi Kepsel
- Mike King
- Adam Knoff
- Ben Liken
- Zach Lovell
- Josh Maggard
- Paul Maier
- Linden Mallory
- Lindsay Mann
- Andres Marin
- Jeff Martin
- Robert Montague
- Chase Nelson
- Billy Nugent
- Brent Okita
- Tyler Reid
- Kel Rossiter
- Geoff Schellens
- Shaun Sears
- Garrett Stevens
- Jason Thompson
- Mark Tucker
- Mike Uchal
- Pete Van Deventer
- Alex Van Steen
- Ed Viesturs
- Mike Walter
- Seth Waterfall
- Solveig Waterfall
- Peter Whittaker
- Win Whittaker
- Bryson Williams
- Dan Windham
- Robby Young
Entries By nick hunt
Last week was RMI’s March Expedition Skills Seminar-Winter. Like every month from January to April, a team of intrepid climbers looking to learn the beauty of winter mountaineering, ventured up the slopes of Mt. Rainier on this, our classic six-day winter program. Guides Adam Knoff, Leah Fisher, Nick Hunt and myself, Elías de Andrés, enjoyed the company of a dozen folks, who initally were welcomed by a characteristic March day; rain in town, snow and wind up high. Our orientation day in Ashford would include a thorough evaluation of the forecast, a task that is, regardless, part of this program’s curriculum. But in this case, with a close look at a promising improving trend which would keep us excited for the remaining of the day.
The next morning, with packs ready and boots laced up, we headed into the park not without a delay due to the National Park’s snow plows hard work to keep the road to Paradise open to individuals like us. Upon arriving to Paradise we rigged our equipment for the hike to what would be our first camp. Atop Marmot Hill, we built a fortified settlement “Denali style” for the evening. A “posh house” tent was erected to socialize at dinner time, just like on any expedition, really. It was a new sight for many in the group, which by now were enjoying expedition life barely 500ft above the parking lot.
Our hike to Muir started as we waved good bye to a weatherfront that had wiped western Washington for a few days, but not without great team effort breaking trail for most of the remaining 4,000 vertical feet to Camp Muir. Enjoying the clearest skies possible, our climbers who’d arrived from all parts of the country could make out in the horizon the central Oregon volcanoes of Mt. Hood and Jefferson without even squinting. To the north, some avalanches, along with ice and rock fall from the Nisqually Ice Cliff, reminded us of the interactions between the new loaded glaciers the spring-like sun of this day. The next 36 hours would continue to add to the tool kit the climbers were building for future expeditions and also, in order to face, of course, a potential climb the following day as the high pressure system was supposed to last for at least three days. Muir Peak, the AAA Gully, the Cowlitz Glacier… all provided, in the vicinity of Camp Muir, a perfect training ground.
In the morning of Thursday, March 13th, we woke up to yet another incredible day; clear skies had been swiped of clouds by the same winds that windblasted some of the upper slopes… as well as loaded others. Careful evaluation by the guides on the go, determined a safe, wind-scoured route up the west side of the Ingraham Glacier, a seldom traveled route almost hugging Gibraltar Rock on its east side. Once at Camp Comfort, trail breaking efforts would begin again, and as the team team held it together, we were getting closer to the top in sometimes mid-calf deep snow on the now, more lower angled sections of the climb.
After 6 hours and 50 minutes of ascent, the team reached the crater rim to the now strengthening winds. But a new winter summit had been attained by another successful RMI Winter Skills Seminar team. Our careful preparation to detail, our philosophy in approaching the mountain, the guidance of the leaders and the great application of the skills learned by the climbers allowed the feat… the RMI way!
The next day, in a deja vu of what winter is truly like, we woke up to one-foot tall spindrifts and gusts of over 70mph at Camp Muir. Most of the guides, including myself, couldn’t remember such conditions on the snowfield. Far away from feeling accomplished by the previous day’s achievement, successfully navigating down to Paradise in such white-out conditions demanded now serious skill and perseverance. A team of now well-trained climbers, learned their last lesson of this winter seminar; the summit is only back at the car. Three hours later we’d bypass the remains of our camp on day 1, and as the winds decreased at 6,000ft and visibility came back to reasonable, we reached the Paradise parking lot. Celebratory drinks and a dinner over future climbing plans with the climbers was the perfect closure to a week on the frigid, yet amazing environment of winter on Mt. Rainier.
Come play, climb and learn with RMI! Satisfaction guaranteed.
Elías de Andrés
RMI Senior Guide
We woke up at 11pm to a breakfast of coffee, tea, oatmeal and bread. We finished our packing in the dark with the rest of the hut’s inhabitants before beginning our 9-hour summit bid. We got off to a bit of a stressful start when we realized that someone from a different climbing group had accidentally taken Adam’s climbing helmet, but we weren’t going to let that get in the way of our climb. (The helmet was returned later in the afternoon, once we returned to the huts after the climb.)
It was windy and snowy as we stepped outside around midnight, and that continued for the first hour during the hike up to the toe of the glacier. But soon after donning our crampons and ice axes, the weather mellowed out and the good luck we’ve been having with the weather on this trip continued for the rest of our ascent: the clouds cleared, the winds died down, and for the next 5 hours to the summit, the weather could only be described as mild and pleasant. At one point, we could see an active lightening storm beyond the lights of Quito and were grateful that we weren’t experiencing the same.
The initial climbing on the glacier was steep, but not too difficult. These moderate angles soon gave way to steeper slopes that had us rest-stepping our way up. The dry snow made traction difficult (even with our crampons), so as the terrain became more exposed, we had to kick hard with our feet to really gain purchase. An exhausting endeavor at 19k feet!
In 6 hours and 15 minutes, we had made it to the top! The group’s previous high altitude climbing on Cayambe and Antisana had definitely gotten us into shape for this climb. We moved well and as a team the entire way up! As we pulled on to the summit, the sun was just beginning to rise and we got a quick look into the summit crater. We didn’t stay for long, though, since the winds picked up as we snapped our group photo. After 15 minutes up top, we began our descent.
Not only was our group strong on the ascent, but we rocked our descent, too! Despite some rather high winds at times, knocking us around a bit on narrow ridges, we continued to move well and made it back to the hut in just under three hours.
Back at the huts, we packed up our gear and descended to the parking lot, where we met up again with Victor and the magic bus. We were whisked away to La Cienega, a hotel that looks more “castle” than “hacienda”, and after taking showers, we met up over dinner and a couple of games of Wits and Wagers, reflecting on our trip as a whole.
Tomorrow we head back to Quito and begin our journey back home. See you soon!
This is Adam Knoff from the Ecuador Skills Seminar. I am happy to announce that we have successfully summitted Cotopaxi this morning on a glorious, calm day. People could say it was in great style. I am very proud of the team for their efforts as it took some fortitude to get up on a cold and windy day. The expedition seminar has concluded its climbing on the mountains and we are happy to be tucked in here at La Cienega and drinking cervezas and very comfortable. Everything is fabulous. We will touch base tomorrow. Gracias. Adios.
RMI Guide Adam Knoff calls in after Cotopaxi summit.
On The Map
The great weather continued today as we left the comforts of the beautiful Chilcabamba Eco Lodge and ventured up to the Jose Ribas Refugio at 16,000’ on Cotopaxi were we are posed to make our third major summit attempt of the trip. Everyone is in great spirits, feeling strong and acclimatized, which is not an easy feat when at 16,000’!
We are waiting for our local, in-house (or should I say in-hut) chef to complete our dinner feast of soup, chicken, crackers, and rice; the wafting smell is oh so enticing right now. This sustenance will get us through until the alarm beckons us to rise and climb.
Tomorrow is our summit day on Cotopaxi. Wish us luck!
On The Map
Today is a tough one to put into words. Amazingly bitter sweet is the only honest way I can aptly describe the team’s fruit basket of emotions after the outcome of today’s Antisana summit attempt.
When the alarm again went off at 10:30 pm, this time in a grassy pasture three miles removed from the base of the mountain, I couldn’t help but cringe. It was only when I flopped out of the tent that my spirits lifted. It was perfect out! A full moon illuminated Ecuador’s most elusive glaciated summit and from what we saw the day before, things looked promising. To lay it out, our climbing team was comprised of four team members and three guides. Two of our team members went back to the states early due to illness and three more decided to forego the climb to focus more on the skills side of this program. Don’t forget, we have the highest mountain yet to come.
We ate a small breakfast and did our best to make sure those still sleeping were adequately bothered by the climbers heading off with no sleep. A 30-minute jeep ride brought us to the start of the moraine and 60 minutes later we were putting crampons on to begin heading up the glacier. I had to put moon screen on so not to burn my cheeks, it was that bright.
Six hours of the most beautiful, engaging and aesthetic mountain climbing I’ve ever done in Ecuador landed us on a nice flat spot just as the sun was rising. The moon was still full and the alpenglow was incredible. The bitter was about to balance the sweet. Five-hundred feet below what we thought was an inevitable successful summit was a crevasse running the entire width of the glacier. Farit asked if we could jump across and I told him we didn’t practice that skill yet. He shrugged and said “ok”. Our sweet hopes for a proud summit were instantly dashed. So goes the unpredictable nature of mountain climbing.
After returning to camp where the rest of the team was practicing skills, a rapid pack up ensued and it was into the magic bus and off to a beautiful hacienda resting almost on the foothills of Cotopaxi itself. Hot showers, cervesas and clean beds were a welcomed reward to get us psyched for what’s to come. Our third and final mountain awaits tomorrow. No matter the outcome, knowing the trip is coming to a close will also be bitter sweet. Shaun and Nichole, we miss you.
It’s hard to believe our trip is already half over! We have seen some incredible places and have had the opportunity to climb three peaks so far: one big mountain and a couple of smaller peaks. Along the way, the team has really come together and has definitely gotten in to the “groove” of expedition climbing. It’s great to see everyone working together to set up camps, take care of chores, and take care of each other.
Today was a technical skills training day. We slept in until 7 am, then loaded in to a couple of 4x4 vehicles and began an exciting off-road drive to the base of Antisana. An hour or so of hiking brought us to the toe of the glacier, where we donned our crampons and ice axes for the hike to our training area for the day. Today’s topics were crevasse rescue, rappelling, and fixed line travel.
After a few quick demonstrations, everyone had time to practice the various skills at a number of different stations. As guides, our job was easy today! Everyone was helping each other master the techniques and all we had to do was stay out of the way and watch the magic happen! It was great to see folks working as a team and to see everyone so eager to learn and help out.
Back at base camp, it’s almost 7 pm now and everyone is tucked away in their tents. Half of our team is going to wake up in just a few hours for a summit bid; the other half has opted instead for another day of rest and technical skills practice, giving themselves the best odds on Cotopaxi in a few days.
That’s all for now! Wish our summit team well tonight as they head up for the first ever RMI attempt at Antisana!
Leaving Papallacta behind today wasn’t easy. We only spent a single night there, relaxing our muscles in the natural hot springs, but I’m sure many of us were ready to call it home. Wifi, beds, good food, cozy cabins… But alas, we must move on and continue what we came out here to do. The glistening white slopes of Antisana are calling out to us!
Our day did began with some sad news, however. Two of our climbers made the difficult decision to head home early due to a debilitating illness. We will miss them on the rest of our journey and we hope for a speedy recovery once they get back.
On paper, today’s objective was to establish base camp at Antisana. In practice, however, it felt like our objective was to eat as much food as possible! After packing our gear, we ate a hearty breakfast at our hacienda, complete with fresh fruit, cheese, eggs, and bread. We loaded our gear and headed down the road toward Antisana. En route we stopped at a beautiful eco-lodge nestled at the base of a rocky cliff, famous for its native condor population. There, before our breakfast really had a chance to digest, we sat down for a delicious four course lunch. In truth, most of us probably could’ve stopped eating after the appetizers, but our insistent hostess made sure we finished the full meal. From there, another thirty minutes of driving brought us to the field that we’ll call home for the next few days.
We spent the evening setting up camp, practicing various knots, hitches and bends, and (you guessed it!) more eating! Now the night is coming to a close, and everyone is inside their tents, resting up for another full day of training tomorrow.
It is the end of a long, long day that technically began yesterday. I know this sounds a bit odd but my alarm was set for 10:45 pm last night, the 12th. This is one of the least appealing parts of climbing big mountains, knowing you have a huge day to come on average with three hours of sleep. But lucky for the guides and each other, our team was totally motivated. So began the ascent of the equators only snow covered place, Nevado Cayambe at18,997 feet.
From the hut, our route began with an hour and half of rocks and scree ascending 1,000 feet to the start of the glacier. Once on the glacier, newly accumulated snow, which had softened and then frozen, provided perfect climbing conditions up the long sustained glacier. By the time we reached the summit head wall, the temperatures were in the low teens, the wind was blowing and we all climbed to the top in our down parkas. And people thought we were going to Ecuador to get out of winter.
The summit was beautiful offering grand views of our next two mountains, Antisana and Cotopaxi, as well as Quito and Chimborazo. This is what makes the early wake up call, freezing temperatures and exhausted bodies worth it. We took seven hours to get to the top and rallied down in three. Unfortunately, both phones carried by Nick and me died in the cold before the top so a group photo will be coming later.
After getting down and packing up, we hiked 30 minutes down to meet Victor and the magic bus to be carried off to our next accommodations, Papallacta. Here we enjoyed a fantastic meal but most importantly, natural thermal hot tubs. Which reminds me, it’s time for a soak.
We are off to Antisana later today. Wish us luck.
On The Map
Our Ecuador Skills Seminar certainly began with its challenges. Missing bags, canceled flights and the works tested us early but once in the mountains things began to fall into place. The clouds held their releases for what seemed to be a private dry spell solely for us on both Pichincha and Fuya Fuya. On the way up to Cayambe, it was raining from the turn off to the parking area. When it was time to pack our bags and walk to the hut, the faucet turned off. On top of weather luck, our local guides Jaime and Diego secured the only working hut on the mountain. All of the large mountain huts we are used to staying in are under major construction. Three other teams are here to climb and they are all in tents. Only the best for us!
This hut helps tremendously with meals, packing and relaxing. Which we are all doing now after a great hike up to the glacier for some basic review of mountaineering skills. Again the weather was perfect and we have had stunning views of the upper mountain and lower valleys the entire time. Excitement is building for our alpine start tonight. Most people would cringe at waking up at midnight but when a mountain like Cayambe looms above, it’s hard to even get to sleep.
Wish us well.
On The Map
Today was a travel day, leaving Otavalo behind and heading up to our basecamp on Cayambe. We kicked the day off with another excellent breakfast at our hacienda before checking out and heading to the Otavalo street market. What an experience that was! Colorful textiles, aromatic foods, and handcrafted arts filled the crowded aisles, stretching as far as the eye could see. After loading up on souvenirs, we piled back into the “magic bus” (so named because of its wifi hotspot and epic Journey soundtrack) and headed up the dirt roads to Cayambe.
After passing a tourist bus stuck in the mud and waiting patiently for a large herd of cows to move out of the road, we pulled over about an hour’s walk below the huts. There we left the bus behind and transitioned to walking the rest of the way, giving us one last chance to stretch our legs.
We met Diego, one of our local guides, at our hut and promptly moved in to our new abode. This hut redefines the alpine camping experience! Fireplace, fully stocked kitchen, dining hall… It was glamorous indeed! A home-cooked lasagna dinner and high-stakes board game rounded out the night.
Tonight we’ll rest and head uphill tomorrow morning for a day of mountaineering skills practice. It’s gettin’ real!
On The Map