Mt. Rainier: Expedition Skill Seminar- Muir Climb for Five Recap
Like most good climbing plans, I was told that the idea for the Climb for Five was hatched in a pub a while back. Already involved in the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a volunteer charity that raises money for childhood cancer research, the three climbers came up with the idea of tackling serious mountaineering objectives in an effort to raise money and awareness for St. Baldrick’s by using the metaphor of climbing to illustrate the challenges and trials children go through while battling cancer. Hence, on Sunday September 18th, Patrick, Eric, Jon and I gathered under a thick layer of grey and drizzly clouds hanging over Rainier BaseCamp to tackle Mt. Rainier over the course of a 5 day Expedition Skills Seminar - Camp Muir.
The days of near fifty degree temperatures and rain, coming down in sheets at times, did not do much to instill confidence in the conditions above. Yet within a half an hour of leaving the trail head at Paradise the clouds thinned and by the time we reached 7,600’ on the Muir Snowfield we were standing in the sun above the low-lying maritime clouds. Above us Mt. Rainier stood proudly with a fresh layer of snow from the recent storm blanketing its’ slopes. During the rest of the climb to Muir, Patrick further explained the concept for Climb for Five to me: St. Baldrick’s chooses five Ambassador Kids every year, representing that for every 5 children that get childhood cancer only 4 survive. The Climb for Five honors those Ambassadors; each day of the climb is chosen to honor one of the kids and the climbers carried keepsakes from each of the kids with them throughout the climb.
After a full day of training, learning the fundamentals of safe climbing and glacier travel techniques, exploring the Cowlitz Glacier outside of Camp Muir, and preparing ourselves for the climbing above, we set off on our summit bid under a beautifully starry sky early Wednesday morning. The new snow on the mountain smoothed over the rocky sections of the mountain and we made good progress across Cowlitz and Ingraham Glaciers and onto Disappointment Cleaver. Just before sunrise, breathing hard from the exertion at those altitudes, we reached the top of the Cleaver and added more clothes to fight the biting predawn winds. Continuing above the Cleaver the sun finally began to break above the horizon of eastern Washington and gave way to one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen on the mountain. The unsettled layers of clouds filtered the light such that shades of pink, red, yellow, orange, green, and blue were simultaneously covering the mountain’s glaciers and the surrounding landscape below. The array of colors around us contrasted sharply with the traditional monotones of high alpine environments of rock, ice, and snow. Unfortunately, those same unsettled clouds soon overtook the sun and by 13,500’ we were enveloped in a cloud cap, covering us in a thick layer of rime ice and blowing just enough to add to the challenge of making the final 900’ of climbing to the summit.
Standing on top, buffeted by the wind and precipitation, Eric and Patrick unfurled the St. Baldrick’s Banner and then pulled out a few keepsakes in memory of Arden, the Ambassador Kid for whom we were climbing that day. We then turned back and set our sights on descending. Like children battling cancer, reaching the summit is only half of the battle - the road to recovery once defeating the cancer is as long and as challenging as retracing one’s route back down the mountain. We carefully picked our way back down Mt. Rainier’s flanks, weaving our way amongst the seracs and around the gaping late-season crevasses that cover the mountain back to camp.
The winds from higher on the mountain descended not long behind us and continued to blow for the next several days while we finished the rest of the Seminar: building snow anchors, practicing the rigging systems needed for crevasse rescue, and ice climbing on the Cowlitz Glacier before descending back to Ashford on Friday. Taking part in the Climb for Five was a special experience for me and I feel fortunate to be involved. Having lost a sister to cancer as a kid, I share the same with the climbers of the Climb for Five and the entire climb struck a chord with me and I look forward to future climbs with this team. Thanks to Patrick, Eric, Jon, and St. Baldrick’s for pursuing this endeavor, RMI is proud to be a part of it.
RMI Guide Linden Mallory