RMI Guide Katie Bono Recounts Mt. Rainier Speed Ascent
Categories: Guide News
RMI Guide Katie Bono completed a speed ascent of Mt. Rainier on July 24th, ascending from the Paradise Parking Lot to the summit of Mt. Rainier and returning to Paradise in 4:58. Her ascent is believed to be the fastest ascent of Mt. Rainier by a female climber. Here, Katie describes her climb:
I first thought of doing a speed ascent on Rainier late in the summer of 2011. I started guiding with RMI that summer and spent plenty of time that year carrying heavy loads up the Muir snowfield as quickly as possible. I come from a cross-country ski racing background and I raced professionally for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, the Rossignol Factory Team, and Dartmouth College before that. I quit ski racing in 2011 but soon realized that I missed the feeling of pushing myself hard and finding my limits. As a result, this summer I found myself thinking about a speed attempt more frequently. It seemed like a cool way to push myself in a way I hadn’t before. When I first started thinking about it, I was planning for something in the sub-7:00 range. As a way to test the waters, I did a hike up the Muir Snowfield in early July trying to simulate a manageable pace to the summit and ended up with a time of 1:36. My time for running back down the Muir Snowfield was 38 min, including a stop to chat with friends. After that, I sat down, did the math, and figured that if I could do 1:45 to Camp Muir (elevation gain of ~4600’), 1:45 from Camp Muir to the summit (~4400’), 1:00 back to Camp Muir, and 0:30 to Paradise, I could do it in 5 hours. The big questions were:
1. Whether I could maintain pace all the way up to 14k of altitude and 3.5 hours of uphill hiking, and
2. If taking an hour to get from the summit to Camp Muir would feel at all unsafe. I didn’t want to do the climb recklessly - it was just a fun and unique challenge.
The next step was figuring out my gear plan. Fortunately, I’ve had a very full schedule on Rainier this summer, and as a result, I had lots of time to think about logistics at Camp Muir while trying to fall asleep at 6:00 P.M. I decided the best plan would be to wear running shoes, specifically a pair of shoes with built-in gaiters I had lying around. I would wear YakTrax to Camp Muir and up to around 12,000. After that, the route gets steep enough and snowy enough that I would don aluminum strap-on crampons over my running shoes. I checked out the forecast for the summit and used my experience from ski racing to figure out clothing strategies for racing hard in the cold - I would wear lightweight climbing pants, a base layer top, a super-lightweight hooded down jacket, and belay gloves as my layering system. I also decided to bring along some gels and sports drink in a water belt.
When the day came, I woke up groggy and sleep-deprived. I had picked up my boyfriend and fellow RMI guide at the airport the previous evening and hadn’t gotten back to Ashford until the wee hours. Driving up the road to Paradise in the morning, I realized I forgot both my YakTrax, and my sunscreen. Oh well, you only live once. So I kept on driving up. I got out of the car, tuned my iPod to some electronic music, and was off and running (or, more precisely, rest-stepping). It was a beautiful morning, and perfect for climbing. I had picked that day for good weather and good route conditions - the Disappointment Cleaver route is fast, direct, and reasonably safe right now so all systems were a go. I started off around 6 a.m. so I could hit the snow conditions just right for ideal ascending and descending. Having climbed the route two days prior, I had a solid sense of how to time it. The lack of YakTrax turned out to be not an issue - the snow was just grippy enough to make it work.
I reached Camp Muir at 1:38 on the timer, grabbed my crampons that I had cached earlier (and convinced some friends to set out for me), and dropped down onto the Cowlitz Glacier. The next big hurdle was climbing the Disappointment Cleaver. The whole way up, I had been walking at a very high cadence to minimize fatigue, but the rockiness of the Cleaver made it pretty much impossible to do that and it was a difficult stretch. After the Cleaver, the upper mountain was a haze of looking alternately at my feet, the rate of ascent function on my watch, and at the remainder of the mountain to climb. I hit the crater rim at 3:30 on the time, sprinted (a.k.a. walked) across the crater rim over to Columbia Crest, did a quick gaze around the whole panorama of the Cascades, and headed down. The crampons gave me just enough purchase to feel very safe running downhill, and I made it back to Camp Muir about 45 minutes after reaching the summit. I passed the RMI groups on the way down, and they offered to radio the crew at Camp Muir to get out some Gatorade and baby wipes for me (the most uncomfortable part of the climb, hands down, was the massive salt deposits on my face. However, they possibly helped prevent the outrageous sunburn I somehow avoided).
After reaching Muir, I had 35 minutes to get back down to Paradise, but I was starting to falter. I sprinted down through the sun cupped snow, trying not to fall with all my stabilizer muscles maxed to their limit and hit the trail leading back to Paradise. At this point I was looking at my watch, fairly convinced that I was going to get to the parking lot just over 5 hours. And, not that stuff like that really matters, but it’s somehow infinitely more satisfying to dip just under than just over. So I focused in, tried not to terrify too many tourists with my mad dash, and reached the bottom of the steps at Paradise at 4:58:41. I stumbled around glassy-eyed in the parking lot for a while, and then drove back home to get ready to climb the next day. All in all, it was a great climb — I definitely surpassed my own expectations, and it was incredibly fun to be able to do it with the cheering and good vibes of all the other people on the route that day going for their own summits.
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