Mt. Rainier: RMI Guide Elias de Andres Recaps Winter Seminar & Successful Summit
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
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March 9, 2014