50 Years of Climbing: Susie Lambert and Mt. Rainier
Categories: 50 Years of Climbing
RMI climber Susie Lambert standing on the summit of Mt. Rainier. Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens are visible in the background. ---- In honor of our 50th Anniversary, we are featuring stories of first climbs. Stories from guides and stories from climbers. Today, we are excited to share Susie Lambert’s story of her first climb – Mt. Rainier in 2016. Susie’s story was originally sent as an email to her family after I got home from her climb. We have edited her story for length. ---- We took about four hours to hike the four and a half miles to Camp Muir. We hiked above the clouds and into the sun. We were all in our t-shirts and lathering on sunscreen in no time. At Camp Muir, the guides provided giant jugs of water to refill our water bottles and then brought in hot water for our dinner. I had snacked all day so I snacked through dinner and had a hot cup of my favorite lemon tea before bed. Before bedtime we changed into our base layers and set out our packs with everything we would need for the climb. Lights out was at 6:00 PM and I slept with my sleep mask on but opted for not wearing the ear plugs I brought. Being the last Saturday in July with beautiful weather, Camp Muir was extremely crowded with climbers so there was lots of chatter outside but I soon fell asleep. We were woken up at 11:15 PM by our lead guide, Dave Hahn with another jug of hot water. Most of us, myself included, had brought oatmeal for breakfast. My body does not handle exerting myself in the morning without caffeine (result: massive headache) so I brought along a little packet of instant coffee and some sugar cubes and all was well. Overnight the wind had picked up and it was howling with strong gusts as we got ready. The guides told us exactly what to wear and we all got dressed. We gathered at 12:15 AM and were told we would have 3 rope teams. We roped up and Dave's rope headed across the Cowlitz Glacier, then Jordan Cargill's team, then my team led by Leah Fisher. The Cowlitz Glacier and the Ingraham Glacier are separated by a ridgeline called Cathedral Gap which is steep dirt and rock. Two of the guides from the 5-Day Climb followed us to this point to take back anyone who did not feel like glacier travel and steep rocky hillsides in crampons was right for them and I was surprised to see one person go. We made our way up to Ingraham Flats and had our first rest break. Packs off, puffy coats on, eat and drink. The wind was howling and there were a ton of climbers out so we saw lots of headlamps glowing on the mountain. From this spot we also noticed the enormous wildfire burning in Pendleton, OR which made the sliver of moon red. The next section we climbed was the upper Ingraham Glacier. It is along this flat part of the route that I experienced my first two crevasse crossings. One was a step-across and the other had a long ladder stretched across it with boards to walk on. In all, it takes most people 4-5 steps to get across. When you are roped in you cannot hesitate or it stops the whole line. I held my breath and went for it, following my headlamp glow and made it across, lightning quick. Disappointment Cleaver is a long outcropping of rock and dirt for most of the way up, then snow. Climbing up the Cleaver had many in my team struggling to maintain their footing. At the top of the rock section, the other climber on my rope team announced she was done. Dave told me to come up and clip in behind him and Leah would take the other climber down. We climbed the rest of the way up to the top of the Cleaver and took our rest break. It was here that someone else announced his knee was really hurting and the guides decided he should not go on. Our ascending team was down to me, two other climbers, and two guides. I was feeling fine physically so I figured the only reason I would not make it to the top at this point would be due to lack of confidence, so I kept my mouth shut and committed to the summit. The top of Disappointment Cleaver is just about the coldest spot to have a rest break on a GOOD day. We had howling winds and freezing temps so I put on my outer shell pants, fuzzy neck gator, warm hat, warmer gloves, light down coat with a hood, and puffy coat – basically everything I had in my pack. I was feeling a little nauseous but I think it must have been from not eating a whole lot, mixed with a huge dose of nervous tummy so I forced down a half of a Luna Bar and some water. I was freezing. It is very unusual for a guide to allow climbers to wear the puffy coats while climbing because you normally get so hot once you start climbing but in this case Dave instructed us to keep our puffys on after our rest break, so we did. From the Cleaver to the High Break, the Emmons Glacier was extremely STEEP as we zigzagged up the mountain. It looked like other headlamps were directly above us. It was during this time that the sky started to lighten and we had a beautiful red sunrise...and we could finally see how high we were on such an exposed hillside! The wind had not let up and we were all struggling to not get blown off the trail. We took a quick rest at High Break, traded our headlamps for glacier glasses and continued up to Columbia Crest. Susie Lambert and Dave Hahn celebrate their summit of Mt. Rainier. As we came over the lip of the crater Dave started shouting and high-fiving us that we made it! It was like suddenly the wind stopped and the sun was out and I was in a dream! We crossed the crater and picked a spot in the sun to drop our packs. We put our cameras in our pockets and hiked up to the summit! There were steam vents in the crater which I had read about but was still surprised to see. We signed the summit register and crested the crater to the true summit!! The wind was absolutely raging as we tried to take pictures. After a million pictures, we headed back to our packs. Susie Lambert and the Four Day Climb team enjoying their time on the summit of Mt. Rainier. Back in the crater we took off our puffys and started heading down. The descent to the top of the Cleaver was not as steep as I remember going up. I must be getting used to this thing called mountain climbing! We took a break at the top of the Cleaver and things were warming up. I took off my light down coat and switched out my warm hat for my baseball hat and lightweight gloves. I confided to Dave that I was a little nervous about this part, going down such steep rock in my crampons and he assured me we would be going slowly and carefully and I would be fine. He reminded the whole team that it was very important not to send a rock rolling down because there were climbers below us. We short-roped down the rocks and I carefully put each of my steps in the step Dave's boot had just been in. Descending the upper slopes of Mt. Rainier on the descent from the summit. As soon as we got to the bottom of the Cleaver we were standing in a very dangerous spot – exposed to falling rock from the climbers and the ice fall directly above us as we crossed over to Ingraham Flats. Dave's tone of voice changed to be very serious when he saw a group of climbers stopped a little ways ahead of us on the trail, adjusting something in their packs. We walked the trail until we got to them and Dave said very sternly, "Hey that's great that you guys have found what you consider a safe spot but you are blocking the trail for other climbers behind you, leaving other groups exposed to the falling ice and rocks". The people were embarrassed and apologetic while we went around them. We went below the climbers and then started to head back up to the trail but the hillside was very steep and Dave told me to turn and go straight up to the trail directly above me. Without question, I turned to get up to the trail. I took two steps and my crampons slipped and my feet went out from under me. I heard my jacket sliding on the ice and I instinctively jammed my ice axe into the snow, driving my shoulder and helmet into the snow to stop my fall. I looked down and saw the group of climbers below, staring up at me with their mouths hanging open and then I looked past them…there was the biggest, bluest crevasse I have ever seen directly below me! I stayed in that position until Dave's voice pulled me back to reality telling me to dig my feet in. Dave was right behind me and he helped stop my slide (I would like to think my incredible ice axe arrest skills stopped me but Dave might have had something to do with it…). He said very matter of factly, "Get up on the trail." I trusted my crampons but still hugged the hillside and got my ice axe out and stuck it in a little above and tip toed up until I literally crawled onto the trail. I stood up and we continued on. No talking. Leave what just happened behind us and focus on the trail ahead. About five minutes later there was the crevasse crossing in full daylight. My heart rate shot up and I sped up my pace and suddenly Dave is telling me to slow down. I was causing the rope to become too slack for the person ahead of me. I slowed my pace but that only made me stare at the upcoming crevasse even longer and I swear it was growing wider and bluer before my eyes. I hate to say it but I froze. I allowed my first real doubt to take up space in my brain and that's all it took to make me hesitate and think "I can't do this." I looked ahead and realized my team was still walking slow and steady away from me and if I waited much longer the rope was going to yank me towards the drop off (probably not entirely accurate but that's how my brain was processing it). Once again, Dave's voice behind me snapped me out of it and he said, "You need to cross now." I held my breath and crossed the ladder. I don't even remember it but somehow I did it. My nerves were shot and I couldn't concentrate. Dave had to remind me twice to switch my ice axe to the uphill side so I used that as something to focus on and made sure if I did nothing else I was going to keep the ice axe on the uphill side. Having just that to focus on and keeping my breathing under control helped a lot. We got to our resting point at Ingraham Flats and we were able to take off our packs and sit down. I was doing everything I could to keep it together but I got the shakes, uncontrollable tremors in my legs as the tension left my body. I told Dave, "Thanks for what you did back there. I saw past the group of people. I saw what was below me." Dave just smiled, shrugged, and said, "You weren't going anywhere." I truly feel like he saved my life. No doubt in my mind. Enjoying the rest break at Ingraham Flats on the descent. We took a long rest at that spot in the sun, enjoying the feeling of accomplishing a goal we have all worked towards for so long. We watched as the group from the 5-Day Climb made their way across the glacier towards us. They were spending their day getting glacier practice and, later, resting for their summit attempt. We chatted with them and then continued down Cathedral Gap, across the Cowlitz Glacier and then to Camp Muir. We arrived at camp at 10:15 AM but it felt more like 4:00 PM. We took an hour to pack up all our gear, eat, and start hiking down the Muir Snowfield. Everybody lightened up during this time and we walked as a group, boot skied or butt slid down the snowfield. It was a comical and lighthearted way for our team to reconnect and just enjoy being together. We made it down to Paradise and caught the RMI Shuttle to Rainier BaseCamp. We gathered as a team one final time and ate pizza. Each guide said a few words and they gave us a picture of our route and also a certificate for those who summited. Our group left, one by one, and before I left, the few people still at the table were practically falling asleep, except for the guides who seem to have endless energy! This morning I wrote a letter to my guides and dropped off at their office. I am so thankful for them and their confidence and their skill and sense of humor! It was the most memorable trip I have ever had!
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July 2, 2019
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