RMI Guides Adam Knoff and Dave Hanning with Mark Icuss at Camp Protection on Mt. Rainier. Photo: Courtesy Mark Icuss.
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 Mark Icuss' story of his first climb: Mt. Rainier. Twenty-one years ago, Mark's life changed forever when a friend asked him to climb Mt. Rainier. Would you like to have the story of your first climb featured on our blog? Find out more!
Twenty-one years ago a friend posed a question to me after a session at the rock gym. "Dude, you want to climb Mt. Rainier?"
Without thinking twice, I immediately said “YES!”
Up until this point I had zero mountain experience, I had never winter camped, never carried a heavy pack, and never walked in crampons. I did however, read “Into Thin Air” and was infatuated with the adventures these climbers were having.
Being a kid from Chicago, climbing anything, let alone a big mountain like Rainier, or Everest for that matter, was a ridiculous thought. "City people don't climb mountains," “You have no idea what you’re doing," and “You can get hurt or killed" were some of the things I was told by friends and family.
All I knew was I wanted to experience what it felt like to go on a grand adventure in the "big mountains."
We booked the 5-day expedition seminar with RMI and commenced "training" which in Chicago meant walking on a stair machine with a weighted pack for a couple hours at time a couple days per week.
Flash forward a few months and our departure date of June 1st was a few days away. My buddy who arranged the trip called in a panic and said his "medical condition" had flared up and he was going to have to bail! We were devastated, he was the only guy with any experience and the defacto "leader" of the group.
Myself and my other buddy had a decision to make...bail with him or just do it. We chose the latter.
A couple days later we landed in Seattle as wide eyed 24-year olds with ridiculously heavy packs not knowing what we were in for. Upon arriving at Paradise, surrounded by seasoned guides who looked way stronger and much tougher than us we realized we were possibly in waaay over our heads.
We met our guides (Dave Hanning and Adam Knoff, who was just starting out his guide career) along with the rest of the team for a quick meeting and instructions on what was expected of us and what to pack. We were leaving the next morning.
Shouldering a poorly fitted 60 lb. pack felt like absolute hell and we hadn't taken a step! We started moving up hill, learning this technique called "pressure breathing," guides pace, and the "French step."
A couple hours into the hump and we were all wasted and questioning what we had gotten ourselves into. After a quick break we continued upward and Dave stopped us and said to turn around. We all did and realized we were above the clouds; I had never been in such awe in my life and at that point knew the mountains would be a part of my life forever.
We arrived at a camp below Muir and set up our tents in a snowstorm, it was crazy, scary, and incredible all at the same time.
Summit day came after the typical crevasse rescue training a couple days later. We lost a few team members along the way due to fatigue and altitude issues, I kept going with four other guys on my rope team. We climbed through the bitter cold but clear night up to the "point of no return" at 13,000’ just as the sun was rising...I had never seen anything so beautiful.
Mark Icuss on the summit of Mt. Rainier.
We pushed ahead and before I knew it Dave said, "Congrats team, you've just climbed Mt Rainier! I've never been happier in my life and once again knew that the mountains would be a part of my life forever.
Flash forward to today, 46 years old and I've been on a trip every year since. Aconcagua, 14'ers in Colorado, all of the Tetons multiple times from multiple routes, multi-pitch routes, ice climbing, two trips to the Himalayas, and so many more.
2018: Moving up to Camp 1 on Ama Dablam.
My life was so deeply shaped by that first climb of Rainier; I have no idea what would have happened if I would have bailed. Being forced to stay in "alpine shape” for 25 years, the friendships, the epics, the close calls, and the successes have all shaped my life for the better.
None of it would have been possible if I hadn’t said “YES” to that original question of..."Dude, you want to climb Mt. Rainier?"
I owe my life of adventure to you guys, thank you for doing what you do.