Entries from 50 Years of Climbing
September 13, 2019
Categories: 50 Years of Climbing
My first RMI climb was also my first climb of a glaciated mountain. Born and raised in Charleston, SC. I grew up hiking, backpacking and rock climbing in Appalachia. I wanted more, to go higher, farther and to learn the skills to take myself. “No Shortcuts to the Top” was worn and dog eared on my bedside table. I had spent hours staring at pictures of Ed Viesturs, standing on the summits I hoped to one day stand as well. He spoke of a mythical mountain in the Pacific Northwest where he got his start, Mt. Rainier.
In the Spring of 2007, I was finishing my junior year at the University of South Carolina. I thought back to Mt. Rainier and checked “No Shortcuts to the Top” again about the guide service Ed worked for. I did some research and booked the standard 3-day climb for the end of June. I had done lots of backpacking and hiking but had never stood higher than 5,000 ft or so in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I flew to Seattle, arriving late that night. I checked into a cheap hotel downtown. Behind the desk was a big picture of The Mountain. It looked much bigger now, maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. I wasn't old enough to rent a car. I found a bus that left from Seattle, went to RMI headquarters in Ashford, around the mountain and back. I got on that morning with the rest of the day tourists and was a bit out of place with my big backpack. When the bus stopped in Ashford I just got off and didn't get back on when it left. I planned on jumping back on in few days after my climb was over. I do not think you can pull this off anymore.
Climbers everywhere, climbing gear sprawled out all over the lawn. You could tell from the sunburns and facial expressions who had finished their climb and who had just begun. I checked into the bunkhouse and got fitted for all my rental gear. What am I going to do with all this, I wondered?
Early the next morning, we met the guides and team members. Mark Smiley and Tyler Jones were the guides that day. We left base camp for mountaineering school and headed up to Paradise. The mountain was socked in. I had not seen it at all since arriving in the PNW. It was there somewhere, hiding in the thick clouds. The snow came all the way to the parking lot, it was deep. We grabbed our gear and hiked about 30 minutes to some slopes leading up the mountain. We learned how to move as a rope team and how to self arrest a fall. It started snowing pretty hard and after a few hours we headed back for Ashford. Word on the radio was that no one was making the summit that day.
The next day we met again early and were split into summit team A and B. I was part of team A and we had a new guide; her name was Melissa Arnot. We packed and left for Paradise again. The mountain was still hiding. Clouds and light snow greeted us as we started the hike up. The pack was heavy but I kind of liked it. We would hike for an hour and rest for 10 minutes and repeat.
At around 8,000 feet my life changed forever. In almost an instant we climbed out of the clouds and I saw her for the first time. I was in shock at how grand she was, excitement and a bit of fear took over me. I was hooked instantly. The sun was shining bright above us and snowing below, where am I?
A few more hours of hiking and we pulled into Camp Muir at 10,000 feet. We spent the rest of the day resting and getting ready for the climb that would take place later in the middle of the night.
Around midnight we were woken up and told to get ready. I walked outside and not one cloud in the star filled sky. We headed up the mountain, Melissa on my rope leading the way. I felt like I was on another planet and I also knew my life would never be the same. We got up and over the infamous Disappointment Cleaver and it got really cold. At the top of the Cleaver, Melissa told me something I will never forget, “mountain climbers must have a high pain tolerance and short memory.”
We crossed over huge crevasses, snow bridges and ladders and finally had our last break. At around 7:00 AM we crossed the rocks at the rim of the crater and on to the summit. I was overcome with new emotions. High on a drug I have yet to come down on 12 years later. Our group hugged and took pictures but it was only half over. We made it back down to Camp Muir, then to Paradise, and finally back to RMI BaseCamp. I was exhausted but elated.
June 2019 was almost exactly 12 years to the day of my first summit. On July 6th, I flew to Seattle for my 5th climb of Mt. Rainier, having summited all but once due to a week of terrible weather. I always stay the night before at RMI BaseCamp in Ashford, it is nice to remember where it all began. A lot has changed since that first climb.
Climbing mountains became an integral part of my life. The summer after my Mt. Rainier climb I took a 2-week mountaineering course in Alaska. The year after that, a 42 day all-inclusive guide school on the northern ice cap in Patagonia, Chile. Before I left to come home, the company hired me on. I worked for them for a few years back and forth in Alaska. In 2015 my guide friend in India brought me over to help him lead a trip in the Indian Himalaya. Two weeks after I returned, I took my brother to stand on the summit of Rainier. The next summer, me and some long-time climbing friends summited Denali. Last summer, I took a group to Mt. Blanc in the Alps. In 2014, 2017, and 2019 I took more friends to Rainier.
Showing others this incredible world high above the clouds is my new summit. For those I feel not ready enough to be a part of my independent team, I send them to the wonderful guides at RMI, always remembering my very first trip and the incredible woman who led me to my first summit. Little did I know back in 2007, that Melissa Arnot would become one of the premier climbers on the planet and the first US woman to summit Everest without O2. In these 12 years, climbing mountains has introduced me to incredible places around the world and many of my dearest friends are those I have shared a rope with. It all started with RMI guides, on my now favorite mountain on Earth.
August 14, 2019
Categories: 50 Years of Climbing
Holly Hollar, RMI Guide Elias de Andres Martos, and the rest of their rope team on the summit of Mt. Rainier.
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 Holly Hollar’s story of her first climb – Mt. Rainier in May 2018. We have edited her story for length.
Our mountain guide, Elias, is yelling at me with his heavy Spanish accent as the wind wails around us and ice pellets sting our faces at 13,600’, “Come on girls, we are close now!” The sun is up now, our headlamps finally switched off, and we are roped up, three of us ladies, to Elias. I’m in front. Behind me is Laimei, a physicist trying to solve the global energy problem in her post doc, and Robin, a lobbyist who is trying to work with legislators on privacy issues and anti-money laundering efforts to ensure criminals can’t fund terrorist activities in the U.S. (I am outclassed by both of these incredible women). The snow is shin deep, making it hard to find purchase in our crampons.
For Laimei and I, it’s our first time attempting anything like this, Robin is the most experienced of the group - she’s already climbed Mount Elbrus. We are screaming at each other because the wind is so loud. “Come on, let’s dig!” I shout back to them, because I am terrified of what I see overhead of us, two giant blocks of ice that, should they choose to break free, would surely scrape us off the face of the mountain and into oblivion. We’ve tethered into ice anchors, but it’s little consolation on the steep, icy slope.
Only a few minutes ago I had wanted to quit. Frustrated by my inability to find secure footings, and slipping back with every step, I turned to Elias, who had told me they had someone waiting at the bottom of the pitch for a few extra minutes in case someone changed their mind about going further. “Elias, I don’t know if I can do this,” I said.
He took off his sunglasses. “Holly, look at me. You can dig. Dig deep girl. You can do this.”
I rack my brain for motivation. I think of the words of a personal coach who inspired me last fall, “Joy is always a choice.” I recited this to myself along with other positive thoughts as we continued toward the top.
The three of us are all that’s left of the 9-person team
who began this boondoggle two days ago. Meeting at the RMI BaseCamp in Ashford, Washington, we unpacked our gear for gear check with smiles on our faces. Everyone was jubilant on that first day as Elias de Andres Martos
introduced himself to the group and laid out the game plan for the following three days. He explained his extensive climbing experience, having guided in the Himalaya and on Denali, and explained what would be expected of us. “I was a teacher, a kindergarten teacher, but I found I did not like teaching. I like it when my students listen. You will listen to me as we climb because I have knowledge that will help you be more efficient. Efficiency is everything. You do not want to waste energy. Sometimes people say I am too harsh. It is because I want you to succeed and I don’t want to take too much risk. We have a margin of safety. So I push and sometimes I yell. But we will get there okay?” We nodded our heads in agreement.
RMI requires at least one day of mountaineering training
before heading up Rainier, so we spent the following day learning techniques like rest stepping and using our ice axe to stop ourselves from sliding down a glacier or into a crevasse. I was worried about getting enough sleep the night before the big climb, but that was no issue as I had worn myself out partly due to the exertion of learning to walk uphill in knee deep snow and partly from the stress of Elias spontaneously screaming “FALLING!” throughout the afternoon to build our self-arrest reflexes.
Holly and the rest of her RMI team on their way to Camp Muir.
Finally, it was time to climb. The hike to Camp Muir
covers 4,500’ of elevation gain in about 4 1/2 miles. So we climbed roughly 1,000’ an hour and stopped to break at each milestone. The pace was slow and steady, harder for some than others but mostly a slog for everyone. Though it was snowing and grey when we began, the weather cleared as we climbed and soon we were above the cloud line and rolling into Camp Muir. It’s a good thing I hadn’t imagined Camp Muir to be a sort of mini-Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch because I would have been sorely disappointed. The camp is basically five or six little huts and one big bunkhouse where the RMI climbers sleep.
After dinner it was time for “real talk” with Elias. “Okay guys. Here is the deal for tomorrow. There is going to be three breaks and a break at the summit. At each break we are going to ask you to tell us right away if you are committed to climbing the next hour to hour and a half. We are going from island of safety to island of safety, so you cannot quit in the places between our break points because it is too dangerous. If you are going to turn around, we will send a guide with you back to Camp Muir. But here is the issue. We can only have a team of three guests per guide. That is our ratio. If we lose too many guides, and don’t have the ratio, we may have to turn a team around. So, it is best if you be decisive and, if someone else is going already and we are at break number one and you are iffy, you need to decide to go down. Remember, the true summit is the parking lot at Paradise
, not the top of the mountain, okay?”
We were told a few tips on what to pack, how to pack and what to wear and then we were put to bed with the promise of being awoken sometime between midnight and two in the morning to begin our climb.
The first stretch out of Muir was hard but not terrible. The deep snow made for some challenges, and for some it was simply too much with the altitude or poor boot fit/equipment mishaps, to continue. So, we lost several climbers at the first stop. But then the real fun began.
Though we had planned on climbing another 1,000 feet or so before the next break, we came upon another climbing team who was ascending the wrong route up the Ingraham Glacier. I could tell Elias was getting frustrated, as every second we were stopped the team grew colder. One moment you were sweating in two layers with max exertion uphill and the next the sweat was freezing to your skin. Time was passing, with every second contributing to the deterioration of the climbers. Elias made a quick call. “Okay guys! We will take a very quick break here to let the other team get ahead of us. Put on your parkas!”
We dutifully threw on our parkas. I could feel my fingers begin to burn and wondered if this is what the beginning of frostbite feels like. Fortunately, it was too dark for me to see that we were surrounded overhead by refrigerator-sized ice blocks that had tumbled off the glacier and come to rest, for the moment, just so. I got a good look at those coming down and I’m not going to lie, it put a bit more pep in my step. We began ascending again, this time to the proper break point where we did another quickie-style break.
Sunrise on the upper slopes of Mt. Rainier.
The final stretch seemed to go on forever, I think in part due our scheduled stops being disrupted by the other climbing team. We took one final, brief rest below the crater. I realized then that looking up was a mistake. Every time I looked up at the mountain I felt a soul crushing disappointment that we still had so far to go. It was much easier to look down and see how far we had come.
The wind is ripping around us, we’re hanging on to our parkas for dear life and we begin the last push of five hundred feet or so. Final doubts come and go, but we are pushing onward. At last Elias looks down at me and says, “Holly, that is the crater rim, right there. You are going to be so proud.”
In five more minutes, we cross the rim and tears come to my eyes. They are tears of relief that our efforts have finally landed us at the top. I turn and yell to the rest of the girls “It’s right here! We’re here!”
It’s a cry fest up top, but don’t think for a second it was just the ladies. There’s a special kind of catharsis reserved for suffering of that nature, and now I know what it feels like. We have the crater to ourselves and take full advantage by snapping pictures and taking a much-needed water and snack break. In the back of my mind, I’m wondering how it’s possible, that what began as a dream with a picture at my desk five years ago, finally became a reality.
The descent was not completely without drama, and certainly not as fast as I would have liked. Now, in the light, you can see all the hazards and scary stuff you couldn’t see on the way up. I’m eager to get out of harm’s way and back to Camp Muir. Everyone knows the worst accidents happen on the way down, not on the way up. Thankfully, we got to Muir in one piece. The rest of the folks were kind in helping us remove gear and get situated inside to recover for an hour or so before hiking the rest of the way down. It was a gorgeous afternoon as we rolled into the parking lot feeling like heroes. We gathered for one final time at Rainier BaseCamp
to reflect on our climb and trade contact info.
I am so grateful for having met these awesome ladies and for sharing with them what is without question, a peak experience in my life. I am also left with a lasting lesson learned: no one gets up there without a little help. If you are open to accepting help and guidance, and you follow through on it, you have a distinct advantage over the individual who thinks they can do it their way and ignore the advice of experts. I am grateful to our guide and the experienced team at RMI who took a novice mountain hiker and turned her into a mountaineer.
July 29, 2019
Categories: 50 Years of Climbing
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.
July 16, 2019
Categories: 50 Years of Climbing
1984: RMI climber Mele Mason filming a rope team on the upper slopes of Mt. Rainier with a Sony Betacam prototype.
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 Mele Mason’s story of her first climb: Mt. Rainier in 1984 for her work at KIRO-TV in Seattle, WA. Find out more
about having your first climb featured on our blog!
I was a video photo-journalist at KIRO-TV in 1984. I had moved to Seattle, WA from my hometown of Omaha, NE. Although I frequently visited cousins in Colorado and participated in some mountain hikes, my experience with altitude and glacial climbing was next to nothing.
1984: Former RMI Guide Phil Ershler (center) talks to climbers as Mele Mason (far left) watches.
While working in Seattle, I would marvel at the sight of Mt. Rainier whenever the “Mountain was Out!” I dreamed of climbing and documenting the climb. Reporter Karen O’Leary and I contacted Lou Whittaker
of RMI to find out how we could arrange to shoot a story of a typical RMI climb
. Lou was very helpful, and set up a date for us to climb with an RMI group, let by Phil Ershler, George Dunn, Gary Talcott, and Phursumba Sherpa.
1984: Mele Mason with the crew on Mt. Rainier.
In 1984, most news stations were still using tube video cameras, which were tethered to a separate ¾ inch tape recorder deck. The gear was heavy and cumbersome. Sony had recently come out with a new Betacam, which incorporated the camera and deck into one shoulder mounted camera weighing in at about 25 pounds with battery. Sony was excited about being a part of the first Betacam shot story on climbing Mt. Rainier, so they lent me a prototype camera for the climb.
I spent two months training on Mount Si and other peaks close to Seattle, read up on all the ways one could die on the mountain (HAPE, avalanche, rock slide, lightning strike, etc.). For my training day, Lou Whittaker and Phursumba Sherpa took me up to the Muir Snowfield to teach our group how to use crampons, ice axes, ropes and harnesses. They proceeded to throw us down the snowy hill feet first, head first, on belly, on back, to make sure we were able to self-arrest before sliding down the entire hill.
1984: Former RMI Guide Gary Talcott watches as Mele Mason films on Mt. Rainier.
The actual climb was actually a life changer for me. Not only was it the most difficult thing I had ever accomplished, but the people I met and the video I produced opened many doors for me, including more climbs in the Himalaya, Karakoram and Mount Kilimanjaro
. My video piece won a NATAS (National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences) Emmy for best produced feature short in 1984. We were blessed with fine weather. Gary Talcott packed my enormous camera, I carried batteries and tripod, and Jeanine Wieholt Moore brought along extra gear. I had not acclimated properly coming straight from Seattle, so as we got above Camp Muir, the nausea started in. Fortunately every time I stopped to set up the tripod and camera, the sickness would abate. We were not allowed to slow up the other climbers, so Gary, Jeanine and I would have to start out earlier than the other climbers, set up, shoot the climbers, and then pack up and go on ahead.
I have climbed Mt. Rainier twice more, and each time I proclaim that it is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but each time the joy and satisfaction and camaraderie that I feel as I walk into the bar at the Paradise Inn, sit my filthy self down and enjoy a frothy cold beer are some of my favorite memories to this day.
July 9, 2019
Categories: 50 Years of Climbing
2010: On the Summit of Pico de Orizaba, Mexico. Lance is holding the RMI flag.
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 Annette Berg’s story of her late husband, Lance’s first climb of Mt. Rainier. Annette will be climbing Mt. Rainier on a Five Day Climb
later this month in honor of her 25th wedding anniversary and in memory of her husband, Lance. Find out more
about having your first climb featured on our blog!
When we were married in 1994, RMI
was 25 years old. This year would have been our 25th wedding anniversary, but unfortunately my husband, Lance, passed away three years ago. So it seems befitting, with RMI’s 50th and my 25th anniversary, to share our story – mostly Lance’s climbing journey, which played a huge part in our life.
It all started with a hike up Green Mountain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness of Washington State in August of 2000. Family members wanted us to hike this mountain. Our shoes were all wrong, the packs were terrible, and we did not have enough water. In the days following this monumental first hike, both of us opted to crawl up the stairs in our house. The soreness was ridiculous and lasted for days. Once we recovered from Green Mountain, we decided we actually enjoyed the pain and suffering. So we bought proper hiking gear and started hiking regularly. It got a lot easier with time.
2010: Lance at Plaza Argentina, BaseCamp on Aconcagua.
One afternoon in 2001, we found ourselves on the Skyline Trail of Mt. Rainier. On that afternoon everything changed. We ran into groups of descending climbers. This was new! We both knew nothing of the climbing world and we both were instantly fascinated by them. Somehow they were like mythical creatures. They looked cool and had the coolest stuff attached to their big backpacks: ice axes, crampons, helmets, ropes. They had seen places that truly not a lot of people get to see. Earthly folks on the Skyline Trail made way to let them pass. It was impressive.
Suddenly hiking took on a whole new dimension. It was still just hiking, but we started to educate ourselves about Mt. Rainier, Mt. Everest
, mountaineering equipment, Camp Muir, Ed Viesturs
, etc. We figured out that RMI existed in Ashford. We attended the first Rainier Mountain Festival
that RMI had (even before there was the Bar and Grill). Ed Viesturs was there and we had our picture taken with him. He was our new idol.
Annette Berg at Rainier BaseCamp in Ashford, WA.
All along we heard stories about the Muir Snowfield. We heard about the dangers of it. In our minds, only those mythical creatures could walk up the Snowfield to get to Camp Muir. One day, we hiked up to Pebble Creek and dared to walk onto the Muir Snowfield. We probably went up about a quarter of a mile and then, for no apparent reason, became freaked out by our own boldness and returned promptly to Pebble Creek. We did however, feel quite accomplished with our quarter mile venture.
Throughout the years, the hiking continued. The mountaineering knowledge increased. We actually dared to go to Camp Muir many times, sometimes a few times a week. We still admired all the mythical creatures that were at Camp Muir ready to climb the Mountain.
Then in 2008, Lance decided he would climb Mt. Rainier
and become one of those mythical creatures. He went all in and signed up for a climb with Ed Viesturs and Peter Whittaker
in August 2008. I guess I was his base camp manager. I helped him with all the packing, repacking, and food selection. We combed through the agenda and checklists for hours to make sure he had everything. It was exhilarating.
2008: Mt. Rainier. From L to R: Peter Whittaker, Melissa Arnot Reid, Lance Berg, and Ed Viesturs.
On a hot and sunny morning, when the Viesturs/Whittaker team went up to Camp Muir, I was at Pebble Creek taking pictures like paparazzi as they passed by. I wished them luck and waived them off. By the time I returned to Paradise, it was noisy and very busy. I had binoculars and from the parking lot I could see the upper end of the Muir Snowfield. I think that was the moment I fell in love with the Mountain. I saw the groups of climbers, like centipedes, silent and graceful, above all the commotion of Paradise. Up there the centipedes seem to be one with nature and worshipping the Mountain. I was convinced that the tourists down below had no clue about what goes on up there. Lance made his first summit. Then mountaineering became a passion.
He loved climbing with RMI. He loved the adventure and the social aspect. He preferred to climb with RMI rather than privately because he knew a lot of the guides. If a jacket, shirt, or hat had the RMI logo on it, he had to buy it. If I wanted to be seen in his company, I had to have items with the RMI logo. I was part of all his training and planning. Heck, I have seen so many orientations at RMI, I could give that presentation. Every summer, RMI BaseCamp in Ashford was our happy place. We would drive the two and a half hours to Mt. Rainier many times for a day of hiking, or to go up to Camp Muir, and then returned to RMI for food and beer. We attended many more Mountain Festivals.
2012: Lance celebrates his 6th summit of Mt. Rainier. This summit was via the Emmons Route.
Lance ended up climbing Mt Rainier seven times with RMI. One of the climbs was the Emmons
route. Every time he came down, I was waiting for him at BaseCamp with a beer ready and sandals so he could free his feet from his climbing boots. One day, there were even a few of the Seattle Seahawks Cheerleaders at BaseCamp, but that’s a different story entirely. Lance’s other RMI climbs included Mt. Shuksan
, Cotopaxi and Cayambe
in Ecuador, Ixtaccihuatl and Pico de Orizaba
in Mexico, and Aconcagua
2010: Lance on the summit of Aconcagua.
Just to make it clear, Lance’s death in 2016 was not due to mountaineering. Since then, I have continued to return to Mt. Rainier and RMI BaseCamp in the summers to hike. Sometimes I’m alone, sometimes with family or friends. The Mountain will always be one of the most amazing places I have been to and it holds a special place in my heart. This year with our 25th wedding anniversary, my plan is to summit Mt. Rainier in Lance’s memory. I want to take Lance’s picture to the summit. The Mountain has brought him and me so much happiness. I need to stand on top so I can feel closer to the mythical creature my husband has become.
July 2, 2019
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!
June 18, 2019
Categories: 50 Years of Climbing
RMI climber Rue Beyer on her way to Camp Muir for her summit climb of Mt. Rainier in 2014.
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 Rue Beyer's story of her first climb - Mt. Rainier in 2014. Since Rue's first climb, she has continued to climb around the world - Denali
in Alaska, Ecuador's Volcanoes
, and Peru
. Her next adventure is Kilimanjaro
in August! Find out more
about having your first climb featured on our blog!
My first climb was with RMI on Mt. Rainier back in 2014 on a team led by RMI Guides Tyler Jones
, Katie Bono, and JM Gorum
. This may sound corny or clichéd, but I always had a calling to the outdoors. However, it was during one of the most difficult times in my life, that I picked up a book on mountaineering and set a goal for myself to one day go climb mountains. It was that goal I set for myself that helped get me through depression and one of the worst times of my life.
It took some years to get around to calling RMI, but after a visit to Mt. Rainier in 2013 where I trudged up the Muir Snowfield to Camp Muir, I knew I had to come back and climb this thing all the way. It all happened during a particularly turbulent time at my place of work where there were massive layoffs happening plus the mine site I work at (I’m a mine geologist) was being bought out. I couldn’t keep putting life on hold so I made the call to RMI and booked a trip for late July 2014. Shortly afterwards, my (now) husband, Mike, and I moved from Winnemucca to Elko, Nevada and settled into new jobs.
In the chaos of moving and starting a new job, I managed to keep my focus on preparing for this trip. I had no idea what mountaineering really entailed other than what I read in the stories. Whenever I asked other climbers how they got into climbing, they never gave much of answer and acted almost secretive about it as though it were some special club. I didn’t know where to start, but I was determined to not let that perceived attitude get to me.
I told my brother from another, Chris Franco, that I was going to climb Mt. Rainier that summer and he was so excited for me. He was a major in the US Army that had done multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and when he got out, he got into mountaineering and was the one who had initially challenged me to try Rainier. He had recently been diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer that attacks the spine and shortly before the climb, he became paralyzed. I wanted to do something for him on this climb so I decided to record a little film for him that would hopefully bring a smile to his face.
The day before I had to be in Ashford for the team check-in, I was about to board a flight out of Elko on a little regional jet to Seattle. It was the second of two flights that are flown each day. At the time, Mike and I were only dating and he had zero interest in climbing so one of his college buddies flew in so they could hang out. He was flying in on the plane that I was supposed to fly out on. Upon arrival, I said my goodbyes and was prepared to board the plane but the pilot walked in and said there were mechanical issues and the flight would have to be cancelled. I was devastated. I thought, “Great, it’s nearly 6:00 PM and I have to be in Ashford tomorrow at 3:00 PM.”
I walked out of the gate and told Mike what had happened. He could see how upset I was and we realized I wouldn’t be able to fly that night even if we had driven to Salt Lake City. He thought about it for a second and then said, “Hold on. Seattle isn’t that far. It’s a 12-hour drive and if we leave soon, we can get you there by morning.”
So we loaded up and he and his friend took turns driving all night. We got into Seattle around 7:30 AM, had a quick breakfast at Pike Place Market, and then headed to Ashford. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is and certainly made for an adventurous start to the climb.
I met the team that afternoon and they were all wonderful people. I was surprised to have met a father and two sons from my home state of Georgia on my team. It was great! The Mountaineering Day School session the next day was enlightening for me since practicing something is very different than just reading about it.
On the climb to Camp Muir
, I was in heaven. I had to remind myself that it was all one step at a time. So I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and breathing. Every now and then, I’d try to take in the views and end up nearly tripping over myself. It couldn’t have been better weather that day. The views were out of this world and I was feeling good.
Once we got to Muir and the guides sat a bunch of us down to discuss the logistics of summit day, I felt the butterflies kick in my stomach. I was excited, nervous, scared, and everything in between. I couldn’t believe I was actually here doing this, the thing I had dreamed about for years, never thinking it would become a reality.
I wasn’t very smart on that trip when it came to food
and sunscreen. I took the pre-made food bags that Whittaker Mountaineering
offered in Ashford and didn’t really listen to them when they said to swap out foods I didn’t like with ones that I did. I learned there was very little in my bag that was appetizing to me. I also had no clue on the proper way to eat a Mountain House meal as I poured the bag’s contents into a mug, which later meant, I couldn’t eat breakfast out of it because I couldn’t finish the meal.
I didn’t really sleep when we were at Camp Muir. Mostly I just laid there trying not to get in my head about it. When the wake-up call came, I was a bit dazed at first and anxious with all the rapid moving around and getting ready. I scrambled myself together and before I knew it, I was roped up and our team was on our way. It was weird hiking in the dark, I hadn’t done it very often but there was something oddly peaceful about it. It was quiet and I found myself mesmerized by the crevasses we had to step over.
As we kept going, the sun started to come up and I could see more of the surroundings. It was incredible, but then I started feeling really nauseated. I couldn’t really eat anything since dinner several hours earlier and I suddenly felt the hunger pains surge. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and telling myself to just keep moving and breathing.
The weather started to turn and I wasn’t sure we’d make it. I was sure we’d end up turning around, but as we ascended into a cloud cap, it became clear we were going all the way. The visibility wasn’t great and I thought we were just coming into a break when Katie ran up to me and gave me a big hug saying, “You made it!”
Rue Beyer on the summit of Mt. Rainier in July 2014.
I looked at her, confused, not realizing we were standing on the summit or at least a few hundred yards away from it. I lagged behind the team getting to the summit and was walking with Tyler when I turned and started puking on the side of the trail. He laughed and said I wasn’t pressure breathing. It could’ve been that or the lack of calorie intake, but I felt much better afterwards even though I looked awful!
After photos and signing the Summit Registry
, I asked Tyler if he would film a video for me. So I sat down and started speaking to the camera as though I was talking to Franco, trying to rally his sprit the way he’d done for me for years. It was an emotional moment for me and even Tyler was getting excited from how charged up I was.
We made our descent and I was even more in awe of what I saw coming down that I couldn’t see in the dark going up. It was breathtaking! We made it back down to Paradise
and my face had horrendous sun/wind burn. I was pissed that the sunscreen I used didn’t work very well. I got back to my hotel that night and really felt it: the sunburn and the euphoria of my first mountain climb. I was hooked! I knew right then this was something I loved and wanted to keep doing.
All smiles as Rue Beyer descends the Muir Snowfield after reaching the summit of Mt. Rainier.
Six years later and I’m still climbing. I’ve traveled to places I never thought I’d go, met some of the most amazing people who are now lifelong friends, grown and healed as a person, learned many lessons through many mistakes, and found that I’m at my best when I’m in the mountains. Thank you, RMI and the guides I’ve climbed with, for providing all these amazing opportunities and experiences!
June 11, 2019
Categories: 50 Years of Climbing
Sean McCroskey and his dad, Jeff McCroskey, stretch out their sore muscles on Kilimanjaro.
RMI climber, Sean McCroskey recounts his first climb – Kilimanjaro in 2017. Read RMI Guide Casey Grom's dispatches of the team's climb here on the RMI Blog
. Find out more
about having your first climb featured on our blog!
In 2017, I was fortunate enough to climb and summit Kilimanjaro
with my Dad (not only was I fortunate enough to do that but also have parents that let me skip the first two weeks of my last semester of college to go and do it!).
I didn't have much climbing experience before but had done some hikes up Mt. Mitchell and Mauna Kea as well as worked out a lot to prepare. We arrived in Tanzania and immediately met our guide, Casey Grom
. From the get-go my dad and I knew we would be in good hands going up the mountain.
Climbing Kilimanjaro was a once in a lifetime experience made even better because of the RMI Team. Our porters were incredible, it was so nice to be able to arrive at camp and have everything set up for our team and to be able to toss our gear down and rest.
Sean and Jeff McCroskey with some of their teammates on Kilimanjaro.
At night we would bundle up, put our headlamps on, and sit around the dinner table and tell stories (some the funniest stories I've ever heard) and talk about life. I learned so much from a team of people from all different backgrounds.
When we reached the top, I took out my Xavier University flag I got just before my freshman year of college and displayed it from the summit with my Dad. The best surprise though was the satellite phone call Casey let us each take from the top – my Dad called my mom and I got to call my best buds back home.
Sean and Jeff McCroskey displaying their Xavier University flag on the summit of Kilimanjaro.
We had such a great experience; we came back the following summer and climbed Mt. Rainier with Ben Liken
and got to see Casey!
June 4, 2019
Posted by: Joe Horiskey
Categories: 50 Years of Climbing
1979 - RMI Guide and Owner, Joe Horiskey, and RMI Guide and Co-Founder, Jerry Lynch, on the summit of Mt. McKinley (now Denali).
RMI Guide, Owner, and Alaska Operations Coordinator, Joe Horiskey, recounted his first Mt. Rainier climb on our blog a few years ago. To kick off #50YearsofClimbing we are featuring Joe’s story of his first climb. This August will mark 52 years since Joe’s first climb.
Find out more
about having your first climb featured on our blog!
Forty-six years ago, August 24, 1967, I began my first summit climb of Mt. Rainier
. I was a paying customer. The cost was $25, which included a One-Day Climbing School. Nevertheless, as many have, I contacted the Guide Service (it wasn’t RMI
yet) and pleaded my case to avoid the training and lessen the price. I pointed out I had backpacked earlier in the summer and encountered snow, which I successfully negotiated. Alas, the manager informed me I needed the Climbing School
, but proposed I carry a load of food to Camp Muir to work out the cost. Terrific! John Anderson drew a rudimentary map of the ‘route’ to Muir one Saturday morning at Paradise in early July and my only question was “how many round trips?” (I was totally serious). His deadpan reply was that one ought to do it. My trip to Muir is another story for another time. I managed to deliver the supplies and participated in Climbing School the following day.
The evening of August 23, 1967, some neighbors from Lakewood dropped me off at Paradise. My folks had provided money for a hot dog at the snack bar, but a room in the Inn was out of the question. Not a problem, so I headed to the Inn to kill the evening before finding a suitable campsite. Employee Talent Shows were a nightly occurrence at Paradise Inn in the good old days. The hotel management hired people oftentimes based primarily on musical or other talent. At the conclusion of the show a juke box was cranked up, and employees and guests alike hit the dance floor for a couple of hours. I was content to watch. At 10:00 PM I donned my waiting pack (a wooden frame Trapper Nelson) and walked up the Skyline Trail a short distance above Paradise Inn. There I settled in beneath a cluster of sub-alpine fir and spent the night.
Dawn on Saturday, August 24th, promised a perfect day for the trek to Camp Muir. Guide Service headquarters was located in the basement of the Visitor Center (the flying saucer) and there I met the other clients and our two guides, Tony Andersen and John Rutter. There were five clients, including myself. I can’t remember details about the trip to Muir, other than I positioned myself in line directly behind the ‘cabin girl’ headed up to cook for the guides. There was no client Bunkhouse, instead the guides on each trip would pitch and strike White Stag car-camping tents (the guides headquartered in the tiny, rock Cook Shack). Dinner was provided as part of the fee: beef stew & mashed potatoes (from #10 cans), as well as breakfast when we awoke to climb (#10 can peaches). Even a sleeping bag was supplied (I had no concern of when it may have been cleaned last).
Summit day took 12 hours round trip: nine hours up and three hours down. There were three ladders to cross on the Ingraham Glacier. We left Muir at midnight and about half-way across the Cowlitz Glacier, I realized I’d left my gloves in camp. No big deal; I would tough it out. On a side note, it goes without saying we weren’t wearing helmets, beacons, harnesses or headlamp (we carried flashlights), or even gaiters. I wore wool army pants, my ‘parka’ was a Navy pea coat (heavy wool), and we were tied directly into the 150’ goldline rope with a bowline on a coil or bowline on a bight.
Above the first rest break, we negotiated the ladders and traversed north onto Disappointment Cleaver
. My hands were pretty damn cold (the guides hadn’t noticed my predicament) as we ascended the spine of the Cleaver. On top of DC we took our second rest break and lo and behold, one person decided to call it quits. Before resuming the ascent I screwed up my courage and asked the person staying behind if I could by any chance borrow his gloves…of course I could!
High on the summit dome I was really starting to run out of gas, and we were still more than an hour from the crater. Could I/Should I drop out?! John Rutter’s emphatic answer was a resounding NO! I kept plugging. Now the rim was in sight, and slowly getting closer. But then…what the hell?! Instead of halting for a much needed break we didn’t so much as pause, traversed through the rocks, dropped into the crater and crossed. Sign the book. Un-tie and reach Columbia Crest. Hero shot. The weather was perfect. It was 9:00 AM, Sunday, August 25, 1967.
August 25th, 1967 - Joe Horiskey, age 16, on the Mt. Rainier summit. Mt. St. Helens, pre-1980 eruption, in the background.
Occasionally over the years I have wondered if I blocked our descent from memory; was it that much an ordeal?! I recall very little, other than being incredibly thirsty. In retrospect, we took some wrong turns on the DC (Disappointment Cleaver
), which necessitated backtracking uphill (killer). At Muir we were plied with Kool-Aid. The descent to Paradise took forever, but at the parking lot I was one happy, exhausted 16-year-old.
1968 - Jim Whittaker, Joe Horiskey, and Lou Whittaker on Mt. Rainier. Joe's first year working for the guide service, which became RMI the following year.
I didn’t play organized sports in high school; I grew up with parents who hated camping (but enjoyed road trips and appreciated National Parks); to suggest I wasn’t particularly studious is a gross understatement; but I had just discovered something I loved, that would stay with me for the rest of my life: climbing. Over the next winter I bothered Lou incessantly about becoming an Apprentice Guide (I even applied for work at Paradise Inn, but evidently lacked a requisite talent). At some point (maybe just to put me off), Lou
and/or John Anderson said to show up at Paradise in June, and see if there was work. I did; there was; and, there still is!
RMI Guide Joe Horiskey