Entries By joe horiskey

Joe Horiskey Recounts his First Mt. Rainier Summit of 46 Years Ago

Posted by: Joe Horiskey | August 25, 2013
Categories: *Guide News

46 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 10:00PM 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 9:00AM, Sunday, August 25, 1967.

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. 

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

Photo Captions:
August 25th, 1967 - Joe Horiskey, age 16, on the Mt. Rainier summit. Mt. St. Helens, pre-1980 eruption, in the background.
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.

August 25th, 1967 - Joe Horiskey, age 16, on the Mt. Rainier summit. Photo: Joe Horiskey Collection 1968 - Jim Whittaker, Joe Horiskey, and Lou Whittaker on Mt. Rainier. Photo: Joe Horiskey Collection

Joe,  You drug my butt to the top in 1990 and even let me go on through the crater to the real top.  One of the greatest experiences of my… read more

Posted by: Joey Kaney on 1/19/2015 at 10:10 pm

Thank you for the great story Joe!  We must have met that next Spring [1968] when I went to work for Lou at Whittaker’s Chalet with Bill Cox, Jim McCoy,… read more

Posted by: jim plomasen on 8/26/2013 at 3:01 pm

Recap: Tribute to Nawang Gombu Sherpa

Posted by: Joe Horiskey | June 06, 2012
Categories: *Guide News

On Sunday, June 3, the historic Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainier National Park hosted a Tribute to Nawang Gombu.  The much-anticipated event promised to be a memorable gathering and, despite the fickle weather, it definitely lived up to expectations! 

By 4:00PM the grand lobby was overflowing with family and friends gathered to honor the memory of the man who, all agreed, was a remarkable individual in terms of physical strength, mental determination, and above everything else, humility.  Several family members even journeyed from India to attend.  Gombu’s daughter, Yangdu, received a plaque from Mt. Rainier National Park Superintendent Randy King, recognizing her father’s years of service at Mt. Rainier. 

Needless to say, the climbing community was well represented, with Lou & Jim Whittaker (along with their families) topping the bill.  Jim recounted a story when he and Gombu were on the summit of Mt Everest in 1963:  He asked the soon-to-become-famous Sherpa what he was thinking; what was going through his mind in that historic moment; and received the succinct reply, “Getting down!” 

In the crowd were numerous professional mountain guides who worked with Gombu on Mt Rainier, as well as past clients of RMI fortunate enough to rope up with him during their summit climbs.  Phinjo Gombu, Gombu’s son and also a former RMI guide, accepted a special plaque from RMI’s Lou Whittaker, Peter Whittaker, and myself.  Phinjo then delivered a moving account of his father’s life, from boyhood to becoming a mountaineering icon.  Through it all, Phinjo recalled, Gombu remained humble and unassuming.  As he put it, “He [Gombu] simply loved the mountains.”  Everyone in the building related to that sentiment. 

2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the 1982 American Everest Expedition, led by Lou Whittaker, of which Gombu was a member.  Several former RMI guides and participants on the expedition were in attendance, including Larry Nielson, the first American to climb Everest without supplemental oxygen (1983).  Gombu used to refer to Larry as “the Animal” and with good reason!

Near the great fireplace at the west end of the lobby easels displayed photos from numerous expeditions on which Gombu participated: Everest, Kanchenjunga, Makalu, and Nanda Devi.  He also guided an RMI Mt. McKinley Expedition in the late 1970’s, with his friend Phil Ershler.  A silent auction was ongoing throughout the evening, bidding on famous photos and mountaineering books autographed by Lou Whittaker, Jim Whittaker, and Dee Molenaar among others.

Of course, nothing elicits memories more effectively than film and the medium was presented in abundance:  Gombu as a young man on early expeditions; the electrifying final steps to the top of Everest on May 1, 1963 with Big Jim; the ’82 China-Everest North Wall and ’89 Kanchenjunga expeditions. These clips represented but a few snippets of a lifetime spent in the high mountains.

Then suddenly, shortly after 9:00PM, someone burst into Paradise Inn proclaiming, “The Mountain’s out!  The Mountain’s out!”  Talk about your mass exodus.  The lobby all but emptied in a matter of moments as everyone grabbed cameras and cell phones or simply went outside to look for themselves.  The summit of Rainier, hidden behind clouds throughout the day, was there in all its glory.  The Tatoosh Range was bathed in shades of evening’s glow, while Rainier’s distant summit loomed stark and foreboding.  It fit the occasion.  Mt Rainier’s upper reaches are the realm of the mountaineer, of which Nawang Gombu represented the highest ideal.  As guide and climber, husband and father and very special friend, his memory will be kept alive in the high mountains.   

Special thanks to Ingrid & Lou Whittaker for all their efforts in organizing and promoting this truly memorable event.

- RMI Guide Joe Horiskey

Nawang Gombu on Mt. Rainier in 1993 Nawang Gombu Sherpa

Thanks for the fine recap, Joe.  Wish I could have been there for the celebration of Gombu’s life.  He was a giant. My hero and my friend.

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Posted by: Dave Hahn on 6/7/2012 at 5:39 am

I have such great memories of climbing and travelling with Gombu.  Whether on Rainier or on the way to Kanchenjunga and Chomolari, Gombu always had the right words to help… read more

Posted by: Keith Roush on 6/6/2012 at 6:47 am