Well that was harder than I thought - Summiting Mt Rainier
14.5 hours later we made it back down to the parking lot at Paradise. It’s aptly named paradise. It looked like a damn oasis walking towards that shuttle bus. I collapsed in the chair as we pulled away from Mt. Ranier and I thought to myself, “what just happened?”. Two days prior is when we started our adventure, here’s what happened…..
Day 1 we hiked 4500 vertical feet over 4 miles in the snow to Camp Muir. We’d done Muir before and it was a STRUGGGLE so I was pleasantly surprised I got to the end not feeling like death warmed over. Things were off to a good start. We got settled in at the bunk house aka 4 pieces of pile wood with bunk beds inside. We prepared our dinners and laid out our gear for the next day. Hopeful but nervous since our guides told us our chances of summiting the next day were slim. Weather had rolled in and it snowed a ton the past week. No one had summited in the past 10 days.
We would go look at the snow and see what we could do. That was the plan...
I laid in my bunk staring at the ceiling attempting to will myself to bed. It was 6:30 pm so sleep wasn’t looking promising. I pulled out all my tricks, I meditated, I listened to my calming play list, I did progressive muscle relaxation. Instead of sleeping, I laid there visualizing how I was going to die in an avalanche and filling the cabin with my farts (no one told me that altitude does weird shit to your bowels). Eventually I feel asleep for what felt like 3 minutes before the guides came in.
They woke us up at 1:30 am and said we were going to give it a go. Geared up and roped up, we headed out by the light of our headlamps. I was 95% confident we would get to our first stop and have to turn around. (I was half hoping we would because I was exhausted)
We got to our first rest stop and three of our group of 16 had to turn around. Food poisoning and injury had stopped the trip short for them. At the stop we attempted to scarf down a snack. No one had told me the altitude messes with you appetite. Suddenly eating my delicious white chocolate macadamia nut cliff bar was like shoveling fistfulls for wet sand into my mouth. I had learned from last time I hiked Muir that keeping calories in was the only option so wet sand bar it was.
As we took our break the guides assed our future. They were worried about avalanche danger, our normal route through Disappointment Cleaver was unpassable and our alternate route had a thick snow blanket that had been dropped by the winds the night before. The snow banks were unstable. So their solution? Kick a new boot path through a totally new section and get up the mountain.
This meant stomping into shin deep snow straight up vertical “trails” hoping we would break through to the next stop.
The pace was slow but grueling as we zig zagged up the mountain. We walked over ladders that kept us from plummeting down hundred foot deep crevasses. We walked over slim snow brides and kicked our crampons into icy slopes, the only thing holding us from sliding into glaciers. WTF had I gotten myself into?
By the third rest stop we were all exhausted, we were running way behind schedule and chasing the sun. If we didn’t summit soon we would have to turn around because we wouldn’t be able to make it back down with daylight left.
Again, WTF had I gotten myself into. I had come way farther than I thought I could but I also didn’t know if my lungs could take another 1200 ft. Altitude was hitting hard, my legs were exhausted, I was nauseated. I didn’t know what I had left in the tank.
This was the stop where our guides decided whether or not a summit was possible. They huddled together once again and made the call. It was a go.
If we pushed hard there was a window that we could make but that meant keeping a soild pace all the way to the finish line. Our guide walked over to our rope team, looked at us and said, “some folks are turning around but I feel confident and comfortable with you going to the top, I think you can do it” I knew he was right. I knew I had it in me to get to the top, I knew I had a team of support cheering me on from texts and calls and notes, I also knew that there was a dear friend of mine who had recently passed away who would have wanted me to summit. A strong, kind, fearless lady who was no longer here but was right there with me in my heart and I needed to get up that mountain for her. So I said yes. Let’s do this.
It was at this stop that 8 other hikers made the selfless and incredible decision to turn around. We had to maintain a certain guide to hiker ratio to the summit and if anyone thought they couldn’t keep up the pace or needed to turn around in the last push the entire group would have had to turn around. 8 incredible folks headed back to Camp Muir and it’s because of their selflessness that we were able to summit.
5 hikers and 3 guides left, we pushed harder than I ever had before and marched up the mountain to our last rest stop. Two- 600 vertical foot stretches were all that was left. Fog rolled in and out, weather was threatening to keep us from summiting, but for the next two hours it held for us. Winds quieted, snow at bay.
And then, a few hundred of feet away, I saw the top of the crater. The fog was thick so I didn’t want to trick myself into thinking it was a false summit. I put my head down and told myself, “keep walking and count to 100”.
The path leveled out and suddenly we were there. Next to the crater of the volcano, on the top of the world, socked in by fog, next to my husband we were there. I unclipped my backpack, collapsed on top of it and cried. Cried out of pride, joy, disbelief, and exhaustion. We had made it.
We spent 30 minutes at the summit before we had to make the lonnnnnnng journey back to camp. The down hill was almost harder than the up. My legs were toast and the snow was soft. I felt like Bambi on ice gingerly coming off the slopes.
At camp we met up with the other hikers, packed our bags, I ate a Justin’s peanut butter cup, chugged a 5 hour energy, and downed a king’s ransom worth of Ibuprofen and through the mushy snow marched 4500ft back down to the parking lot. At about 5 pm we hopped on the bus and headed back.
And just like that, it was done. I will never look at that mountain the same again. I am forever grateful for my hiking team, our guides, my community, and especially to my husband.
This weekend solidified my confidence that I can do hard shit (including pooping on the side of a mountain roped to 3 dudes) and that as hard as life is sometimes, we are so damn lucky to be alive.
If you finished reading this and for some wild reason still want to summit a mountain I am currently beta testing a 3 month hike prep workout program to get your legs, lungs, and mind ready to take on the challenge. The program goes live in July. Interested? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll be the first to know when it goes live.