Leader/Co-Leader: Laura Alexander/Jim Donahue
Team Members: Sherry Maxner, Scott Maxner, Ed Hawes, Ben Steele, Ted Steele, Harry Robertson, and David Sturm
All 9 team members arrived in Seattle Monday, July 14, 2014. We divided group gear, filled our fuel bottles, and packed our backpacks for an early morning departure. The weather report looked favorable with increasing winds during our stay on the mountain and showers on the day we planned to leave the mountain.
Tuesday we drove to the mountain and checked in at the White River Ranger Station. We packed up and endured a rather warm hike into Glacier Basin. Sherry developed some nasty blisters on both heels, but taped up and never complained about them the whole trip. After setting up camp we spent some time practicing setting up haul systems and relaxing. The colors were beautiful in the trees as the sun set.
Wednesday morning we rose and packed up early to get a jump on the slog to high camp on Emmons Flats before it got too warm. We noticed that the melt line was much further up the slope than we usually see this time of year, and that matched what Laura had heard about the mountain conditions – while much of the country received more snow than usual last winter, Mt. Rainier received less snow than normal. We passed a party from Alpine Ascents that had camped on the flat snowfield before the slope of the Inter-Glacier.
Seven hours later we arrived at Emmons Flats. The hike up was warm with light breezes and sunny. We roped up at Camp Curtis, carrying coils down the scree slope in preparation for the heavily crevassed Emmons Glacier. There was a particularly large crevasse just before Camp Schurman that we had to skirt on the left and then the route went right and through Camp Schurman right by the door to the ranger’s shelter. We were advised to pick up bear buckets from the rangers because of foxes at Emmons Flats, but the rangers were not there so we scouted the route for a bit and continued on to Emmons Flats. The weather was perfect for setting up camp – no high winds to contend with, and the temperature was comfortable. Laura got busy building the group latrine, and Jim built a cozy kitchen with a table that fit 3 stoves, and bench seating for the 8 of us. That evening, and all the next day we took turns napping, melting snow and filtering water, eating, and checking out the route.
Thursday after dinner we prepared the ropes for a quick tie-in at our alpine start and packed our summit packs for a midnight departure. The winds had picked up by the time we roped up, but we were optimistic that we would summit. The route-finding was pretty straight forward up the corridor, although it was tough going because the snow warmed so much during the day that there was no clear upward track – only A LOT of widely spaced steps from plunge-stepping down the mountain. There were a couple of vertical crevasses on the corridor and a few horizontal ones we could easily step over. At about 12,000’ we encountered a crevasse that required a nerve-wracking uphill leap with ice axes in the self-arrest position, as it was really undercut on both sides. That’ll get your heart pumping in the wee hours of the morning! The winds kept picking up and were about 25 – 35 mph hour the whole way with some higher gusts. The next tricky spot was finding a way around the bergschrund – we had to go way right toward Liberty Cap and plow through some snow drifts and then cut back left to the scree on the summit cone. We reached the summit at 7:15 a.m. after a pretty grueling climb battling the winds. There were hugs all around and photos of the 7 of us, and we ducked into the summit crater to warm up, sign the register, eat, and rest up before heading back to high camp. The hike down was uneventful with the exception of that tricky crevasse crossing where the key was to “think light” – the crumbling snow bridge pretty much let loose as Harry pushed off to cross it. We arrived back in camp at 12:30 and napped.
When we awoke to fix dinner the wind had picked up even more and kept blowing out Laura’s stove. Overnight it blew her pack out of the vestibule of the tent – good thing Jim found it about 5’ away from the tent and secured it! In the morning the wind had picked up to about 45 mph with higher gusts. Two of us stayed in a tent while other team members took the tent down around us so that we wouldn’t lose it, and we had to be really careful not to lose any gear to the wind while we broke camp. As we roped up and began traveling down, the travel ropes that should have been grazing the snow between us were instead blowing out sideways at waist height, and Camp Schurman was one big dust cloud. We all were covered in fine grit after passing through there. Looking back up the mountain we could see a cloud cap and the clouds were dropping in elevation toward high camp by the time we reached Camp Curtis. We walked a good deal of the way down the Inter Glacier before we could glissade as there were crevasses open – a couple of us punched through with one leg on the way down.
We arrived at the parking lot to cold beer and just sat there for a while before taking a ride up to Sunrise for burgers, a Rainier beer, and phone calls home to celebrate. By that time the clouds were way down the mountain. If we had needed to postpone our summit bid by a day we wouldn’t have made it in that weather.
We drove to Bellingham, showered and ate at the Boundary Bay Brewing Company. The next day we wandered around historic Bellingham and had a team celebratory dinner at Anthony’s Harborside Grille on the water. The following day we took the ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor and went on a whale watch with San Juan Safari’s Outfitters. We saw lots of orcas, harbor seals, gulls, and cormorants, and learned quite a bit about orcas from one of Laura’s former students, Heather MacIntyre. We had a great time reliving the trip and enjoying each other’s company in the days after coming off the mountain, and returned to the east on Tuesday, July 22nd.