Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mt. Rainier Solo June 2016 Trip Report

I was watching the videos from my GoPro last night and they are really good. I have to edit a movie for this trip. Which also means sorry, no video today.

I know that this seems spur of the moment, but I assure you, it had enough planning. It started back in Nepal, on the hike down from base camp. There was some talk among people about what to climb next, with one of my teammates wanting to go grab Denali while still acclimated. Nolan's 14 was in my mind much of the trip and when asked what was next I tried to describe it in a few sentences several times to my metric speaking teammates, but 14,000 feet doesn't sound as interesting when you are sitting in a tent at 17,000. Originally my plane tickets were to arrive home on Saturday, June 4th and I was going to return to work on Monday, June 6th. That leaves just enough time to decompress with my parents before returning to work. However, when we summited early and were back in Kathmandu so fast, I looked into getting my ticket changed, and for $250 I could move it up five days, which was worth it to me. So I reached the USA on Tuesday.

As I said when I announced I was going to Mt. Rainier, I could have gone back to work early, or spent more time decompressing at my parents, both of which are things that I might have done under different circumstances. In 2014 when the season was canceled I returned directly to work, nearly four weeks early, and on a Wednesday. After college semesters I always enjoyed the week or two of quiet and peace from going back to stay with my parents. So Tuesday I was scoping out possible flights to Seattle and looking at the weather. Wednesday I emailed the rangers for a solo permit, and after receiving it, booked a next day flight to Seattle. It wasn't cheap, but it wasn't expensive enough to deter me.

Thursday I drove to Chicago and boarded a direct flight to Seattle, which I was upgraded to first class! I just recently made United MileagePlus Gold status, which is pretty exciting. Pretty uneventful Thursday evening, I found a hotel near Seattle and went to sleep. Friday morning I stopped at the Tacoma REI, which is the smallest REI I have ever been in, and bought a few last minute food supplies and a map. The drive to the park was as clear as I have ever seen it.

Mt. Rainier on the Drive from Seattle
Mt. Rainier loomed in the distance, taunting me to come and run it.

The rangers were nice and got me set up with my permit. Turns out only 20-25 people solo Mt. Rainier a year and there happened to be four solo permits granted that weekend. I went for a short run  Friday night and then stayed at the little motel and cabins at the entrance to the park. My friends had reserved a room there back in May 2015 when we first attempted it, and while it isn't the cheapest place, it's nice and so conveniently located. I had enough of sleeping on the ground in April and May so I opted for the bed. Plus, cabin number 1 has a fireplace, which is awesome. Listening to a crackling fire is one of my favorite ways to fall asleep.
Token Park Gate Selfie at Dusk
Saturday I woke up at 2 AM. This is so funny to me, here I woke up at 2,000 feet above sea level, hours after many other people probably left for the actual summit. I felt like that high school kid that was actually going to be a professional athlete in five years, just showing up and winning the game for his team without all the effort. At 3:36 AM I left the pavement and headed up the snow. The snow was mush until about 8000 feet. That slowed me down. I was hoping that perhaps it would be frozen, or that the trail would be exposed so that I could move fast but it was not to be. However, once above 8000 feet the snow became frozen and I was able to move quickly.

At 4 miles and 2:18 after I started I passed through Camp Muir at 10,000 feet. I didn't even stop. I decided in advance that I would put on crampons when I felt I needed them. Well, the trail to Ingram Flats looked downright flat and easy so I didn't bother with crampons. At the rock ridge before Ingram Flats though I stopped and put my crampons on. At this point two guys carrying skis caught up with me, the first climbers I had seen all day, and it was around 6:30 AM. I caught them just past the camp there at 11,200 feet and then headed up Disappointment Cleaver. It was a bright sunny day and perfect weather. It seemed like a Colorado 14er in May.

At the top of the cleaver I started to pass people coming down. Quite a few people, maybe six were unroped, which I thought was crazy for that route if you had a partner. I mean, yes I was unroped, but the consequences of a fall up there would not be good for a soloist. Anyway, I marched up the rest of the mountain, stepping over a couple small crevasses and feeling very strong as everyone else I passed seemed to be having a harder go of it.
Summit Selfie
I made the summit 5:41 after starting at 9:17 AM, the perfect time of day to summit something. Great views, and plenty of daylight to descend. I stayed for only a few minutes then headed down.
Yep... Tights.
It took me 3:02 to descend, reaching the parking lot not too long after noon. I took it easy and conservative on the way down, which is to say I kept it safe. Most mountaineering accidents happen on the way down, and soloing I feel the need to be extra cautious.

GPS Elevation Profile of  my Climb and Descent on Strava
After checking in with the ranger station at Paradise, I drove back to Tacoma. I spent some time reading and walking in Point Defiance Park, which is really nice. Then I went out to eat at Olive Garden, and slept in my "manager's special" minivan rental when I figured out how to put the seats down. After paying for two nights of hotels, and having to wake up at 4 AM, I wasn't about to pay for another partial night of hotel. It was a really good trip. Since attempting Mt. Rainier last year in May I have thought about doing the one day ascent often. It's really nice to check it off the wish list. Now I feel like my Mt. Rainier climbing is complete, I don't need to do it again. That being said, there are are few interesting things I would enjoy doing in the future if anyone wants to join me:

  1. Liberty Ridge
  2. A true speed ascent trying for the speed record of 3:51 (although I probably need to get better at skiing)
  3. Willis Wall
  4. Introducing new people to mountaineering by leading a trip
  5. A winter ascent

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