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Ascent to Mount Rainier-East Slope on 1992-08-11

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Glenn Slayden
Date:Tuesday, August 11, 1992
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Point Reached:Mount Rainier - East Slope
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:13400 ft / 4084 m
    Remaining Elevation:1011 ft / 308 m (11% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report

Note: This account shows, in great deail, how not to climb Mount Rainier. We were total bozos who didn't really know what we were doing at all.

Monday, August 10:

Glenn and I got up at 7 A.M., as scheduled, early considering when we had gone to sleep, and continued to get our piles of gear organized for our attempt on Mt. Rainier. It was a beautifully clear day, and we were excited about getting up on the mountain.

First, though, we had lots to do. I finished cleaning out my car, moving it from Asda's garage to facilitate ferrying all my junk into Glenn's apartment, then we piled all our gear into Asda's Explorer. We then went off to run some errands in the Bellevue/Redmond sprawl: a big breakfast a McDonald's, food shopping at a supermarket, gas and ATM cash from a 7-11, and finally a stop at REI, where Glenn rented mountaineering boots, an ice axe, and crampons, while I purchased a climbing rope for $120. Back at Glenn's apartment we made sure we had everything, I moved my car back into Asda's garage, Glenn left a message for his boss at work to let him know he was taking two days off, I made an appointment at a Volvo dealer to get my broken overdrive fixed, and we were finally off for Mt. Rainier, at about 11 A.M.

The drive to the Paradise area of Mt. Rainier National Park took a little over two hours as Glenn drove very fast whenever possible, which wasn't always on the narrow roads through the deep forests once in the park--his strategy of dealing with retired couples in Buicks was to approach them at high speed and tailgate ferociously until they pulled into a turnout, which they usually did very quickly. I played a few of my cassettes for Glenn as we traveled, but, as usual, he was unimpressed.

It was a very hot and cloudless day on Mt. Rainier, and the Paradise parking lot was utterly jampacked with cars, buses, and people, all come to look at the huge snowy mass of the mountain looming over the alpine meadows of the area. Glenn and I couldn't even find a parking space for about ten minutes as we drove around in the totally chaotic area--it was worse than a shopping mall parking lot the day before Christmas. We finally saw someone getting out and bulldozed our way to the space, next to a bunch of tour buses.

We next started getting changed and packing up our packs, a half-hour exercise, and I walked over to the Ranger Station to register for our climb, getting a couple of cards to fill out. We both embellished our climbing resumes a bit on the registration cards, and when I turned them back in to the ranger I told him that we knew all about two-man crevasse rescue when he asked, a serious lie. At least there were no reservations needed and he didn't check our gear, something he may have done if Paradise hadn't been such a zoo.

Back at the Explorer Glenn was ahead of me in getting dressed and packed due to my trips to the ranger, but it was still a major chore for us both. We had lots of clothes--polypro, pile, gore-tex, a separate parka, gloves, hats, etc., as well as a tent (which we split up), crampons, ice axes, one ski pole each, and hardhats for rockfall (Glenn had stolen these from a construction site at Penn), much of which we tied on to the back of our stuffed packs. I took the rope, while Glenn had his Coleman Peak 1 stove. We hurried our preparations when one of the tour buses next to us started up and began to very loudly belch fumes right at our tailgate.

By 2 P.M. we were ready to go, and we started up the paved tourist trails that ascended through nice grassy meadows. There were tons of tourists, our hard-shelled boots were not the best footwear for hard-surface walking, and we had trouble with my adjustable ski poles we were using as walking sticks, but by far the biggest hassle was that it was hot as hell as we were sweating like pigs as we toiled uphill with massive packs. We just took it slow, took some rests, and plodded on as the paved trail turned to gravel, the tourists began to diminish a bit, and we finally turned uphill off of the main tourist path towards Pebble Creek. I was amazed by the lack of snow in the area immediately above Paradise, since there had been huge snowbanks there in late August of 1991, when I had climbed to Camp Muir with the RMI group.

Glenn and I got to Pebble Creek, at 7200' only 1800' above the parking lot, and as we rested we became concerned about all the water we were drinking--Glenn wanted to drink right out of the almost certainly polluted creek, but instead we just filled an empty water bottle with water for cooking purposes. Above this rest we started hiking up on snow more and more, soon totally on the steep, mushy Muir Snowfield. Our progress was impeded here by the pock-marked snow surface, scarred by innumerable footprints, and our main goal was to find good staircases of footholds in the snow so we could forget about route-finding and footing problems and concentrate on slow, toiling uphill plodding. It was still hot, and very bright, and at our rests, which we liked to take when our route brushed against the occasional rock ridge, we would douse ourselves in sunblock, which would soon be sweated off.

As it got later we were getting higher and higher, able to see first Mt. Adams, then Mt. St. Helens (what was left of it, anyway) and finally Mt. Hood to the south, and, also, above us, I finally spied the huts on the ridge of Camp Muir, our destination that I had remembered from the previous year. The tourists and Muir dayhikers were now all gone, and only one group (two guys and a woman) was out on the snowfield with us, going slower than us, so we passed them one by one as the sun went down and we approached Camp Muir, our long snowy uphill slog at an end. We arrived at Camp Muir at exactly 8 P.M., six hours up from Paradise. We were exactly halfway up the mountain, both in vertical (4500' out of 9000') and mileage (4 miles out of 8).

Camp Muir was a narrow ridge with three huts on it: a ranger's cabin, the RMI hut I had stayed in the previous year, and a public hut, foul-smelling and crowded. Just beyond the ridge was the Cowlitz Glacier, with about fifteen tents crowded on it near the ridge, away from the crevasses plainly visible. Tired, Glenn and I picked a spot, pitched Glenn's 2-man A-frame in the twilight, changed into warmer clothes (it was getting chilly fast), and started making dinner and melting snow using Glenn's stove, which he was good at lighting up. We cooked up some pasta, and melted as much snow for water as we could, but this was a pain--I used my ice axe to mine chunks of hardened snow from the glacier near our tent to put in the pot, but the amount of water produced was never very much.

Since we were about the last people up to Camp Muir, everyone else in the tent city was trying to sleep, and the people next to us popped out while we were in the middle of all this and told us to please keep it down. Therefore, Glenn and I communicated in sign language while we melted snow and ate, and this factor, plus how dark it was getting, led us to cut short our dinner and get to sleep. I set my clock alarm for 1 A.M., allowing us a little over three hours of sleep, and we nodded off in the stillness at 10,000 feet. There was still a lot of noise as we tried to sleep--either a late arrival coming in, or else people staring off on the summit climb.

Tuesday, August 11:

Glenn and I woke up at Camp Muir, and Glenn fired up the stove and we cooked up some potatoes that smelled real good in the darkness at 1 A.M. We then started getting geared up for our summit climb, deciding to take one pack and trade off with it, loading it up with extra clothes and food, and leaving our stove and sleeping gear back in the tent. We then put on our polypro and Gore-Tex gear and hardhats, and then went outside and tried to put on our crampons in the dark--Glenn for the first time in his life and me for the first time since last year, and we had problems, since our only guide was a drawing that had come with my pair when I bought them. We finally got the long straps satisfactorily on and around our boots, then proceeded to rope up. I didn't know any knots or anything, and my rope was awfully long for just two, so we doubled up the rope and tied square knots around our waist.

We were sort of in a rush here, since the tent city seemed to be deserted, meaning everyone had already left, and we saw the big RMI group march out across the glacier while we were still futzing with our gear. We could only tell anyone was anywhere because of their headlamps, since it was totally dark, and we noted where people went so we could follow their route. The RMI group was across the Cowlitz Glacier before we finally got ready and started off, confident and glad to be moving again.

Glenn went first at first, and we easily found the beaten-down path in the snow that led across the Cowlitz Glacier. When it passed near a crevasse Glenn stopped to probe a bit with his ice axe before continuing, and I really felt good at this point--it was kind of neat to be cool mountaineers, crossing a glacier by moonlight.

After an easy crossing of the lightly-crevassed Cowlitz, we came to Cathedral Rocks, the ridge beyond it. There was a definite path up through the rocks, and our dim headlamps illuminated it well enough, but we still had problems--we didn't stop to take off our crampons (RMI didn't, do we didn't), causing sparks to fly and poor footing on the rocks, the rock was very loose and crumbly, and rope management was difficult as we switchbacked around and the rope got tangled or caught among the rocks. We found that we had to stop and tighten the crampons frequently, too, and the long ends of the straps kept flapping around.

This uphill stretch didn't last long, though, as we soon came up out onto the much larger and more serious Ingraham Glacier. Still following a path in the snow, we first ascended up past a flat area where some people had pitched their tents, then uphill towards an area of massive, yawning crevasses. Here I experienced two major equipment failures. First, my headlamp grew very dim and then went out completely, and then, as we suddenly realized we had lost the path in the dark somehow, my right crampon came very loose, almost hanging off. We stopped as a group of three passed us (the same group that we had passed below Camp Muir yesterday), they showing us the right path at least.

I looked at my crampon and found that the nut that held the front and back halves together was missing, and that it simply could not be reattatched to my foot without it. I therefore got out a piece of string and tied the two halves together, almost losing my swiss army knife down a crevasse (this all happened on a steep, precarious slope near a very narrow crevasse). Glenn and I were wondering if we were really up for this at this point as we gamely found the path again and started back across the Ingraham Glacier.

My crampon repair didn't hold for more than a minute, so I simply took it off and stuffed it in my pack, not wanting to waste any more time. The path in the snow was a little trench offering good footing anyway, so I continued with no headlamp (my puny AA-battery powered guy was not cutting it) and only one crampon.

The rest of the crossing of the Ingraham Glacier was the most dangerous part of the climb, with the path winding around and over huge seracs, bergschrunds, crevasses, and the like, often going downhill, and still in darkness. We could see the strung out headlamps of the RMI group ahead of us on the rocky ridge of the Disappointment Cleaver, getting further and further ahead of us, but we passed the group of three again as we finally got to the Cleaver, glad to be off the treacherous glacier. Knowing that there were others in the same boat as us was one of the things that kept us going.

Ascending the Disappointment Cleaver was a major bitch. It was steeper and longer than the Cathedral rocks, the rock was horribly crumbly and rotten, the path was hard to follow, each time we lost the path the terrain became even steeper and more rotten until we blundered back on to it, our crampons (or crampon, in my case) scraped horribly on the rocks, and our rope became a tangled mass of knots, useless dead weight at this point. We rested frequently, cursed the wretched rock, and generally got demoralized and disappointed as we climbed up. (Hence the name, I guess).

The sun came up as we neared the top of the Cleaver, and we finally came out on to a very steep snow couloir. Thankful to be off the rock, we ascended the couloir on the very well defined snow path, and after a couple of rests, crossing a very short section of rock, and passing beside some steep rocky slopes, we emerged at the very top of the Disappointment Cleaver, a flat rocky area where the cleaver merged into the massive summit snow dome. It was a very pleasant place to rest, and Glenn and I decided to take full advantage of it. It was probably about 7:30 A.M.

Here we put on sunblock and sunglasses, shed some layers of clothing, and noticed a guy sleeping out in the open in a sleeping bag. The group of three we had been passing and getting passed by came up, and we talked to them--one of the guys felt he didn't want to continue, and the other guy and the woman were. Glenn and I also ate and drank, but were alarmed at our lack of food and water--we ate the last of a bag of mini-Snickers bars, and realized that we should have melted more snow back at Camp Muir. Nevertheless, we felt that the tough part of the climb was behind us, and were optimistic. Just before we left after our rest, we got the guy who was going up with the woman to tie proper knots around our waists, good double bowlines, even though it was embarrassing to admit that we didn't really know what we were doing. Also, I still couldn't get my broken crampon fixed.

The climb was now purely a snow slog up steep slopes, following the well beaten-down path as it ascended the enormous summit dome, avoiding many enormous crevasses with wide switchbacks. We were above 12,000 feet, and even though all we had to do was keep on putting one foot in front of another we began to tire, due to fatigue, altitude, lack of food and water, and the heat and brightness of the new day. We took more and more rests, and people started passing us on their way down, but the path just kept on climbing. We kept thinking that the next switchback would be the last, but there was always more unrelenting uphill, traversing steep snowy slopes. At one of our rests I lost my other crampon, the same nut falling off as on the other one, but the snow was now so soft and I was so tired I didn't even care. At another rest the guy and woman we had been playing tag with all day passed us, going strong, leaving us to bring up the rear of all the parties on Rainier.

Glenn was really lagging after a while, and I took the pack for our last push up the monster mountain, somehow finding it within myself to crank it up for a couple hundred yards, surprising the more tired Glenn. At our next rest, where two paths went up, the big RMI group passed us going down, and they told us it was still another hour or so to the top. Another guy coming down confirmed this, but we still made another push around another switchback, taking the gradual route rather than a steeper one (a RMI guide had told us which was which), and then collapsed shortly to take another rest. Another guy coming down told us it was 45 minutes to the top, and then another half hour to walk around the rim of the crater to the actual highest summit.

Here Glenn and I resumed a discussion we had been conducting intermittently for some time, about whether or not we should turn back or not. It was 10 A.M., and we figured that at our rate we'd summit at about noon, meaning ten hours up from Camp Muir, then maybe six to eight back to our tent, meaning we'd have to spend another night at Camp Muir. We didn't want to do this, especially since Glenn had to be back at work on Wednesday. Also, we were almost out of water, totally out of ready-to-eat food, very tired and fatigued, and the very last group of the fifteen or so that had set out from Muir this day. The only positive variable was the perfectly clear and calm weather.

After a few minutes it became clear that we had to turn back. We had made lots of mistakes, given it our best shot, and were about at 13,700 feet, less than 800 vertical feet from the top, but continuing was just not really an option. I took a couple pictures, and we turned around to hike down the snow path.

Much to my surprise, we were really able to move fast once gravity became our ally, and the soft snow was a joy to plunge-step on down, especially for the crampon-less me. We even passed about three or four parties as we flew down the summit snow dome, making me wonder about our decision, but thinking about the gruesome uphill grind stopped those thoughts. At one point Glenn, going first, slipped, pulling the rope around me taut, and I went into self-arrest, but he had stopped himself before that in a very minor slip. He was fine, and we continued without incident, sailing on down the steep snow on the long switchbacks.

We reached the nice rest area atop the Disappointment Cleaver easily, and took another rest, drinking a little of our precious water and talking to the guy in the group of three who had been left behind--we told him we had turned back, and not to expect his partners for a good long while. He also re-tied our bowlines around our waists for us as we adjusted equipment, Glenn taking off his crampons, now almost useless in the sun-softened snow. We wished him luck and took off down the snowy portion of the cleaver, just in front of some of the parties we had passed on the snow dome.

The snow part of the Cleaver was fun cruising--I boot-skied for part of the way, almost losing control a couple times, but the rocky portion was a major drag. Even in broad daylight, going downhill, we lost the obscure path through the miserable, steep, crumbling rock a couple times, each time with horrible results. After a long period of cursing, falling, and slipping over the volcanic scree we thankfully emerged onto the Ingraham Glacier, where we sat down to rest on a couple big rocks scattered about on the snow.

Our rest was cut short, though, when I pointed out to Glenn that the rocks on the glacier, like the ones we were sitting on, had probably fallen from the cleaver, and that we may want to move on. Glenn mentioned our hard hats, but some of the boulders were the size of cars. We moved on.

Traversing the Ingraham Glacier was a problem due to a number of sections of uphill, as the snow path wound around to avoid huge areas of jumbled seracs and crevasses. These short uphill sections really throttled us, as we huffed and puffed and sweat like crazy to get over them, wondering why we had forgotten about them. Finally we came down the steep section where I had lost my first crampon nut, and then the trail was easy downhill past Ingraham Flats. However, we were so tired now that just simple, easy downhill walking was a major chore, and we were so thirsty I think it was beginning to affect our reasoning. Glenn was also complaining of a major headache, one ailment I somehow avoided.

Just before the Cathedral Rocks we took a long rest, traded the pack for the last time, drank our last water, and started down one more stretch of crumbly rock. It was nowhere near as bad as Disappointment Cleaver, being much shorter and with an easy-to-follow trail, but in our state it was still a pain--the damn rope was still getting hopelessly tangled on top of everything. When we got to the Cowlitz Glacier we didn't even bother to untangle it at our rest, so we crossed the easy glacier with a massive Gordian knot in the rope between us. This must have been amusing to a group of about twenty climbers with 75-pound packs heading up, presumably the RMI 5-day school bound for Ingraham Flats. Glenn said to them as we passed, "Nice knot, huh?"

I couldn't believe how tired I was as we neared Camp Muir--even easy flat walking was almost impossible. We finally arrived at the tent city like zombies at about 2 P.M., meaning our downhill climb had taken only 4 hours, as opposed to 8 going up. Once at Glenn's tent I insisted that we first melt some snow, so Glenn somehow started his stove through his delirium while I mined more snow chunks to melt, and after we had gotten a quart we each drank half in one long swig, then melted more for our hike down to the car. Then we decided to take a nap for and hour or so, so I set my little alarm for 3:20 P.M. and we dozed, difficult because of all the people taking down or setting up their tents and making lots of noise.

When my alarm chirped us out of our light slumber Glenn and I set about folding up our camp--Glenn was very lethargic and complained of a massive headache, while I was only slightly better. Somehow we got our stuff into our packs, took down the tent, tied junk on the back of our overstuffed packs, and were eventually ready to go. Glenn finished first, and while he went up to the rock ridge to wait I finished stuffing my pack, and was even able to bum a pint of water off a couple I struck up a conversation with. I then caught up with Glenn, and we began our death march back down to Paradise at 4 P.M.

It wasn't that bad, actually, since it was downhill the entire way, and the first two-thirds was on the Muir Snowfield, which we sort of boot-skied all the way down, going very fast, passing many tourists and climbers. My main problems were that my sunglasses kept slipping off my face, due to a sweat/sunblock ooze that covered my exposed skin, and my water bottle around my neck bounced too much at the jaunty pace Glenn was setting. My general fatigue didn't help, either, as I had to struggle to keep up with Glenn.

We stayed on the snow for as long as we could (both going up and coming down the Muir Snowfield we just kind of headed in the right direction and hoped that our goal would come into view, and both times it worked), and after a long, tiring descent we came to Pebble Creek, where we drank the rest of our water and the snow ended. Glenn got ahead of me on the trail again, and we agreed to meet back at the car. My toes were hurting badly at this point, from over 7,000 feet of downhill in less than six hours, and my hard-ski boot wasn't made for trail walking at all, and this was the main reason I was slow at this point.

I was just behind Glenn when I saw him make a wrong turn at a trail junction, and my shouts corrected his course, but I didn't see him again until the car--I couldn't blame him for wanting to get down as fast as possible. I stopped and removed my hard outer boots and tied them onto the back of my pack, deciding to hike in my inner soft boots, sort of like bedroom slippers, and my toes approved of the change, but my boots really banged around on my pack behind me as I almost ran down the trail, falling off once and requiring re-attachment. As usual on the last downhill leg of a long hike, I was amazed at how far up we had come the previous day and appalled at how far down I had to go, on endless gravel path and then a long stretch of paved trail, passing tons of tourists. I must have been a sight to them--totally unkempt and smelly, round dark glasses falling off my face, blotches of sunblock on me, a massive pack with all kinds of junk (massive boot shells, helmet, ice axe, crampons, bedroll) rattling around on it behind me, and striding urgently downhill on what looked like slippers. I didn't care, ignoring the many startled tourists.

Thirsty, hungry, tired, and footsore, I finally arrived at the parking lot, and hiked over to Asda's Explorer, surprising Glenn, who was inside changing. It was just before 6 P.M., and we had hiked down from Camp Muir in less than two hours, less than one third of the six we had taken to hike up. I heaved my pack in the back, and then I changed back into jeans, T-shirt and sneakers. It felt great to be a "civilian" once again. As soon as we were able Glenn drove us down a hundred yards to the visitor center, where we both remembered a cafeteria, which we were afraid might be shut--the Paradise area was much less crowded and subdued than the chaotic scene from yesterday afternoon.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:7980 ft / 2432 m
    Distance:16 mi / 25.7 km
    Route:Disappointment Cleaver
    Trailhead:Paradise  5420 ft / 1652 m
    Quality:5 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


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