It all started on Christmas. My parents gave me three books on mountaineering, including: No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 by Graham Bowley, No Shortcuts to the Top by Ed Viesturs, and Dark Summit: the True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season by Nick Heil. After flying through them, I was hooked. And it didn’t take Dain long to join in my fascination. The vivid stories planted the seed, and our sense of adventure grew so much that the end result is the two of us planning our first mountaineering trip.
After my first three books, I was deep in the throes of an adventure book obsession. I couldn’t get enough. I purchased more at Half Price Books and a few from Amazon. My total book count in the span of about three weeks: 10. Something about real-life risky endeavors filled with life and death moments ropes me in, and I can’t stop. I also went to the library and rented the Everest imax documentary, a PBS film called “Storm over Everest”, and the Discovery Channel’s series “Everest: Beyond the Limit”…..all three seasons. While Dain is not as into reading for fun as I am, the visual evidence of how amazing mountain climbing is reeled him in too. He even picked up one of the books after I raved about it. And then he was right next to me sitting on the bandwagon. And all of this led up to one cold January night when we decided that we should be out having these kind of adventures too.
A recurring theme for many of the American born mountaineers is that they started on much smaller mountains closer to home. And one that routinely comes up is Mount Rainier in Washington. Ed Viesturs is an American who has managed to climb the world’s 14 highest peaks, including Annapurna 1. And if you are unfamiliar with Annapurna 1, it is a 26,545 foot tall mountain in the Himalayas of Nepal for people with a death wish. 10 years ago it had a fatality rate of 1 in 2. As in, half of all people attempting to summit it died in the process. Now it’s down to about 40%, but still, you either have to be completely insane or incredibly moronic. Or you have to be Ed Viesturs. My adventure hero. But don’t worry. We are not crazy like that.
The Himalayas are definitely calling my name, and I think I’ll make it there sometime over my life. But we definitely do not have the skills (or funds) to attempt anything like that yet. So we decided on Mount Rainier, partially because a lot of the figures mentioned in our reading worked as guides on Rainier including Ed Viesturs. And also because it is by far the most convenient place where we can learn how to climb a mountain. With ropes, harnesses, crampons and ice axes. Just like in the movies…..the documentaries that we watch from the library that is. At 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier climbs are good for first time mountaineers (like us), but the mountain still holds all of the inherent dangers of bigger mountains with the high altitude, potential for avalanches and unpredictable Northwest weather patterns.
We really were just kind of toying with the idea, but then we looked online and noticed that almost all of the reputable guiding companies were almost completely booked for this year. We panicked. In the span of about 30 minutes, we picked a company, called to register, and paid our deposit. And once we’ve paid, there’s no turning back. We chose Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (where Adventure Ed started and still occasionally guides for). And since June, July, and most of August were booked, we took what we could get signing up for a 4-day Muir summit climb at the end of the summer.
I quickly ordered a Mount Rainier guidebook from Amazon and devoured all of the information. And then we put it on the back burner for a few months, but now that our full payment is coming due, we’ve realized that we need to get our rears in gear. Literally and figuratively. They advise being “in the best shape of your life” so we have a busy summer on that front (lots of running, lifting weights, and hiking with weighted packs). But we also have a lot of details to figure out. To get to Mount Rainier, you fly into Seattle and then it is about a two-hour drive to the Southwest Mount Rainier National Park entrance near Ashford, Washington. Unfortunately, you almost have to rent a car because there are no buses or trains or any sort of organized transportation there unless you can find somebody to catch a ride with on a ride share board.
So in the past few weeks, I’ve been working on our travel plans. I’ve been stalking airfares on and off for awhile, and I finally found an amazing deal on a package with direct Sun Country flights and a rental car (rolling in a Chevy Aveo once again). Since we are going to fly in a day early, we’ve decided to add our tent to the voluminous packing list and camp in the national park for one night (since $15 is a steal….you can’t even camp for that cheap in Minnesota state parks). Then we will be staying at Whittaker’s Bunkhouse while in Ashford. Since it is only a two day climb after you spend a few days on orientation, we will only spend one night on the mountain at the Muir hut, which provides bunk beds and sleeping pads at 10,060 feet. And because the return time is highly variable based on your summit attempt (which isn’t guaranteed if the weather looks dicey), we decided to spend one more night before flying home. We’re not sure where we’ll stay that last night but somewhere either in Ashford or Seattle.
The equipment list is overwhelming. 51 items for each of us. Of course we have a lot of the items like water bottles, base layers, rain layers, sleeping bags, socks, etc… But there is a whole lot of stuff we do not own, which means we either need to shell out for it or rent it. We’ll definitely be renting things like avalanche transceivers, crampons and insulated down parkas since we don’t know how far we’ll go with our mountaineering kick. And we may buy a few things like new backpacks. So far the only thing we’ve purchased specifically for Rainier is one ice axe because Dain was obsessed with getting his own ice axe. Typical guy. So predictable. We also added a locking carabiner and belay device to our stock when we tried out indoor climbing in February at Vertical Endeavors.
Luckily, Whittaker Mountaineering rents everything we could possibly need since it would be way too expensive to buy everything on the list that we don’t own. So with a combination of things we own, things we’ll buy, and things we’ll rent, we should be set by the end of the summer. And we also need to bring all of our food for the climb. They sell food packages for about $130 per person, but we’ll probably cut that in half by buying our own food once we get to Seattle (flagship REI store stop….yep).
So all in all, that is the anatomy of our adventure so far. When asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary reportedly quipped “Because it’s there.” We’d modify that a little bit to say we’re climbing Rainier “because we can.” And because life is really too short to watch other people have all the fun. Or to wish for a second that you had somebody else’s life.