Mt. Rainier – 2008

Mt. Rainier – Trip Report (Jeff Hood) 

Friday, July 11, 2008

Flew to Seattle. I was met at the airport by Sherlock Hirning (Sarah?s cousin) and Jesse Hofheimer. We spent the night with a friend of Sherlock?s in Tacoma.

Saturday, July 12, 2008.

In the morning, we shopped for food and any gear that we did not already have or thought we might need. The food we purchased consisted of things like trail mix, candy bars, energy bars, peanut butter crackers, Goo and almonds.

We drove from Tacoma to Ashland, WA and arrived around 1:00 p.m.  We were met by Patrick Hehn, another of Sherlock?s friends, who would climb with us. We ate lunch, checked in at the Whitaker Bunkhouse where we would spend the night and then met up with our team at the International Mountain Guide Headquarters.

At IMG, we met the other three people who would climb with us. There were a total of seven people in our climbing party.  For our check-in meeting, we had to bring all our gear. The guides went through our gear to determine what was acceptable and what wasn?t. I had to rent several items including boots, crampons, a 4000 cubic inch backpack, heavy down jacket, waterproof ski pants and a helmet. Sherlock, being the veteran outdoorsman that he is, provided me a sleeping bag with comfort down to zero degrees, an ice axe, headlight, two pair of waterproof gloves and mountain goggles.

I had purchased, or procured on my own, wool socks, a wool hat, a baseball hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, two 32oz Nalgene? bottles, a heavy, waterproof windbreaker, three Under-Armour? t-shirts, one long sleeve Under-Armour? shirt, one pair of Under-Armour? long underwear and one pair of soft-shell fleece pants. No cotton clothing is allowed because it gets soaked easily and doesn?t dry out quickly.

Each of the items listed above was required and had to fit in the pack. They had told us our packs would weigh approximately 40 pounds when full. Mine weighed 38.

After completing the gear check, we spent about two hours on rope training, knot tying and pressure breathing.

At the end of the training session we went to the Copper Inn for dinner and then retired to the Whitaker Bunkhouse to pack our packs and get some sleep. As it turns out, it was the last real sleep we would have for two days.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

We met at the IMG headquarters at 8:00 a.m. for a final gear check. We loaded our packs on to the trailer and, along with three of our four guides, climbed into the van that transported us to Paradise. We arrived at Paradise at approximately 9:00 a.m.

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Figure 1: A few members of the team getting ready for the climb to Muir

We unloaded our gear, put on our boots, took a few group photos, used the restrooms in the lodge and then started on our hike to camp Muir at 9:50 a.m. Paradise is about 5,500 feet above sea level. Our climb to Muir was on snow most, if not all, of the way. There were occasional patches of exposed rock but crunchy snow was underfoot most of the time. From the start I wore a red Under-Armour? t-shirt and cargo shorts. Sunglasses and sunscreen were required.

The temperature at Paradise was around 60 with a nice breeze. It didn?t take long to get warm and start sweating on the climb. There were no downhill parts to the climb and very few flat spots. It was like continually climbing stairs. The hardest part for me at this point was getting my lower back used to carrying the weight of the pack. I had done a good job of preparing my shoulders for the load but I did not have a pack that had a waist belt on it during training.

The climb to Camp Muir would take us about six hours, including four rest breaks of 15 minutes each, and cover over four miles. During each break we were encouraged to eat at least 400 calories and drink 16 oz of water. It is tough to eat when you are not hungry but they told us when you get hungry, it?s too late to start the replenishment process.

The climb to Camp Muir was tough but I never felt like I was breathing too hard and my legs were in good shape. The guides took turns leading the single-file group and did a good job of kick-stepping into the snow so that it made our path easier. I didn?t have any trouble with cramps or muscle tightening. The rest breaks were well-timed and of appropriate length to allow for rest. Camp Muir is at approximately 10,200 feet above sea level.

After what seemed like forever, we arrived at Camp Muir in good shape and even better spirits. Camp Muir is very much a public camp as there is a public bunkhouse, several port-a-potties and a ranger station but no running water. IMG has their own bunkhouse so we didn?t have to deal with other climbers coming and going at all hours of the night. We had plenty of time to explore around Muir and visit with other climbers, some coming up, some going down. The sun was keeping things warm enough even though the wind was a steady 15-20 mph.

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Figure 2: Jeff standing in front of the Ranger Hut at Camp Muir at approximately 10,200 feet above sea level. On the snowfield to the right is where we did our glacier training with ropes and crampons.

From Muir we had excellent views of Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens and way off in the distance, Mt. Hood. There were other Cascade Mountains, but those three really dominated the landscape.

We were entertained by three guys getting ready to take off on skis headed for Paradise. They said it would take them about 1 ? hours to reach the base.

The guides fixed the evening meal of burritos. The food was excellent. IMG actually has two structures at Muir, a bunkhouse and a food tent. The food tent was quite small but we managed to all get in and get plenty to eat. One of the requirements to be a guide for IMG is to be able to cook. They melted snow for water so that we could refill our Nalgene? bottles and always had plenty of hot water for coffee, tea, hot chocolate or oatmeal.

As the sun dropped behind the mountain, I had to add another layer of clothing. The overnight temp was on its way to just below freezing.

We were encouraged to be in the bunkhouse by 10:00 p.m. to try and get rest for the next day. The bunkhouse is very primitive but without a doubt the best structure at Muir. We slept on very thin mats that provided only slight relief from the plywood base. The structure is a bunkhouse in name only. Imagine sleeping on a plywood shelf. Calling it a true bunk would be giving it way too much credit.

It wasn?t easy to sleep in the bunkhouse. There was plenty of snoring and each of the seven people made at least two trips to the bathroom. Thank goodness I had ear plugs and an iPod. I was in my bag for eight hours and I doubt if I got more than four hours of sleep total.

Monday, July 14, 2008

We were awakened at 6:10 a.m. and told to get our gear packed. We had to be in the food tent at 7:00 a.m. After a breakfast of pancakes, sausage and bacon, we had to be ready for glacier training at 8:00 a.m.

Just above Camp Muir is the Emmons Glacier. We got out on the lower part of the glacier and practiced rope climbing as a team, walking in crampons, self arrest and team arrest. We had to intentionally fall down a slight incline and, while falling, use our ice axe and crampons to self arrest. It was fun during the training but it soon became evident that it was an important skill to have.

Above Camp Muir, every bit of travel was ?on the rope? and ?with crampons.?

The glaciers are filled with crevasses. Some are huge and some are small enough that we could step across them but the one place we didn?t want to be was at the bottom of one.

We finished our glacier training around 11:00 a.m. We ate, loaded our packs, roped up and headed across the Emmons Glacier. The trip across Emmons took about 40 minutes. On the other side of the glacier, we came to a steep rocky hill known as Cathedral Gap. It was about 100 yards of what felt like climbing straight up. It took us about 45 minutes to get up to the top of Cathedral Gap. I thought at the time that if it got any tougher than that, I might not make it.

After a rest at the top of the Gap, we continued our climb on to Ingraham Flats. The Ingraham Flats are at about 11,300 feet above sea level. This was to be our high camp. We arrived at around 2:00 p.m. It was cold on Ingraham but not unbearable. There was no thermometer so I don?t know the exact temp. The biggest problem was the wind which had reached about 30 mph sustained. The Ingraham Flats are at the base of the Ingraham Ice falls, which in warmer times could cause huge blocks of ice to come tumbling down onto the Flats. Luckily for us, we didn?t see any falling ice blocks.

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Figure 3: Jeff below the Ingraham Ice Falls on the Ingraham Flats. Note the huge blocks of ice behind me. The rock and snow conglomerate to the right is Disappointment Cleaver.

IMG keeps five sleeping tents plus one food tent set up on the Ingraham Flats from May to September so the camp was ready and waiting for us. We slept two people to a tent.

We were told to meet at the food tent at 4:00 p.m. for the evening meal. The meal was chicken pasta and it was pretty good. We were encouraged to be in our tents at 5:00 p.m. to try and get some rest. Our wakeup call would come at 11:30 p.m. Our departure time for the summit would be 12:30 a.m.

I got zero sleep. I?m not a good sleeper under the best conditions, but trying to sleep while it was light out just wasn?t going to happen for me. I listened to music and a book on my iPod. Sherlock was my tent mate and it seemed as if he slept the whole time.

The wakeup call came at exactly 11:30. The guide?s exact words were ?be in the food tent in 15 minutes.?

After another good meal of pancakes, oatmeal and warm beverages, we were instructed to go to our tents and get our gear. For the summit, we only needed to carry the bare minimum in our packs. I had my down coat, ski pants, food and two Nalgene?s full of water. That was it and my back loved it.

We were on the rope team and ready to go. We would be roped together until we reached the summit. I was in the middle of the first three-person team and the guide said ?Our official departure time is 12:36.? She had commented the evening before that she hoped we could make it from the Flats to the summit and back in 10 hours.

We climbed across the Ingraham Glacier and on to what is affectionately termed ?Disappointment Cleaver.? The ?Cleaver? is a mix of snow and rock and again it seemed like we were climbing straight up a wall.  This was slow going and hard on the legs. It took us about 1 ? hours to climb up the Cleaver. The top of the Cleaver is at about 12,500 feet above sea level. We rested for 15 minutes and then we were off toward the summit.

Starting at this rest break and from here on out, each time we stopped, the guides immediately made us put on our down jackets for insulation. The wind was strong and as soon as we stopped walking the wind would zap the heat from our bodies. After putting on the coat, the instructions were ?drink at least 32 oz of water and eat as many calories as possible.?

The rest of the climb to the top was all on snow/ice. A fairly worn trail about six inches deep in the ice and 18 inches across was easy to follow but the incline was steep. There were lots of switchbacks and it was hard on the lungs. . We had about 2,000 vertical feet to go and it took us every bit of three hours to get it done. We were resting about every hour.

Up to this point, the whole climb had been in darkness. All I could see was the small area in front of me illuminated by my headlight.

The sun could be seen rising in the east as early as 3:30 and it was light enough to see around 4:30. The views were beautiful. Mt. Hood, some 100 miles to the south seemed close enough to reach out and touch.

On our next to last rest break, the guide pointed to some rocks and said ?those rocks are at the summit rim.? They seemed really close but it would take us another hour to get there.

Our last break was at 400 feet below the summit rim. This break was quick. Just long enough to put on our down jackets and get some water. We kept our down jackets on the rest of the way.

We crested the summit rim at 5:41 a.m. It had taken us 5 hours and 5 minutes to reach the top.

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Figure 4: Jeff Hood, Jesse Hofheimer and Sherlock Hirning Jr standing in the summit crater of Mt. Rainier. This is approximately 14,410 feet above sea level.

The first thing I noticed when we got into the crater was how strong the winds were. It was hard to stand with sustained winds at 55 mph.

We stayed on the summit for about 50 minutes. Long enough to take pictures, eat, drink and rest. The wind forced me to put on my ski pants. In the photo above, I am only wearing thermal underwear and fleece pants. I needed more.

Our guides reminded us that climbing up Mt. Rainier is optional but going down was not.

Our group was the first of the day to reach the summit, but soon after, other groups were arriving. Our guides wanted to be first out so that we didn?t get hung up behind other groups on the way down.

We grabbed our packs, roped up and headed out. The trip down is much faster and uses a completely different set of muscles than the trip up. We dropped 1,000 feet of elevation in about 30 minutes and took a break to remove some of the clothing.

At this break, our guides informed us that ?going down sucks and going down slow doesn?t suck any less.?

The pace was quick. I only fell once on the way down but my rope team saved me. Other rope teams had members fall but no injuries or rescues were needed. The falling sounds serious, but as soon as I was down, I felt the rope team stabilize me. I regained my balance and we were back on our way. We went from the summit (14,410 ft) to the top of Disappointment Cleaver (12,500 ft) in about 1 ? hours.

The trip from the top of the Cleaver down to Ingraham Flats took about 45 minutes.

On the way up, the snow/ice was solid. On the way down, it was much more loose and soft, especially on the Cleaver.

In retrospect, I was glad I made the ascent in darkness as I couldn?t really see the terrain. On the way down, there were several sections of trail that had a wall of ice or rock on one side and a drop of 100 feet or more on the other with little more than a three-foot-wide path to walk along. Had I seen some of this on the way up, I might not have made the summit.

Our arrival time back at the Flats was 8:48 a.m. We had made the round trip in a little over eight hours. This was considered excellent time.

Getting back to the high camp at Ingraham Flats was a great relief. As soon as I got back, all I wanted to do was lie down. We un-roped from each other and were told we had a one-hour break and then we would be heading back to camp Muir.


With my pack fully loaded again, we were off for Camp Muir. Once again, headed downhill it didn?t take us long. A little more than 45 minutes and we were standing in front of the Ranger Hut at Muir.

The guides had some work to do for the group that would be arriving that afternoon. While they prepared water, cleaned the food tent and stored gear, we rested and told stories of our climb. We were now the ones sharing stories with Muir campers.

The guides were finally finished with their work and we began the journey down to Paradise. The trip, which had taken us five hours on the way up took just a little more than two hours on the way down. We were no longer on a rope team and free to go at our own pace.

One of the fun parts of going down was Glisalding. Glisalding is a fancy word for sliding down steep hills while seated. There are several really steep parts to the Muir snowfield that we had avoided on the way up. On the way down, we went right to the edge of the steep slopes, plopped down on our rears and took off like we were on sleds. Even with a pack on it was easy to drop 300+ feet of elevation in just a matter of a few seconds. The snow was crunchy and icy which made for perfect glisalding.

We reached Paradise a little after 1:30. It took us about 30 minutes to get all our gear off, load the trailer, get in the van and head back to IMG headquarters.

At the IMG headquarters, we turned in our rental gear, received a certificate from the Parks Department for summiting the Mountain and signed the IMG summit board.

After that, we were free to go. We changed clothes, packed up the car and headed for Seattle.

Jesse and Sherlock dropped me off at a Comfort Inn near SEATAC airport.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I flew back to Arkansas. I had been told to expect the ?Rainier Hangover? after I completed the climb. I had lots of congestion in my chest from using parts of my lungs that had never been used before. I sounded very hoarse and was very tired.

I was sunburned on the underside of my nose and the backs of my earlobes.

I went close to 40 hours without any real sleep and it took me a couple of days to get my sleeping pattern straight again.

I lost about eight pounds on the climb. I still don?t have all my energy back but I hope I keep the weight off. (end of Text) 


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Figure 5: Picture of Jeff at Paradise on day 1

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Figure 6: Jeff at Ingraham Flats after the summit trip

One thought on “Mt. Rainier – 2008

  1. Great story, one thing, the glacier past Muir to the Gap is the Cowlitz Glacier not the Emmons! :)

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