Trip Report: Mt.Rainier (An epic)

So unlike Mt.Baker, Mt.Rainier did not go so well. Here is the trip report (again, it is a little long):


After Mt.Baker we took a rest day where we ate just about everything and picked up last minute provisions for Mt.Rainier. We drove out to Rainier on Monday morning, checked in with the climbing rangers, and prepared once again to carry our very heavy packs up the mountain.


We had decided to do the Disappointment cleaver route which is one of the easiest routes up Mt.Rainier (far away from Liberty ridge where so many people have died this season). The hike to base camp was about 4.2 miles with 4000' of elevation gain. Again, we had ~80 lb. packs on :( As we started up, Lynne started to notice some pain in here neck from not sleeping well the night before. After about 1000' of elevation gain, she decided that she could not go on with the weight (causing her neck more and more pain). I was feeling pretty good, so we decided that I would go up to the high camp, drop off my gear, come back down, and help Lynne out with her pack.


I trucked on ahead up the long snow fields of the cleaver route. The route is well marked, and the weather was perfectly sunny. At about 9200' (still about 1000' vertical feet from the high camp called camp Muir) I realized that I was going to run out of time to drop the gear, descend, and come back up again before dark. I found a little flat area where we could see up the tent called the moon rocks, and dropped back down to meet up with

Lynne. Lynne had made it up the mountain a little more, and during that time, boiled some water so we would have something to drink on the way up. We split up her pack, and headed back up to where I had stashed the gear about 1500' above. The weather was still perfect, and it was supposed to be great for the next several days. We ate some dinner, drank some water, and then hit the sac at about 9 PM (we were both very tired).


What comes next is 7 hours of pure fear and terror.


At 3:30 AM Lynne woke me saying that she thought she saw lightening. In my groggy state I looked out the front of the tent, and sure enough, there was a large thunder storm coming. I watched it for a minute, partly to see if we had to do something and partly in disbelief that this was happening to us. The storm was moving closer so we made the quick decision that we had to get off the ridge we were camping on as fast as possible.

We quickly grabbed our headlamps and jackets. Lynne grabbed a bottle of water, and I grabbed a little food. We raced out of the tent, and started running down the snow slopes illuminated only by our headlamps and the occasional lightening strike nearby. It started to rain, so we put the hoods up on our jackets to keep warm.


Then I noticed something.


There was an odd sound coming from my jacket. It sounded like the static when you take clothes out of the dryer or something. I had heard of this before. The phenomena is called St.Elmo's fire. Where essentially the air becomes highly charged, and you are one of the best conductors around for the lightening to hit. You end up getting a large static charge on your body, and often times, you are then struck by lightening. I removed my shell hood and ran my fingers through my hair. There was a bright discharge from my head of blue and yellow light that I could see above the light of my headlamp. I knew we were in trouble.


In a panic, I removed several of my layers of clothes, hoping that this was somehow due to the fact that I was wearing a fleece jacket (which often causes static). I ran my fingers through my hair again. Another large static discharge occurred. I dropped to the ground to try and ground myself, again, this did not help. I yelled at Lynne, "what the hell do I do?" At that moment, she started to notice the static as well. There was only one thing we could do, descend. We were two large sac of ions high up on a mountain, and we were likely the best targets around for the lightening to hit. We started running down the snow field as fast as we could. Lynne took off ahead of me, and I followed behind as fast as I could, still very tired from the day before. On the way down, there were several more large lightening strikes on the surrounding mountains, and I could see that two of them had started fires on the mountains just a few miles away.


We dropped 1500' down to a small glacial stream and hunkered down in a flat area below a ridge. As we lay there, still pretty scared, we noticed that it smelled a little funny. Like urea. We were lying in an area that several climbers must have used as a bathroom on the way up. Lucky us, this was the best place to lay. High above us on the mountain, we could see the headlamps of people trying to summit. Their lights darting around in every direction trying to find a place to hide.

There were obviously much worse places to be then where we were lying. After about an hour, we decided it looked ok, and that we would start heading up. After about 500' of elevation gain, the lightening came back, and we found ourselves running down the slopes once again.


We found a better shelter this time and hunkered down again. The wind started to pick up, and the little clothing that we managed to grab before running down the hill was now not working so well. We huddled in real close in the hopes that some body warmth would keep us away from hypothermia. After another hour, the weather looked better, and we decided to head up to the camp.


Upon arriving at the camp, we noticed the tent looked funny. It had moved down the slope and turned upside down. We had only attached the tent to a few rocks the night before because we knew we would be leaving so early in the morning, and that we would be inside the tent almost the whole time we were there. We emptied the tent, and started to reorganize the gear that had been tossed around. Then the winds started to pick up.

A lot. We quickly disassembled the tent packed our gear. Lynne finished packing first and started to descend. I finished packing as the winds got stronger and stronger. Nearly knocking my off my feet several times. I threw the pack on just as more lightening started to hit the surrounding area. Now I was running down the snow slopes with an 80 lb. pack. Besides thinking about how crazy this was, I was also thinking, this has got to be great for my back.


As we ran, I looked up and could see the smoke from the fires that were started by the lightening strikes earlier that morning. When the slope was steep enough, I sat down and used my butt as a sled down the hill.

Sometime during one of these decents, my snow shovel fell out of my pack. We rested down by the stream, and then the sun came out. Already exhausted from running up and down the slopes, we decided to call it a day. The mountain will be there next year.

 Pictures from this trip 

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