Climbing Mt Rainier (Part 2 of 3)


Have you heard it yet? You know; that INCREASINGLY DEAFENING alarm?

The one that shakes you out of bed, then smooches you into the wall you’ve lived with for the last 20 years. That’s when the stars appear, encircling above your head with the crystalizing message:

You are 40+, time is ticking
and you are not ALL that you can be — YET.

That’s when you are teased to feel ALIVE again, to stretch beyond your perceived limitations, to ignore the critics in your life telling you what you CAN and CANNOT do.

Succumb to your critics and you suffocate a quiet, slow death OR get your LUVKiCKs kicking and REALLY LIVE!

That’s a pretty simple choice, don’t ‘ya think?

We are all living in cages with the door wide open.

Photo courtesy: TWM

Follow me, in part two of this three-part series; as I seek serenity and release quite a few LUVKiCKs UP to the summit of the elusive Mt Rainier.

In case you missed it, Part One of This Climbing Mt Rainier Series:

Mt Rainier’s Beckoning Roller Coaster Ride — But WHY?

This behemoth rock attracts 10,000 annually — each LUVKicker bearing ALL for a chance at the passionate shuffle to reach it’s lofty 14,411 ft peak. A peak which unscrupulously discriminates and awards only 5,000 success stories each year.

I email my sister and brother in-law a map of the scheduled route up to Rainier’s top – the trip I leave for tomorrow.

I am looking at this map for the first time; one day before takeoff and it appears to be begging the question – what are you NUTZ?

My brother-in-law’s reply? Have you heard of “beach” “sand” “coco-loco” “cabanas”?

I manage a smile and a laugh breaks the silence.

They too are heading off into their own idyllic adventure tomorrow; a 3 week trip to Italy. Beaches, site-seeing, amazing hotels and one week of soccer tournaments – their eldest son is pursuing dreams of his own for elusive professional soccer contracts.

We are two sisters born from the same mom and dad. Two sisters with very much opposite ideals of what vacation means, but each very much passionate in reaching to be ALL that we can be.

THEN the creepiest of creepy thoughts creeps in – will I ever see them again – and a tear wells and succumbs to my keyboard’s grip.

Their email unselfishly signs off:


THEY sign off with exactly what I feel I need at that moment; a little show of support. Not – you are not nuts, but a reminder, YOU are FOLLOWING YOUR PASSION – GO FOR IT and BE SAFE.

Gotta LUV it!

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

Photo courtesy: TWM

DAY ONE — Glints In Those Eyes

I am here; along with 34 other starry eyes, EACH eye punctuated with glints of awe and hope.

We are sitting in a room in Ashford, a half hour shuttlebus ride away from Rainier’s Paradise parking lot, our starting point UP.

We listen intently to our two VERY EXPERIENCED lead guides, each of us giddy with pent up enthusiasm, energy, excitement and even dread:

  • Mike Haugen splits his time between being a high school chemistry instructor in Colorado to teaching people how to climb mountains on expeditions around the world.
  • Gabriel Barral is a Mt Aconcagua specialist leading multiple expeditions to the top of the tallest mountain in the western hemisphere every year since 2004, off-season in the Andes lends his talent to the mountains of Argentina, Peru and the USA’s Rainier.

Their task is to size us up, and get us Rainier-summiting wannabes to the top like clockwork.

Their leading questions generate more questions – in particular, how the heck are they going to get this disparate group UP TOGETHER?

Experiences range from: zero mountaineering, summited before, to attempts: 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th attempts.

Ages range from 16 years to about 60 years.

Physical sizes range as well: tall, short, muscular and not, slim and not so slim.

You Have A Go — Size Us Up

See if you can figure out which of the following from our group will make it to the top.

I didn’t really understand what this meant before our trip, but if it helps you any, the Rainier Mountaineering group that guided us states in their online literature:

Be in the BEST SHAPE of Your Life!

Discover who makes it up and who doesn’t in Day Four of this Four Day Summiting Experience, detailed within Part Three of this series. 😉

42 Year Old Female
  • Weight training to build strength in legs and back and stair climbing an hour at a time with a weighted vest.
  • Some running early on to build up aerobic strength.
  • Hiking three to four hours with a weighted pack on a couple of times in the spring.
  • Began training in January and amped it up mid-march.
  • Alternated weights one day and aerobic the next day and rested on Sundays.
41 Year Old Male
  • Weight training 6 days a week (varying muscle group per day).
  • Monday, Wed, Friday-Split 1 (morning) chest, back/Split (afternoon-legs-quads, ham, calves).
  • Sun, Tues, Thur-Shouders, Arms, Heavy core (deadlifts, etc.)
  • Stairclimber with 20lb vest in backpack for 1 hour, moderate speed, 3 times per week (this was key and much better than running).
  • It replicated the uphill portion almost perfectly with the same load weight you have past Camp Muir.
  • Running several days per week-3 miles max.; any more than that seemed to have a negative effect on the other training elements
23 Year Old Male
  • Started running in January about 3-4 miles, 4 times per week and continued that throughout.
  • In April started using the stairclimber for an hour 3 times per week and also did weight training for my arms.

    Note: There were some days, chunks of weeks or even entire weeks that I was unable to do any training due to typical college student things (exam week, mission trips, vacations, etc.)

46 Year Old Female
  • backpacked for two weeks along the stunning John Muir Trail (298km / 185 miles)
  • backpacked for two weeks through Alta Via #2 in the dolomites; touching a couple of handfuls of via ferrate (180 km / 112 miles)
  • completed a marathon-a-month last year for 8 months, 6 months ago. Experienced a bout of Hyponatremia and ended up in the hospital one year ago. Best marathon time: 4hrs 36 minutes.
  • knowledge of different kinds of self arrests? Vague
  • knowledge of the term glissading? Not before this trip
  • training for this trip — running about 20 miles a week, climbing 20 flights of stairs three times a day (about five days a week) for the last two months and carrying a 30lb backpack of tomato sauce up a 2.9km up a 31% incline once a week – known as Vancouver’s (BC) Grouse Grind.
  • Ran a trail half marathon two months prior to this trip.
16 Year Old Male
  • Began training a year ago super hard.
  • With a back pack filled with water, ran in the woods with no trail.
  • Week-long training at Mt Baker, with summit attempt of Mt Baker; weather prevented reaching the summit.

46 Year Old Male
  • Didn’t train specifically for the climb.
  • Trains 2-3 hours per week with a personal trainer. Primarily weights and core. Nothing else – no running, biking, etc.
  • Completed the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon the year before with the same training program ‘plus’ swimming once/twice aweek. Gave up the swimming after the triathlon.
  • Prior to Rainier, I had no climbing or hiking experience.
59 Year Old Male
  • backpacked for two weeks along the stunning John Muir Trail (298km / 185 miles)
  • backpacked for two weeks through Alta Via #2 in the dolomites; touching a couple of handfuls of via ferrate (180 km / 112 miles)
  • completed first marathon six months prior to this trip.
  • training for this trip — running about 20 miles a week, climbing 20 flights of stairs three times a day (about five days a week) for the last two months and carrying a 30lb backpack of tomato sauce up a 2.9km up a 31% incline once a week – known as Vancouver’s (BC) Grouse Grind.
  • daily push ups.
You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again... So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below.

Photo courtesy: Przemek Wiech

DAY TWO — Facing Fears

Any fleeting fears floating around as we are shuttled out of Ashford at elevation 1,762 ft (537 m)?

You bet!

  • Six months ago, when signing up for this trip, I asked the Guiding company a question,

    Has your company had any deaths guiding people up the mountain? Their reply – YES.

    Since 1981 they have experienced 14 deaths. In 1981, 11 out of a party of 29 had the MISFORTUNE of been hit by an ice avalanche on Ingraham Glacier – a tragedy which has claimed to be the deadliest accident in American mountaineering history.

    The last death was in 2001 — which was a heart-attack victim.

    The track record is pretty darn good however, given the listing of all recorded fatalities since 1897 at Mt Rainier is at 389.

    Click here for the history of fatalaties at Mt Rainier

  • Two days before arriving in Ashford, echoes of the latest fatality reaches our ears.

    Thirty-three year old Nick Hall slid more than 3,000 feet to his death at the 10,000 foot level, while assisting in the evacuation of four unguided climbers.

  • For me the word – GLISSADING sends a little shiver down my spine.

    In 2006, I slid on my butt (wearing nylon shorts) at the top of Vancouver’s Golden Ears (1760 m / 5,630 ft) out of control, down a glacier and off onto a pile of rather large imposing boulders — all within two weeks of my wedding date.

    Yep — no broken fake nails and I made it to my wedding. 😉

    Nope — had no ice axe; it was a simple hiking trip and had no clue about ice axes until THIS trip.

Face To Face With The Mountain — Training Begins

The entire day is spent practising ice-axe self arrests and being roped up just about Paradise on the lower slopes of Mt Rainier at just over 6,000 ft.


You’re shuffling along the side of a glacier, listening to the rhythmic breath of each member on your four-person team (one being a professional guiding lead). It’s three o’clock in the morning, pitch black outside except for the triangle of light five feet in front of you, your headlamp affords.

FALLING — the one word you don’t want to hear — and it’s loud and clear.

You literally jump into action, down on one knee, wind up your axe and hammer it down into the ice-hardened snow; your shoulder, face and body pressed down hard against the sloping glacier. If you’re a female beware — that pick at the end of that axe is not a friend you want to get too close to.

You listen and hold your position as tightly as you can; with hope your teammate can arrest themself before the rope between the two of you pulls so taut, it will test the strength of your gripping hold.


You’ve slipped on the glacier and find yourself sliding down.

You yell FALLING, and as fast as you can you work to maneouver yourself as instructed into the proper self-arresting technique to stop your increasingly, rapid descent.

You are of course comforted in knowing, a self-arrest is by no means an infallible technique. The chances of being able to arrest a slide in this way are estimated by reputable sources to be around 50% and they vary as a function of three factors:

  • Angle of the slope
  • Hardness of the slope
  • Speed in performing the maneuver
Heading Back — The True Test Begins Tomorrow

EYES WIDE OPEN — according to the 16-year old impassioned, future world mountain climber in our group — none other than ♥ ED VIESTERS ♥ AND ♥ LOU WHITTAKER ♥ will be at camp on our return.

WHO is Ed Viesters I venture?


Not just a high-altitude mountaineer I am told.

He is the first American to have climbed all fourteen of the world’s eight-thousander mountain peaks, and the fifth person to do so without using supplemental oxygen. He has summited peaks of over 8,000 meters on 21 occasions, including Mount Everest seven times; only two other climbers, Phurba Tashi Sherpa Mendewa and Juanito Oiarzabal, have more high-altitude ascents.

[ Read More ]

But it doesn’t stop there — Lou Whittaker is deemed to be carousing about after a guided climb as well.

Then dare I ask, and WHO is Lou Whittaker?

And LOU is THE founder of RMI (Rainier Mountaineering, Inc), the guiding company guiding us on this 4-day journey.

Whittaker and his twin brother Jim were born and raised in Seattle.

Besides his worldwide climbing experience, he became the most experienced guide for climbing Mount Rainier with over 250 summits.

He developed a group of successful climbing-related businesses at the Rainier Base Camp in Ashford, Washington, adjacent to Mount Rainier National Park, and led the training of several generations of Rainier guides, many of whom continue to guide and climb elsewhere.

He also led the first American ascent of the North Col of Mount Everest in 1984.

He has recorded his experiences in Lou Whittaker – Memoirs of a Mountain Guide, written with Andrea Gabbard.

[ Read More ]

Everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear.

Photo courtesy: Przemek Wiech

DAY THREE — Truth Be Told

The alarm sounds — from our comfy Bed ‘N Breakfast Inn (click to visit Alexander’s Country Inn, loved it!).

It’s that time.

This is it — the moment I’ve been waiting for — for the last six months. The beginning of a long, grueling dance with the dark abyss.

Do I linger in bed for even a split second to revel in the warmth and comfort? NO.

Something very BIG lies ahead today — and both my husband and I are anxious and speaking for myself, nervous to experience what exactly this will look like.

Backpacks ready ‘n waiting, we run downstairs for a three-course breakfast and head off for our 8:30 meeting and shuttle bus to begin our ascent.

Awaiting departure MY EYES OPEN WIDELY. Grabbing a comforting coffee from the Cafe at Whittakers Bunkhouse, I meet the guide who assisted us with preparations on day one — Lindsay Mann.

Every so often I mention the words Mt. McKinley which results in an implosion of any inkling of an idea at the thought of reaching for IT’S top by those around me — I have to say those OLDER than me, AND parties of the opposite sex.

HERE is a WOMAN, much younger than myself (I’d say she is in her late 20s) and she has just been dropped off after her first summit of the infamous 16,400 foot Mt. McKinley! AMAZING!!

EYES REALLY STRETCHING — WIDE OPEN HERE. I beg for details as I await my coffee, and am floored. She humbly offers her team’s fortune for a window of time which enabled them to ascend to McKinley’s summit. A week prior, an avalanche on a part of the mountain that historically does not arouse avalanches, killed a party of four Japanese climbers.

I leave the cafe, coffee in tow and a renewed sense of possibilities.

For Every End, There Is A Start

Enroute to Paradise, we are advised to be respectful and quiet upon arrival, as the memorial for Ryan Hall, the fallen ranger, will be in progress.

Sadness settles in as we begin our shuffle UP.

OUR TASK is to get from Paradise (5,500ft) to Camp Muir (10,000ft) by travelling along the Muir Snowfield.

There are 12 approaches to the summit from Paradise.

Camp Muir provides 7 of those. Of the 7, 4 are grade II, 2 are grade III, and 1 is grade II-III

Our selected route is quite popular just as a day hike, and during the summer months the trail is fairly crowded.

We are blessed. For weeks prior to this trip, mother nature blessed us with refreshing rain; our first, second days on this trip, we have had nothing but clear skies.

Today, nonetheless is perfect — it is cloudy; a protective veil away from the direct sunlight.

I have to say this, I LUV backpacking; but already I am finding THIS experience quite different. We are not wearing crampons and not roped up — that is tomorrow’s treat, day four and on the glacier.

What I am finding is, shuffle-stepping on snow and straight UP is NOT EASY. Actually, I find myself avoiding looking up, and preferring to stare straight down at the few steps in front of me. REASON: Looking up hits you psychologically and a sense of tiredness very easily can leak it’s way in.


Our experienced leads have a schedule and a plan for our three stops for the day. The idea is — you cannot stop until your planned stops arrive, and that is when:

  • backpack comes off
  • another jacket comes out and on
  • you hydrate
  • you injest 300 calories (for me — that means one of 12 Cliff bars for the next 2 days)
  • take a picture or two
  • 15 or 20 minutes later, up and on with the backpack

And we are off DOING THE SHUFFLE.

At our third stop — IT is pointed out to me — the Muir Hut.

WHAT??#@$#@ I cannot believe we are here; WOW just minutes away.

Minutes turns into about three-quarters of an hour.

What appears so close, takes much longer than expected shuffling UP, UP and UP.

I dive into that hut, and to be quite honest, for a woman that loves to get outside and explore, all I really wanted to do was get up on my bunk, get organized and stay on my bunk.

At 5:30pm we are read our rights — I put my hand up to ask — so in our teams of four, will there be a slower team at the back?

The reply: NO. There is ONE PACE, and ONLY ONE PACE.

My mind BEGS for BUTs; but my voice doesn’t dare.

Silence takes over and for more than a few moments I wander through my last 8 marathons and my positioning in those packs.

The prospect of a 12:00AM start stares us in the face.

Yes I can and Yes I Will. Watch me.

Photo courtesy: Timothy K. Hamilton

Stay tuned for PART III of Climbing Mt Rainier.

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By The Way – I WOULD LOVE to hear any suggestions or comments regarding this article, OR your experiences climbing Mt Rainier. Please feel free to either drop me a comment below, or Let’s Connect through this blog!

When some one asks me why i climb i say one of three things the best is “if you have to ask youll never know” stole that from Ed. The 2nd is “the summit is for the ego, the trip is for the soul” and there is just nothing like it anywhere mountains are like people each has there own history or weather patters flat parts steep parts.



A creak, a door opens, the announcement Good morning, get ready, let’s get going!

It’s 2:30AM – a later start than expected – but our lead guide reassures we have our window – Let’s DO IT!

The test of wills, the test of minds, We are ON. Let’s see who is made of what!

There is no way in pardon me .. hell .. that I expect that I will be one of the sliders ..


Four by Four we head out.

Tethered by our LIFE LINEs to our almighty experienced bring us back safely lead.

I am on the last team up. A blessing I initially thing – perhaps we can alter the pace a bit since no one is behind.

No blessing – a curse. The moment we fall back – we find ourselves being urged with a RUN UP with crampons.

I am right behind my lead … I am psyched,

It is cold and I forego their warnings to take all layers off except the base + 1 layer jacket
I keep my base + 1st and 2nd layer jackets on – 2nd layer with sides unzipped.

What happens 3/4 way into this first leg – is very much unexpected. I begin to sweat but the speed of our ascent and spurts of running shuffles to maintain pace, and catch up – causes a hypervintilating reaction. I am beginning to have trouble to breathe the XXX we have been taught.

I seem to be the only one in my team, and the lead attemps to remind me how to breathe. Having never done this before, I have no experience – but I am feeling our shuffle is causing this reaction – but who am I to say this. perhaps I am wrong – so many variable can play into this.

We make it to the safety of our first stop -before the cleaver. I see the leads huddle together .. and I sit down quietly , put my jacket on, and I od the unimaginable – i am trying to figure out a way to tell my husband I can’t go on. ME.


I HONEstly believe, that had a team being allowed to have a different pace, I could have made it up. I was in NO PAIN whatsoever. ALL I felt was like throwing up – from the initial hyperventilating stage I was finding myself in.

To imagine that the next break would not be for 1 hour and 1/2 – and the guides coming up to me and suggesting I turn around with the four others who were turning around – that i could be putting everyone else at risk.

If it was just for me I know I could go up and do it – with that EGG CRACkING OVER MY HEAD – TO GO ON – YOU CoULD PUT OTHERS AT RISK – how oculd I ???

All I could do – was stare at my guide, at the next one that attempted to come and convince me, and at my husband (whom was the one I had whispered I could not go on) .. telling my husband was one thing, telling the guides was another – and I could not make myself – except CRY – WHICH IS SOMEHTING I WOULD NOT DO IN front of anyone excpet theose closest ot me.

Amongst those tears I fought to hold back, I heard my husband holler over everyone .. I cringed with embarrasment, but he attemtpted to tlel the buides I CAN DO IT – I ran a marathon a month only a few monts ago, we were just moving faster than was my pace.






I have to thank my guide – he did attempt to see if this was just a mental issues and tried to SLAM ME with YOU CAN DO IT DORIS – I KNOW YOU CAN ..

We roped up and headed off team by team up the cleaver. As soon as I took a few steps .. i started again, breathing far too fast (with my hyponatremia experience less than a year ago LINK) .. the order we could not stop for the next hours and a half, the egg shell – you cannot endanger other lives .. I yelled IM OUT .. I M STAYING ..

I was quickly unbuckled and released to another guide .. as we sat and watched the sunrise – mt hood, helens, adams peaking through the sea of clouds brushed with pinks and oranges .. I turned my head behind me and watched the sparkle of beadlamps make their way up the cleaver. My husbands team anchoring the end. and more tears shed.


Stay tuned for PART IIII

We have 4 stops

1 hour

stop 1 before the cleaver

1 hour 1/2

stop 2 after the cleaver

break time –

stop 3

stop 4

stop 5 in the crater or no stop

I've learned that everyone wants to live ontop of the mountain. But all the happiness and growth occcurs while you're climbing it.

Photo courtesy: Timothy K. Hamilton

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  1. Sophy - October 28, 2012

    Wow! You guys are so brave and so passionate about this. I am intrigue. I want to follow your journey.

    • Doris Blanchet - October 28, 2012

      Hi Sophy,
      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to leave a message! Post 3 in this series is due out soon. Stay tuned .. 🙂

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