After our first full day in Washington (driving and hiking in Olympic National Park), we spent the first of two nights at the Paradise Village hotel.
We didn’t need to set an alarm, as my plan to watch sunrise over Reflection Lake was squashed by the impending rainclouds, so we woke up on our own. Unfortunately, I was still on east coast time, so I woke up early–before 6–and famished. I quietly munched on almonds and tried to let Joel sleep in.
The goal for the day: eat well, hydrate really well, rest as much as possible, and feel confident and prepared for the climb tomorrow.
Realizing it was a Sunday, and not too many options for breakfast, we found the earliest of few options opened at 8: Copper Creek Restaurant.
We ordered, then devoured a delish breakfast–I highly recommend the french toast, which comes with homemade blackberry syrup and blackberry butter!
I could only eat half of my breakfast, so I boxed up the rest for tomorrow, knowing that I would likely feel nervous and not want to eat too much prior to our climb–but would still need to eat something.
Joel and I had many hours before our Gear Check meeting at IMG (International Mountain Guides) headquarters at 2 PM, so we decided to do some “recon” and drive up to Paradise to see Mount Rainier. Due to the rainy/cloudy weather, so characteristic of Washington state, we had yet to get a glimpse of the majestic mountain.
We made a left out of Copper Creek and headed towards Mount Rainier National Park. About 5 minutes down the road, we came to the gate. I used my National Parks pass and we got right in! We also got a very detailed map (Joel & I are both map nerds and love poring over the map… we get it from our dad) 🙂
To our delight, the clouds parted and made way for blue skies, and we could finally see the entire mountain!
I had mentally braced myself for it to be so massive it might psych me out a little, but amazingly, I felt like it was huge, yet attainable. I knew a big part of the climb would be my mental state and attitude, so I wanted to stay as positive as possible, especially since Joel felt very nervous about it.
We parked at the Paradise visitor center, I used the restroom, and we scoped out the mountain from nearly 2 vertical miles from the summit (it’s 5,000 ft above sea level at Paradise, and the summit is 14,410 feet, so about a 9,000 foot gain for our trek).
We saw lots of skiers, snowshoers, and hikers getting ready to make their own treks. I thought, that will be us, 24 hours from now!
I had hoped to see the stone steps with John Muir quote carved in them, but had forgotten that snow covered everything! Here’s a picture of how it looks in the summer:
The steps read:
“…the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.” –John Muir, conservationist, 1889
We couldn’t believe how deep the snow was, and how far the trees could bend under the weight of the snow.
We didn’t hang out too long, as we still needed to get our gear organized at our hotel room prior to gear check.
Back at our Paradise Village Hotel room, I got my gear ready, throwing most of it in my backpack, but my jackets and mid-layers in a trash bag (to make it easier to carry). The guides told us to bring different options for layering, and they would help us select the right ones to bring for the trip.
I could feel my nerves bubbling up when I thought about meeting our team in just a few hours, and starting our long climb in less than a day. I read a book (“The Will to Climb” by Ed Viesturs–purchased in Port Angeles, and very fitting), and wrote out postcards to friends and family, to keep my mind occupied. I had some leftover chicken alfredo for lunch, and soon it was 1:40 and time drive the one mile down the road to IMG.
We arrived exactly at the desired time, 1:45, and saw that 3 of our new teammates were already there.
We met the first 3 of our 6 teammates: Mike (I changed all the names to protect privacy) from DC, and a couple of PhD students from Pittsburgh, Jim and Cathy-Anne. We sat by Mike, and he seemed friendly, telling us about how he and his wife climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. This helped break the tension for me (and likely Joel too), and I knew that we would have at least one person to chat with on our team.
Soon, the other 3 arrived: a father/daughter duo from Idaho, Joe and Lisa, and a British ex-pat, David, now living in Oregon. I was thrilled to see two other women on the team, as I had (wrongly) suspected that I’d be the only woman in the whole group. Plus, I liked to see the varying ages, as it appeared we ranged from mid-20’s for the PhD students and Lisa, to maybe 50ish for Joe (I am not great at guessing ages though).
Our guides came out to introduce themselves too: our lead guide, Peter, seemed friendly, professional, and fun. He also introduced us to Brandon, who we’d find out in a few days, would become our rope team leader. The other two guides, Dustin and Roman, rounded out the 4. All seemed young and vibrant, fully capable of leading us up the largest mountain Joel and I had ever tackled.
The “gear check” was scheduled from 2-5:30ish, and we went through each piece of gear on the packing list so that Peter could check it off. In some cases, as in the case of Joel’s “big puffy” (the largest/heaviest/warmest layer), the one he brought wasn’t quite what was needed, so Joel rented one from IMG. We also filled out a list of rental items, circling what we needed to rent.
These were my rental items (due to not wanting to buy them, in most cases, or not having room in my suitcase to pack them, in the case of my helmet and climbing harness):
- ice axe
- avalanche beacon
- goggles (didn’t end up using, but brought with me just in case)
- glacier glasses (basically sunglasses with side shields)
- heavy mittens
- Total gear rental amount: $217
- Note: I have no idea how much I spend on all the other gear I brought, but I’d venture a guess of at least $1,200 (the boots alone were $400, on sale!)
We also went over the schedule for tomorrow, then reviewed how to pack, with Peter showing us exactly what he does to pack his bag.
I learned a few new things, namely to use the puffy things (jackets and sleeping bags) as sort of “mortar,” with other items like a mug, sleeping pad, and water bottles as “bricks” that can be pushed into the mortar to save space–vs. the way I usually pack, where my sleeping bag is in a stuff sack, my sleeping pad is in its own stuff sack, etc. So you save weight (and time!) by not bringing the stuff sacks, plus it should all fit more snugly in the bottom of the bag, since the gaps are filled by the “mortar” (squishy) items.
The other thing I learned from Peter is that besides the essentials, most other things are NOT essential. I couldn’t believe how little he had. He packed it all so easily, in less than 5 minutes! I knew I needed to review my items one more time, and leave some things out.
Next, we had a crampon-fitting lesson. I first learned the difference between single and double boots (single is what I bought, the La Sportiva Nepals, while double boots have a removable liner and are designed for the coldest conditions).
We measured the crampons to our boots lengthwise to get a very secure fit, then the rear fastener (heel binding) snaps into place to keep the crampons super tight. Lastly, the fabric strap is fed through the front toe binding and a buckle, and tightened down, with the end secured in our gaiters–which we still needed to learn how to wear!
Our final lesson of the day: how to poop in a bag while on the mountain. Now that sounds really fun, right?! 😛
The first camp, Camp Muir, has pit toilets, so no need for bags there, but up higher, at Ingraham Flats (high camp, for our 2nd night) and at the summit, if we had the urge, we would need to poop in a blue bag. This is so the snow/environment can remain clean, as thousands of people climb Mount Rainier each year. Plus the water we drink comes from melting snow, so it makes sense to keep the snow as pure as possible.
Peter unabashedly demonstrated how to poo in the blue bag (“We use the direct deposit method, not the scoop method!” which elicited a few laughs). Basically, it’s not like picking up after your dog, it’s capturing the waste in the bag the moment it leaves the body. Then add the used toilet paper to the blue bag, seal it with the provided twist-tie, then put it in the outer clear bag, and use the second twist-tie. The blue bags can be deposited in waste bins at Camp Muir on the way back down.
None of this phased me too much–I had done this a time or two during my deployment to Iraq in 2008-09. I just worried about having privacy, but I would find out that the guides dug little pits, and mounded snow around them, sort of like an open-top igloo that afforded plenty of privacy.
Peter advised us to take at least 3 blue bags–1 for Ingraham Flats, 1 for the summit, and 1 extra. He also recommended adding our own TP to the blue bag, so when nature called, we would just need to grab the bag and go do our business, vs. searching for our separate roll of TP.
Here’s my prepared blue bags (spoiler: I ended up using two of the 3):
My stuff, as organized as I usually am, was everywhere–so I never got a good gear layout photo.
The main aspects of gear for this type of trip (most of the clothing was Outdoor Research–OR):
- Upper body layers, 5-6 items (Smartwool tee, quarter zip, TNF jacket, OR jacket, OR big puffy jacket)
- Lower body layers, 3 items (baselayer, OR mountaineering pants, OR waterproof pants)
- Hands, Head, Feet
- Gloves/mittens–1 pair light gloves, 1 pair medium gloves, 1 pair heavy mittens (I rented the mittens, as they were quite expensive, but bought the other two from Outdoor Research)
- Hats–1 warm hat, 1 ballcap (for me, my Nuun visor, as I’m not a big hat person), and the IMG buff they gave us
- Goggles and glacier glasses (both rented)
- Socks–2 pairs worn, 2 pairs extra. All Smartwool.
- Boots and Gaiters. La Sportiva boots, OR gaiters.
- Climbing Gear (harness, carabiners, helmet, crampons, ice ax, avalanche transceiver, trekking poles)–the helmet, carabiners, and harness were provided at Camp Muir, so we had less things to carry!
- Miscellaneous Gear
- Sleeping (bag, pad, pillow)
- First Aid kit
- Toiletries (toothbrush/paste, contacts, sunscreen, lip sunscreen, hand sanitizer, TP, baby wipes, pee funnel)
- Food/water (2 one-liter Nalgene bottles, water treatment tabs, Nuun electrolytes, snacks, 2 PB&J sandwiches, oatmeal, Mountain House dinners) plus spork and nesting bowl + mug.
- Electronics (iPhone + charging cable, GoPro + spare battery, charging brick, headlamps + spare batteries, ear plugs)
- Trash bags (2 large–1 for keeping gear dry, and 1 spare; 1 gallon size, for food/bathroom trash)
Excess gear removal: I ended up taking out my face protector (from Norway in 2006) and my ninja-clava (the one I tested in Virginia), since IMG provided us with a buff that would do the job of both. I took out the thick mountaineering socks I brought for nighttime, deciding to only bring 2 extra socks (a thinner, liner-type sock, and a thicker hiking sock, both Smartwool), plus the compression socks and hiking socks that I’d wear on day 1. I also removed some of the hand and foot warmers, opting for only 1 package of each (mistake!) Lastly, I removed the water bottle holder, which prevents water from freezing, as Peter said we wouldn’t need it.
I asked if I had too much food, holding up my chock-full gallon size ziploc, and Peter said he wouldn’t bring any less than that. He advised us to bring 16 snacks, of about 200 calories each, one for each break we would take over the next 3 days. This doesn’t take into account breakfast (I brought oatmeal packets), and dinner (Mountain House meals). Back at the hotel later on, I removed about 4 of the snacks, giving Joel 2 and leaving the other 2 behind. I also made 2 PB&J sandwiches, 1 using the strawberry jam we bought yesterday in Port Angeles, and the other using the homemade blackberry jam from breakfast that morning. I brought 18 snacks in total: 2 PB&J’s, Snickers bar, Take 5 bar, 2 Picky Bars, 4 packets of GU, peanut butter crackers, Stroop waffles, dried fruit + nuts, Honey Stinger chews, etc.
And as for one of the most important decisions, layering, we went over my options–I brought several extras like my Army Crew fleece zip up, and my second rain jacket. I would make the final decision on my layers back at the hotel, but Peter advised to bring my purple synthetic North Face jacket as the mid-layer.
Done with gear check, we bid our teammates good-bye for now, and headed over to the Rainier Base Camp Bar & Grill for dinner. We wanted something quick and simple, so I ordered a slice of supreme pizza and a cup of tomato basil soup. Joel got a salad with chicken, plus soup.
We saw Joe and Lisa eating a few tables away, and I thought of maybe inviting them to eat with us, but we barely knew them (yet) and I thought maybe Joel and I would enjoy one final normal meal together, before our 3 days of being on the mountain with our team of 12.
Noticing the many beers on tap, I said, Maybe we can eat here after the climb is over, and have some celebratory beers?
Joel replied, Yes… if we make it to the summit.
Right… if we don’t make the summit, then we won’t be celebrating quite as much. I told him, for me, just making it halfway (to Camp Muir) would be an accomplishment–after all, 5,000 feet gain in one day is probably more than I’d ever done. For reference, the total for our 4 days on the Pacific Crest Trail was 7,657 feet. At the time, I felt like that was A LOT–and it was spread over 4 days!! The other reference mountain I had was Mount Mitchell, at 4,000 ft gain, and I remembered how much that made my legs burn.
I ate my soup and pizza slowly, cautiously, not wanting to have any kind of upset tummy for our first day.
We finished, stopped by the post office so I could mail some postcards, and headed back to the hotel for our final night in civilization for 3 days. We needed to get everything packed and ready.
I needed to dry out my tent from Kalaloch campground, so we hung it over some chairs on the porch. We also had to pack everything non-climbing, as it would all sit in the rental car while we climbed.
I debated about my layers, finally deciding on 6 layers (Smartwool T-shirt, Smartwool 1/4 zip base layer, TNF purple jacket, OR light puffy jacket, OR big puffy down jacket, hardshell TNF rain jacket). The most I ended up wearing was 5 layers, everything but the rain jacket, while at the summit.
The one regret I have about my layering system, in hindsight, is that I didn’t understand just how HOT the mountain would be during the day, with the sun shining! I wore my midweight Smartwool 1/4 zip (with a Smartwool T-shirt underneath! At least they breathe well) and I should have had a lighter synthetic base layer, as it got really, really warm while moving in the daytime. I would have opted for just a T-shirt, but with the blazing sun (and spiky gear like crampons), the long sleeve was necessary.
Finally, I had everything stuffed into my backpack–it didn’t fit as neatly or snuggly as I would have liked, due to not using the outer pockets for water bottles (if things like water bottles fall out of the backpack on the high mountain, where it’s steep, they become “missiles”–very dangerous, so our guides told us to put all gear inside the backpack). The only things I needed to remember in the morning were my toothpaste tube, and my phone charger.
Using my luggage scale, I found that my bag weighed 30.4 lbs (minus phone and GoPro)–I had hoped for under 35 lbs, so carrying about 31 lbs made me “pleased as punch.” 🙂 I knew I could confidently carry 31 pounds without too much struggle.
Here’s what it looked like fully loaded the next day:
I needed to make a decision on whether or not to take Diamox–to prevent altitude sickness, but it’s also a diuretic. I decided to go for it, and took 1 pill (and would thereafter take 4 more, every 12 hours).
We went to bed early, around 9 PM, and I tossed and turned a bit, woke up around midnight needing to pee like crazy (the Diamox worked).
Tomorrow, we begin our climb!