Climbing Mt. Rainier
Jondolar's Successful Assault in 1986
His body was racked with pain throughout every inch of it as he labored to lift one leg and put his foot out in front of him. His lungs burned with every breath; taking four breaths for each step he took. At the same time, he had to be sure to lift his his arm with the ice axe in its hand and make sure it was properly set in the hillside of ice and snow in front of him to maintain his balance. The combination of thin air at 12,000 feet, the darkness pierced only by the lamp on his head illuminating wherever his head turned, made the experience one he'd never forget and wonder if this living nightmare would ever end.
The teacher of the fifth grade class was letting his students out the door at the end of another day. The weather outside was still cool, but that was normal for March in the Pacific Northwest. Ryan was a the blond - almost toeheaded - student who always had a smile and positive attitude. He stopped to talk to his teacher before leaving the room.
"My dad would like to talk to you about something." Ryan said.
"Oh yea? What's that?" asked Jondolar.
"I don't know, he just said he wanted to talk to you sometime soon." replied Ryan.
"Alright, I'll give him a call this afternoon." said Jondolar.
As Jondolar hung up the phone, his thoughts raced about what he'd just been told. Meeting at the friend of this parent's house that evening confirmed what he thought he'd heard over the phone; a group of guys from a couple of assembly plants in the area were going to begin preparing for an assault on Mt. Rainier, and he was invited along because he'd gotten the attention of Ryan's dad who was a mountain climber and runner. Plans were discussed and equipment lists were distributed to everyone in the group.
The climbing party assembled in the parking lot of the Paradise Lodge after smaller groups had found a place to camp the night before. The weather was clear and sunny, but at that elevation the air was still cool in the early morning. Being the day of the summer solstice, or the longest daylight of the year, the sun was alread climbing into the sky from the east and it was only 6:00 AM. Jondolar could already sense the difference this trek would be, compared to the practice trek the group had done the month before. The sumit of Mt. Baker, further north in the state, had been more relaxed and fun. Acquaintences and friendships began to form with members of the group during that practice climb.
The crampons and arrest ropes linking team members together were something which came in very handy as the team slowly made their way up course, lead by our experienced mountainier who was qualified to take us to the summit. Every time Jondolar looked up, it seemed Camp Muir, our first goal for the day's climb, was not getting any closer.
Camp Muir was the stone hut, built by mountaineers decades before, where the guides took groups that our team had dubbed "mule trains" because they went so much slower than our pace. This was where these partys would spend the night before their final assault on the summit the next day. This was where Ryan, and his mom, Margie, stayed for the night before decending to Paradise the next day to wait for us.
Our group's leader chose to take the party about a mile beyond this site, to Ingraham Flats glacier and a large rock face called Gibralter, in order to give it a head start on those "mule trains" to keep from being held up the next day. Once your party found itself behind a slower one, you were stuck there. You could not pass them.
Before heading off beyond Camp Muir, our guide, Doug, gave us all a refresher lesson and asked us to practice again, our ice axe arrest techniques we'd practiced during last month's training climb. It was fun, but at the same time the snow that was sprayed up while doing it seemed to find ways to sneak into your wool socks and get them moist, if not wet; even with "gators" over the tops of the boots.
Arriving at Ingraham Flats glacier by abour 6:00 PM that same day we'd started out, tents were pitched to set up base camp and cook stoves were started to get dinner going. Our view from this side of Mt. Rainier was north, where we could see Mt. Baker, which we'd tackled the month prior, a couple hundred miles in the distance. Doug gathered the whole group together after everyone had finished their dinners and briefed us on the plan for our final assault the next day.
"We'll rope up in two teams; one of six and the other of four. I'll lead the team of six, while Bill (Ryan's dad) will lead the team of four." said Doug.
Pointing at Jondolar and Steve, Bill said, "Steve, you'll be behind me and Jondolar will be next, with Andy bringing up the rear on my team tomorrow."
We looked at each other with a nod and a smile. Suddenly, off from one side, a crashing boulder could be heard from Pyramid Peak, a volcanic structure created by a secondary vent which we could look directly at from our position on the mountainside. It was deteriorating gradually due to its composition of pyroclastic basalt and the extreme weathering it was subjected to each day from temperature fluctuations. Throughout the rest of our time there at base camp, we could hear the occasional boulder smashing as they slid off the peak.
"Jondolar, you'll carry a sleeping bag, this first aid kit and any other gear you feel you need for the summit tomorrow." said Bill.
"Why do I need a sleeping bag at the summit?" I asked.
"If someone gets cold, ill, or worst case, injured, then we'll need to have one to keep them warm in until we can get them down to base camp and then off the mountain." said Doug.
"Got it!" I replied.
By the time everyone in the party got settled into their sleeping bags for some rest, it was only about 8 PM and it was still light outside. Conversations in nearby tents were easily heard, but after a few minutes it got quiet as we lay still trying to fall asleep, but with great anticipation of the next day's assault to come.
Just as I was beginning to feel comfortable and warm, a voice sounded off, "Alright guys, it's time to assemble for our final assault!" I looked at my watch and found it to be 12 mid-night. After getting my boots laced up, I stepped outside to find the clear black sky strewn with brilliant diamonds sparkling in every possible section. Wherever my eyes went, they were spread across the great blackness.
Even though it was pitch black with stars above, the snow white galcier field around us still reflected some light; making it easier to make out the looming mountain above and off to our left. We struck off within a half hour after assembling our arrest line securly around our hips with caribeaners keeping the rope together in front and leading off to in each direction to the climber in front and in back.
I went over in my mind how we'd been taught that, should someone in your party fall, when you heard them yell out, you were to immediately flatten yourself onto the snow and dig in your ice axe. This was intended to create a gripped position that could resist the pull of the fallen member who might have broken through an ice bridge with a cravasse underneath. Because of the snow and ice hiding these hazards, this was always a danger. Hopefully, this wouldn't happen. Jondolar noticed the moon was rising on the eastern horizon. It was a waxing cresent.
For hours on end we pushed on up the 45 degree slope of ice and snow; stopping occasionally to rest, then move on. At about 4 AM the sky behind us to the east slowly began illuminating; dimly at first, then intensely blinding as it rose higher and higher. It was a mixed blessing and curse. We didn't have to rely on our head lamps anymore, but now we had to wear our extra dark goggles to protect our eyes from becoming snow blinded.
Looking off to our right and down the slope of the mountain, we could see massively huge blocks of glacial ice that were ever so slowly breaking apart. These blocks were the size of city blocks, or possibly larger.
We had stopped because our path up the mountain had encountered a small crevasse. Doug, then the rest of his team, could be seen leaping across one at a time. During my turn to leap, I looked down and saw the incredible depth of the small cravasse as I soared over the three foot wide gap. It seemed to be unendingly deep.
After pressing on for what seemed like forever, the slope began leveling off and we could see the rim of the Columbia Crest. Upon reaching the edge of the huge rim, a massive bowl was visible in the center, it circle around for a good mile or more. The diameter across this bowl was at least a half mile or more. Yet, we were still not at the summit. Across the other side of this bowl - the dormant area where the volcano had once spewed its pyroclastic ejections of rock and gas - was a higher peak off to one side. It was here that we had to go for signing our names in the registry that was kept in a metal box.
"What happens once it gets full? I asked of Bill.
"Each year they have someone from Washington State University replace it with a new set of pages and these names go into their archives at the school." replied Bill.
Up a slight rise behind the registry's location was the actual summit. We stood around and took pictures together for several minutes; a strong and chilling wind blowing horizontal past us from the southwest. I reached into my backpack and pulled out the bottle of sparkling grape juice I'd hauled up with me to celebrate this moment, popped the cap and it instantly errupted out of the bottle's neck and onto the snow. "Thar she blows!" Jondolar shouted. The carbonated gases in the liquid expanded instantly due to the differential in lower pressure at 14, 440 feet above sea level. It took only a few seconds for the wind's chill to freeze the foam still on the side of my bottle.
Below us the weather spread over the Puget Sound to our north with sparse cloud cover and fog banks were peppered around the region. Looking to the south we could make out both Mt. St. Helens, with its newly blown off north side glaring at us. To the left was Mt. Adams; looking like a huge ice cream sundae without any hot fudge or cherry on top. After walking across the snow filled bowl to reach the side we were going to decend on, Jondolar found a steam vent next to the rim where snow scarce. It was belching a sulfur smelling steam that felt like a sauna and was big enough in diameter to walk down into if I wanted to. But we had to get back down and it would be too dangerous.
It was 8 AM and Doug announced that we needed to start our decent back to base camp. At first, with the steepness and cravasses, we had to go slowly. We arrived at base camp in two and a half hours. After taking down and packing up our tents, we continued on down to Camp Muir by noon. A lunch break and rehydration from drinks we'd stashed on our way up, we were told by our guide that we were now able to "freestyle" back down the snow field until it ended only a few thousand feet above Paradise. Some of us let gravity and our leg length determine our strides; occasionally crashing and burning in the snow. But it was a welcome release.
We assembled where the trail of rock and dirt began to continue on to the parking lot, but by now, our legs were screaming with every step from the hours of constant pounding of going downhill for so long. When we could see the parking lot Margie and Ryan came up to meet us and offered us some cookies; which we devoured in an instant.
We had done it!
Photos of the Experience
Other Hubs by Jondolar
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- Jondolar's '05 PCT Trek Past Crater Lake
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