Turning 50 is a milestone that stirs something inside you to get up off your ass and do something of importance, or at least challenge yourself to prove that you still have what it takes. At the very least it’s a good idea to simply mark the milestone and ensure that the day is more meaningful than all the rest. Personally, for me, it was a little of each of these and more. When I turned 40 I celebrated by climbing Mount Rainier for the first time and I vowed to go back for my 50th and repeat it. That day came in mid-August and I decided to take my 16-year-old son along for the ride.
At 14,411ft, Mount Rainier makes its own weather.
Mount Rainier is the second highest peak in the contiguous US after Mount Whitney in California which is taller by just 29 meters or 95ft. Having climbed Mount Whitney previously I can tell you that even though it is taller there is no comparison with Mount Rainier. For one, Mount Whitney is a simple hike with no exposure or glaciated terrain, Mount Rainier, on the other hand, is a training ground for Mount Everest wanna-be’s given that it is the most heavily glaciated mountain in the lower 48 states.
Mount Rainier, also goes by the name of Tahoma or Tacoma and is an active stratovolcano which is located 59 miles southeast of Seattle Washington, in Mount Rainier National Park. The mountain is guided by several companies so the route to the summit is flagged but still requires glacier travel experience and crevasse rescue training. With over 50% of those who attempt to reach the summit unsuccessful, it’s a mountain that takes physical training and dedication.
With packs fully loaded and ready to climb we left the Paradise parking lot at the non-alpine start time of 11:00 am which gave Mother Nature a chance to get her act in gear and clear away the valley cloud that had been choking low lands since the previous day. After 3.5 hours we’d covered the 4,800ft climb to Camp Muir and set to work erecting our tent for the very brief night’s sleep to come. Camp Muir is the cobbled-together halfway point of Mount Rainier that consists of a few shelters, biffies and not much else. After digging out a safe location on the snow for our tent, melting snow for drinking water and cooking up a dinner-in-a-bag, we set about getting ready for bed—at 7:00 pm. This much earlier than usual bedtime is a requirement on Mount Rainier as most people get up between 10:30 and midnight to set out on their summit bid. Knowing we’d be faster than most we decided to bank a few more z’s and slumber until the leisurely hour of 2:00 am.
When we left camp the sky was cloudless and the large 1/2 moon high in the sky was reflecting off the snow and illuminating the entire mountain. We crossed the Cowlitz Glacier and ascended Cathedral Gap in the distance. After crossing Ingram Flats and navigating the sphincter restricting ‘Bowling Alley’ which was littered with fallen seracs the size of Volkswagen Beetles we reached the relative safety of Disappointment Cleaver. Here we transitioned from ice to rock and short roped up the trail braided face in the dark reading the mountain’s features like brail.
This is one climb that any serious mountaineer has to attempt but if you are a weekend warrior don't be fooled into thinking you can't do it. Get your fitness level up and then hire a guide service to lead you safely to the summit and back. With fees in the $1,000- $1,500US price range, anyone can do it. If you prefer to go it alone without a guide be sure you have plenty of glacier travel experience and crevasse rescue training as this is not a walk in the park.
Climbing Permit: Adult $50US / Under 25 $35US
Guided: $1,163 - $1,734US
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