It was on my Skydive Everest expedition that I got my first glance of the Himalayas and Mount Everest. I was totally in awe of these mountains and knew that one day I would return to climb them.
My journey into the world of mountaineering began with climbing Mount Rainier, a 4392 metre glaciated volcano, south of Seattle. This trip was organised by highly experienced mountaineer Dan Mazur, founder of Summit Climb. Each year Dan runs the ‘Seattle Glacier School’, a one week course teaching basic glacier travel, ice-climbing & rescue skills.
My friend Helena and myself set off with great excitement and anticipation about the adventure which lay ahead. Our excitement was dampened slightly when our Delta Airways flight had to turn around and return to Heathrow because a passenger had a heart attack and was being de-fibbed in the aisle! We had to ditch fuel so we could land and drop the poor chap off! After several hours of staring at the tarmac, we were back on track…almost! We missed our connection to Seattle and had to spend the night in New York. Any fancy ideas of hitting the town in The Big Apple where quickly replaced with a logistical nightmare and a room in a Holiday Inn way out of town!!
When we finally arrived in Seattle the next day, we were spotted a mile away by our fellow course mate, Joe, whom we had never met before. Apparently two English girls, both with North Face duffel bags and outdoor attire was the big giveaway! We hired a big flash motor and drove 1.5hrs south to Olympia, which is where Dan lives.
Dan kindly offerred for us all to camp in his backyard for a couple of nights before heading to the mountain. We spent the next two days getting to know our fellow climbers and guides, preparing our equipment, hiring plastic boots, crampons, ice axes etc.. and buying food for the week. Unfortunately there are NO sherpas on Mount Rainier, so weight was a big consideration. I did decide, however, that I was prepared to carry a little extra weight in order to take a beer up to first camp!
By the time we had arrived at the mountain, organised permits, packed and repacked our ridiculously heavy back packs, it was early evening when we stepped foot on to the mountain. After a few steps, I quickly felt blisters forming!! This was not a good start… Especially, as it took us 5 hours that evening to reach our first camp! My feet were shot already and we had barely started. This was the first lesson I learnt the hard way – always strap your feet up BEFORE getting blisters. Prevention is better than cure.
So by the time we reached first camp, it was pitch black, I was in foot agony after moving up some pretty steep and loose rocky terrain and I was thirsty!! My can of Heineken was a welcomed friend after setting up camp and feeling pretty tired!
The next day, I woke up early, unzipped the tent and was met with a brilliant blue sky. It was baking hot and there I was top-to-toe in thermals! It was disorientating having arrived at the camp in the dark, so I was able to get my bearings and see the stunning scenery around me.
After a chilled out start to the day, keeping hydrated and having snow balls fights, we cracked on in the afternoon with learning how to self arrest (stop yourself when falling with your ice axe) whilst plummeting head first down the mountain and learning how to set up anchors. Our guide showed us how to rappel off my leatherman multi-tool buried in the snow…brave effort but it did hold! We then learnt about basic glacier travel, being roped together in teams of 5 and moving efficiently as one rope team, using crampons and ice axes to move over the terrain. I have to say, the idea of being roped together slightly freaked me out, as I kept thinking on one hand it could save my life and on the other if you were roped to a bunch of monkeys it could pull you clean off the mountain!
The next day was a big day. We moved from first camp up to Camp Muir. It took us all day with heavy backpacks back on! We were able to ditch some of our weight by stashing anything we didn’t want in a big hole and collecting it on the way back down. I liked this option and ended up ditching half of my stuff! It was a steady hike up to Camp Muir, with a 2.9 mile elevation on first camp.
We spent the following day learning about rappelling in and prussicking out of a crevasse and got to put our team rope skills in place as we moved into glacier territory. There was an excitement in the air as that night at 10pm we were making our summit bid. I melted three litres of snow to take to the summit and tried to sleep for a few hours beforehand. It always feels odd to me to go to sleep and wake up the same evening! At 10pm, we got our boots and crampons on, ice axe firmly in place and roped up, in our teams. Helena and I felt very fortunate to have two Everest summiteers at each end of our rope. It made me laugh to think they probably had the ‘being roped to a bunch of monkeys’ thought themselves!!
At 11pm we headed out of Camp Muir, with just the light from our head torches guiding us. We moved over rocky terrain, which was a bit awkward at times with crampons on and over glaciers. It was pretty freaky having to jump over crevasses at times, which were DEEP! We climbed through the night under an amazing starry sky and saw the sun rise at 4.30am. It was tough in places to move over the steep and sometimes exposed terrain but Helena and I both felt strong and full of energy! I found myself side-stepping up some of the steep icy sections, making extra sure that with each step my crampons were firmly secured in place!
We summited at 9am! WOW! And thought it was appropriate behaviour to ‘strike a pose’!!
I had no idea it was going to take so long to get from Camp Muir to the Summit! It was an amazing feeling of accomplishment to reach the summit but I kept thinking, you are only half way and it’s a long walk down still! After an hour on the summit we started the long journey back DOWN!
We reached Camp Muir at 5.30pm, feeling pretty good, strangely awake but a little jaded after 18.5hrs on the go and it wasn’t over yet. After chilling out for an hour and enjoying a cup of hot chocolate we packed away our tent and backpacks and had a further three hour hike back down the mountain. We made it to the pub at the bottom for last orders! A pint of Budweiser never tasted so good! So after not washing for five days I was pretty OK with stinking but was looking forward to a shower. It was not until we got back to Dan’s the following day, that we had this privilege.
An all round epic trip… I met some really great people and loved every minute of being on the mountain.
A huge thanks to Dan and Summit Climb and everyone else for making it such a great trip. It was well organised, fun and a great platform for learning about basic mountaineering.