After a bit of driving around, I picked up all three climbers from different locations around Seattle and made for Ashford, a small town just outside of Mount Rainier National Park. The diverse team included Dax, a geologist from Seattle; Peter, a scientist from Washington D.C.; and Virginia, a radiologist from Auburn.
Each of the climbers on the trip had already completed a fair bit of training ahead of time. Dax took a variety of courses over the years, the most recent of which was our Alpine Ice Course. Peter climbed in the Alps and on Mount Shuksan and Virginia completed all three parts of our Alpine Leadership series. It was a very skilled team.
Once we arrived in Ashford, we met the other guide for the trip, Dawn Glanc, and the camera people, Nick and Robert. Dawn has been guiding for six years and is slowly working her way up the climbing sponsorship food chain. She is currently sponsored by Mountain Hardwear and is being courted by a number of other companies. She's no small potato, she's on the cover of Alpinist magazine this month. And lastly, Nick and Robert were both Northwest climbers and filmmakers.
Once the team was all together, we went through a thorough gear check and got everything together for the start of our ascent.
On the first day we hiked up to the base of the Nisqually glacier, made camp and reviewed some snow and ice climbing techniques. The filmmakers set-up their camera and went to work filming us while we went to work teaching. Both Dawn and I did our best to avoid stuttering or stammering as we taught in front of the camera. Both of us believe that we did a good job. I guess we'll have to see once they edit it together. Who knows, they can do a lot with footage. For all I know, they're going to make it look like Dawn voted me off the mountain...
We broke camp and made our way up to high camp. This was a difficult leg of the climb. We moved full packs up the mountain nearly 4000 feet under a searingly bright and hot sun.
At one point on the ascent, I attempted to chop a step in some hard glacier ice. Surprisingly, the adze of my ice axe bent completely over. Though the ice axe still worked, that particular tool had been on a lot of mountains with me. It was a sad moment in my climbing career. But it was only a moment, we still had a lot of mountain to climb with or without my nostalgia.
Peter and Dax working up toward high camp.
The author leading up a short rock pitch on the way to high camp.
Photo by Peter Kaskan
Unfortunately, Virginia and Dawn were forced to turn back at the rappel. Virginia was a trooper and an absolutely wonderful team member, but it wasn't in the cards for her that day. We have no doubt that the mountain will give her another chance in the future.
The upper mountain -- of course -- had other ideas. What looked like easy French technique terrain, turned out to be steep and physical penitentes. Penitentes are snow or ice fins that stick out of the glacier late in the season. They are beautiful objects and give the mountain a lot of character, but they definitely require a tremendous of energy to climb through.
As we worked our way slowly toward the top, Peter asked for some help. "Jason, I need a little psych. Can you give me a little psych to motivate me?"
"Only a few hundred feet left," I responded. "We're going to make it. Only a few hundred more feet...a few hundred feet to the glory," I smiled.
The last few minutes to the summit were difficult, but both Dax and Peter held on. When they finally pulled up onto the highest point in the Pacific Northwest, there was no longer a deficit in psych...
--Jason D. Martin