multisport fun | rainier attempt via ingraham direct
April 26, 2021
15 mi . 8200 ft gain . 13400 ft high
In my mind, a true alpinist is versed (enough) in various mountain sports. Not clinging to a single activity, but one who enjoys variety. You do not have to excel at any one activity, but competent enough to do it safely. This adventure is yet another one of those alpine ventures – pack as much in as possible. Spoiler: Kylie and I have way more success with day trips than overnight trips. Originally, we planned to do the Emmons route in 4 days by skinning up the Sunrise Road and taking it easy to ensure a higher chance of summiting. But then we saw the weather forecast and that pushed us to a 2-day window before the clouds rolled in. So we switched to the Disappointment Cleaver (DC) route which starts at Paradise. Since paradise starts around 5000 ft, we’d have less elevation to gain overall.
The night before, we slept in our cars at Longmire since it tends to be less windy than by Paradise. In the spring, the Longmire gate may remain open if sunny days are forecasted. Otherwise, they’re only open around 9am-5pm so they can clear the roads properly if it’s snowed. Check out the Rainier NPS twitter for current conditions.
Pro tip: Park your car near the Longmire Museum for wifi. There isn’t cell service in the park from the entrance to just before reaching Paradise.
And so, with some 40 lbs on my pack, we put on our skis and started skinning up to Camp Muir. I realize that I should be investing in lighter gear because that weight truly weighs me down. Little by little we skinned up to reach beyond the cloud inversion layer. Usually this happens right around Panorama Point, where most people opt to go up. It’s the steepest part of any route from Paradise to Muir. You can skin up or boot, depending which is faster for you. I ended up booting half of it because I got quite a bit slower on skis.
Knoll after knoll, we skinned up. It seems that every time I’ve come to Camp Muir (this would be the 5th time), I think I’m in such good shape. But each time, I truly do feel defeated. I suppose it is the altitude, reaching 8000 ft, I slowly start to feel the effects, each step is a bit harder than the one before. And even when you finally see the camp, the final stretch is still several hundred feet of gain.
Eventually I reached Muir, after many day-hikers/skiers passed me. I’m used to passing people when hiking, so this was a different experience! One of the funniest thing was when Kylie had stopped for a break and I was still a ways below, two other skiers were wondering if they dying person was going to summit. To which Kylie replied we were together. Haha! I must have really looked out of it.
But truly, in the whole 2 days we spent there, it seemed like everyone we spoke to were a bit puzzled by us. They’d ask about how we trained (we didn’t train specifically for this), probably looked at us as two mid-20s females who don’t look like other “mountaineers” who summit Rainier. But this is us! A tad unconventional, but any given adventure is essentially training for the next. Keeping up skills and fitness, we take on whatever adventure we plan for.
At Muir, we debated continuing further to Ingraham Flats where I had last camped or just staying at Muir. We decided on Muir for a few reasons: to carry overnight gear to the flats would take longer than a lighter summit pack; Muir has nicer amenities, like a real bathroom; Muir is more sheltered from the wind and some camp spots were already dug out with walls.
It was also wonderful to talk to the guides there who gave us a little beta. We were prepared to route-find our own way to the summit, but they had already taken a group up the day before and set some wands out for the route. 2 wands meant a turn and 1 wand was just a way point. It’s nice to know you can rely on that too.
We sorted out all our gear and set up camp before starting dinner. Alpine starts are hard enough, so the more we could do now, the faster we could get going in the morning. Namely, we set up our harnesses and rope so we didn’t have to fidget in the dark when we woke up. We figured out the gear we needed and how to split it (i.e. one set of sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove set up). And finally, we were ready for dinner. We both created scrumptious meals from Trader Joe’s!
My meal: Organic Shells and White Cheddar Mac & Cheese with Broccoli Florets (dehydrated) and California Sun-Dried Tomatoes. Super easy to make! Boil the pasta (I use minimal water so I don’t need to strain), making sure you keep stirring to prevent burning. Then add the cheese packet and stir to combine. Top with the broccoli and tomatoes.
Kylie’s meal: Ramen Soup (cup of noodles) with Champignon Mushroom Snack (dehydrated) and Wild Skipjack Tuna (foil packet). Also really easy! Boil water, add ramen contents to your pot and top with the mushrooms and mix in the tuna.
We enjoyed our yummy dinners with views of Adams and Helens floating above the thick immersion layer that never dissipated during the day. And as the sun set over the edge, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. We were happy to be cozy in the tent! Although an hour into trying to sleep at 7pm, we had to get up and fix the vestibule of the tent’s rain fly so it would stop flapping right at the tent. Too lazy to dig out a deadman anchor, we attached the ends to skis, anchoring it with a crampon (Kylie’s genius idea).
We woke up at our 3rd alarm (thank goodness for multiple alarms) and slowly prepared to get going. A bit to munch on, put more layers on, and pack the group gear in our bags. 3:30am and we were on our way towards Ingraham Flats. Since I had done this part of the climb before, I lead our little 2-person team. Slow but steady, we made our way up to the flats, stopping every so often to temperature control our bodies. We hardly followed the wand system since the foot prints were easy enough and made sense to follow. At the Flats, the paths diverged straight up the Ingraham Glacier and towards Disappointment Cleaver. Although we initially wanted to do the DC route since it’s simplest and crosses fewer crevasses, the Ingraham Glacier route (Ingraham Direct; ID) was alluring enough we decided to try it!
Unbeknownst to me, the altitude started to take a toll on me. Kylie noticed that we started going slower, but I thought maybe it was just because the route got steep. I would rejoice with every flat section that traversed between crevasses and would have to pace myself for the uphills. Breathing got quite difficult. At least I could breath deeply, even if I had to force breath more than normal. But it finally caught up to me. Having Kylie lead was a good mental break for me and I think we were able to go faster. But it still wasn’t fast enough and at the painstakingly slow rate I could muster, we wouldn’t have enough time to summit and come down before the storm and clouds rolled in.
So at 13400 feet, 1000 ft shy of Rainier’s summit and past all the ID crevasses, we turned around. This was when we felt most defeated. We had such high hopes and excitement for summiting, but my body said otherwise. We tried to find the route back to the DC, but ended up just backtracking through the crevasses again. It was nice to pass them all to fully appreciate them in the broad sunlight. There were deep and wide crevasses, and ones that were filled in enough to walk across.
We saw 2 teams of 2 come up, but one went back down really quick after a few crevasses up. I think they must have been the group that camped near us (and walked by us as we tried to sleep). The other team were probably a team of guides who were “cleaning up” the route. They did an awesome job because on the way back, we say many solid pickets/protection placed in the snow, plus a ladder to cross a crevasse instead of walking across a narrow snow bridge.
As the sun warmed up the air, we got warmer upon descending. One of our stops, we neglected to pause at a more appropriate flat section and just stayed in the 30 degree slope. That was scary, in terms of taking our packs off and hoping that nothing flew or slid away. Well, until my light gloves decided to detach themselves from my pack. 2 seconds of hope that it would catch on something, but over the edge it went. I bade farewell and came to terms with the loss of the gloves, because for sure it’d slide down into a crevasse. 15 minutes later, I saw a black splotch in the snow next to the foot path. Could it be? Sure enough, my gloves miraculously missed any crevasse and stopped at the most convenient location. It was a joyous reunion.
Continuing to weave between the crevasses, and after enjoying our first time using a ladder, we were back at the Flats. A little sunburnt but fully ready to get off the mountain. The rest of the way back to camp was cruiser and straightforward. We probably took 1.5 hrs to pack and decompress back at camp. At least I could finally breathe normal again! We talked with a few friendly people. One was looking for beta for a summit attempt soon and other told us stories. The best one was a (then) 77 year old lady who climbed Rainier in 1 day! One day ya’ll! And she’s the oldest female who’s climbed Rainier. What an wonder woman! I always aspire to be active in my older years, but to climb Rainier in a day at 77 is something that I would never have dreamed of.
Somehow, our packs felt so much heavier on the way down. Despite having consumed food and water, our packs seemed to have added weight all on its own. We didn’t rush it since we were told the snow wasn’t even soft for the descent. Though better than expected, the snow was on the icier side compared to the soft slush it was the day before. As we descended into the clouds, we stayed close to the boot tracks so we could keep our bearings without having to use the GPS track every 10 seconds. But skiing over deep post holes with a heavy pack is not easy! It was great practice for leaning forward and being extra conscious of how I controlled the skis.
We got below the cloud layer just as we started to approach Panorama Point. The last 2 times I’ve skied down it, we’ve skirted the main face and I’ve always cried internally and took 15 minutes to get down. This time, I faced my fears and went down the main face (less steep actually) and was able to get down successfully! And soon enough we were back at the visitors center, just to have people ask if we had summited. Pretty sure our faces looked beat and tired.
Looking back, it was still an amazing morning spent with the crevasses and next time, I really need to better prepare for the altitude or at least, better acclimate.
The Ingraham Direct route’s crevasses are opening quickly. Although guides are putting up ladders, it probably won’t last too long. Some crevasses you could walk around but some require a small jump to cross.
Views from the Ingraham Glacier are unrivaled (compared to the DC route)
The Muir huts aren’t open due to covid-19, and are emergency use only.
Skiing down the Muir Snowfield is a bit nasty when it hasn’t snowed and there have been many people up and down it already
Turned around due to weather and slow going from altitude sickness