Luke Huls and Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt. St. Helens. From Camp Muir.
Story and photos by Eric Chandler Suppose you’re half in the bag at a New Year’s Eve party and your good friend Luke Huls says, “Hey, let’s go climb Mt. Rainier.” I recommend that you say, “Yes.” Even when you’re hung over on Jan. 1, stick to that crazy mid-life crisis plan. Don’t kid yourself. You’ll have to plan ahead. In January, one guide outfit had already sold out for the whole upcoming year. The guide service we chose only had trips left in September. More importantly, you have to prepare to climb a big mountain using technical climbing gear. This requires physical preparation. I skied the American Birkebeiner and ran Grandma’s Marathon earlier that year. That’s good for your motor, but lugging a pack up a big hill requires strength. The guide company gives free training advice at their website and regular email blasts that remind you to go train. While preparing your body, you need to prepare a long list of gear that will get you to the summit in the elements. Again, our 56
guide service had long detailed checklists of what gear you need. I elected to buy my boots, ice axe, and headlamp. Luckily, I already had lots of winter sports clothing. Most everything else I rented from the guide outfit. And courage. (I’m kidding. I had to fake that since they don’t rent bravery.) I spent several months climbing up and down the streets of Duluth with increasing amounts of weight in my pack. This allowed me to break in my boots and get my shoulders used to humping 50 pounds uphill. I asked my buddy Luke how he was training over in the flatlands of Fargo. He emailed me a picture of some bleachers at a football field. Ouch. That’s dedication. Luke and I met up at the Seattle airport in the first week of September 2013. When we arrived we checked into Whittaker’s Bunkhouse and then met up with our guide JJ Justman. He used to race on cross-country skis, so he was okay. Oh, and he’s climbed Mt. Rainier over 200 times. So there’s that. He pulled the group inside one of the buildings and we watched a video that covered what we were about to attempt. Then we made our introductions. There were people
from all over the USA. Next we gathered up our stuff and met up out on the grass. We spread out all of our gear for the equipment check. This was the first time I ever strapped on a pair of crampons. I walked stiffly around in the grass trying not to impale myself. We practiced climbing and crossing aluminum extension ladders since we’d be crossing crevasses on similar ladders. It wasn’t easy. I tried not to think about what it would feel like with a crevasse under the ladder. Luke laughed when he found his toddler’s pajamas in his gear. I told him he should use them as a flag at the summit. Day Two of our four-day adventure was training day. We got into a shuttle bus that had a trailer for our packs. We drove to the Paradise lot inside the national park and swung our heavy packs onto our backs. We hiked to one of the lower snowfields so we could literally learn the ropes. We practiced self-arrests with our ice axes. We learned how to travel with a group when you are all roped up. We learned how to hold the ice axe so you’re instantly ready to hit the deck if someone cries, “Falling!” JJ kept it fun, but
he also made sure you were doing things the right way. It could be serious business, so we paid attention. On Day Three, we awoke to steady rain. Bummer. I put on the rain shell that I rented to keep out the wet. One of the guides had an umbrella. He stayed dry and comfy. I stayed mostly dry, but sweated up a storm inside my jacket. I guess I won’t make fun of umbrellas anymore. We climbed up the same scenic path where we trained and continued to the Muir Snowfield. We trudged up into the wet clouds. We passed some scenic brooks and small waterfalls. With no views to distract me, I had more time to enjoy how the pack straps felt cutting into my shoulders. We finally made it to Camp Muir at around 10,000 feet. By then, we had climbed out of the rain and up into snowfall. Luke and I enjoyed our dehydrated meals and found a place to throw our sleeping bags in the rectangular RMI shelter. There is nothing quite like sleeping in a tiny shack with 20 of your closest sweaty, snoring friends. We went to bed at around 5 p.m. since the following summit day starts bright and early at around 1 a.m. I was just