Ski Mountaineering

Skiing Mount Rainier

May 24-28, 1991

Nancy Gordon, Bill Lingle and Sherrie Serna

Friday, May 24: Arrived at the Van Nuys Flyaway at 3:24 PM. The parking lot was barricaded with a policeman in front and a "FULL" sign posted. I pleaded with the policeman to enter; I could see cars leaving the lot due to a recent bus arrival. Finally, he consented after my blood pressure rose 20 points. I had as much luggage (sans food and fuel) as I had for 26 days on Denali! I purchased two tickets for the 4 PM bus. Bill Lingle arrived minutes after me. The traffic on the San Diego Freeway was exasperating, and there were times we thought we might not make our 6 PM Alaska Airline flight to Seattle. We made good use of our time by tying orange plastic tape to 48 bamboo wands. LAX: We checked our skis and luggage curbside and got our boarding passes with 10 minutes to spare. During the 2 In. hour flight, we reviewed crevasse rescue and discussed Denali. Bill and Sherrie are scheduled to climb it this June. Sherrie Serna flew to Seattle from San Francisco. We met as we gathered all the luggage and got the rental car, a Ford Taurus with a ski rack. The only stop we needed to make enroute to the campground in Rainier National Park was to buy white gas for the stove. Since it was raining when we arrived at the campground, we re- treated to the inn at Longmire. We could not rouse anyone at the desk at 12:30 AM, so we used our sleeping bags in the lounge area that still had a small fire going in its large fireplace.

Saturday, May 25: Up at 5:15 AM and glad to be warm and dry. We headed for the Paradise Ranger Station. The ranger was thorough in his briefmg and helpful with our questions. Although Bill and I were aware of a recent death on our chosen route, we were glad that he didn't mention it. At the Paradise parking lot (5,400'), it was 20 degrees, winds were blowing 15-20 MPH, snQw4!g, and visibility was not good. We were going to Camp Muir (10,080') via Panorama Point (7,000'), then continuing left of the rocks which are left of Paradise Glacier to the Muir Snowfield. The ranger supplied us with a navigation map with compass bearings (both true and magnetic). By the time we got packs and ourselves ready, we didn't leave until 10 AM. We stepped into our ski bindings right where the trail meets the parking lot. The snow level was down to 4,000'. Just before Panorama Point, we took off our skis just for a short steep section of the climb. There was very little visibility . We trudged and trudged. My thoughts were mostly of the weather and whether we would even get a chance to climb the following day. We reached the Camp Muir at 5:30 PM. There were 3 spots still available in the public hut which we grabbed even though we had a Northface VE-24 tent with us. The weather was still "iffy," and we felt safer in the hut. There were 18-20 people in the hut and 15 or so tents outside. The large stone public shelter has two long wood shelves or tiers where you lay a pad and your sleeping bag sardine style. The shelter has a shelf for stoves and cooking and a snow-covered floor. There was only one of the chemical toilets available to the more than 50 climbers not using RMI guide services and that one was in pitiful condition. Climbers talked about 12 AM wake-ups. The weather forecast was for a cold, clear day Sunday.

Sunday, May 26: Climbers were getting up at all hours after midnight. The route hadn't been punched out yet, and we could see no advantage crossing the Cowlitz Glacier known for crevasses when we couldn't see where we were going. Besides, we were tired and needed some rest for a long day of climbing. We started moving at 4:30 AM, but didn't actually start hiking until 6:15AM, as one of the first Rainier Mountaineering InStitute groups were returning to Camp Muir because of "climbing difficulties," which turned out to be due to inexperienced group members rather than the route itself. We roped up right at Camp Muir as we traversed the Cowlitz Glacier to Cathedral Rock and then did the Ingraham Direct route. The Cowlitz Glacier has basaltic side walls that would pose possible rockfall hazard on our return. The Ingraham Glacier flows down the east slope of Mount Rainier between Gibraltar and Cathedral Rocks which are on the southwest and Disappointment Cleaver and Little Tahoma which are on the northeast. We soon passed a group that had left Camp Muir at 4:30AM. Various groups were turning back, mostly because someone wasn't feeling well. Bill led our rope team at an excellent steady pace. The weather was cold and breezy, but clear until we got within 1,000' the crater rim when the lenticular descended creating some anxiety mixed with iron-willed determination to continue the climb. At 2 PM, we arrived at the East crater rim (about 14,000') where visibility had deteriorated to about 10 feet. Some day I will getto see what the Columbia Crest(14,410") looks like; this younger of the three summits consists of a crater that has a circular rim where the edge of the rim overlooking the Emmons Glacier is canted about 300 feet lower than Columbia Crest. It is about 1/4 mile across and is filled in with snow andice. PointSuccess( 14,158') and Liberty Cap (14,112') are the other "summits" of Mount Rainier. Our down climb was uneventful since we had wanded the upper part of the route and the weather improved when we got below 12,500'- Since the weather stayed cold and breezy throughout the day, the crevasses and snow bridges remained in excellent shape. There was minor rockfall on the Cowlitz Glacier which provided us with enough angst to hustle our weary bodies those last 300 meters or so to the safety of Camp Muir by 5:30PM.

Monday, May 28: By7 AM, we had packed up and started a most remarkable ski down to the Paradise Valley parking lot - 4 miles and 4,500 feet. Even at a leisurely pace, with several breaks to take in the remarkable scenery and regroup, we made it to the car in 1 1/2 hours. Later, I found out that, in the 1930's, People used to race from Camp Muir to Paradise Valley, an event that was heralded as the "wildest annual ski race on the North American continent." Any one game? We hadn't allowed enough time for holiday traffic to get to the airport on time; Bill and I missed our flight to LA by 3 minutes. Alaska Airlines was most accommodating getting us on a later flight. What a whirlwind trip- glorious, successful, challenging, and fun!

Reporter: Nancy Gordon

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