Let me preface this by saying, if you're reading this, you're an idiot.
That being said, it should also be known that I'm into some whisky as I write this, and I may or may not be wearing women's underwear.
We were four-strong, flying in from all different parts of sunny CA, risking a questionable weather window in the PNW on a hope that Rainier would behave long enough for us to sneak up her backside. Spirits were oh-so-high as we gathered in Portland, stopping only to grab some fuel and last minute rations before we turned the rented Dodge north towards Mt. Rainier.
Let's meet the team:
You can imagine the conversation that spanned the 3.5 hour drive up to White River Campground. We talked of communal lodging with terrible bathrooms housing shared soap that seemed to magically grow over time as more skin cells and dirt were added. We spoke of stashing a small baby (with or without blisters) in your pants pocket to show to women in hopes of impressing them. We touched on this Yoga-pants trend and how it has changed our lives in many different ways. We whispered of weather forecasts, hoping the predicted possible snow and such would find another place while we made our way up. White River Campground was officially closed, so we set tents near the river as the dusk settled in - sunset was fairly late this far north, but we scrounged up some ZZZs nonetheless.
Morning brought shared coffee in the parking lot with a gent from Montana, permits and checklists at the ranger station up the road, and shorts if you brought em. Starting around 4600 feet, temps were a little warm, and the weather was suspect as we headed up the trail towards Glacier Basin. In light of the conditions we were experiencing, we decided to stash some extra clothing and Ted’s approach shoes in the snow at GB; an ancient and fat Marmot watched us bury it, likely plotting to dig it up the instant we were out of sight. Salty leather? Oh yes. We hurried up the exposed dirt ribs to the steep snow leading to St. Elmos Pass. After a sheltered lunch in the rock at the top of the pass, we headed down onto the Winthrop and began the traverse to Curtis Ridge.
Visibility was a little here and there, clouds and snow would roll in, and then break for some sections of sunny visibility. We got a little too far west in some crevasses on the Winthrop at one point, but found our way without traversing too high to a couple decent sandy/rocky spots for the tents. The carbon glacier looked nasty across and below, but what we could see of Liberty Ridge gave us hope. High-calorie food was consumed, and after several rounds of brewing tea, we hit the sack – dreaming of rockfall and beautiful women. Not long after we zipped up the tents, we heard/felt an enormous slide come off the mountain, most likely from the Liberty Wall. It seemed like the ground shook, and the duration of the slide was pretty long. Pleasant dreams, climbers!
Tents packed and breakfast eaten, we headed down from 7200 to the Carbon a little later than I would have liked. We could see a decent way to the toe of the ridge from the western portion of the glacier, so we climbed over the dirty broken edge of the Carbon and started our traverse, heading toward the obvious weakness in the jumbled mess of seracs and openings in the ice.
Snow was in excellent shape, and even in the very early hours the sun made itself known, bouncing off and up and around, slow-cooking exposed skin. We made great progress, and soon were resting on a large flat area not far from the schrund below the steep snow slopes heading up to Thumb Rock from the west side. Snow bridges had been solid up to this point, but that wasn’t our only concern.
Winding around several more openings in the glacier, we paused for a moment before heading across the last few and starting up the slope. We could see rocks coming down here and there, focused for the most part in one region of the slope. Discussing our plan to move fast and have one set of eyes uphill at all times, we heard an enormous crack as a serac dislodged from high on the Liberty Wall, pounding down the slope thousands of feet above, smashing itself and its path to pieces – river of ice/snow/rock flowing over cliff band towards our position.
“Hey, is that coming our way?”
We watched it come like fools, and when it occurred to us that we were indeed in the line of fire and it wasn’t slowing down, we frantically ran east towards the ridge. I kicked a couple holes in my left calf with the ole crampons, and as we ran we looked back – the cloud of ice particles engulfed us as to say “almost got you, bitches”. Only later would we realize how lucky we were – from above you could see trails of avalanche debris stretching several hundred meters onto the Carbon beyond our position. Had we run into a mass that large coming down, I probably wouldn’t be typing this…or thinking about Beyonce.
We collected our gear and our senses, and hurried across the final couple snow bridges to the slope above, traversing right towards the seracs and away from the rock on the ridge that was releasing bombs intermittently. A few close calls with toaster-sized rocks, and several thousand high-dagger placements later, we were at camp above Thumb Rock, stopping only once in the shade of the overhanging rock higher up to rest.
We had plenty of time to rest and get used to the thinner air at 10500, so we prettied up the tent platforms and hydrated. Small slides came down from time to time around us, but nothing big like earlier that morning, or the monster we heard in the night. Alarm set for 1 am, slight ache in the shoulders and back foreshadowed the treats to come the next day.
I woke up at 1 with the beepbeepbeep – Casey announced he hadn’t slept at all (hi five!) and we set about packing up the camp and strapped on the crampons. We headed up the firm snow on the east side of the ridge, the heavy packs weighing on us as we plodded in the dark up toward the Black Pyramid. Conditions were good, and the route was pretty straight forward, weaving slightly through rock bands and around a sketchy traverse over loose rock before we were on the base of the long snow/ice incline above and east of the Black Pyramid.
We hadn’t had the rope on since the start of the ridge-proper, and were hoping to get as much under us before we had to tie in. There were pitches of alpine ice above us, but we stayed on the firm snow as much as possible to enable us to move more quickly. Even as we tied in farther up, it was all simul except the short berg pitch – 4 guys with heavy packs tied into a 8.5mm rope? Safety first! I found an ice axe on my lead in the lower pitches, the bergschrund was an easy lead with great ice, and Tanner had the spiciest bit on the ice leading us up the steeper center wall just below Liberty Cap.
The true summit was in sight, but we had some issues to deal with that required a decision. We were pretty tired, the wind was knocking us around quite a bit, clouds were building up and rolling in, and the glorious solar halo was perched high above the mountain. We made the call to beeline it for the Emmons glacier and skip going any higher.
You could see stacked up lenticular clouds off to the southwest, and our visibility came and went as we quickly descended. I was waiting for it to go away for good, but luckily that point never came. We were loopy and dehydrated, but we made our way down to the big snowfield just above Camp Sherman for some rest and to brew up. We had climbed almost 4000 ft just that day, and had descended almost 5000, with another 5000 to go to the car. Boys were tired for sure.
After a brief chat with a couple/three guys near the ranger hut at 9600, we headed back towards Glacier Basin, chasing a helium balloon along the way and enjoying a nice glissade once we were out of crevasse danger. Our gear stash turned out to be Marmot-damage-free, and we noticed a significant amount of snow had melted since we passed through a couple days ago. Our skin was fried by the sun, and I imagine the lower elevations were getting roasted as well, melting the white and exposing many downed trees that were buried before (avi?) Our energy levels were low and back pain levels were high, but we made it to the parking lot for some chats with local climbers before bailing out. We decided to drive north and found a nice stream to throw the tents down next to, exhausted but satisfied with our efforts. Many ZZZs were had as the water gurgled over the fallen logs near our camp.
Readers Digest on Hood:
Tanner and I decided we wanted another route before going home. Casey and Ted decided to be normal human beings and sleep during the night. We finished the LR on Saturday, and Sunday evening we were chugging up the forest road towards the Cloud Cap Inn at 5900 feet to start our hike in. Wait. The gate is locked at 3800 ft…frickin great. We quickly decided the extra miles and 2100 feet of gain would be worth it, so Tanner and I quickly sorted our gear and tanked up with as much water as we thought necessary. The rest would go on our backs. Casey and Ted cleaned up our mess as we headed off into the forest, our tired legs looking forward to schlepping up the 7400 feet to the top. Watches read 930 pm.
We hurried up through the scorched standing trees and white flowers in the moonlight, a hooting owl rooting for us as we sweat due to the pace. As we crested the treeline on the Cooper Spur, we found snow and the way down to the Elliot glacier. Harness and rope was applied, and we made good time up and across the alternating snow and rock to where we though the slog to snow dome began. After an eternity, we were on top of snow dome, and could barely make out the north side of Hood with the Elliot headwall on the western upper portion.
Sketchy bridge after bridge was crossed, and as our vision improved, I could see the evidence of the rock above all over the ice and snow below. Didn’t look good, but after some brief discussion, I agreed to do it if Tanner lead the pitches through the rockfall zone. I would have turned back if it was up to me, but I’m glad he convinced me to continue. We spaced out the pro as we traversed over to the chute that looked the most promising.
Watching for rock as we went, the ice proved to be great for tools and screws. After a few pitches, we simuled back across the headwall towards the summit, passing under a nasty gully that spit rocks at me as I rushed past. A beautiful arête of snow lead up past sulfurous fumes to the small summit cornice.
We were tired and elated, the wind blasting us as we packed the rope and screws and made our way down the boot-trench towards the south side in the clouds. The slog down to the lodge was never-ending, and I talked trash to the guys on the ski-lift line for no good reason.
“YOU’RE SOOOOOO LAZY!!!!!”
Later we’d see a blind man crossing the street in Portland while we were enjoying a good beer at Deschutes…reinforces how lucky we are to have all the abilities we currently possess – allowing us to climb such beautiful mountains. Life is good.
[all photos with fisheye distortion by Tanner, otherwise by me]