Want to climb something made of fire and ice? Mount Rainier in Washington state is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, and yet it is also covered in a considerable amount of glacial ice. As one of the tallest and iciest climbs in the lower 48 states, this one isn’t for beginners.
I was sitting in a bunk in a small shack up at 10,000 ft on Mount Rainier. My climbing guide was telling a story about how his climbing partner had written a book about the two of them climbing Everest together and finding the body of a climber friend of theirs. To my left was an FBI agent who looked and acted exactly like the main character from Alias. Next to her was a Boston marathoner who also happened to speak five languages. To my right was another guide who had climbed the Seven Summits (most of them multiple times) and had just returned from climbing Vinson Massif in Antarctica. I was completely out of my element.
I always have at least one life list item planned out (event ticket, hostel and travel) before completing my next list item. This way, I keep myself in a productivity loop. For Mount Rainier, this required planning six months in advance. Even still, I ended up getting the very last spot available for the climbing season from any of the three major climbing companies on the mountain. I emailed the required forms (“you may die and it is not our fault”) and moved it to the back of my mind. “I’ll let future Danny worry about it, that guy is a sucker”.
It was for all intents and purposes the first day of summer weather in Seattle (It was also mid-August). I drove out of the city and could see the mountain from 60 miles away. It loomed in the distance smirking at me, “I am lot bigger than you remember, aren’t I?” I arrived at Base Camp two hours later and listened to the owner of the climbing company explain again that we might die.
We woke up early the next morning and started our ascent up to Camp Muir, the launching base for the summit attempt. “If you feel tired after this climb, that is normal.” It was only about 4 miles but was both entirely snow and ice, and had an elevation gain of 4,500 ft. For those unfamiliar with mountaineering, this isn’t super difficult but it is a slow process. We put on our gear (a bit over 50 pounds) and started the climb. It took us about 4.5 hours. We arrived at the top with slightly less air and cooked up our dehydrated noodles. The next day would be spent doing more training so we could get used to the 10,000 elevation. We went to sleep at 6:00 PM in small tents and half slept as we listened to sounds of the mountain around us.
The climb was broken down into approximately hour long stints of climbing separated by 15 minute breaks. After the first break the sun started to show itself a little bit and the wind started to pick up. The mountain was starting to wake up and wasn’t happy to see a group of too-cool-for-school chumps trying to reach it’s summit. The temperature was about the 10 degrees F but the wind chill felt like negative 50. It was for this reason that the breaks were limited to 15 minutes.