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Climb for Clean Air: Mount Rainier
Every year, the American Lung Association organizes a Climb for Clean Air event to raise
funds to help with the fight for clean air. This year I joined, making this my first
attempt at climbing Mount Rainier and my first attempt to raise nearly $4000 dollars to
support a non-profit.
The ALA training consisted of a series of hikes, starting with an easy jaunt up Rattlesnake
Ledge and culminating in two attempts to reach Camp Muir, at an already lofty 10,200 feet.
The climbers for clean air get quite bit of support from companies like Eddie Bauer and
Whittaker Mountaineering, and Marmot Mountain Works in the form of discounts on
gear. REI provides meeting rooms at no charge. The guides who lead the training outings
are all volunteers, most of them former climbers and fund raisers who want to help the next
group of climbers reach the top of the Mountain.
For our climb we were in Rainier Mountaineering's 4-day program. The first day was orientation
and a gear check. Each of the lead guides went through all of our gear and helped us trim our
pack weights by removing non-essentials while also ensuring that we had everything we would need
for safety and comfort. The showed us maps of the route, and gave us a basic overview of the schedule
and procedures we'd follow.
The second day was training. We went out in the snowfields above Paradise and learned some basic
mountaineering skills, like rest stepping to minimize our exertion on the climb and pressure
breathing to help handle the thin air at high elevation. We practiced hiking while wearing
crampons, self-arresting with ice axes, plunge stepping, and working with ropes.
On climb day we were fortunate to have some cloud cover with only a gentle breeze, helping us to
stay cool as we made the long ascent to Camp Muir, gaining approximately 5000 feet in six miles,
most of it in snow. We practiced rest stepping and pressure breathing in anticipation of the
The clouds cleared during the ascent, letting us see the snow-capped summit that we were all hoping to reach
while we trudged toward Camp Muir.
At Camp Muir, we unpacked our backpacks and claimed bunks. Our guides brought us hot water for dinner, in
addition to plenty of cold water to drink. After our guides explained the morning routine, we tried to sleep,
not easy to do at 10,000 feet at only 6:30 with the bright sun still shining into the small cabin.
Our guides awoke us shortly after midnight, setting off a scramble to eat some food, drink coffee, and get
dressed. In just about one hour we headed to the valley beyond the saddle to meet with the guides, dressed
up in our climbing layers with avalanche beacons, climbing harnesses and helmets and crampons on, ice axes ready.
Roped up, we set off across the Cowlitz Glacier, strings of lights revealing the trail ahead. The route
begins with a gentle contouring route across the glacier, then quickly transitions to steep, rocky switchbacks
to ascend the Cathedral Gap. We took our first break at the Ingraham Flats where a number of climbers had
tents set up, eating and drinking while admiring the shimmering aurora on the northern horizon.
After 10 minutes we got back on our feet and started trekking once again, across the Ingraham Glacier and
onto the Disappointment Cleaver, the steepest section of the climb. It was a rocky and arduous ascent, but
the view of the crescent moon enveloped within the aurora, picking out the silhouette of Little Tahoma
was enough to make it worth the effort.
We started seeing the sun as we trekked from the top of the Cleaver to High Break, revealing a blanket of
clouds below us. As we climbed the colors transitioned from the red-gold of early morning to a delicate
pink, highlighting massive Mount Adams and pointed Mount Hood to the south, against the blue of the early
Onward, we continued to switchback up the glacier to the crater rim. Walking through the rim into the
crater was almost anti-climatic because the rim obscured the view, but the feeling of being in the crater
was overwhelming. We'd done it... reached the summit of the great Mount Rainier.
The descent was every bit as incredible as the climb, because now by light of day, we could see the epic
vistas around us. I wished constantly that I could stop to pull out my camera, because these are views of
Mount Rainier that are not available from anywhere else, looking down at Little Tahoma, and down at heavily
crevassed glaciers ringed by massive ridges.
The trip back down from Camp Muir to Paradise was a quad-burner, five miles of plunge-stepping through the
soft snow to Pebble Creek, where the snow was thin enough to require actual walking.