the most extragavently beautiful
of all the alpine gardens
I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.
~ John Muir, conservationist, 1889
For me - the decision to climb Mount Rainier is one of those few choices that I still remember where I was and what I was doing when I reached that decision.
Back in January of 2008, I went on what I still refer to as my Escape from Life Vacation. All of the constants in my life were in upheaval because of some decisions (funny how one leads to another) that were made and I was left with the beginnings of a wandering feeling.
I was continuing the inner-questioning that I had been doing for a couple of months. The people I once knew as friends had new words for me and I started to realize and believe that I didn't have any friends of my own. The only significant constant reliable thing that I had in my life was work.
During this time of self reflection, and a bit of self pity and loathing, one of my friends, quite possibly my sole remaining one, talked me into leaving Tacoma for San Diego and I would be able to stay as long as I wanted.
While staying in San Diego, I had no distractions from my Tacoma life. It was just me, the ocean, my running shoes, and a pile of books.
One of these books was by a local climber named Ed Viesturs. It was called No Shortcuts to the Top and documented his attempts at being the first person to climb the world's 14 highest peaks without the use of supplemental oxygen. I first heard about him on the radio one morning and filed his story away in the back of mind. One day before my trip to San Diego, the same radio show was playing a repeat clip of that first segment, so I decided to seek out his book and bring it with me on my trip. I imagined that there was going to be plenty of time to read on this vacation.
I started the book on January 23rd, 2008. And what I remember about this book is how Viesturs got his start - by looking out his window one day and seeing Mount Rainier off in the distance.
Now, at this point in my life I had maybe went hiking once or twice, and snowshoeing about the same amount of times. I had never once thought about Mount Rainier more than just the sight of it off in the distance on a clear day. Climbing was something that I hadn't ever dreamed of, or made a side comment about.
For a while, I felt that I didn't do enough things in life for me. They always seemed to have been done for others. Yes, there were a few things done for me, but they were outnumbered.
The decision to run a marathon was a decision that I had made for me and me alone. I decided that I needed a goal to run towards, instead of something to run away from.
While sitting on a wooden deck in Encinitas, I made the decision that I was going to climb Mount Rainier - and be the only person I knew that I had done that. It would be a goal that would push me physically - and mentally - and one that I would be doing for me, and me alone.
Since 2008 was the year of the marathon, I had decided that the climb would happen in 2009. But for a variety of reasons - specifically time and money - the actual climb wouldn't happen until 2010.
During the summer of 2008, I tried to get out hiking as much as possible. While almost exclusively day hikes, there was one overnight solo trip that I took. I was trying to gauge my hiking fitness level and to get a feel of what that was like. And yes, I realized that an overnight trip to Kendall Katwalk was in no ways similar to climbing the tallest glaciated peak in the US, outside of Alaska.
Oh-nine there wasn't as much hiking as I would have liked. There was a lot of running though, and there was that crazy twenty-three mile hike in Hawaii.
During this time, I attended a few Prep for Rainier workshops that REI offers in order to get an idea about the different guide companies, the fitness preparations and of the different type of gear that you would need. I also found a few co-workers who knew various people who have done similar activities. Based on this information, I decided that I was going to climb with Rainier Mountaineering Inc.
At the beginning of oh-ten, I had paid for my summit trip. I decided that a trip in August would be best, and I scheduled the trip so that my summit day would be on my birthday.
After paying for the trip, it was now real - no backing out. No more talk. It was happening.
The goal for the time leading up to my August trip was fitness. I had developed a nagging knee issue in December that was causing me to not run as much as I would have liked. Actually, my running had almost stopped because of the pain in my knee. Two visits to my doctor - x-rays and a visit to an orthopedic surgeon and I still wasn't better. I researched personal trainers and even joined a gym. I'm still not 100% sold on the personal trainer idea, and even though it ended up costing me quite a bit of money, I went every week and did get some good pointers, but not as much as I was expecting.
The best fitness direction I did get was from a local company called Body Results. I remember coming across them during some of my fitness research and actually dismissed their services because I had thought an on-line training program was not realistic. In hindsight, I wish I was researched them a little bit more because I feel that I would have gotten a lot more results from their services that I got with the personal trainer. Their book, The Outdoor Athlete provided a lot of information about very specific exercises and areas of focus for lots of different outdoor recreations.
At first, it felt like I had all of the time in the world - August was many months away, and while I was doing quite a bit of strength training, I wasn't hiking as much as I should have been. There had been a few very short and easy hikes, but nothing challenging. About a month before my scheduled summit, I went to Mount Si and reached the top. The following weekend, I did both big and little Si - the goal for big Si was to reach the summit in two hours, thirty minutes (it seemed that a two hour summit of Si was an ideal gate check for fitness, so I gave myself an extra 30 minutes because I know that I am slow.) I managed the summit in two hours, five minutes and felt pretty darn good. I then did Little Si the following day just to see how hiking back to back days felt.
And then the weekend of August 7th and 8th, I did my first higher elevation hikes. That Saturday, I went to Camp Muir (my very first time that I had ever been to an elevation of 10,000 feet,) and then on Sunday it was only up to an elevation of 7,200 feet. I was pleasantly surprised by how good I felt. The elevation at Muir didn't seem to bother me at all which was a good sign. But 14,411 feet would be a different story.
The only issue that came up during this trip was my knee. I was still struggling with that nagging knee pain and on Sunday, it flared up again - flared up enough where I was starting to question my ability at completing this climb.
The next weekend, it would be one more trip to Paradise with a hike to the the 7,200 foot range. And my knee didn't bother me very much at all. Gave me some of my confidence back.
At work, one of my co-workers came over to me and told me that her granddaughter thought that the "man who is climbing the mountain" needed one of her grandfather's pocket angels to keep me safe. The little pocket angel (about the size of a coin) will make the trip with me - safety can never be turned down.
It is now the Saturday before I leave for Ashford to begin day one of my four day expedition. I have feelings of excitement, nervousness and anxiety all battling each other out over this. And while this isn't technically a complicated hike, I can't underestimate Mother Nature and Mount Rainier. A handful of people have died this year doing exactly what I'm doing, but hundreds, perhaps, thousands and have made it through safely and most have reached the summit.
And while I realize that there is absolutely no guarantee that I'll reach the summit on the 35th anniversary of my birth, I really want to look out to the southeast and tell the world that I had stood atop Mount Rainier.