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Sunday we started out from the Paradise Visitor’s Center at about 8:15 am. Elevation 6000′. Carrying packs weighing 60+ lbs, we climbed for nearly 8 hours up the Muir Glacier to Muir Camp located at 10,000′. There we leveled out an area on the glacier to put our tents and spent the night.
Monday we carried our loads across the Cowlitz Galcier up through Cathedral Gap to the Ingrham Galcier and put in our camp at 11,000′. The carry took about three hours. It was the first time Patrick had to put to use his technical skills using his ice axe and crampons. Because of the crevasse danger, we traveled as roped teams. As we transitioned onto the Ingraham, Patrick took a fall which the team arrested. But it took a significant effort on Patrick’s part to recover and regain his balance, especially with his heavy load.
We arrived at 11,000′ around noon and it took us about an hour to dig out and establish our camp.
Tuesday we spent most of the day resting from two very strenuous days. As a result of the extraordinary effort and the fall, Patrick was feeling a bit discouraged and thought that perhaps 11,000′ was as far as he wanted to go. But on Tuesday afternoon, AJ and Walt took Patrick on a gentle “hike” up to the base of Disappointment Cleaver, the start of the route to the summit. Patrick’s skills were sharp; it was a spectacular day; and he came back to camp with renewed “mojo.”
With the forecast a bit in flux, we elected to make our summit bid on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.
We set our alarm for midnight; got up; ate breakfast; and got dressed and ready to go. The night was clear, there was a light wind, the temperature was in the low 20s. (Summit attempts on Rainier are traditionally started at this hour because the snow is firmer and easier to walk on; and because the objective dangers of rockfall and avalanche are lower without the direct sunlight.) We started climbing at 1:15 am.
The first hour is up through the mid-Ingraham Glacier. The route this year was fairly circuitous because of the many crevasses. At about 11,300′, we transitioned onto the the rock buttress known as Disappointment Cleaver. At 11,600′, we emerged back onto the snow, very hard-packed steep terrain requiring tremendous focus and a high level of technical skill, especially challenging in the dark. Rope management was difficult for Patrick at first but with AJ’s skillful coaching, Patrick was able to make good progress.
After nearly three hours, we came to the top of Disappointment Cleaver at about 12,000′ and took a well-deserved rest. (Objectively, there was some concern at this point because of the length of time it had taken us to get to this point: we were nearly an hour off the “average.” Nevertheless, the climbing conditions were superb, the weather stable, and the team was in good spirits. We ventured onward.)
Above Disappointment Cleaver looms the massive, classic conically shaped strato-volcano punctuated by huge ice seracs and gargantuan crevasses. The terrain steepens considerably and the air thins.
At about 13,000′, the route was interrupted by a complex cravasse /serac system that necessitated the use of an aluminum ladder to cross. As we rested at the base of this system, Patrick expressed concern about how he was feeling: short of breath, dizzy, a bit unstable on his feet, and nauseous. (Classic signs of altitude illness.) We were five hours out at this point; slow enough to be of concern. There was 1000′ to go up difficult terrain. Patrick likely could have navigated this. But as climbers know, the summit is only halfway; and without the energy to get home, the risks are simply way too high both for oneself and the entire team.) Patrick courageously made the difficult decision to turn back. So with heavy hearts we started down.
After 8+ hours, we arrived back at our camp… and crashed in our tents. We had had a spectacular day. Patrick had performed at an extremely high level with tremendous focus and determination; with skill and tenacity; with wisdom and great courage. We had experienced one of the great mountains of the world; and watched the sun rise on a magnificent landscape; and deepened friendships that will last a lifetime.
On Thursday, after many hours of sleep and rest, we broke camp and descended back to the Paradise trailhead. The loads were heavy. But we were happy that we had had such a magnificent experience.
We arrived in Seattle this evening after enjoying a great rendezvous with Patrick’s parents at lunchtime. We’ll spend a few hours in Seattle on Saturday and fly home on Sunday.
We are incredibly grateful for all of you who have supported this inspiring, barrier breaking venture. It is Patrick’s hope that his efforts will encourage others to push beyond what might appear to be their limitations – and to live life fully as the adventure that it is. From the outpouring that we have received from around the country, it is clear that Patrick has already succeed in so many ways.
Special thanks to the Avon-Canton Rotary, the West Hartford Rotary, the Farmington Rotary and the Guilford Rotary for their generous financial support. And deep gratitude for the generosity of Rick Wilcox of International Mountain Equipment for his equipment sponsorship. And to all of you who have made financial contributions, this effort would not have been possible without you.
The team will be doing a number of slide shows and presentations over the next several months and we’ll be posting a schedule here. We still have some fund-raising to do (hint, hint). And if your group or organization would like to host an event, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
Across time, through history and culture; through religion and mythology, the great mountains of the world have been places of transition and growth; challenge and insight; wisdom and knowledge. Patrick’s journey to this great mountain has been all of these things. But even more, Patrick’s journey has been a testament of human will, of courage, of determination, of focus and of faith; a testament to what is possible.
If we but try.