"So why did you want to take this ice/snow climbing and glacier rescue course?" asked Lou Whitaker owner of RMI (at the time the only licensed guidine on Rainier) all of the participants in my class. Most answered with responses such as "I'm training for Denali" or even Everest or "I want to learn to ice climb" or "Improve my cravass rescue technique." I was the only one who said that I was there because my boyfriend gave me an ice axe for Christmas and I wanted to learn how to use it.
I felt pretty intimidated and didn't want to overplay my abilities, especially being the only female in the group, as usual. To improve my chance of summitting, I had signed up for a five day class instead of the usual two day summit attempt. I figured that would give me more time to acclimatize to the altitude and allow me to learn some new skills. And since I was flying out from Atlanta, might as well make the trip worthwhile.
The lines of people coming down from the two-day summit trips looked really exhausted-like prisoners on a chain gang.
I think Lou wanted to make an example of me. So he took my backpack and emptied it to be sure that I had everything I needed and nothing that I didn't need. I suspect he was expecting to find hair curlers or at least a comb. But the only things that he found to be excessive in my pack were a pair of socks and some baggies. He emptied the items I had in baggies into my pack and tossed the baggies out as being too heavy. (For the rest of the trip, the leaders kept asking for baggies for our sandwiches and I could be of NO help on that one.) We then loaded up our packs with the communal gear and headed up the mountain.
The hike up was more difficult than I thought it would be for a reason I didn't imagine. It was too hot. We were required to wear long pants and jackets in case we fell into a cravass, but we were burning up. I had everything unzipped as much as possible. And the snow was suncupped-there were cup formations in the snow which we had to climb up and down, increasing the distance we hiked. An earlier trip when the weather was cooler would have been much easier.
And I later found out that my senior guide Craig Van Hoy had the record for the fastest summit of Rainier. It was all I could do to keep up with the group. I would lag behind and finally ask if we could go a bit slower. (Later the guys thanked me for asking, saying that they were all dying at that speed.) Of course, keeping up became more of an issue once we got on the glacier and were roped together.
We camped one night below Camp Muir where the two-day summiteers spend the night. Then we had a delightful pancake breakfast at Camp Muir and practised our ice axe self arrests- head first, feet first on our backs and stomachs. From there, we headed up to Ingraham Flats where we set up our more permanent camp.
Our kitchen was a pit dug in the snow with snow shelves. Pretty deluxe.
We spent a day practising setting up pullies for crevass rescues. It was fun being lowered into the crevass. When I was lowered, I was told to pretend I was unconscious. I think I really gave them a scare when I didn't answer their calls.
Due to my concern about summitting, I didn't take the extra weight of my camera with me on summit day So I only have these photos of others climbing by our camp to represent our early morning climb. We were blessed with good (but windy) weather but it was still a grueling day, even though we left from a higher camp and returned to our high camp.
On our last day of class, we got to do some ice climbing.
THe instructor told the guys to watch me and not to swing their axes so hard but to place them more precisely as I was. I replied that I was swinging my axe as hard as I could!