Mount Rainier Trip Report: No Disappointment on the Cleaver
In October 2010, Kevin Noe and longtime former business partner David Fedler traveled to Nepal and the Solo Khumbu Region to trek to the Base Camp for Mt. Everest and to climb Kala Patthar. While the time in the Himalayas was incredible, perhaps equally impactful to the Himalayas was what we experienced on our return to Kathmandu. Our new friend Jwalant Gurung invited us to visit one of the orphanages his organization supports in Nepal. According to UNICEF, there are approximately 650,000 orphans between the ages of 0-17 in Nepal. The difference between orphans in Nepal and the USA are quite different. Children in Nepal are rarely abused whereas many if not most children in “residential treatment” centers are traumatized through neglect and abuse. Many of the children where we visited were kids of sherpas who died in the Himalayas or simply disappeared. Interestingly, Nepal receives about the same number of international tourists each year. Clearly, there can be an impact if each of us tries to help these children in some small way.
When we visited the orphanage, two things struck us. First, most of the children were between 5-17 years old. These kids were unlikely to be adopted or placed into a foster care system similar to most western countries. Second, despite their situation, these kids are happy, receiving an education, and truly inspirational to spend time with.
Jwalant told us about his 3 Summits for Nepal (http://3summitsfornepal.blogspot.com) organization and their efforts to raise money for these causes through climbs of the glaciated peaks of the Pacific Northwest. A volunteer organization led by Jwalant, Eddie Minkoff, and Abi Devan leads the climbs and 100% of the funds raised ($1000 per climber) go directly to Nepal. Needless to say, we were committed.
Our climbing goal would be the Disappointment Cleaver route on Mt. Rainier. Mid July 2011 was selected to maximize the chances for good weather. The fund raising was quickly put together through the support of our many good friends. Then it was time to begin our training. Mountaineering and glacier skills such as crampons, rope teams, ice axe self arrest, crevasse rescue, etc. had to be learned and mastered. With our good friend Jeff Evans providing expertise, we spent several days on St. Mary’s Glacier in Colorado mastering these skills.
With the training complete, we set out for Seattle and then directly to Mt. Rainier in Paradise, WA to meet the rest of our team.
As we set out on Friday afternoon from 4,500’, our goal was Camp Muir at an elevation of 10,100’. Carrying 50-60lbs of gear, this hike was going to be challenging and with snow covering the entire mountain from the parking lot to the top. It also gave us the opportunity to get to know our new friends: Abi, Tracy, Alex, John, Jesse, Leslie, Leigh, Mary, and Deb. The on mountain scenery was beautiful and though the hiking challenging, it was an amazing day. Getting up in Denver and arriving at Camp Muir around 6pm. Quite a day.
Camp Muir is an interesting place. A “tent city” of sorts for mountaineers. We set up in our snow dugout and got busy with the main activity of base camp… boiling water.
The next morning we awoke to a white out. Completely socked in conditions with snow. I took advantage of the downtime by catching extra rest and consuming multiple beef jerky treats.
As the day went on, we spent our time relaxing, boiling water, taking pictures, and going over tying knots for the summit attempt the next day.
Summit day started around 1am as we awoke and got the teams ready for the summit attempt. As we geared up, the full moon and clear skies certainly raised our spirits and hopes for a successful attempt.
Our route took us up along the Cowlitz Cleaver and through Cadaver Gap on Gibraltar Rock. As we worked our way along the Ingraham Flats we encountered the first of many glacier crevasses that we would need to cross.
Our rope team consisted of Dave, Kevin, and John Myers. John’s expert guiding skills had us completely confident and moving at a good pace. Nonetheless, the prospect of falling through a crevasse with potentially fatal results kept our minds on the seriousness of the task.
The next challenge was the Disappointment Cleaver. With the amount of snow, the cleaver represented a technical challenge in terms of angle of ascent, people, and conditions. It was a thrill. Upon reaching the top and before setting out on the Emmons Glacier, the teams took a rest stop to watch the sunrise. Little did I know that two years later there would be a similar line of folks in a bottleneck right at the top of the huge crevasse after higher temps and a totally collapsed snow bridge.
Departing from the ridge, two things became apparent, there was a lot of teams working their way up the summit and all of them were at risk of the rapidly changing weather.
Unfortunately, the weather pattern followed the previous days and very quickly we were in white out conditions, 50+mph winds, stronger gusts, and everything was rapidly deteriorating. There is a saying in mountaineering that “getting to the top is optional, getting to the bottom is mandatory”. Fortunately, within a 10 minute window, all of the summit teams between 13,000-14,000’ made the right decisions and we retreated back to Muir. There would be no successful summits on this weekend.
Some might feel that failing to summit would be a disappointment, however nothing could be further from the truth. With new expertise acquired, new friends made, and over $20,000 raised for Nepalese orphans, we consider the expedition to be a rousing success.
There is always one truth about every mountain – they aren’t going anywhere and so it was with even more conviction and this truth, that I knew I would return to Rainier with the goal of summiting and knowing that in the process Nepalese boys and girls would be benefactors in our charity climb.