This was the "Brotherhood of Ice and Pain"'s 1994 first attempt on Ranier (and the second hint that we might need to call ourselves that). Supposedly we were to climb the Emmons Glacier route, but we never made it to base camp. But we did get great photos from Burroughs Mountain! Brian will tell you all about it, disparaging my climbing leadership along the way...
"Mt. Rainier, Sideways"
I got a call early one weekday morning in April. I had just gotten back from the pool and sat down to eat breakfast. Foolishly I answered the phone.
"Brian, how would you like to do Rainier this year?!?" Glenn began with a level of enthusiasm he reserves only for the most extreme adventures.
"Sounds great Glenn, can I finish my breakfast first?"
"What? Oh, sure. I think I figured out this great route. Should be a piece of cake."
"OK Glenn, when can we get together and talk about it?...."
After a couple of months of planning, copious EMAIL, changing and then unchanging my daughter's visitation schedule we had a team gathered. To the four of us from last year's N. Ridge S. Sister adventure: Dave Shapiro, Dr. Richard Brower, Glenn and myself, would be added Steve Ginn, a coworker of Glenn's and survivor of the "Climb Leader's apprentices" attempt on Mt. Hood in April. The plan was to drop one car at White River Camp, take the other up to Sunrise Friday night. We would hike in about a mile and camp. The next morning climb up Burroughs Mountain, traversing a long ridge to St. Elmo pass then climb up Inter Glacier to Camp Schurman. There we would crash out early for a midnight start up Emmons glacier to the summit, then back down to Schurman and on down Inter Glacier, either to camp at Glacier Basin or White River, depending on how we felt.
Because of the known crevasses on this route, Glenn had recommended studying "Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue". We also got to Glenn's house on Friday afternoon and had a practice session in prusiking and other techniques. Then we loaded up and headed north. We got to the ranger station at White River and registered. We were told that Camp Schurman was full for the night we wanted, but there was an overflow camp on Emmons. White River and Glacier Basin were both full for both Friday and Saturday nights. But Sunrise was wide open. But the woman who took our registration had not heard of the route we planned to take, stating that most people DESCENDED from Sunrise to Glacier Basin and picked up the route from the bottom of Inter Glacier, instead of our intent to begin in the middle at St. Elmo Pass. But she handed us our "blue bags" (high altitude sanitation gear for glaciers in wilderness areas, yes you DO have to "pack it out") and the instructions that went with them. ("GROSS man, MAJOR gross.")
By this time it was a little later than planned, like dusk. (If you have read of these trips before you are hardly surprised.) We quickly piled gear on Steve's truck, pushed surplus gear in Glenn's car, and headed on up to Sunrise in the dark and fog. At Sunrise we mounted up in a cold breeze and headed off up the road in the dark to what we thought was a campground. After about a mile we started looking for a place to camp, and finally found the remains of a fire ring overlooking some heavy equipment. We pitched tents as best we could and crashed.
We slept in until dawn the next morning, anticipating a "Leisurely Stroll" up to Camp Schurman. Knowing that we would be in a camp ground the first night I did not fill all my water jugs for the pack in, so now I needed to recruit Steve to help me purify water. But first we had to find it. We started back down the road and were startled by two elk. Of course, this is a national park and the animals run the place. At least these two did not challenge us. On the way back to camp we got our first view of the mountain. WOW, is it BIG!
After breakfast we mounted up and started up the obvious trail.
When we got to the top of this ridge we turned around and read the sign that stated "trail closed for meadow repair". Great. Sorry about that. We were now at 6700 feet. We got an even better view of the mountain from here through the "peek-a-boo" clouds.
We paused for a short break. I, as usual, was back in the "sweep" position, so got a shorter break. I had a short panic when I reached for my medicine bag only to discover that I had left it at home. I was feeling a desperate need for a Maalox, and fortunately had another supply in my big first aid kit. After this, some food and water I continued to follow the group up the trail on Burroughs Mountain. It was neat at this point because most of the vegetation was tundra.
Glenn stopped at one point to get a picture of the tiny flowers and the mountain as a backdrop. I took the opportunity to get a picture of Glenn taking the picture, a slightly amusing pose. Here the breeze was rather fresh and we kept moving to keep warm. There were other hikers on the trail who passed us, but none as heavily laden.
We finally reached the first (lower) summit of Burroughs (7402 ft.) and caught up with some of the people who had passed us. This was a perfect vantage point to take pictures, including a group shot. We dropped into a saddle between the summits, then up again before veering off the trail to begin the traverse across to St. Elmo pass.
At a precipice we stopped for a break before continuing out on the rocks. While we rested we spotted a pair of mountain goats moving ahead of us on the route we planned to take. It was about 12:30 PM.
After the break we began what could have been some exciting "rock hopping". Could have been exciting without 60 pound packs and mountaineering boots. As it was it was a little tense. Once we got around the slope of Burroughs and on to the ridge the trail became easier for awhile. Then it turned into a maddening sequence of odd little gendarmes to get over or around and easy ridge lines that we followed to St. Elmo pass. All of this requiring not simply walking, but also scrambling both up and down. Until we got to the buttress.
The buttress was the last major obstacle (we thought) along the ridge. About this time we figured that we needed to get off the ridge and down to the bottom of Inter Glacier. Glenn was out in the lead, but none of us was sure where the trail was. Glenn started to scout down the slope and I followed about 30 meters behind. Each step started a small avalanche of rock down. While Steve, Dave, and Richard waited, Glenn looked for a way down. I tried traversing across some extremely loose and unstable trash. After quite a bit of time and nervous perspiration Glenn reappeared on the other side of the buttress. Report - looks like it ends in a cliff!
Several people thought that we should turn back and take the trail down. Glenn seemed to think there was a route by traversing around the buttress. I climbed back up the loose trash and started across to where Glenn was, still wearing my pack. The four of us picked our way gingerly across to where Glenn waited, alternately cursing and praying. We moved to the base of the butterss and started picking our way across. As I negotiated one particularly tense section I bumped the top of my pack (actually the foam pads) against an overhang, then the bottom of it while trying to go down a gully. But for all this we finally made it around the worst of the buttress. But this still left about a half mile of ridge before the pass.
Not to say that there was no humor at this point. Glenn, finally showing some concern at the delicate traverse over gravelly slopes above a steep drop, asked us to take a break while he scounted forward a bit without his pack. Richard was near enough to me to whisper, "Should we kill Glenn now or wait until later?" I replied that if we killed him now we would still have to carry Glenn's gear out. Just then Glenn came bounding back up to us and said in a much too upbeat tone, "Now comes the REAL fun, rock hopping!" Richard turned to me earnestly and said "We'd better kill him now." And just when we thought that no creature on earth was stupid enough to try to force a route along this miserable ridge Dave piped up, "Hey look, goat [droppings]!" (He was right.)
Finally at about 3 PM we reached St. Elmo Pass, just about the time we planned to be at 9500 feet at Camp Schurman. It was pretty obvious that even if we did want to continue up we would need to descend to the bottom of Inter glacier and start from there. So after a short conference we started the descent down another loose and treacherous scree slope toward the trail up from Glacier basin.
Once we were on this trail we took a major break for food and to empty the rock chips out of our boots. We had noticed a cave at the end of this trail, closer to the mountain, so the other guys took their flashlights and went to check it out. I stayed and rested my weary butt. I was sitting there resting, contemplating a beautiful lady I had met and wondering if I had a chance of starting relationship with her, when I got a massive calf cramp. About this time the guys got back. Finally, at about 5 PM we started down the trail to find a place to camp for the night.
First we came to a beautiful little meadow with a nice little clear stream running through it. This was important because main channel of the Inter fork of the White river started in this glacier and was white with rock dust which would clog the water filter. Two marmots watched us survey the site. But we finally decided that we would do too much damage. As we continued down to the trail Richard slipped and twisted his ankle. That settled it. Even though Richard could still walk we needed to find a site fast. We hiked on a little further until we got into some small stunted trees before the Glacier Basin camp. We popped off the trail here and quietly set up camp. We knew we were not supposed to do this, but it was getting dark and we were beat. We set up tents, drank, ate, and crashed. Glenn asked what we would do tomorrow. I told him to ask me then.
On Sunday we woke up at about 6 AM and took stock and made breakfast. The carnage of Saturday night was all around us. In our exhaustion we had not followed the basic hygiene rules and thus had late night visitors. My bag of oatmeal had been nibbled, it (they?) had almost gotten through a bag of soup. Richard had droppings in his cup. But we continued to make breakfast, pack up and take stock.
Richard's ankle was sore, but did not look real bad. The plastic rental boots I used had pretty much shredded my feet, I had blisters even under the protective moleskin. So he and I decided that we should definitely hike out. Steve felt that he had had enough and chose to join us. Glenn and Dave decided to try to reach Camp Schurman and meet us back at the campground at 5 PM. The three of us packed as much stuff as we could take from Dave and Glenn, who left their sleeping bags and other non-essential stuff stashed under the trees. Glenn and Dave started up at 8:30.
We started down the trail at about 9. We passed through the deserted Glacier Basin camp. We covered the three miles in about an hour and a half. As we got closer to the campground we met more tourist types who were amazed to see climbers with such huge packs. And we also had to answer the de-rigeur question "did you summit?" with a dejected "no".
Even here we ran into trouble. We dropped our packs by Glenn's car and tried to use the key to open the back. We struggled for about 15 minutes before finally finding the trick. Then we got out our spare shoes and other treats and retreated to a log to get a little more civilized. I first peeled off my boots and socks, finally exposing my tender (and tenderized) toes to the fresh air. We had such glorious delights as cookies, grapes, and cold water.
After this break we loaded all our gear into Glenn's car and started up the mountain to Sunrise to get Steve's truck. The nice thing about driving this route late on Friday night was that we did not see what was down the side of these bends. Now, in the bright sunshine, we did. We also saw views of the other mountains in the area. We got to Sunrise and hobbled into the visitor center. We walked outside and tried to see Glenn and Dave through the telescope. Then we got back into the cars and started down to wait for Glenn and Dave to return.
Basically we wrote, talked, snacked, and loitered around the nearly deserted campground until about 4:30. We also watched a steady stream of climbers come down off the mountain, some looking pretty near spent. We decided that maybe we would walk up the trail a while and see if we could meet Glenn and Dave coming down. We walked in about a mile (20 minutes) and did not see them. So we turned around and came back out. As I was washing the trail dust off my legs at the water faucet Dave and Glenn sauntered up. They had an enjoyable hike up Inter Glacier, (light packs really help!), played with placing ice screws, and got to the Camp Curtis bivouac area on the left ridge between Emmons and Inter Glacier, a few hundred feet below Camp Schurman by about 2 PM. With the time, and the fact that further progress requred roping up to drop onto and traverse a half-mile of the Emmons Glacier they had take few photos and head back down.
We loaded everything into the cars and headed down the mountain. We stopped at a little town to have dinner, and finally got to Glenn's at about midnight.
Oh well, maybe next year.