Roger Deane and Russell Bergevine Reach Summit of Mount Rainier

Rainier - The Scale is Immense

“I wanted a clear blue sky and to be able to stand on the top and see for miles in all directions but it really didn’t matter.  It wasn’t to be and in hindsight that isn’t why we made the attempt.”

In July 2011, fraters Roger Deane and Russell Bergevine reached the top of Mount Rainier, the most difficult mountain to climb in North America outside of Alaska.   This is Roger’s story.

Base Camp

On Monday the 11th Russ Bergevine, Michael King and I showed up at the base camp to go through orientation and training.  (Russ had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2010.  This was his second attempt at Rainier.) The airline had lost my bag with all my climbing gear in it so I was freaking out about what to do. Fortunately, there was a shop on site where I could rent everything I needed. After meeting our guides, we talked about gear and what to expect.  Five of the nine climbers in our group had made the attempt before. Most turned back because of weather and other reasons but at least they had some idea of what was going to happen.  I was clueless and it showed.

The plan was: Tuesday spend most of the day training.  Wednesday “hike” from Paradise Lodge at 5,400 feet to Camp Muir at 10,500 feet.  Thursday was summit day. We would start out around midnight and “climb” to the summit, spend a few minutes there and then turn around and go all the way back down to Paradise Lodge.

Paradise Lodge

Park Entrance (Bergevine)

I had hoped that my bag would show up during the night before but it didn’t so on Tuesday I went to the rental shop to get my gear for the day.  At 8:15AM we all assembled to ride the bus up to Paradise Lodge for training. After the 45-minute drive, we threw our packs on and started our hike up to the training grounds.  During the climb our guide Jake demonstrated how to hike up the mountain, emphasizing that small efficient steps were much better than large ones.  The difference was amazing.  After a taking a few long unbalanced steps I was tired and hot but using the small efficient method I was fine.  At the training grounds we went over many things including different types of climbing techniques, breathing at high altitudes and most importantly how to arrest a fall.  We practiced stopping ourselves and stopping someone else on the rope team.  We also went over our equipment, how to use the ice axe, crampons and other gear.  The day was actually very informative and a lot of fun.

After returning to base camp, we all went out and ate a big dinner in anticipation of the next couple of days.  I finally tracked down my bag and at about 7:30PM that evening it showed up at our motel.  I spent most of the evening going through my gear and packing my pack.

Ascent to Camp Muir

Russ and Roger at Camp Muir

Wednesday the 13th at 8:15AM we assembled again for the ride up to Paradise.  I reviewed my pack with the guides and then we took off.  At Paradise, we all gathered our gear, threw on our packs and started hiking.  I knew immediately that something was wrong, my pack was way too heavy.  As usual, I had over planned for the event and put too much “stuff” in my pack.   The hike up to Camp Muir was a grueling 6 hour march over the Muir snowfield.  The visibility was horrible, we couldn’t see more than 50 feet so there wasn’t even anything to look at except for the back of the person in front of me.  We stopped for breaks about every hour.  We had 15 minutes to drink some water, eat a snack and add/remove clothing as appropriate.   About 4 hours into the hike I started to have some cramping in my legs, probably due to the weight of the pack and not drinking enough water.  At the last break my guide told me to eat a mustard packet (gross I know) for the cramps so I did and I drank a bunch of water.  I fought through the pain and made it up to Muir a few minutes behind the rest of the team.

The rest of the evening at Muir as spent trying to get as much fluid and food in me as possible.  My legs were still cramping so it was hard to get my sleeping bag in order and my pack ready for the next day.  After we were all settled in our guides (including two of America’s top climbers Peter Whittaker and Ed Viesturs, who were leading another group up) gave us a talk about what was going to happen tomorrow.

Since the forecast for the mountain was cold, we were going to start a little later than normal – probably around 12:30AM. We were going to traverse across the Cowlitz Glacier then go up and over Cathedral Gap.  Once we were on Ingraham Flats we would take our first break, about an hour into the climb.  After the break we would cross Ingraham Glacier and move onto Disappointment Cleaver.  We would climb the Cleaver up to our next break– about an hour and a half.  After the break we would climb another hour and take a short break before pushing to the summit.   From that point on we would be roped together in 4-man teams (1 guide and 3 climbers) with helmets, crampons and ice axe.

After the briefing around 6:30PM we all settled in to get as much rest as possible.  I went outside the cabin and was shocked to see the weather had cleared and we could see for miles.  The cloud level was a few hundred feet below our location so we couldn’t see the base of the mountain but everything else was amazing.  Russ and I took some great shots and enjoyed the view.  We then went inside and got into our sleeping bags for some rest.

About 11:30PM I woke up and thought it would be a good idea to take care of some business that I didn’t want to deal with up on the mountain so I got up and went to the head.  When I went outside the cabin I was blown away by the sights and sounds.  The night was clear and cold, the moon was almost full and there wasn’t a soul awake.  It was almost completely silent, just the sound of the wind.  I stayed outside for about half an hour just enjoying the view.  I spent most of the time stretching my legs, the cramps had stopped earlier in the evening but I didn’t want to take any chances.

About 12:30AM the guides came in and got us up.  At night, the snow and ice is cold and hard. During the day it warms up and becomes less stable. By leaving at 1:00AM, we would reach the summit about 6:00AM and be back down off the dangerous parts by noon. On the other hand, if we left first thing in the morning then we would be on top during the warmest part of the day.

We spent the next hour getting our gear on and eating a quick meal. At about 1:30AM we set off.

100AM: To the Summit!

I was on a rope team with Tim–our guide, Russ Bergevine and Michael King (a friend).  We were the last of the three teams in our group.   We all felt really good as we set off on the first leg. My pack was light and my legs were in good shape.  We crossed the Cowlitz Glacier and went up over Cathedral Gap to our first break on Ingraham Flats.  At the break, we were tired but no one was thinking of turning back.  The guides were quick to point out that making it up was optional, making it down was mandatory “so make sure that you have enough in the tank to make it down”.  We all drank as much as we could and ate a couple of snacks.  It was cold and things were starting to freeze up.  My water had little bits of ice and my Twix bar was hard as a rock but I managed to get it down.  After the break we started on what was probably the hardest leg of the trip.  We crossed the Ingraham Glacier and then started on Disappointment Cleaver.

The Cleaver consists of climbing around a rocky outcropping (over top of the Ingraham Glacier and all its crevasses) and then moving up and over the outcropping and onto a very steep icy/snowy incline.  Since it was clear I could see these tiny lights way up ahead and realized that that was where I was going and couldn’t believe how far it was.  I decided at this point to not try and look ahead and just focus on the next step.  After about an hour and a half of climbing we made it to our next break.  We drank as much as we could and tried to shove some food down.  At this point I think we put on another layer as we were getting higher and the temperature was getting colder.  Then it was upward and onward.

At about 4:30AM, the sun started to come up.  It was incredible.

Ascent Sunrise (Russ Bergevine)

The clouds moved in and out so some of the time we were in the clear and sometimes in the clouds.  The last push to the top was just climbing up and up on a very steep snow and ice slope.  There were switchbacks after switchbacks, on and on.  We took a short break and threw on our heavy down parkas and thick mittens over our gloves.  Eventually as we neared the top we were engulfed in clouds but we climbed on until we reached the summit.

The Summit

Summit: Clouds and Twix

July 14th, 2011 at about 6:15AM we took our final steps up to the summit of Mt. Rainier.  Finally after about 5 hours of climbing we had reached the top–14,410 feet.  Unfortunately the scene was not as I had hoped. It was 15F, the wind was blowing about 15 to 20 miles per hour and driving sleet.  The visibility was about 30 feet. Our group was all huddled together in a pack, 9 climbers and 3 guides.  Everyone was sitting on their packs drinking some water and eating a snack and taking a few pictures.  I wanted a clear blue sky and to be able to stand on the top and see for miles in all directions but it really didn’t matter.  It wasn’t to be and in hindsight that isn’t why we made the attempt.

The weather was so bad that our guides decided we would only stay a few minutes.  I packed in as much water and food as I could, took a few pictures and tried to take in the moment.  We took a group picture and then began to get ready for the descent.  The guides were all over us about keeping sharp and paying attention.  Going down was not any easier than going up, in fact in some respects it was harder.  Soon after the briefing we started our descent.   We were going to take a couple of breaks on the way down, one before the Cleaver and one on Ingram Flats.

Descent to Camp Muir

Painful Descent

As we descended I began to notice a pain in my big toes and feared that my boots were a little small.  If your climbing boots are too small then as you descend your toes will bang against the front of the boot causing a real problem with the toe nails.  This is what happened to me.  By the time we reached the Cleaver I was in agony.  Our rope guide Tim was doing some trail maintenance so we slowed our pace down a little which helped a little.  During our break on the Flats, I took off my boot to see what the damage was and it was really bad.   I managed to suck it up and get down to Muir where I spent some time trying to get my boots as tight as possible to keep my feet from hitting the front of the boots.

Other than the problem with my feet, the descent was actually pretty amazing.  We really had to focus on each step to make sure that we didn’t trip and tumble down the side of the mountain.  On several occasions we crossed paths with people going up so we would step out of the trail and let them pass.  During these moments we were able to catch our breath and actually look around and take some pictures.  It was during these pauses that I was finally able to enjoy the mountain and the views.

Descent from Ranier - Little Tahoma in View (Russ Bergevine)

We arrived at Camp Muir about 11:30AM and were scheduled to leave at 12:30PM.  The rest of the descent was to take about 2 hours if we really went hard.  I was dreading it because my toes hurt so bad but there was no choice, we had to go. Fortunately, since we removed our crampons and were hiking on snow most of the way I was able to descend by driving my heels into the snow first.  This basically took all the pressure off the front of my boots and was comfortable.   About halfway down, the weather turned really bad, driving winds and rain/snow/sleet.  We put on our Gore-tex shells and hiked on.  At about 2:30PM we arrived back at Paradise Lodge, wet and miserable but safe and sound.  We had all made the climb up and back and now it was time to kick back and relax.

Back at Paradise Lodge

Back at the Lodge

After the 45-minute drive back to base we quickly changed clothes and met up for a few drinks and a presentation ceremony.  Lots of pictures were taken, certificates handed out and food and drink was had by all.

The day after the climb I looked back on the event and swore I would never do it again.  It was by far the hardest physical thing I have ever done.

Now that a few days have passed I am not so sure about the “never do it again”.  With proper training and the knowledge of what to take and what to expect, I can see myself going again.  The good parts definitely outweigh the bad and I believe I can totally remove the bad parts by being better prepared physically and mentally.  All in all it was an amazing event, one that I will always remember and cherish for the rest of my life.

Roger Deane
July 20th, 2011

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