Mt. Rainier Climbing Expedition in 1997

Photos from a 5 day RMI led expedition on  Mt. Rainier during August 1997.

Mt. Rainier National Park is located about 90 miles south of Seattle.  

A dormant volcano, it is around 1 million years old. 

While the weather at Mt. Rainier is unpredictable, a daily Mt. Rainier forecast is available from NOAA.


Begin the Expedition:


  Monday - Getting Started

Packing our backpacks in the lodge.

Monday morning we picked up our RMI provided gear (helmet, harness, tent, etc..) and rented any gear we did not already have (plastic boots, crampons, ice axe, etc..), from the RMI office, then we gathered across the street in the rainier lodge at 5,500 feet, and tried to put all our personal gear, part of a 3 person tent, and our share of the group gear (food, fuel, etc..)into our packs.  It was a tight fit, and the packs were heavy.


Leaving the base of the mountain, we make our first stop on the climb up, with a glacier in the background. We are about to leave the tourist trail and enter the snowfield.

Resting on our way to camp 1.

Camp one at around 8000 feet.

We set up our tents for monday night, then the guides showed us how to use the ice axes to stop ourselves from sliding down the mountain and how to climb in groups of four when wearing a harness and roped together. Dinner was usually something hot like pasta or ramen noodles, made by adding hot water. Plenty of hot chocolate was always available. It may not have been the type of food you eat at home, but on the mountain it tasted good after an exausting day of climbing. Lunches were snacks we brought ourselves, usually eaten during a rest break while climbing.

Tuesday - Onward to Camp Muir
Resting at about 9000 feet on the way to Camp Muir.

As we approached Camp Muir on our climb Tuesday, a storm came up suddenly when we were several hundred feet below the camp. The wind started blowing hard, it started snowing, and lightning could be heard. The visibility was down to about fifty feet. The faster climbers speeded up and got into the shelter. The guides started yelling at us slower climbers to hurry up, but I was too tired to speed up, lightning or not.

We piled into the RMI Camp Muir shelter, glad to be out of the storm. Another RMI 5 day expedition group was already there, but there was plenty of space for both groups. The problem was that the RMI 2 day seminar was climbing up the mountain only a couple of hours behind us, and they stay in the shelter instead of tents. We would have to go out in the raging blizzard and set up our tents.

A few hours later, we received word that the 2 day seminar group had "spun", or turned around, due to the blizzard, and the shelter was ours for the night. There was much relief at this news because just stepping outside for a few minutes would freeze you and the snow pellets stung as they hit your face at high velocity. We talked, ate dinner, and the guides tought us how to tie some rope knots.

Camp Muir at around 10,000 feet. The RMI shelter is the black hut. An outhouse is behind it. The brick hut on the right is another RMI hut which is used for cooking. Not visible is a public shelter for people who are not on an RMI climb, and a ranger hut.

Inside the RMI shelter. It has 2 or 3 levels and can hold around 20 people.

Wednesday - Setting up Base Camp

The storm ended overnight but it was still windy and cloudy on wednesday. We set up base camp right next to Camp Muir and would stay there on wednesday and thursday nights. The weather prevented us from moving base camp higher on the mountain. By staying next to Camp Muir we were able to use the facilities. Later we learned more mountaineering skills that we would need for out summit attempt, if we were able to make one..

Setting up base camp next to Camp Muir.

The kitchen, at left, is cut into the snow in order to block the wind and provide a level surface.

Learning crevasse rescue. On the left, a group member has just been pulled out of the crevasse.

Thursday - Ice Climbing near Base Camp

Climbing the icy wall. Ice climbing is not required to climb Rainier, but it is part of the 5 day course.

Bad weather prevented a summit attempt on Thursday, so we did some more mountaineering training and some ice climbing. The guides said that even if the weather cleared on friday, there was a good chance that we would run into avalanche danger and have to turn around. Late in the day the sky partially cleared, and we were hoping the weather would be good enough to at least climb higher on the mountain friday. No group had made it to the summit in a week, due to the weather.

Practicing ice ax skills.

Group photo of the clients on the RMI expedition team inside the RMI Camp Muir shelter. I forgot to get a photo of the guides. While we rested at the end of each day, they would get dinner ready.

Friday - The Summit Attempt

The guides woke us up at 1:30 am and told us we were leaving at 3 am for our summit attempt. Although that seems like a long time, it was just enough time to eat and put on our harnesses, crampons, and helmets with attached light to see with. There were 2 expedition groups and a 2 day summit group leaving Camp Muir, over 50 people in all. We tied or clipped ourselves in groups of four to each rope.

The theory is that if one person falls into a crevasse, the other 3 will be able to prevent him from falling to the bottom and pulling them in with him, and then they will rescue him. That's the theory. In the darkness, with the headlamps turned on, the rope teams looked like snakes winding back and forth up the mountain. We climbed for about an hour and got to 11,000 feet at Ingrahm Flats. We had a half hour to rest as we waited for the lead group to establish the trail. Shooting stars and satellites were visible in the sky as the dawn came slowly.


Resting above Disappointment Cleaver above 12,000 feet on the way up the mountain. Some climbers decided to turn around here and head back down to base camp.

We rested while the guides tested the snow for avalanche danger. The lead climbers can be seen in the upper right. They decided it was not too bad, and we continued on, one group of four after another. At no time on the trip did we have to do any technical climbing, our feet were always on the ground.

On the summit, over 7 hours after we left camp Muir. We were glad to have made it, but we were too tired to dance up and down. We know that we still have to descend from the summit at over 14,000 feet to the base of the mountain at 5,500 feet today.

This is my obligatory "I made it" summit photo.

The summit crater on top of Mount Rainier. The crater of a volcanic mountain is considered the summit, so we did not walk over to the actual highest point of 14,411 feet.

On the top of Mt. Rainier we are above the clouds. The top of another mountain is visible.

We flew quickly down the mountain after about an hour on the summit crater. Within a few hours we were back at our base camp located near Camp Muir, and quickly packed up our tents and repacked our backpacks for the final push down the mountain.

After we got back down to the base of the mountain we turned our rented boots, ice ax, crampons, plus our issued tents, harnesses, and helmets in at the RMI office. We then headed over to the bar at the lodge for some well deserved beers and talked about the expedition. One of the bartenders opened all the windows and turned on a fan, a reminder that we had not bathed in 5 days and probably did not even notice that we no longer smelled april fresh. We were exhausted but had taken some of the worst the mountain has to offer and had made it to the top, in addition to learning a lot about mountaineering in just 5 days.


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