Guiding on Rainier
Early June, Adam and I left the comfort of our Salt Lake City home to work on mighty Rainier, a 14,411ft (4,392.5m) high volcano in Washington State, for Rainier Mountain Guides (www.rmiguides.com).
We drove 15hours straight to Ashford, where RMI and its facilities are located. Lodging is provided for the guides and we share two areas: The “upscale” Ranch, and the “Farm”. It was super fun to stay with the great community of guides who work at RMI, cooking dinners or going out to dinner together.
Adam and I worked the Four Day Summit Climb (http://www.rmiguides.com/rainier/?id=3&program=4-Day-Summit-Climb), which climbs the classic Ingraham Direct route at this time of year, and later in the seaon, the Disappointment Cleaver. For the Four Day Summit Climb, we start the program with an orientation, which includes a gear check, talking about Mount Rainier’s history, conditions on the route, how the climb will unfold and what he expect of the clients.
The following day, we meet the clients at the RMI Basecamp after the daily guides meeting. We drive up to Paradise and hike to find snow to do the snow school. Right now, there is so much snow left at Paradise, that we can get on snow right away. We teach clients skills that will help them summit Rainier with a guide. This includes how to walk efficiently and safely on snow, with and without crampons, how to use an ice axe, how to self arrest, how to travel with a rope properly and how to be be efficient during breaks on the mountains. We also teach them Leave No Trace principles to keep the mountain as clean as possible and preserve the mountain as it is for future generations.
Jesse in self-arrest position
Unfortunately, there was a lot of moisture in the NW while we worked on Rainier. The weather forecast never looked great and we often had to do the snow school in the rain, or hike to Muir in the rain.
Adam and Tim in the rain on the way to Muir
The Butler House, where guides eat and sleep, and boil water for the clients.
View from the Butler House on the Gambu, where the clients sleep. On the left is the ranger’s living quarters.
The Gambu sleeps 18 clients. It’s a pretty old building that was built for temporary use a long time ago and was never taken down, so we still use it. Clients only spend a few hours in there, since we get up around midnight to climb Mount Rainier.
Inside the Gambu
Depending on the weather, we wake up clients anywhere from 11pm to 2am or even later. If the sky is clear and conditions on the mountain are good, we get up very early. We leave camp with helmet and headlamps on, crampons and harness on and ice axe in hand.
We start our climb by headlamp and walk for about an hour in the dark, crossing the Cathedral Gap and making our way to our first stop: the Ingraham Flats. This is where other guide services have their high camp. So this is a “safe” place. But this is also how far the cloud from the June 6th avalanche came down!
Ingraham Flats with sunrise on Little Tahoma
Crevasses below Cathedral Gap
On our first trip, conditions on the mountains weren’t very good. It had been snowing for a few days at Camp Muir and the wind had been howling at upper elevation. That, together with cold temperatures, made the perfect combination for an avalanche to occur. We hiked to the Ingraham Flats and had decided that we would go no further. We broke the news to our clients and explained why we were going to turn around. There were 11 people ahead of us, so it was hard for clients to understand why we wouldn’t keep going. Sometimes you wish that there would be a small benign avalanche in the distance to prove your point. We were about to dig a pit for clients to understand how the snowpack works. But as we looked up, a massive avalanche was coming down toward us. We definitely thought that it was headed for us, so we will started running. The snow was so deep though that we were not going anywhere in a hurry. So, we hunkered down expecting to get hit. But like a fist turned into a caress, we were merely sprinkled by the cloud. Adam was a little higher up than me and he saw a glove sticking out of the snow. The 11 people ahead of us had all been caught in the 300mx1200m avalanche. Adam and a few other guides (Tyler Jones and Mark Falender) dug out two more Koreans. One of them was blue already, wasn’t breathing and was unresponsive. I organized for clients to go down with another guide, Tom, so they could be out of avalanche hazard and then went up to watch over the rest of the crew to make sure no other avalanche was coming down on them.
1 person is still missing in action, and all the others survived.
Sun rising on the Ingraham Direct, after the avalanche
Recently, Adam and I decided to get a van to travel in. I guess, as you get older, comfort becomes more and more valuable, espacially when you spend so much time on the road. Sleeping in a tent gets a little old. We randomly found this super cheap VW van. I think the guy didn’t realize what he was selling, which we were happy about. I grew up travelling with my parents in these kinds of up-pop vans and loved it. I am so excited to experience that again.