trip report: paradise to muir, mt. rainier

so last Saturday i did the hardest thing i have ever done, physically speaking: i climbed halfway up mt rainier, from paradise to muir. i suppose it's technically more of a hike, but it's all in the snow and all uphill. very uphill.

so we left seattle around 5:30, and drove to Eatonville where we met up with the rest of our party: 6 in all. We drove to the parking lot at Paradise and spent about an hour or so getting our gear together, using the restrooms, etc. We were all packed up and ready to hit the trail around 9:10.

The first thousand feet or so wasn't too hard at all. Walking through well-worn footprints in snow, through the trees. However, after some gentle uphills and one small downhill, we hit the first steep part of the climb. I had to use my hands to help myself up the slope (probably not the wisest idea, since it made my fingers really really cold without me noticing) and was the last one up that part. (actually, I was lagging behind everyone nearly the whole time... I was the pacesetter of the group, that's for sure.) After the first steep part, we were just about above the trees, and the mountain opened up in front of us. Our "guide" (my friend's dad, who has made 18 successful summits) told us that at that point, we had seen the steepest that we would see all the way to the summit - except that there would be about 6 hours of that on summit day. yikes.

So we kept pressing on, onwards and upwards... a couple of times the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, or the clouds would sweep off of the summit and let us see the mountain for a minute. Then it was back to climbing, just pressing upwards and onwards. It was really long and hard, honestly, and I am not in good shape right now so I have a bunch of training to do before the end of June.

Finally, around 4 or so, we reached Camp Muir. It's just a series of shelters... one occupied by the forest service, one or two for the commercial guide services, and one for the public. It's little more than a hut built into the side of the mountain, but inside you can get warm out of the wind, cook up a nice meal and maybe even catch some Z's. On a summit attempt, you generally try to sleep until about midnight, then get up and on the way up to the top by around 1AM.

We, however, weren't attempting the summit, we were just training. So after we got warm, we went back outside to practice self-arrests with an iceax. Definitely a valuable skill to have, especially when you're all roped in together going up to the top. One falling climber quickly becomes three or four if you don't act quickly and correctly. So we practiced for awhile before we went back inside and got ready to head down.

This is when the story gets interesting.

So in order to increase the load we were carrying for training purposes, as well as speed up our descent, everyone had decided to bring skis or snowboards to get down on. Only by the time I had climbed 4800 feet up with a 45+ lb pack, I was not able to get up on my board. (I'd be lying if I said I felt great at this point too... I was worn out, tired, and a bit anxious, especially after the self-arrest practice. That didn't help much at all. So I physically could not get up on my snowboard.. I tried multiple times, but I just couldn't get up. Too much weight, thighs WAY too tired. So I unstrapped from my board and started walking down.

Only everyone else was way ahead, because they were on skis or snowboards. So I tried running a little, and couldn't keep that up.

And then I got the bright idea to ride down on my snowboard on my butt.

Word to the wise: Don't. Ever. Do. That. It worked great for the first hundred feet or so, but soon I realized I was going way too fast, and tried to slow myself down with my feet (my iceax was strapped into my pack). That just made me spin out and fall off my board... so now my snowboard shoots way out in front of me, and I am tumbling down the mountain. Somehow I manage to stop myself, but my board shoots off into the white (oh yeah, forgot to mention we are at near-whiteout conditions since we started the descent; visibility is probably around 100 yards, and varying all the time.) I get up and realize I'm not badly hurt, but my right hand has become completely non-functional. (Well, I can move it, but if I try to grasp anything with it it hurts, or just won't go.) I hope it's not broken. And I just lost my snowboard.

We regroup (fortunately, everyone saw me fall, and was right there to help once I stopped myself). My iceax comes off my pack and into my (left) hand; the map is consulted, and it's determined that we are heading off course, and we need to bear to the right. But my snowboard is off to the left.

Just forget it, they tell me. It's not worth risking your life for a board. Plus, hikers are pretty honest people, and when the weather clears up someone will find it. Just report it missing as soon as you get home. I know they're right, but it still is a pretty big blow to my spirit - losing my snowboard AND hurting my right hand at the same time. We keep moving down the mountain, significantly slowed by me being on foot... but in the poor visibility, we do the right thing and stick close together as we head down.

I should elaborate on the conditions at this point. It had been a warm spring day, with tons of climbers heading up to Muir or partway. The snow had been very slushy, and lots of footholes had been punched into the snow. However, the sun went behind the mountain as we started down, and the temperature was certainly below freezing, especially up near the top. So the snow was not only icy, but full of footprints. Not optimal conditions, especially considering the weather. And soon I'm not the only one having trouble.

Anyway, I'm going to spare all the trials and tribulations of the hike down the mountain... it was a grueling trudge, believe me. However - one very good thing happened as we were coming back down the steep part I talked about on the way up - I slid down on my butt ("glissaded") and turned to see everyone else come down, when out of the grey mist at the top comes a snowboarder... carrying a snowboard. as he comes closer I can see... yep, it's mine! saved! It turned out to be a park ranger, just doing a sweep of the mountain before turning in for the night, and he'd seen the binding of the board... way out on the Cowlitz glacier. Damn board got quite an adventure. So I didn't lose my snowboard after all... success! (However, we were still probably an hour from the parking lot, and I had no choice but to hold the board in my right hand, since I needed my left for my iceax. Probably not the best for a fresh injury... but what else was I going to do? My friend Rian had insisted on taking my pack soon after I took my spill... some sort of macho i don't know, but I couldnt exactly ask anyone else to carry my board. I was already the wuss, the wimp... the girl. Eh... I made it.

So we made it back to the road (we took a wrong turn at some point and ended up at the visitor center, not at the Paradise lot) and waited while a few went and got the cars. We finally hit the road around 11 and weren't home until after 1... a long damn day. I spent the next day in bed and in the bathtub... I could hardly walk.

So it was an interesting adventure, that is for sure. Now I need to get my ass in gear and start training if I'm going to summit next month... I can't wuss out now, that would be bad.

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