I climbed Mount Rainier in August of 2013. I did not have previous glacier skills, so I decided to do a fundraising climb through International Mountain Guides. Training lasted five months, and before I knew it we were already doing gear check on day 0.
This is what I shared from days 2 and 3:
It was day 2 and we were sent to bed at 6pm, exactly 12 hours after waking up that morning. We were supposed to sleep until midnight, but the wind was so strong and loud that I could not rest or even relax. The tent did not stop shaking for hours on end. I remember thinking that I heard crampon steps every few minutes, but it was not a human noise, it was the wind clashing with the tent’s metal anchors. I was hungry and wanted to go to the bathroom. Hours passed and I finally managed to leave the tent to grab my headlamp, phone and some food. It was almost midnight.
The wind had not stopped. I was beginning to accept the idea that we were not going to the summit that day.
At 12:30 our lead guide, Mike, came to announce that the wind was too strong to leave our camp. The RMI team (a competitor) had left already, but they didn’t have tents and mobile equipment to protect at Ingraham Flats. They had spent the night at Camp Muir in an established hut. At that point, after witnessing the passion, strength and experience of the guides, I knew that whatever decision Mike made would be the best.
About 30 minutes later I could hear longer windows without wind; that’s when Mike came back to shout “We’ll go for it”. There was no time to doubt.
We went to the kitchen tent, had some hot oatmeal and put our climbing gear on. I was teamed up with fellow Mexican Javier. For the next 13 hours we would be Team Mexico.
Mistake #1: Not warming up before starting the climb at 3am, in cold weather and with heavy boots and crampons on. Definitely not a good idea.
A stiff calf in the first 10 minutes made me walk up the Disappointment Cleaver with a bad knee movement. We were three teams in a row, walking past the “bowling alley” (where loose rocks basically come rolling down the hill), and of course a silly calf was no reason to stop. One and a half hours later we had our first break. I managed to fix my calf, but the knee pain had started and I could not find a way to stop it.
The pain was bearable, but very distracting. Mike gave me a fair warning: I had started with calf problems and now I had knee pain, should I keep going? I felt compelled to reassure him that I was okay to go on.
Soon we started to see the first rays of sunrise, what an incredible sight. We had arrived at the crazy dangerous part of the route, in which we had to step over 100-ft deep crevasses and walk across ladders Everest-style. People have complained that they are not allowed to take out their cameras in that area, and I can’t figure out why…
Mr. 45mi/h Wind with 50mi/h gusts came back at the last break.
Mistake #2: Forgetting that 4 hours had passed since my last “real” meal, I did not ingest high calorie food on the last break and did not put my honey bag in my jacket pocket! I was desperately going to need it in the next 45 minutes. That was all we had left from the break spot to the summit.
This is how the last push to the summit felt: strong wind blowing against me, my arms very tired of using the ice ax to keep me stable with every wind gust, my legs completely capable of moving but the energy level in my blood so low that I was close to passing out. I did not even feel the knee pain. The guide in front of me had to drag me at times, because we were not stopping, not until reaching the crater. I am not sure where I got spare energy, but I managed to make it to the summit okay and conscious. That’s why the first picture taken at the crater has me crashed on the floor looking for my honey bag. A few minutes after I inhaled the honey, I knew the descent would be much easier. It was 8am.
Since the wind was still there, our glory at the crater was about 10 minutes long, and I still can’t believe we forgot to take a group photo.
On our way down, the guide had to keep me with a short rope to prevent my flying away, but we were going at a very good pace.
On the glacier, the pain was at its worst when walking over the rope to switch direction; what I did not anticipate was that going down the rocky Disappointment Cleaver would be a nightmare. Complaining was no help at all, so I concentrated on my foot-placing strategy at every step. After the Cleaver we went through some more glacier, which gave me a respite, and soon we were on another rocky section, then more snow, which thankfully lasted for a few hours. One thing was certain: a straight leg was a painless leg. Once we were out of the snow fields and into the countless stairs leading to the bottom of the trail, I used the trekking poles as crutches and thus minimized knee bending. That’s how I spent the last one and a half hours, happy to keep up with the team’s pace.
When we finally reached the place where everything had started, I had been climbing up and down non-stop for 13 hours, hadn’t had any sleep in 36 hours and like the rest of the team, felt like a champion. It had been absolutely worth it.