Month: October 2012

Fall Hike on Rainier to Camp Muir

A Fall Hike on Rainier to Camp Muir should be on everyone’s list of climbing objectives as a shakedown cruise for your other adventures. Mount Rainier is a 4,000 meter volcano in the Pacific Northwest of the USA near Seattle Washington. The snow and ice can vary quite a bit from the Pebble Creek area all the way to Muir. You need a free overnight use permit to spend the night in Muir, and a climbing permit to go above Muir. Both can be gotten quite simply and quickly at the Paradise Ranger Station – not the visitor center – the climbing center across the parking lot in what looks like an old ski resort building.

The path up to Pebble Creek is pretty simple, just look at one of the maps posted at the trail heads. After Pebble Creek you might be on snow pretty quickly, and in general, there should be plenty of foot paths to follow in the snow up toward Camp Muir because of how popular this trail is. Up to Pebble Creek it’s sometimes dry and dusty, with mud and rocks and loose surface on some of it, and is easy to do in running shoes. The snow can be soft and easy enough to do in running shoes, or sometimes light boots and micro-spikes. Many climbers going for the summit will just use their heavy boots and crampons on the occasional icy spots.

We took a tent to camp in the snow near Camp Muir, though there is a hut and I’ve stayed in it, as well as in the old Guide’s Hut before they stopped letting clients and climbers use it. Camp Muir is a relatively low risk way to test your glacier clothing and gear, tents, sleeping bags, as well as your eating and drinking systems. It’s a good idea to find out ahead of time before you do any of the Seven Summits. Many of the American climbers will do Rainier first for training and experience. The authorized guide companies have quite a few training courses, including sessions during April and May that will help you learn how to climb on Denali and other very cold mountains.

Fall Hike on Mount Rainier to Camp Muir Photo Gallery

These photos are from 2009


Elbrus 2012 Summit Day

It was a cold night without heat in the Barrel Hut #4 where I slept at the 12,300′ level on Elbrus in Russia, and I slept fitfully.

At 5:30 I stepped out to check conditions and though it was very cold and windy, the sky was clear, so I prepared to go. It was slowly dawning with a lightening sky, so I could see a bit without my headlamp as I prepared. First was breakfast, a half shake and the rest of a Clif Z-bar I’d started in the night. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

It was slow going getting prepared, but finally I stepped out onto the glacier and began my upward plodding.

I checked my heart rate frequently with a goal to keep it around 140 for as long as possible for maximum endurance. I was doing okay with that, just very cold and the wind feeling like it was cutting right through me. All of the flowing water from all the previous days was frozen solid in midstream… — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

Elbrus Summit Day Hypothermia

As I got higher it got colder and windier, and I ended up in all my layers, silently chanting motivational mantras to myself to inspire myself ever upward. A little over halfway to Pastukhova Rocks, I slowed to a halt, feeling the cold deep inside and in my numbing fingers.

I stared up at Pastukhova Rocks, about the halfway point, seemingly inches away, but actually over a mile and 1300′ up and away. I was indecisive. I wanted to finally finish, to get it behind me, but I was so cold. My imagination drifted back to 2009 and Liberty Ridge on Rainier where our team nearly died after a storm blew in after an epic struggle up the steep route. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

The niggling remembrance of a guide training course I once took told me I was experiencing mild hypothermia, and that I should descend immediately. As a solo climber, the margin for error is a lot smaller – there isn’t anyone to tell you when you’re experiencing a medical emergency. I turned around in tears.

I finally began to feel a bit warmer as I got below the Diesel Hut, but couldn’t figure out how to remove a layer. I needed to use my poles a lot getting down the steep dry pitch. I began to cough bringing up gunk from deep down in my lungs, and realized that I had used up my one chance for the summit on this trip, and that I would need to eat and drink more to make it down, not worrying about saving for a second attempt. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

Returning to the Barrels, I dried my boots, charged my Guide 10 battery pack, repacked my gear, drank and drank and drank, veg’ing in the bunk. Doing the math, I realized that in spite of my best wishes, I truly did not have a chance at the summit on the next day, since I couldn’t guarantee I’d make the last gondola of the day at 3 PM. In fact, it would be a struggle to make the last one today. I packed quickly and took off for the trail to the chairlift after checking that it was still running.

I managed to get lost on the way down to the lift, and made a few wandering wrong turns before I finally got there. It’s only a couple hundred feet down and you can see the whole path most of the way. I was almost angry that I got lost so much. .. The ride was very cold, and I wore the warmest jacket I had with.
At Mir I had a little trouble figuring out how to get on the gondola. Finally the maze of stairs made sense and I managed to get into a car, and make the transition at the mid-station. A little below the station, maybe 9000′ my whole body felt much better and relaxed. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

I arrived at the hotel after an amazingly scary taxi ride, settled into my room, and after dinner slept like a rock.

Elbrus Summit Day Photos


Elbrus 2012 Pastukhova Rocks Hike Video

I hiked to Pastukhova Rocks on Elbrus, a volcano in the Caucasus of Russia, and one of the Seven Summits. On Thursday September 6 I took a taxi to Azau, where the tram and gondola bottom stations are.

I took my billet or pass as we Americans prefer, and waved it at the scanner and the gate beeped ajar and I passed through. Having skied a number of times I booked it to the next open gondola door and jumped in. I scared the attendants and you didn’t need to know Russian to know what they yelled. Like a punk snowboarder I smiled and waved as I scooted aboard and sat. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

I barely made my goal time, in spite of the chairlift between the top tram station and the Barrels Huts being off that day. This was an important acclimatization hike to 15,300′, about halfway in elevation gain and miles from the Barrels to the Summit of Elbrus. The snow conditions were awful, terrible, hard frozen slush and gravel dusted packed snow…

…with running water over ice. The trail angled just to the left at Pastukhova Rocks, which seemed quite bare this fall. I had set a goal of hitting the Rocks at 1:00 PM, and I made 1:06. Amazing, 2:13 from the Barrels, but I was beat and empty. — Elbrus, My Waterloo – publishing October 2012

I hit the Rocks and made a hasty retreat to the gondola station to make the last car down. I did not want to walk that 4,000′ in the dark on top of the 4,000′ I already did that day. In the middle of all that I got a chance to shoot a few seconds of video here and there and spliced it all together.

Here is my Elbrus acclimatization hike video