An Ascent of Mount Rainier

Have you ever experienced being abruptly jolted from sleep by a dream? Startled, you look around to get your bearings, and when you check the time you’re relieved that you still have a few hours of precious sleep before having to actually leave the warmth of your bed…

Well, on June 8, I experienced the exact opposite of that: Waking early on summit day on Mount Rainier was like entering a dream—a dream come true that I didn’t want to end.

Performance Depends on Preparation

My Mount Rainier journey began with a gear check at the Alpine Ascents International headquarters in Seattle, to ensure we had everything we would need for a climb to 14,410 feet. Due to its erratic and quickly changing weather patterns, Rainier is a premier training ground for groups practicing for larger expeditions in the Himalayas. Hence, every article of clothing and every item you pack must be carefully selected.

The next morning, we left Seattle at 5:45 AM. Our team of seven clients and four guides piled into a Sprinter bus and began the drive toward Mount Rainier National Park.

Once at Paradise parking lot (roughly 5,000 feet in elevation), we donned our gear, made last minute adjustments to our 30-pound packs and headed for base camp. We made the long, slow slog in complete whiteout conditions. The only thing we could see was the person marching in front of us as they made the snow footsteps a bit deeper than those from the climber ahead. Along the way, as we climbed higher and the air around us grew thinner, the guides pointed out breathing and walking techniques to help us acclimate to the conditions.

…to have a tangible goal to look forward to and to pour my blood, sweat, and tears into, makes me excited to get up each morning.

Once we finally arrived at base camp, we had dinner and turned in for an early night so that the extra sleep could help stave off altitude sickness.

The next morning we woke up around 8:00 am and had breakfast in the AAI cook tent, an extremely utilitarian shelter about the size of a small bathroom. Once we had eaten, we geared up with crampons (spikes on your feet to offer better traction on snow) and ice axes. We practiced self- arrest (being able to stop yourself from sliding down a slope) on our backs, headfirst on stomachs, and headfirst on backs. Once we had demonstrated proficiency in each variation we were ready to rope up and move to high camp.

Keeping Eyes on the Prize

The walk to high camp saw us on the actual glacier, so we all roped up and tied together. It was a short but steep climb to 11,200 feet. We stashed our packs in our tents and made for our second cook tent—even smaller than the first—around 2:00 pm for an early dinner. Afterward, we climbed into our tents around 4:00 pm for what we thought would be a restless hour or two of sleep.

But instead, the guides didn’t wake us up until close to midnight, when they declared that although it was windy on the summit, the conditions were good enough for us to make our summit bid. We took around an hour to gear up and around 1:30 am, and with headlamps on, we started toward the upper mountain.

As we climbed, we had to circumvent, jump or walk over huge crevasses that had no discernible bottom. When we approached 13,000 feet, the temperature plummeted to single digits and into negatives with wind chill. We also found that our water bottles had frozen inside of our packs. A member of our team was diagnosed with hypothermia and was sent back to camp with one of our guides.

When we approached 13,000 feet, the temperature plummeted to single digits and into negatives with wind chill. We also found that our water bottles had frozen inside of our packs. A member of our team was diagnosed with hypothermia and was sent back to camp with one of our guides.

Despite the many hardships, though, the sunrise at 13,000 feet, high above the clouds, will for a long time remain one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The climb from high camp to the summit took around 6 hours, but the intense 30-40 mph winds only allowed four us on the team that made it to the top to enjoy the view for about 15 minutes before we had to heading back to thicker air to avoid frostbite.

Joe_Stokan-Mt_Rainier

Savoring Success

The way down was like a new climb in itself, since on the way up, in the dark, we were unable to see the steep cliffs along the way. It only took us eight hours to make the trek all the way back to the parking lot and a well-deserved, warm meal.

What I love about any climbing experience, but especially taking the summit of Mt. Rainier, is that climbing requires all-present focus and attention. In a world where multitasking is expected of us every day,  it is cleansing to take a few days or weeks and concentrate on just one task…to have neither time nor means to devote attention and mindshare to anything else.

To train for each climb and to have a tangible goal to look forward to and to pour my blood, sweat, and tears into, makes me excited to get up each morning. The pride that comes from having to identify a goal, set a plan, execute that plan, and to have it all come to fruition in the last few steps to the summit gives me a sense of confidence would be hard to imagine finding anywhere else.

The only downside? Once you get a small taste, you only want to go higher.

Editor’s note: Congratulations Joe! At Aptos, we celebrate the achievements of our colleagues within and beyond our workplace. That’s because the planning, dedication and pioneering spirit it takes to set and meet bold personal goals are same qualities we cultivate and apply to meet our professional goals, in partnership with the retailers we serve. That’s just The Aptos Way.

1 Comment

  • comment-avatar
    Jay Shields June 22, 2016 (8:02 pm)

    Such a great story and experience Joe! Way to go!