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Rainier, Part 5: A Long Way Down

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The team on the rim of the summit crater

We reached the summit at about 0830, and spent about 90 minutes enjoying the views, taking photos, doing pushups, and signing the summit log.  By the time we headed down the mountain, we’d already put in a long day, and we had a long, long way to go yet.  Descending was easier on the lungs, but not necessarily the legs.  And as the sun softened the snow, we had to contend with a route that was quickly turning to the consistency of a snow cone.

Traffic jam at the crux pitch

Traffic jam at the crux pitch

 

By 1100 we were back at the crux pitch, and while we’d made great time on this section on the ascent, on the descent we ran smack into a traffic jam.  Between the steepness and the sloppy snow, some of the rope teams ahead of us were clearly flummoxed as to how to get down safely.  Driving our axes into the snow for an anchor and sitting on our packs, we cooled our heels for over an hour and a half waiting our turn to rappel down.  Fortunately, the weather was nice and we were even able to get a cell phone signal, allowing Rob to make a quick blog post from 12,600’!

 

When at last the traffic jam cleared, Mark quickly set up an anchor and belayed the members of our team down over the short pitch.  In no time we were back at the top of the Cleaver, and making our way down over the mixture of snow and rock.   We used extra caution, knowing that the effects of fatigue made a slip or fall more likely.

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Nearing the base of the Cleaver, with Ingrham Glacier in the background.

 

By about 1500 we were back at Camp Muir, facing the daunting task of striking camp, repacking our loads, and descending another 4,600’ to Paradise.  A couple hours later, we hoisted packs that despite the absence of food and stove fuel seemed every bit as heavy as they had two days earlier!  The long trek down through the Muir Snowfield was a slog, to say the least.  But our delay high on the mountain had at least one silver lining:  by the time we’d reached the snowline, the late afternoon sun was bathing the meadows full of wildflowers in perfect light.  You couldn’t ask for a prettier memory of Rainier.

 

By the time we dragged into the parking lot at Paradise and dropped our packs for the last time, it was nearly 8 pm.  The visitor center had already closed for the day, and only a few tourists were milling about.  But all of them treated our arrival with a good deal of deference and respect.  Almost 2 million people a year visit the park, but only a tiny fraction of that number actually climb the mountain.  It felt good to be in such company.

The long road home.

The long road home.

 

Next up:  Your turn.