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Rainier ’13: Part One–A Plan Comes Together


(By Rob Suminsby, Rainier ’13 team)

If you haven’t checked out the link in the previous blog post to Jason Truskowski’s great article about the Rainier climb, please do!  Jason was an avid supporter throughout the Everest Expedition, and he hiked most of the way to Camp Muir on Rainier in order to tell the story of the team’s new direction.  Herewith, an expanded trip report on Rainier 2013…read on!

After the successful Everest summit, the USAF 7 Summits co-founders Majors Rob Marshall and Mark Uberuaga had seen an amazingly ambitious project through to completion.  But the question kept coming up in Blog comments and emails:  “What’s next?”  And lots of Airmen wanted to know, “How can I get involved?”

The 7 Summits project began with the aim of promoting camaraderie and esprit d’corps among US Airmen and of highlighting the Air Force’s focus on personal fitness and growth.  As time went on, the team became more closely involved with efforts to help wounded warriors, culminating in the inclusion of three AF wounded warriors in the trek to Everest Base Camp.   Both Mark and Rob wanted to build upon that foundation, and reach out to both wounded warriors and more generally to Airmen who could benefit from the experience of mountaineering.  Mark used to work as a professional guide on Mount Rainier, and he and Rob quickly decided upon a late July climb there as a perfect way to launch the new effort.

The word went out via email, Facebook, and this website, and we quickly assembled a team of twelve climbers, including two wounded warriors, Staff Sgt. Brian Wadtke and Master Sgt. Doug Neville, combat controllers from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  If you’ve ever been to JB Lewis-McChord (on a clear day, that is), you know how Mount Rainier dominates the skyline.  These two Airmen decided to join the team and prove that their combat injuries would not get in the way of their desire to stand on the rim of that 14,410’ giant.  The rest of the team was made a diverse group: current and former Airmen, civilian friends, male and female, ranging in age from mid-twenties to mid-fifties.  Most of us had little or no previous climbing experience, trusting that our rope-team leaders Rob, Mark, and Graydon Muller (a veteran of Denali and Mt Vinson) would teach us all the skills we needed.


Disappointment Cleaver route on Mount Rainier

Disappointment Cleaver route on Mount Rainier

We all converged on Seattle on Friday, 19 July.  I’d flown over Rainier many times before, but as I peered out the window on the descent into SEATAC, it suddenly looked like a much more serious mountain.  Moisture-laden storms rolling in from the Pacific drop a huge snowpack on the Cascades, crowning Rainier with a year-round cap of ice and snow, which feeds glaciers flowing in all directions.   It made me question for just a moment the sanity of this endeavor.

At baggage claim, I caught up with Rob and Dawn, a USAFA classmate of Rob’s who now works as a physical therapist in San Diego.  An hour later we’d loaded all our gear into a rental car and were on our what to the tiny town of Ashford, the western gateway to Mt Rainier National Park.

The rest of the team had already arrived, and we were greeted with cold beer and burgers on the grill.  Even though most of us were meeting for the first time, it took no time to form fast friendships as we sorted gear on the deck, breathed in the smell of pine and cedar, and enjoyed a cool evening with the promise of great weather for the morning.

Burgers are up!  Rob, our ER doc from Boise, ID

Burgers are up! Rob, our ER doc from Boise, ID

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