Can You Pick Me Up Some Climbing Boots?
From Camp Schurman, Mt. Rainier
It is another amazing weekend in Sitka, Alaska. I am a world away and a pile of years removed from this story. I have a major swim race to organize but the guilt demons are rattling my cage and many years later I think it is finally time to jot this story into print. My final reminder was the picture above, which I posted yesterday as my FaceBook profile pic. My story sits at 14,440 feet, an icon of the Seattle horizon. I spent half of my growing up with the glorious image of Mt. Rainier out our front window. I would step out the door, glare at the peak, think cool, someday....and make a mad sprint to catch the bus.
Not the highest lump of rock and ice on the globe, nor the most technical, scaling Mt. Rainier is still a worthy goal and the mountain is an excellent site for climbers who have Himalayan Peaks on their agenda. Rainier is the largest single-peak glacier system in the lower 48 states. Over 35 square miles of ice and 26 officially named glaciers. It is also the highest peak in the 48 conterminous states.
Lacking notes from my 4 trips on Rainier and a memory that actually retains little, I am promising a short blog entry.
Timing can be everything in life and my first attempt at Rainier would be a glaring example of lousy timing. My high school cross country team, headed by Archie Blakely would decide to
take on the challenge of Rainier. I thought I might approach my folks, get a kind denial and I would go on to the next adventure. Didn't quite happen that way as I stated my case, the fact that none of my friends had died climbing Mt. Rainier and that if I could find my teen bucket list, I was sure it was on there, somewhere. 3 days before the climb I would get the green light. Yes, 3 days to train, I don't think so. 3 days to pack, scout down gear and come up with a game plan with my doctor on dealing with the climb and diabetes. This last measure was done with a lot of ???? and one more ?. It was new territory, climbing with diabetes. Bigger issue at the moment was gear. I had kmart gear. Yes, I had issues. Surprised the climbing group didn't "show" me the first crevasse we came across. Also lacking were climbing boots. Never fear, I gave someone some money to rent a pair of boots from REI (I was unable to escape school for this). Who climbs a major mountain in a pair of rented, untried boots? Hey, in this case, I do. Remember a life of adventure! It was my only option and lady luck was on my side (on my feet) as the boots fit perfectly.
We would troop up the Ingraham - Disappointment Cleaver route. It is the most popular route. The route takes one to Camp Muir, which makes a great spot to kick off the rented boots and hide your kmart ish gear, crash before your alarm clock would rudely jolt you awake at about 1am to start the seriously long day before you. Being on a dangerous mountain, jumping crevasses, walking across glaciers and being in the exercise mode gear all morning and day I was very cautious about the amount of insulin I had in the system and having low blood sugars. My extra caution would kick me in the behind as I would strive through some high blood sugars. Attempts to get the sugars down were not great and I struggled finding gears in the engine. Namely put, I called it a day at Disappointment Cleaver at about 11,000 feet. I would be back.
Camp Schurman at 9,440 Feet
Some life gears began to shift as the first Mt. Rainier climb came to a close. Disappointment, but my life would spin in a direction toward my passion of adventure and challenges. I was not going to let the diabetes put me in neutral or reverse gear. I would kick into a new chassis when I would later take my first bungee jump. Live outside the box. There is so much more from a different perspective.
Another shift would be the relationship I had with my mom and dad. They were now realizing that their son was cut out of a different fabric. New adventures, challenges and more dreams to go beyond and to achieve, even with the diabetes card I was dealt.
The next year would allow more time to train, plan, make changes in the diabetes regimen and pick up gear that would make me feel like a part-time mountaineer. Hey, I am still in high school. This year the group would be a different cast of characters and the man with the lead ice axe would be Dick Deal. Our route would be the Emmons Glacier route. It was an extra 1/2 day route starting from the White River Campground and would take about 21/2 days. The Muir route is a 2 day excursion. On this route we would spend the night at Camp Schurman. I enjoyed this climb much more than the previous year and this route did not have "Disappointment" anywhere on the features listed on the climbing map. About 2am or so we had crampons affixed and ice axe in hand. It was almost a full moon that evening. Words fall into a deep crevasse in trying to describe the beaming white glow from the heavens splashed across the icy white, rough and rugged and outstanding landscape set before us. One of the beauties of Camp Schurman (at about 9500 feet) is being able to watch the climbers trod along the broken path high above you. The headlights would bob slowly upward into the morning until they turned a corner at about 11,000 feet on the mountain. It was like a scene from a movie but the lack of sleep, excitement, danger of mountain climbing and the constant monitoring of the diabetes was real.
This climb would be successful. I had learned a thing or two about climbing mountains and the insulin issue.
My third journey on the mountain would be the next year. This time I did the climb right. I climbed with my doctor. That usually doesn't happen, but when your doctor is Graham Reedy it is possible. Graham is an experienced mountain climber and was the trainer for the Oakland Raiders (I think that was when they actually had a team). Improvement had been made in the realm of diabetes and climbing and I was gaining good climbing experience and adding stock to the amazing life I had been leading.
One climber had professed that he had been "weathered" out on Rainier 12 or 13 times in a row. Rainier can create it's own weather and is often hampered by horrific weather. I was on my third year where I suffered from being overdressed and sunburned. I was baked. It was a blessing to lead the group on part of the route. That was a position I never envisioned.
We reached the summit and I came home with pictures that did not come out. The camera had overcompensated the brightness. We would make the long trudge back and roll into Enumclaw, not far from Mt. Rainier, where Graham hung his ice axe, sit in the hot tube and look out at such a dominant feature out his back door. It had also become a dominate feature in my life.
My fourth trek onto Rainier's flank would not be a summit affair but would still have significant etchings in my life. This trip would only be to Camp Muir, about 1/2 way up the mountain. This would have meaning as it was with my father. He did well and we were both surprised that it was not as difficult as we thought it would be. I value that time that we spent on the mountain that had special meaning to me.
I had the pleasure to meet Murray Lawson and share with him my Rainier climbs. Murray also lives in Sitka, Alaska and has diabetes. In August 2009 he was standing on top of Mt. Rainier. Way to go Murray. On to Everest?