Last weekend I was privileged to be part of a group of awesome women who climbed Mt Rainier as a fundraiser for the SheJumps Wild Skills program. Together, we raised over $25,000, all of which will be used to help increase the participation of young women and girls in the outdoors. The climb was sponsored by Outdoor Research and International Mountain Guides. Outdoor Research offered some great fundraising incentives, and IMG provided four fantastic female guides to ensure we got up and down the mountain safely.
I tend to spend a lot of time outside by myself, so I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d do on a guided trip with a large group of people, but it was actually really great. Being guided by Sara, Liz, Brenda and Rachel was like climbing with very experienced friends who shared their extensive mountain knowledge and made sure we didn’t do anything stupid… and also cooked breakfast and dinner for us every day. Yes please! I learned so much from the guides, and really appreciate the time they spent answering questions, teaching us new skills, and building our overall mountain competency.
The seven other climbers were equally awesome – friendly and inclusive, yet also tough and strong. Again, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the group dynamic. We ranged from single ladies just turning 30, to moms with fully grown daughters, but we had no trouble finding common ground. We all believed in the cause. We all liked to be outside, testing our physical limits. We all loved mountain sports. We all liked to laugh and talk about poop. What else could you ask for?
The climb itself was spread over three days. Day 1 was a slow walk uphill from Paradise to Camp Muir. I think many of us were anxious about being able to keep up, but the guides made sure the pace was slow and steady, and everyone arrived at Camp Muir feeling good.
Day 2 was essentially a rest day. We spent the morning reviewing glacier travel at Camp Muir, and then took a short walk (1 mile and 1k gain) from Muir to our camp at Ingraham Flats. We ate “dinner” at 330 pm on Day 2 and then it was bedtime.
Before we went to bed, Sara, the lead guide, gave us a quick summit talk. She explained that the current route to the summit is relatively long, but not particularly technical. No ladders or leaps over gaping crevasses, no fixed lines, just a lot of walking.
Apparently another guide with a different company had described it as “boring.” Sounds great to me! If there’s one thing I know I can do, it’s walk in the snow with a heavy load for long periods of time.
Hilariously, Sara refused to tell us when we would be woken up for our summit bid. All she’d tell us is that we’d be woken “Early, when people normally go to bed. And once I wake you up, you’ll have 90 minutes to get ready.” It totally reminded me of the start to the Barkley Marathons: racers don’t know when the race will start… they just lie there in their tents, waiting for race director Laz to blow the conch, at which point racers have 60 minutes until the race officially starts.
I was convinced I would spend the “night” wide awake, finding it even more difficult to sleep because I didn’t know when I’d be woken up. But it was actually kinda nice. My only mission was to lie in the tent and rest. I didn’t fret about whether or not I was sleeping, or how many hours I had left before go-time. I just closed my eyes, snoozed for a bit, and got up when instructed.
As I lay in the tent dozing, I realized that my mental load had been removed. My husband Tom is fantastic, but by choice and by default, I carry a lot of the mental load at home. This trip gave me a break from that. I didn’t even have to set my own alarm clock! Although I greatly value my independence and autonomy, sometimes it’s nice to let go of the reins and simply do as you’re told. Especially when you’re being told what to do by women you like and trust. And it only lasts for 3.5 days. 😉
After being woken at 10 pm, we ate a quick “breakfast” and then roped up and hit the trail. And at this time of year, the route to the top is basically just that: a trail. Although Rainier is a big mountain with real dangers, the Disappointment Cleaver route isn’t particularly remote or wild. There is a trail – shoveled and maintained by guides in some parts! – right up to the summit. Not to mention we were climbing on one of the busiest weekends of the year.
Which brings up another reason to be grateful for the IMG guides: they knew it was going to be an insanely busy weekend on the mountain, and they made sure we were near the front of the congo line. Although we weren’t the first to the summit that morning, there were definitely far more people behind us than in front of us. Climbing Rainier isn’t a race, of course – but getting stuck in bottlenecks on the mountain carries its own set of dangers, and it was nice to avoid that.
Reaching the summit was fantastic. Although I felt relatively confident that I’d make it to the top, you never know what will happen on any given day. Again, our guides couldn’t have timed it more perfectly – we reached the summit approximately 5 minutes before sunrise, and got to watch the sun peek over the horizon as we stood on the very top. We took dozens of photos, had a dance party, and then headed off to sign the summit register.
Soon enough, it was time to begin our descent. One “fun” thing about the current DC route is that there is a downhill section on the way to the top… which of course means that you have to climb back up it during your descent. I was actually grateful for the change of grade. Climbing up the Emmons Glacier in the middle of our descent confirmed for me that given the choice, if I’m on a steep snowy slope I much prefer going uphill vs. downhill. (Hopefully this will change after a couple winters focused on skiing!)
Finally we reached Camp Muir. And who was there to greet us but Christy Pelland, the National Director of Wild Skills! If you know Christy, you know she has what seems like endless energy. She came bounding over the hill as we walked into camp, cheering loudly for us. And then she said the sweetest words ever: “I’ll be carrying down the backpack of the woman who raised the most money!” And then she pointed at me. I literally threw my hands in the air and screamed with joy. And then I handed her my pack without any hesitation. Thanks again Christy, and a huge thank you to all my friends and family who made such generous contributions!
The descent from Muir to Paradise wasn’t that bad (says the woman who had her pack carried by someone else). Although the snow was soft and sticky, we were still able to get in a few long glissades. And before we knew it, we were on pavement approaching the Paradise parking lot, where the IMG van was waiting for us with a cooler full of cold soda and potato chips. Heaven.
I’m pretty sure that this Rainier climb will become an annual thing, and if you haven’t already guessed, I highly recommend the experience! It sounds like there was a long wait list this year, so make sure you get and/or stay involved with SheJumps, so you’re in the loop when they start accepting applications for the 2018 climb! Last but not least, although the climb is complete, we are still happily accepting donations: https://www.rallyme.com/rallies/5663/rainier2017/roster/3519/jessica-kelley