3:00am : I was already awake when Mike said loudly, ‘Okay, today’s the day, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.’ I had awaken about 15 minutes before we were scheduled to get up. I couldn’t believe that today was the day. After a year of preparing and training, the day was finally here…we were going to summit Mt. Rainier, if everything went according to plan, God’s plan.
I remember the first thing that hit me was that it was really cold. Colder than the morning before. The hardest part of the morning was crawling out of my super warm and comfy sleeping bag. The trick is to just do it, take your parka out of the compression sack used as your pillow, put it on, and then pack up your sleeping bag, put your harness on, then your boots, empty the tent, break it down then pack it along with other gear, at which point you are up, out and packed. I felt like a machine, an unstoppable force. For the last time I ate breakfast, fastened the straps on my pack, hoisted it onto my back and headed off into the darkness of the mountain.
The view was incredible. From the moment I stepped foot outside my tent until the moment the sun broke, I was in a complete state of being captivated by the mountain. Before the sun came up, the moon illuminated the face of the mountain and the stars sparkled in the background. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. When I looked behind me, I could see little cones of light following the trail I had just been on. Truly it was one of those moments I will never forget. As the sun slowly rose, it painted the sky with orange. It was by far the best sunrise I have ever seen. We began to see the trail more clearly with the sun rising and we steadied our pace. Within the second hour of climbing we could see the summit ridge, and from there it would only be a matter of 50 ft. to Columbia Crest, which is the true summit of Rainier.
At that point in the climb we were going a reasonable speed, and it was starting to take its toll. Keep pushing…Just a little bit more! I kept telling myself. We started to run into a lot of crevasses as we reached the peak of the mountain. We would go around some and then bound over others. Since it was still freezing, the snow was incredibly hard and crunchy, not to mention riddled with snow cups. You never could quite tell what you were stepping on when around crevasses. A lesson I learned when a snow bridge collapsed under one of my feet.
As I took a step and put all the weight on my back foot, it collapsed. Thankfully, I landed with my butt on one side of the crevasse and my heal on the other. I paused, as did everyone else. Nobody panicked, which was good, and I was able to use my ice axe to help myself flip around and out of the crevasse. Later, David would go on to tell me just how deep it was. I wasn’t interested though, and thanked God for reminding me of His authority and carried on. At this point, there was only about 50 ft. to the summit ridge and another 100 to the summit.
We continued up the ridge and walked to the summit where the wind was howling, the sun was rising, and the view seemed infinite. I couldn’t believe that I had made it. I took a minute to soak it all in, then we all took pictures, at which point Mike started quickly herding us into the crater where we could actually stop and take a break.
The summit was magical, only joyful people, gorgeous views, and a sunrise that would melt anyone’s heart. Far away in the distance I could see Mt. Adams and a tiny bit of Mt. St. Helens. We were miles above the clouds it seemed like, and far off on the crater rim we could see teams approaching with their headlamps still on. We went through several sulfur vents as we entered the crater. The trail through the snow was surprisingly well-plowed. Clearly it had been used a lot, and being that it is towards the end of the summer, it didn’t surprise me. We finally got to a point where we could take our packs off and relax.
The first thing I thought was, Man, I don’t deserve this. Thank you for your never-failing, unconditional love, Lord! We sat there for a good 20 minutes while all of the guides finally converging from different routes said hi and caught up on the past couple of days’ events. While sitting there, more teams came over to the rim and headed towards the summit, some looked strong and some didn’t.
Then, within minutes, it was a time for us to start the journey down. The first hour and a half was filled with fast downhill glacier travel over the ingrahm glacier. It killed our legs, and was actually harder than going up the mountain most of us thought. After what seemed like a long time, we made it to the top of Disappointment Cleaver, which got its name by someone mistaking it for the summit and turning around only to be disappointed later when he found out that it wasn’t.
Once we got to the bottom of Cleaver, which is basically a large band of rock, we entered what is known as the ‘bowling alley.’ It’s a large quarter mile strip of trail which goes through a rock and on ice field. You DON’T want to be there in the afternoon, because car-sized rocks and chunks of ice come tumbling down directly onto the trail. We raced through the ‘bowling alley’ and went to Camp Muir, which is a makeshift camp on the mountain. From there it was a short sled ride down to Paradise.
It was extremely hard to believe that the mountain we saw in the window on the way back to base camp on the bus was the same on we had been on at the top just seven hours before. When we got back to base camp, we gathered and celebrated with pizza and beer. We shared stories, exchanged contact info and pictures, and finally said goodbye.
I decided to drive out of town until I got reception so that I could call my parents and Cara. It was AWESOME to finally hear her voice, and God had been very clear since the beginning: Home is where I belong, and more importantly, where God wants me right now. Since we didn’t have to pick up Peter’s friend Laura due to changed plans, home was where we were going. We had climbed the mountain, met some amazing people, but we were out of money and it was time.
God wasn’t done working though. On the way out we ate with David and talked some about our faith. David was climbing to glorify God as well. We talked for about an hour about the ministries we were a part of and our experiences with them. Time seemed to go by so fast, but at last it was time for Peter and I to go home, so we set off east. Knowing full well that someday God would lead us back to the great mountain.