Mt. Rainier attempt #1, July 26, 27, 28, 2004

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    • #7780
      [Ed: Imported from Americas Roof ‘Summit Trip Reports’ forum]
      [By: Jerry Bresnahan on August 9 2004 at 5:21 PM]

      I regret to report that my first attempt at reaching the summit of Mt. Rainier was unsuccessful. The training class on the first day went well and I learned a great deal. However my feet were sore from my new “plastic” mountaineering boots and I had a couple blisters that were causing problems. The next day, which was our hike to the base camp at Camp Muir, also went well. I decided to wear my comfortable hiking boots and carry my plastic boots to Camp Muir. It added more weight to my backpack but I wanted to try to save my feet for summit day, which requires the wearing of the plastic boots and crampons for the entire day. The 4½-mile hike to Camp Muir took about five hours and was fairly steep and strenuous. The start of the climb was at 5400 feet and Camp Muir is at 10080 feet. I practiced the “rest stepping” and “pressure breathing” techniques that we learned in our training class. If done properly the slow rest step conserves energy and the pressure breathing ensures that you get enough oxygen. I felt good when I reached Camp Muir and was very optimistic about my chances of reaching the summit the following morning. Camp Muir is about half way to the summit. We all went to bed about 6PM and got up at about midnight for our ascent to the summit of the 14411 foot Mt. Rainier. The weather was beautiful. It was a clear, calm night and the temperature was relatively warm, probably in the mid 40s, so we dressed fairly light, carrying warmer clothes in our packs for the higher altitudes which would be below freezing.
      My troubles seemed to start right from the beginning. I had problems with my balance which caused me to work at least twice as hard as I should have. The plastic boots are a bit uncomfortable to begin with and walking on rocks with my crampons on is extremely awkward. About one hour of the first 1 1/2 hours of our ascent was spent walking and climbing on rocks. I think that combined with walking in the dark with a headlamp on narrow trails, sometimes less than a foot wide, with steep inclines on one side and steep drop-offs on the other side, all contributed to my feeling off balance. I found myself laboring very hard to try to keep pace with the lead guide, Paul, who was directly in front of me, and struggling to avoid losing my balance. By concentrating so hard on my balance and keeping pace I found that I was not concentrating enough on the things taught in class such as the rest step and the pressure breathing. Therefore I found that I was breathing too hard, sweating profusely, using way too much energy and struggling to keep up. I was becoming frustrated, stressed out and somewhat angry with myself. The guide could tell I was struggling and tried to help me by reminding me to breath and rest step. I tried to calm down and relax but by that time I think it was already too late. I was feeling exhausted and beginning to feel a little lightheaded. I felt like I was in the early stages of heat exhaustion. It may have been a bit of altitude sickness too but we were still below 12,000 feet and I was not feeling any headaches or nausea so I think it was just exhaustion, heat or otherwise. A few other things that may have added to my problems were a couple painful blisters that I was favoring, a fairly new injury to my right knee I received when I fell while jogging a week earlier (my knees are already weak from an old injury), not eating enough before starting the climb and only getting a few hours sleep over the past several nights, mostly due to nervous anticipation. I would add old age but there were several people, in their late 60s, nearly ten years older than me, that did make it to the summit so I won’t add age to my list of excuses. Anyway; when we stopped for our first rest break at about 1 hour 45 minutes into the climb (we couldn’t stop any sooner because we had to keep moving quickly through the area that is frequented by rock and ice falls), Paul, the head guide told me that he thought I had gone as far as I should go this trip. I agreed with him. I probably could have forced myself to go farther but our main concern was coming back down safely. I had discussed my knee problems with Paul and how they sometimes get weak and unstable on long steep downhill hikes. We agreed to monitor the condition of my knees and decide together on whether I should continue. We had to consider the safety of the entire group rather than just my own abilities and desire to reach the summit. If my knees and balance became unstable and I started slipping and falling I would jeopardize the safety of everyone. Since I was already having trouble with my balance and my body was exhausted I knew that it would be best if I did not continue. I originally thought that if I could just make it to the top I would get back down one way or the other but as burned out as I already was I realized that would not be the smart thing to do. One of the guides put up a tent and threw a sleeping bag inside and told me to crawl in and wait there until another guide came and got me later in the morning. Since I was soaked with sweat and feeling chilled I quickly got into the sleeping bag. I felt as though hypothermia was coming on and I felt a little concerned after everyone left and I was all alone. My heart kept racing and my breathing was very heavy as if I was running. It stayed that way for a couple hours. About twenty minutes later another guy, Eugene, from my class and a member of the Highpointers Club, who was now with another group, joined me in the tent. He didn’t seem to be as exhausted as I was. He voluntarily quit because he didn’t get enough sleep the night before and felt too tired to continue. He had recently climbed Mt. Kilamanjaro, in Africa, where he was catered to and had porters to carry his gear for him. I got the feeling that he had expected to be pampered on this trip too and was somewhat disappointed in finding out that he was expected to carry his own weight and make it pretty much on his own under the watchful guidance of our guides.
      I exited the tent just in time to watch a beautiful sunrise. As the sun came up I started warming up and felt much better. My quick drying clothes were already dry. Eugene soon came out and we talked and enjoyed the beautiful scenery until about 7:30AM when a couple guides came down the mountain with another six men who did not make it to the summit. Brandon, the lead “rescue guide” was upbeat and congratulated us for making it as far as we did. He said we made it farther than a lot of people make it. That surprised me. Here I felt like a failure and this experienced mountaineer and guide was complimenting me. That helped me feel slightly better about myself and gave me a little more energy to get back down the mountain. I believe there were three groups of nine, not including the three guides with each group, who started the climb the day before. Of those three groups nine did not make it to the summit. (There were several women in the groups and all of them did make it to the summit.) One stayed at Camp Muir because of lack of sleep and broken sunglasses. Two of us stopped at between 11000 and 12000 feet and six more stopped at between 12000 and 13000 feet. All of the nine that didn’t make it were men over 50 years old. That group included a former Navy Seal, a cardiologist, a minister, a business owner who had recently climbed Mt Kilamanjaro in Africa, and myself, a former Marine and retired Illinois State Trooper. (I believe five of us were members of the Highpointers Club. Two of the Highpointers who were both in their 60s, including Ron Book and Ben (I don’t remember his last name), did make it to the summit.) Our background, experience and fitness levels varied but one thing we all had in common was that, for one reason or another, July 28th, 2004 was not the day we were going to reach the summit of Mt. Rainier. Naturally we were disappointed but for the most part our spirits remained high and we regarded this as a positive experience in which we learned a great deal about ourselves, mountaineering in general and what we need to do to improve our chances of success on any future attempts at summitting Mt. Rainier. In conversation I learned that at least one or two would not attempt Mt. Rainier again but several others were already planning their next attempt. As for me I have no immediate plans for my next attempt but I would like to give it another try sometime in the not too distant future.
      For my next attempt, whenever that may be, I know I have to do some things differently. I need to spend more time doing long, strenuous hikes, carrying heavy packs at high altitudes, 12000 to 14000+ feet, for at least one week, preferably two, immediately prior to my summit attempt of Mt. Rainier. I would like to do some of these long, steep hikes on snow so I can get used to wearing my plastic boots and crampons and practice my rest stepping and pressure breathing so it becomes second nature so I don’t have to think about it so much. Prior to this last attempt I spent a week hiking in Colorado but that was a month before arriving at Rainier. I did not do enough long, steep, strenuous hikes with heavy packs and did not hike higher than 8000 feet during the two weeks I spent in Washington and Oregon just prior to my attempt at Mt. Rainier. I also will increase my leg exercise program to try to strengthen the muscles around my knees. I have permanently stretched ligaments in both knees from an accident in which I almost lost one of my legs before I retired about 12 years ago. I jog and workout with weights regularly and am in fairly good shape so I’m not sure if more strenuous exercise will solve the problem but I’ll give it my best shot.
      Another thing I plan on changing for my next attempt of Mt. Rainier is the amount of time set aside for the climb itself. Climbing Mt. Rainier in two days, with very little sleep, is like running a Marathon and is just too much in too short of a time period, especially for old farts like myself with old injuries that tend to make life difficult. Instead of pushing to make it in two days I would like to allow three or four days. I would hike to Camp Muir the first day and then spend the entire second day resting at Camp Muir before starting the summit attempt early on the morning of the third day. After summitting Rainier and arriving back at Camp Muir early in the afternoon of the third day I would take a long rest, preferably spending one more night and waiting until the fourth day to head back down from Camp Muir. That way it won’t be such a long hard push each day and my entire body, especially my feet and my knees, will have a chance to heal and recuperate. I also believe that if I spend more time training and becoming more comfortable in my plastic boots and crampons I will be more relaxed and comfortable, and now that I know what to expect I won’t be so nervous and anxious next time and hopefully I will be able to get more sleep and eat more food the morning of the climb. I’m not sure whether my next attempt will be with a guide service again, (it gets rather expensive), or with experienced members of The Highpointers Club.
      This trip I went with Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. They currently have pretty much of a monopoly on guided climbs of Mt. Rainier. I have read some posts on the Internet and have heard some people from the club speak poorly of and criticize RMI and some of their guides. I think most of those complaints are primarily because most people feel that if they pay a substantial fee to a guide service they have the right to expect that the guides should do everything they can do get the paying client to the summit. They expect to be catered to the way my tent mate, Eugene, was catered to in Africa. I can understand that feeling to a certain extent but RMI makes it pretty clear what to expect on their web site and in the literature they send to their clients. They stress how tough it is and how hard one needs to train to prepare physically for the challenge of climbing Mt. Rainier. They tell you that you need to be in the best shape of your life. Since I have worked out and been into physical fitness all my life it’s pretty near impossible to expect that I can be in the best shape of my life at age 58, especially with my previous injuries and ailments. I was in the best shape of my life 20 to 25 years ago when I worked out with heavy weights and ran 6 to 10 miles almost everyday. For this climb at least I kind of knew what to expect and tried my best to get in the best shape I am currently capable of being in.
      I was extremely impressed with the RMI guides. They were all friendly, cheerful and very helpful. They were willing to share their experiences and give helpful advice even outside of class. I did not get the feeling that any of the guides felt superior or talked down to any of the students even though most of us students were inexperienced beginners and most of the guides have climbed Mt. Rainier numerous times, some do it two or three times each week and many have climbed many other mountains around the world including Mt. Everest. Many of these guides are experienced world-class mountaineers. They are highly professional, motivated, safety conscious and some of the most physically fit individuals I have ever met. What they do in an average week is equivalent to running two or three 26-mile Marathon races or an Iron Man Triathlon every week. These guides are all like “Iron Men” and a few “Iron Women”. There’s not an ounce of fat on any of them. I read that an individual burns approximately 15000 calories during a typical climb of Mt. Rainier. What a way to lose weight!
      The main emphasis and concern with the RMI guides seems to be safety. Some people think that they are too quick to remove clients from the class or the climb, but after listening to them, and observing them, it is obvious to me that they only remove people if those people are safety concerns and may jeopardize themselves or the entire group. There was a group of nine members of The Highpointers Club who attempted Mt. Rainier with RMI the week prior to the Konvention. I spoke with the two guys that made it to the summit, and a couple that did not, and although one of the guys did not care for the guides attitude, and felt that the guide removed him from the climb too quickly, they all seemed to agree that the two that made it to the summit trained hard enough and the rest did not, and the consensus was that the guides made the right decision.
      Mike Gauthier, the lead-climbing Ranger at Mt. Rainier National Park, gave a talk at The Highpointers Club Konvention on Saturday night. One of the things he talked about was that approximately 10000 to 11000 people attempt to reach the summit of Mt. Rainier each year and about half of them make it. He said that the reasons that most people don’t make it are because of the weather, inexperience, lack of training and preparation and poor fitness. He also spoke highly of the guides that work for RMI and the other guide services on Mt. Rainier.
      The guides I had with my group were Paul Maier, who is one of the senior, if not the senior guide with RMI. He has been with them for over 18 years and has climbed Mt. Rainier hundreds of times and has climbed many other mountains around the world including Mt. Everest. He works in the office a lot these days and doesn’t guide as much as he used to. We were lucky to have him and he taught me a lot. He may have been stricter with me than some of the junior guides might have been but I agree with his decision in removing me from the climb. I was becoming a danger to myself and the group and as sore and wobbly as my legs and knees were at the end of the day, after coming down the mountain, I seriously doubt I could have made it down on my own, at least not in one day, if I would have been allowed to climb all the way to the summit. Paul seemed to like me and kind of took a personal interest in me. He complimented me on my fitness several times, even after the climb was over and I had “wimped out”. I told him where the word WIMP came from. At least I had heard that the word WIMP came from US Army Ranger School. Apparently most Ranger candidates drop out of the grueling Ranger School during Mountain Training. WIMP stands for Weak In Mountain Portion, which is what the Ranger instructors write on their efficiency reports or student grades. Paul and some of the other guides seemed to find that interesting but Paul seemed a little upset when I said slightly jokingly that I had “wimped out”. I don’t remember his exact words but he said something to the effect that I didn’t “wimp out”, that everybody can have a bad day and not making it to the summit on my first attempt is nothing to be ashamed of. He said I was obviously fit and had done a lot of hiking. Some people just need a little more time than others. He also said he respected the fact that I was honest with him about my knees showing consideration for the safety of the group as a whole.
      Our second guide was Jeff “JJ“ Justman. He has also climbed many other mountains including Mt. Everest and he completed his 100th climb of Mt. Rainier with my group. I would have liked to been with him at the summit. Our third guide was Barrett Johnston. This was his first year working as a guide for the summer during his college break. So far he has climbed Mt. Rainier seven times. Of course for every time the guides make it to the summit they make several climbs part of the way, not reaching the summit because they are busy helping clients who couldn’t make it to the top that day.
      Another guide that I was extremely impressed with was Brandon Tanquay. He was the guide that was assigned to escort our group of “walking wounded” down off the mountain. This was his last day working for RMI as he was leaving for Boston to get married. He was very helpful to me in the hike from Camp Muir back down to Paradise, which is what the area at the trailhead and visitors center is called. The first half of the hike down is over the Muir snowfield. It is slippery and fairly steep in some areas. Brandon tried to teach us to “ski” down. I was having trouble keeping my balance possibly because I was favoring my sore knees. He thought it might be because I was wearing my hiking boots instead of my studier plastic boots. I took a couple of hard falls, slightly aggravating the previous injury to my right knee. Brandon either took pity on me or became frustrated that I was slowing the group down. He took my backpack, which weighed 40 to 50 pounds, attached it to his backpack and literally ran down the mountain with both packs on his back. He was cheerful and seemed to enjoy it. He was one of the thinner guides and I couldn’t believe how strong he was.
      I had planned on tipping my guides 10%. I went a little over that amount since I felt Brandon deserved a tip at least as much as my regular group guides did.
      I don’t know if anyone else tipped the guides or not. I know that the guides, especially the junior guides, don’t make much money. Barrett told me that he would do this even if he weren’t getting paid at all. He loves it so much. I know they appreciate getting tips although I get the feeling that tipping is not as common as it probably should be, especially from clients that don’t make it to the summit. I thought about that and decided that it is not the guide’s fault that I didn’t make it. They did their jobs and taught me and helped me as much as they could. While still up on the mountain I asked Eugene how he felt about tipping. His response was something like ”They didn’t get us to the summit did they?” That feeling is probably typical but a bit unfair.
      Overall I was very satisfied with my experience with RMI and would recommend them to anyone as long as you are prepared to get in shape in go along with their program. You have to adjust to their program schedule. They are not going to adjust to yours. They are highly professional, no nonsense and keep a very tight schedule but they also keep the classes and climb relaxed and up beat as much as possible. Read their web site and literature so you know what to expect. If you want to be pampered RMI is not for you!
      Keeping such a strict tight schedule was about the only thing I did not like about RMI. For the most part their pace is slow and steady, and fairly easy to keep up with, but I would prefer to be able to briefly stop more often then the scheduled breaks allowed if I needed or wanted to. There were few times when I felt I needed water in between breaks, and there were times when I would have liked to stop to adjust clothing or equipment, or just to get my bearings and enjoy the view. I didn’t carry a camera with me because I didn’t want any extra weight or distractions but some people did and would have liked to stop and take photos in between breaks. At first I thought, like other people I’ve talked to seem to feel, that RMIs main concern and their reason for such a tight schedule is financial. It would seem that the quicker they finished the climb the quicker they could go onto the next task. Some Highpointers that I spoke with at the Konvention seemed to feel that RMI guides were so quick to drop people from the climb so they could move faster with less people, and less hassle, and they didn’t really care if their clients made it to the top or not because RMI made the same amount of money either way, since there are no refunds if you don’t make it to the top. After observing and being part of the group I didn’t get that feeling at all. I didn’t see anyone dropped prior to Camp Muir and as I previously mentioned those of us that were dropped were safety concerns to ourselves and the group. I remember a few of us briefly talking with Paul about being more flexible and taking more time. He said that they generally have a window of about 20 to 30 minutes that they will wait for weather, someone having problems with equipment, talking pictures or whatever but they won’t take any longer than that primarily because of safety concerns. He said that if they take too long on the mountain some people in the group are more likely to become fatigued and have an accident. And of course there is the reason that they get up at midnight and start the climb so early in the first place. The snow and ice conditions become unstable later in the day and there is more danger of avalanches and rock falls. On the hike up to Camp Muir our group witnessed a spectacular avalanche as we watched the ice fall off one of the glaciers during the heat of the afternoon. Luckily it was not in an area frequented by too many climbers. The guides said they hoped noone was over that way because it definitely would have killed anyone in the area.
      Although I did not reach the summit of Mt. Rainier my overall experience was very positive and rewarding. I learned and saw many new things and I got a pretty good feeling for what glacier travel, and mountaineering in general, is all about. I have come to the realization that taking my mountaineering experience to any higher levels such as Denali or most of the other “seven summits” is pretty much out of the question, unless I can fix my knee problems. However I do have the desire to return to Mt. Rainier and hopefully I will be able to report on my successfully reaching the summit, and return, in a future trip report.
    • #7781


      [Ed: Imported from Americas Roof ‘Summit Trip Reports’ forum]
      [By: markv on August 17 2004 at 1:12 AM]

      Last summer, RMI said ok to the heavy leather La Sportivas i brought. I was much happier than the people i heard groaning about the double plastic boots. I brought thick wool socks and chemical warmers as insurance. You might consider trying the same. Just be sure to try them out for warmth and crampon stability ahead of time…

      I’m one who voiced complanits about RMI. (I did summit, and i wasn’t expecting to be pampered… but heck they had me carrying an extra rope and LEADING a rope team at one point.) I think it has a LOT to do with which guides you get, and none of the ones you mentioned were on my trip. Thanks for mentioning by name ones you thought were good…it could be useful future info.

    • #7782

      Re: Mt. Rainier attempt #1, July 26, 27, 28, 2004

      [Ed: Imported from Americas Roof ‘Summit Trip Reports’ forum]
      [By: Greg Rosenthal on September 10 2004 at 7:32 PM]

      Hi Jerry,

      Not sure if you remember me, but I was part of the same RMI climb as you in July…my name’s Greg, I was the tall 19-year old with dark hair and glasses, and I was on JJ’s rope on summit day (I made it, Rainier was #6 for me).. Im a fellow highpointer as well though I wasn’t at the convention…just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write this sport and I wanted to comment on a few things…

      “Naturally we were disappointed but for the most part our spirits remained high and we regarded this as a positive experience in which we learned a great deal about ourselves, mountaineering in general and what we need to do to improve our chances of success on any future attempts at summitting Mt. Rainier”

      I’m glad you took a positive attitude despite things not quite turning out how you hoped…I’ve been there myself and know exactly how you feel…my first try on Rainier was in 2000 when I was 15 years old and like you, I only made it to the first break after leaving Camp Muir then, because I was stumbling all over the place on the rocky parts before that break… but as soon as I got down safely, I knew that I would be heading back to finish the job…

      “The main emphasis and concern with the RMI guides seems to be safety. Some people think that they are too quick to remove clients from the class or the climb, but after listening to them, and observing them, it is obvious to me that they only remove people if those people are safety concerns and may jeopardize themselves or the entire group.”

      Definitely…RMI does an excellent job of running these trips (they’ve been at it for something like almost 40 years I think), and so they’ve got every “dotted i and t crossed” as the saying goes…in both my trips to Rainier there was never one time where I felt my safety was the least bit compromised, and I have the guides to thank for that…

      “Our second guide was Jeff “JJ“ Justman. He has also climbed many other mountains including Mt. Everest and he completed his 100th climb of Mt. Rainier with my group. I would have liked to been with him at the summit.”

      In regards to JJ’s 100th summit up there, it was fairly anticlimatic, though I can tell you from firsthand experience that later that night in Ashford, he had quite a little celebration there (he had a few days off after this climb)…

      “On the hike up to Camp Muir our group witnessed a spectacular avalanche as we watched the ice fall off one of the glaciers during the heat of the afternoon.”

      I remember that as well, without a doubt the most amazing/spectacular thing Ive ever seen…

      Anyways, good luck on your future trips!!


      • #7783

        Sure I remember you!

        [Ed: Imported from Americas Roof ‘Summit Trip Reports’ forum]
        [By: Jerry Bresnahan on November 3 2004 at 6:08 PM]

        Hi Greg,

        Sorry I took so long to respond to your message. After driving home from the Konvention and Rainier, stopping to do the highpoints of ND, SD, and IA along the way, I was so busy trying to catch up with things I had to do for my wife’s business, and the many other chores I had to do around the house, I didn’t have much time to check out the “forum” before heading out on my next trip. I recently got home from a month in Florida. I stopped and did the Highpoints of FL and MS on the way. I hope to catch up on my trip reports soon. MY HP total is now at 29!

        Sure I remember you. I’m glad that you made it to the summit. Congratulations! I was still in Ashford when your group arrived. I talked with, and congratulated, a few of the guys that afternoon. I also witnessed the beginning of “JJ’s” celebration. Sorry I missed you.

        Thanks for taking the time to read my trip report, which I realize, after looking at it again, was way too long. I think I got a bit carried away. For a week or two after I got home I was so consumed with thoughts and emotions about my experience that I felt compelled to write them all down, a little each day.

        I appreciate your comments. I found it interesting that we both failed on our first attempts to climb Rainier, in pretty much the same location in very similar ways. I hope I am as successful in my second attempt as you were. I expect to give it another try within the next few years. I plan on doing Mt. Hood, and some of the easier peaks first to try to gain some experience and improve my conditioning.

        Enjoy the rest of your highpoints on your way to the big 50! I hope to see you at a future Konvention or on another climb someplace.

        Take care,


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