On Labor Day Weekend of this year, I headed back to what might be my favorite volcano in one of my favorite places on earth (the Cascades in general). Though there was no summit this time around, this climb was still a very valuable experience -- and taught me an important lesson. I originally messaged my partner, Jon, in early August via summitpost when I sought to sate my craving for being on a glaciated peak. For me, mountaineering and climbing is a fundamental need ... it speaks to my spirit louder than almost anything else on this planet (except maybe snowboarding).
Jon had posted that he was looking for partners to climb Rainier in early August, but it was too last minute when I contacted him, so we settled on Labor Day Weekend. He said that he didn't really have much experience, but he had done some snow climbing, so I said I'd prefer to go with a team of 3 in that case. He contacted a third person (who, in retrospect, may or may not even be real -- the lies people tell via the Internet) who had supposedly summitted Rainier a couple times before. We met for a prep-hike up Trapper Peak two weekends before, and Jon seemed like a nice guy and a solid hiker.
From the summit of Trapper Peak
Hindsight is always 20/20. Trapper Peak was little more than a class 1/class 2 hike with about 3500' of elevation gain. In no way does it translate to mountaineering competence. Secondly, when we were going over gear logistics, I told him to get two snow pickets with slings and two carabiners each, along with locking 'biners for his prussiks (which I helped him tie, but that's another story). He had one picket and said something to the effect of: "well I've read that it's best to use a snow picket and a deadman because the force on the rope going through a two-picket anchor will pull the pickets out of the snow..."
Really? Really? I'm so glad you read Freedom of the Hills, because that's a great substitute for actual mountaineering experience. If you want to explain precisely how you're going to put a deadman in while holding your partner in the arrest position, I'm all ears.
Jon called me on the Tuesday right before Labor Day weekend and said that she had to bail on the climb because of work or something. So he suggested we go with just two people. I wasn't sure how I felt about it, but I kind of felt bad for him so I went along with it. Horrible decision, in retrospect, but I'll get back to that later. I haven't climbed with many people who truly make me go "WTF," but this guy is one of them. I suppose I could list all the "WTF moments," but there wouldn't be much point, other than to satisfy my need to rant about this. He was a strong hiker, no doubt about that, but he knew virtually nothing about climbing.
The bottom line? If he wanted to climb Rainier that badly, he should have been on a guided trip. I am not a guide -- I'm just someone who climbs. I can hold my own on the mountain, and I expect my partners to be able to do the same. It's not that I mind teaching other people, but if I'm going to do that, it's going to be on my terms -- which don't include risking my life in late season conditions for a weekend warrior who read Into Thin Air and wants to feel like a mountaineer. People get paid to take inexperienced people up Rainier -- no reason for me to do it for free.
Sunset from the Muir Snowfield
Either way, we ended up at Camp Muir around 20:00 on Friday night, and pretty much ate dinner and went to sleep. I had sort of been trying a 50g carb/day experiment, and I was determined to continue this on the Rainier trip. My dinner consisted of a couple boneless pork ribs that I'd cooked the night before and a stick of string cheese. Yes, string cheese is absolutely not paleo, but it kept the carbs low, so I'll take it.
Afternoon at the John Muir Shelter
Saturday was mostly spent doing absolutely nothing. I'd never, ever spend that much time on DC again, but it's whatever. A little after noon, Jon asked me if we were going to practice roped travel at all -- one of the many things that indicated he really wanted/needed a guide rather than a partner. The only time I've ever "practiced rope travel" was when I was learning how to do it, back in 2009. It's such a basic and fundamental skill that competent climbers shouldn't really have to practice it together. We didn't go out on the glacier at all, but I did show him how to tie in to the rope and how to put his prussiks on -- one of the "WTF moments" of the weekend.
Porkchops for dinner!
Dinner consisted of some porkchops (also cooked before the trip), and more string cheese. The one positive aspect of this trip is that I felt infinitely better and had way more energy than my first time on Rainier -- something I attribute to having spent a year eating about 85% paleo and vastly improved cardiovascular fitness (which I also attribute at least in part -- though indirectly -- to eating paleo).
We started around 01:15 or so. Disappointment Cleaver is a really straightforward route -- north from Camp Muir, past Ingraham Flats, up the Cleaver, then onto Ingraham Glacier. Despite hardly eating at all (go paleo!), I felt (physically) great. I wasn't tired, despite only having a couple hours of sleep, and I wasn't low on energy at all. Mentally -- well, different story. Here I was, on one of my favorite mountains, doing one of my two favorite things ever, and at that moment, as the sky over the black mountains to the east was beginning to fade from deep blue to brilliant pink and orange, I really didn't want to be there. The glacier was pretty icy (to be expected by the first weekend of September), and I was pretty sure that if Jon slipped or fell, there was no fucking way I'd be able to arrest his 220lb ass (plus however much his pack weighs), much less haul him out of a crevasse if, god forbid, that happened. That, and I felt almost exploited by this kid -- his intent might not have been malicious, but he really did want someone to teach him how to climb, not a climbing partner. It might have been a different story if this mysterious third individual had actually showed up, but that wasn't the case.
Late season conditions on the Ingraham Glacier
At the top of the Cleaver, around 06:30 or so, we turned around. It's amazing how much one's mental state affects a climb -- it's hard to will yourself to go on when you really don't want to, even when you have the energy, the strength, and acceptable conditions (late season, yes, but it's not like we were climbing in a snowstorm). I don't know what was going on in Jon's head. Maybe he thought he really was experienced enough to do Rainier without a guide, but he said a few things about wanting to climb with people who had previous experience on the mountain that made me think he knew he wasn't. I didn't care about summitting; I wanted a good training climb. And I got it. If he was upset about not summitting, it's his fault for banking on some random person off summitpost being willing to play "mountain guide."
The obligatory "alpine sunrise" picture
Because I should probably end this post on a good note, at least, I will say that eating paleo has absolutely helped my mountaineering fitness, and that it's absolutely possible to eat very low carb (less than 50g a day) on a climb. I probably wouldn't do it on a high altitude climb, since eating high-fat makes me feel like shit above 15k' or so, but for anything in the contiguous US, it's fine. Also, if the temperatures are moderate to cool, the easiest thing is to just pre-cook a bunch of meat and bring it; it will keep for at least 2-3 days, easily. This makes planning and preparing meals much more convenient.
The hike from Paradise to Camp Muir, which in 2011 took 6 hours, took only 4 this time -- and I didn't have to stop once to eat food for energy. Despite being relatively sleep deprived, I wasn't low on energy or lethargic on summit day. It might be tricky -- especially for expedition climbing -- but as far as I'm concerned, paleo is the way to go for all things athletic, including climbing.