Chapter 11

JULY 2, Mt. Rainier, Day 4. High Camp


Judy was going to stay at Camp Muir until high camp was set up. She felt strong when getting to Muir and was disappointed that she had to remain behind. Joanne Lennox, one of the many volunteers who had generously donated two or three days, stayed with Judy during the day and sorted out extra supplies. I had   planned that I and some of the climbers would return from high camp for a second trip up with more supplies.  I would then take Judy to high camp.

Ropes were required from Camp Muir to high camp. Jim led the first team of four.  He traversed up to and across the top of the Cowlitz Glacier, moving from West to East in a long arc along the base of Gibraltar Rock, past Cadaver Gap, an ice fall,  then past the base of Cathedral Rock, gaining one hundred vertical feet over a half-mile distance. The rest of the teams followed Jim's path in single file.  Breaking trail in the soft snow was tiring and it was easier to follow in the tracks of the team in front. The climbing party encountered the first of a number of small crevasses a couple of hundred yards from Muir. Each blind climber came up to the edge of a crevasse and using a ski pole like a cane stuck the pole into the hole and flicked it back and forth between the two sides to judge how far they would have to jump. Their belayer would pull the rope snug as the climber jumped. Occasionally they would misjudge a step and drop in to their waist and then crawl out on the other side.


     Crossing A Crevasse Photo: Ridgeway-film


Shortly after leaving Muir we traversed under the steep ice fall coming down from Cadaver Gap which separated Gibraltar Rock and Cathedral Rock. High camp was just a little beyond the other side of Cadaver Gap but we traveled the long way around to get there. Warren Thompson of the Everest climbers mentioned that this is where Willie Unsoeld was killed in 1979. Unsoeld was from the Pacific Northwest and an internationally known climber. He and another climber had been descending from Cadaver Gap during a winter climb and were trapped in an avalanche that swept across the area we were now crossing.

The minutes passed as we began to traverse along the base of Cathedral Rock which is the steep barrier separating the Cowlitz Glacier, which we were on, and Ingraham Glacier on which we would camp. Already we could hear rocks melting loose from the weathered, red basalt, volcanic rock cliff rising 600 feet above us. The constant process of thawing during the day and freezing at night levers the weathered rock loose, dropping it onto the glacier below and leaving large piles of rock and rust-colored stains.

We were far enough below the cliff that we didn't have to worry about anything falling directly on us and didn't have to climb over the rocks. Rocks falling in the early morning or at night would land on frozen slopes and slide further down the glacier onto our path. During the day those rocks would absorb heat from the sun and melt a hole in the snow. Over a period of a week or two the rocks would melt a hole eight to sixteen inches deep, depending on the size of the rock. As the hole got deeper the rim of the hole cast a shadow over the rock. Eventually the rock would only catch rays of the sun and get warm at high noon and the hole wouldn't get any deeper unless it rained. The water from rain would run off the rock and melt the snow and the rock would roll into the water-made cavity.  A rock could wander from one place to another depending on the direction of the wind during a rain storm. Occasionally a climber stepped on a sunken rock and the spikes of the crampons ground on the hard surface. Sometimes a small rock jammed in between the spikes and had to be pried loose.  

The traverse below Cathedral Rock ended at the opening to a very steep snow chute which led upward and was used to climb to the Ingraham Glacier. To get into the opening required that we move across a rock fall area and around some large rock outcroppings. The sun heating the rock mass had softened and melted the snow for several feet around. Climbing past the outcropping into the gulley we sank in up to our knees and hips. It was a difficult task even for those who could see where they were going to step.  As we rounded the outcropping, we coiled the rope so it would not tangle on the rocks and we could give a hand to the blind climbers. Once in the gulley we let the full length of the rope out again.

The chute took us up three hundred feet to the Ingraham Glacier. This was by far the steepest slope we had been on, and with heavy packs it was difficult for the blind to maintain their balance. Each step was made as a deliberate planned effort. Voices reverberated off the walls on both sides. Justin could be heard talking to some distant galactic entity as a diversion. "Hello universe, come in, come in." He felt he was climbing into space.

Doug lost his balance and slid down a couple of times and commented on the law against mountain climbing that Whittaker had mentioned – the law of gravity.

     Looking down to the Cowletz Photo: Dianne Roberts


 The top of the chute opened onto a dirty ridge of ground volcanic rock where we could look back to Camp Muir, as well as north onto the Ingraham Glacier and onto Little Tahoma, an 11,000 foot peak on the eastern side of Rainier. The original Indian name for Rainier is Tahoma; there was Big Tahoma and Little Tahoma. We had reached a logical place to rest.

For twenty minutes we munched on Gorp, drank juice, put on more sun cream and generally enjoyed ourselves. There was a nice echo off the southern end of Cathedral Rock and I went over to find a good place to practice yodeling. I thought it was the most fantastic echo I had ever heard. I yodeled again.  I was feeling pretty good about my yodeling and turned around to see everyone rolling around holding their sides laughing. Unknown to me Doug was making a recording and when I stopped yodeling he was playing it back. 

After the break Jim led off again and took the team along the north side of Cathedral Rocks heading in the direction of the summit. The trail curved up and to the right over a snow bridge, and onto the Ingraham Glacier.  From there the slope was gentle for about a half-mile before gradually getting steeper, transforming into a cascading slow motion water fall called the Ingraham Ice Falls - a jumble of crevasses and shredded snow bridges.  Jim traversed to the right under the ice falls onto a small relatively flat spot appropriately called the Ingraham Flats and indicated this was where high camp was to be set up.

Facing uphill, Cadaver Gap is on the left. The Gap is a narrow pass between Cathedral Rocks and the lower eastern flank of Gibraltar Rock. Two hundred yards to the right was Disappointment Cleaver, a large shoulder of a ridge that separated the Ingraham and Emmons glacier. The large ice fall, area where the eleven climbers were still buried from the ice fall eleven days before, was between high camp and the Cleaver.

When Jim reached high camp, the last person was still a quarter of a mile behind. Climbing ropes are 160 feet long. When five or six ropes are stretched out and there is a distance of fifty to sixty feet between ropes there is a total distance of 1,100 to 1,200 feet between the lead climber and the last person.

     Looking back Photo: Ridgeway-film


When I reached high camp I dropped my big pack, took a small day pack, and was ready to go down for another load of supplies and Judy. Bud Krogh and Joe Wishcamper, two lawyers turned Sherpa to help carry gear to high camp, headed back to Camp Muir with me.

Four members of the 1984 Everest climbing team who were serving as porters planned to follow. We moved rapidly down the Ingraham Glacier to the top of the steep chute which dropped down onto the Cowlitz that we had climbed earlier. Near the bottom of the chute we passed Steve Marts and two guides who were climbing to high camp. Steve had climbed a number of the world’s most difficult mountains as a cameraman. I could never figure out how he got to the top to photograph the first climber ever to reach the summit.  He was going up to join with Ridgeway and the film crew as a second cameraman.  We chatted briefly.  I had met Steve while still planning Pelion.

Judy and Joanne were ready when we arrived at Camp Muir. Bud Krogh continued on down to Paradise to return to Seattle to attend a wedding. Earlier I had invited Bud to go to the summit with us. We had done a number of things together as kids. We used to rappel out the third floor window at his home until his mother objected to the footprints on the wall. Years later he was on the staff at the White House under Nixon, and had his public service career interrupted by the avalanche of issues in the Watergate and Ellsberg cases. Now he was carrying heavy loads for a group of handicapped climbers. Joe and I loaded up packs with food and lanterns. Joanne set out the rest of the equipment for the Everest team to take up. Joanne's husband Monte had gone to high camp and returned before we had.  He was already packed to head back up.

When Judy was ready, I tied her in the middle of the rope and put Joe Wishcamper on the end. The Everest climbers arrived just as we were leaving Camp Muir.  Joanne and Monte and the Everest team caught up and passed us upward bound along the base of Cathedral Rocks just before the steep snow chute. As we approached the opening to the chute the clatter of loose rocks was more frequent. Under the afternoon sun melting snow was now trickling down, forming a small stream next to the outcropping. We filled our water bottles and took a sip before starting up the forty-five degree and steeper snow chute. By now the snow had softened the steep slope and it was easy to kick an evenly spaced sequence of steps for Judy to follow.

Judy, Joe and I plodded on with an easy rhythm using the rest step and arrived at high camp only twenty minutes behind the Everest team.  Judy had made it to high camp, non-stop, in two and one-half hours.  The rest of the team had eaten and were already sleeping.  Though she said she felt good, she was so tired she couldn't hold a cup of soup in her hands.


     High Camp on the Emmons Flats Photo Roy Fitzgerald


High camp consisted of eleven tents bound on the south and north sides by crevasses, a steep slope rising above us to the summit on the west, and a panoramic view to the east looking over the top of Little Tahoma. Glaciers flowed past Little Tahoma on both sides and disappeared into the valleys and forests which stretched into eastern Washington. East of Rainier the foothills get progressively smaller, and eventually the countryside flattens out into an orange haze of wheat fields. In the distance the windshield of a car flashed a burst of reflected sunlight. The shiny roof of a barn stood like a beacon in the midst of a sea of flat country.

First arrivals at high camp had dug a platform out of the slope for each tent. Thirty feet above the tents and to the left was the "bathroom", a hole dug in the snow with a place on either side for positioning feet. Use of the facility was an acrobatic, public activity. A rope to the left of the “bathroom” indicated there was a crevasse on the other side.

An outdoor kitchen had been made by digging a platform six feet wide and three feet deep. A shelf to hold the stove and extra food was carved out of the snow. Snow was melted for water for dinner, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and to fill the drinking bottles.


     Glacier Kitchen Photo: Ridgeway-Film


Jim and I encouraged everybody to get to sleep. Climbing would start early. Jim said he would wake everybody up at two.  Climbers had prepared their smaller c1imbing packs and crawled into their tents. Except for Doug, Kirk and Justin who could be heard quietly talking about the dead climbers and that they would have to walk where the dead were buried, there were no other conversations. Everybody was tired from the day's climb and the altitude. Jim stretched out ropes so all we had to do was tie in and we could get started quickly.

Jim, Dianne and I assigned climbers to rope teams, balancing the strength of the guides with the strengths of the different climbers. We wrote out the names of each team and cross checked to make sure everybody was included. When finished, I crawled into the opening of my tent and turned around and sat with my feet sticking out.  Judy and Svein Gilje, one of the two reporters climbing with us, were already asleep. I took off my boots and banged them together to knock the snow off them and then zipped up the tent. I used the boots and a sweater for a pillow.

It was quiet outside except for the rustling of a plastic garbage bag in the kitchen area as a  gentle breeze came down the glacier from the summit.

Periodically a few rocks would fall down the face of Cathedral Rocks and drop into the open space of a schrund, the deep gap formed by the glacier pulling away from the cliff. Even the sound seemed locked into the ice.

Even though there are acres of snow and ice, the space available for a camp site is limited. The eleven tents were on both sides of the trail up the mountain. Around midnight a ranger and climbing party passed through camp. I could hear the slow, steady crunch of crampons biting into ice, their rope sliding over the frozen snow crystals, and the ring of the metal ice axes being stabbed into the frozen snow and used as a walking staff. They were on their way to the summit in search of a person who had been wandering on the summit for a week on a religious quest. An hour later another climbing party traveled through.


Rope 1:

Jim Whittaker


     Alex Naiman (Deaf)


     Kirk Adams (Blind)


     Chuck O’Brien (Amputee)



Rope 2:

Roy Fitzgerald, Fitz


     Tim Egan - Reporter


     Sheila Holzworth (Blind)


     Dianne Roberts



Rope 3:

Nancy Goforth (Volunteer Ranger)


      Fred Noesner (Blind)


     George Niebel (Everest)


     Justin McDevitt (Blind)



Rope 4:

Phil Bartow


     Bud Keith (Blind)


     Svein Gilje (Reporter)


     Paul Stefurak (Deaf)



Rope 5:

Warren Thompson (Everest)


     Doug Wakefield (Blind)


     Richard Rose (Epileptic)


     Ray Nichols (Everest)