SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Backpacker Magazine – August 1999

Climbing: A Higher Calling

In every backpacker's life, there comes a time when you stare awestruck at a mountain and wonder, "What's it like to climb that sucker?"

by: Jim Gorman


That would be evidence enough that mountaineers inhabit an alternate reality. Rainier itself bends reality. I've stood on higher mountains (it's only the fifth highest peak in the Lower 48) and climbed steeper terrain. Yet to gaze at its sheer immensity-it's head-swiveling, even from distant Seattle-and contemplate scaling to the top seems as presumptuous as climbing the clouds.

By all measures-base to summit relief, circumference, snowfall, glaciation-Rainier is singular among American mountains. Even when on the mountain, you're reminded of its size, as the setting sun shoots a giant pyramid-shaped shadow across eastern Washington, darkening everything in its path nearly an hour earlier than the surrounding terrain.

On this late-summer morning, the surface of the Cowlitz Glacier is the consistency of a snow cone plucked from the freezer. On a steep stretch, like the 8-foot hump we're practicing on, boot treads would skid right off. With 12 tungsten carbide crampon points on each boot, though, we find we can ascend and descend at impossibly steep angles. We drill for several hours on the rudiments of crampon and ice axe use-enough to get us through the occasional steep stretch ahead where the old plod-breathe-plod-breathe technique won't suffice-then circle up.

Our guides, Jason, Matt, and Brenda, unravel three lengths of climbing rope and proceed to tie figure-8 and butterfly knots at regular intervals. "Time to clip in," says Matt Farmer, our lead guide. He's a rangy, blonde-haired fellow with a no-worries manner. "Keep the rope on your downhill side, your ice axe in your uphill hand, and don't let the rope get too tight or too loose." That's it. For the better part of two days, we had slogged uphill as individuals responsible only for keeping pace with the guy ahead so as not to embarrass ourselves. As we walk across Cowlitz Glacier, we are three teams linked by more than rope.

This is a mountaineering tale in which nobody dies. Calamity does not call. No avalanches, blizzards, cerebral edema, or frostbite befall our group. At worst, a few stomachs grow queasy, and two members of the group will fail to reach the summit. Everything goes smoothly for five days beneath cloud-free skies-lousy conditions for writing a tragedy-laced best-seller but perfect for learning to mountaineer.




Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
international mountain guides
Jan 12, 2013

can you tell me apporx how many pounds ur willing to carry for your layering system bcause it seems heavy this seems more geared for expedition climbing vs alpine i mean ur the pro but im reading about guys climbing the whites in the dead of winter using a base layer/s, driclime wind shirt from marmot, as their wind layer a light insulation peice for added warmth (micropuff) or equal then there shell if needed then like a patagonia das parka this seems like it would weigh in at far less ..
ww.mountaingurus.com/

Stu in Colorado
Jan 06, 2011

I disagree with the premise that peak bagging is a natural part of backpacking. As an avid hiker/snowshoe/camper and landscape photographer I would rather hike into an alpine lake and watch the sun rise and set over the mountains than climb to the top for a 'been there' ribbon.

I know a lot of great people that peak bag as a hobby, but it seems a little self serving to climb a mountain just to say that you have done it.

Stu in Colorado
Jan 06, 2011

I disagree with the premise that peak bagging is a natural part of backpacking. As an avid hiker/snowshoe/camper and landscape photographer I would rather hike into an alpine lake and watch the sun rise and set over the mountains than climb to the top for a 'been there' ribbon.

I know a lot of great people that peak bag as a hobby, but it seems a little self serving to climb a mountain just to say that you have done it.

Stu in Colorado
Jan 06, 2011

I disagree with the premise that peak bagging is a natural part of backpacking. As an avid hiker/snowshoe/camper and landscape photographer I would rather hike into an alpine lake and watch the sun rise and set over the mountains than climb to the top for a 'been there' ribbon.

I know a lot of great people that peak bag as a hobby, but it seems a little self serving to climb a mountain just to say that you have done it.

Stu in Colorado
Jan 06, 2011

I disagree with the premise that peak bagging is a natural part of backpacking. As an avid hiker/snowshoe/camper and landscape photographer I would rather hike into an alpine lake and watch the sun rise and set over the mountains than climb to the top for a 'been there' ribbon.

I know a lot of great people that peak bag as a hobby, but it seems a little self serving to climb a mountain just to say that you have done it.

Ralph Kolva
Jan 06, 2011

A couple of years ago our party of three were on the Kautz Glacier route and ran into a group being guided by RMI. One of the guides was friendly but two of RMI's guides were total jerks. Summit morning they rappelled over my friend while getting to the Kautz. The previous day I asked if the ice fall would accommodate 2 parties, they told me no but summit morning they started climbing behind us (we were about halfway through the ice fall) so we took a diagonal line to avoid kicking ice on them. All day we were moving well ahead of the RMI party and caught sight of them several times. On our descent of the ice fall, close to the bottom but still on the steeper ice the RMI party prepared for their descent. Surely they knew there was still a party below them but rather than check they started preparing the upper part of the ice fall for their parties descent, all the while knocking ice down on top of us. We had a couple of other small issues with the RMI group as well, I know this is only one group and one of the RMI guides seemed like a really decent guy but overall they exhibited really un-professional behavior. 15 years ago my wife and I took a mountaineering class with American Alpine Institute and while on Baker we met guides from Alpine Ascents, everyone we met from both schools I would happily climb with. RMI on the other hand has really tarnished their reputation with the action of the guides we encountered.

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

The Political Arena
Am I missing something here?
Posted On: Apr 19, 2014
Submitted By: walkaboutcreek
Gear
Back Up Stove
Posted On: Apr 19, 2014
Submitted By: Tigger
Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions