Apart from the group, the guides are visibly relieved. Fawley says this is the most memorable climb since his first, the one with his father. “These guys…” says Rausch, and then he can’t continue. It takes him a while, then he says, “I don’t carry anybody up that mountain. But to see them…” He trails off again. “I’m in the Reserves. I got deployed in 2004 to Qatar. I’ve never been in harm’s way. These guys…it just cuts me up. I’d carry…I’d carry everything for them.”
The descent to Paradise remains. Fawley and Kittleson will escort Smiley down tonight so he can make his plane, and Salau will descend in the morning. More of the same, in reverse. But at this moment, the group vibrates with the shared euphoria of hazard and hardship overcome in a place far removed from civilization and its various complications. Adversity runs a sliding scale–elective nature hikes at the low end, Ed’s leg and Scotty’s eyes at the unthinkable high end–but even a hill climb such as this one can kick irony in the slats and give despair the raspberries.
Mt. Rainier is a volcano, of course. Ed didn’t get there, and Scotty couldn’t see it, but the summit is a vast white bowl. A crucible, you could say, from which hope might be forged.
Mt. Rainier was Michael Perry’s first mountaineering trip. Based in Wisconsin, he is the author of Truck: A Love Story and Population: 485.