Yeah OK, so I steal Irving Stone book titles for my blog. And I can’t promise I won’t use any more. But if you ever see me title a blog with “Clarence Darrow for the Defense”, you’ll know I’ve run out of ideas.
Climbing Mt Rainier is by far the hardest physical and mental challenge of my life. And though I didn’t succeed in making it to the summit, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to think about the climb and everything that happened, I can finally put into words how I feel about it. My initial, overwhelming feeling was one of huge disappointment, coupled with a small amount of relief. I mean, this was my second attempt. I’ve been training so hard! I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro! Why can’t I do this? I want it so bad.
But also, there was that relief. It’s over. I don’t have to go any further. I can get out of this cold and wind and stop trying to climb up. I’m so miserable and tired and frustrated and I just want it to end. Unfortunately, that’s not the mentality you need to get to the top.
Rainier is a challenging, technical mountain to climb. It’s no wonder some of the most famous mountaineers of our time – Ed Viesturs, Dave Hahn, Melissa Arnot – all got their start by climbing this mountain.
Going into this climb, I felt like nothing less than summiting would be acceptable. I’ve already tried once, I’ve trained my ass off, all I want is to get to the top. But as that was not to be, I’ve had to accept that and find my success in other places. So here’s a list of the things I’m grateful for from this climb.
Meeting Dave Hahn
I already spoke a bit about this in my first Rainier post. This guy is something else. Not only was hiking with him super cool, it was also incredibly inspirational. Sure, he’s pulled off some amazing and daring rescues in his time, and he was part of the team that discovered Mallory’s body on Everest, but what’s more impressive is just his general enthusiasm for being out on the mountain. You can tell he loves what he does. He has climbed some of the most difficult mountains in the world, yet he comes back to Rainier year after year, because he simply loves guiding.
Getting higher than before
See that big ol’ rock in the middle of the picture below? I got to the very top of it. Last time, I only got as far as the tents below it. It may not look like a lot, but it’s actually quite a bit further, and the most difficult part of the climb. I’m so grateful to Leah for pushing me to get this far instead of insisting that I turn around. She wanted me to get higher than last time, almost as much as I did. I think I’m almost as disappointed that I didn’t get to the top with this group of guides as I am with not making it at all. I really couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to lead us.
Watching Lori fall in love with this crazy journey
So many times during our training, Lori would say to me, “I’m never doing this again. I’ll go hiking, but never with this heavy pack.” And honestly, I didn’t blame her. It’s hard on your body, putting all that weight on your joints and muscles. It becomes quite tedious when you are out there every weekend, just trying to get to the top and back down, in weather that doesn’t always cooperate. And right up until we got to Camp Muir, I think she was still of that opinion. But once we got up there, everything changed. It’s so hard to describe the feeling you get high on a mountain, but it’s one you want to hold on to forever. It’s addictive, and you’ll spend many more days chasing after it. Now Lori is planning hikes on Mt St Helens, Mt Adams, and someday, a return trip to Rainier. I’m so glad I got to be a part of this journey with her.
Accepting my own limits
Perhaps mountaineering just isn’t for me. Growing up, I was always a sprinter. I swam 50’s, 100’s (butterfly and freestyle) and the 200 IM. Anything longer was torture to me. I was one of the fastest girls on my softball team running up the first base line. I tire quickly, but recover quickly, too. My point is, I’ve never been much of an endurance person. And endurance is what it takes to get to the top of mountains. I’m not saying I’ll never climb mountains again, and someday I’d love to hike to Everest Base Camp, but if I’m ever going to try again on Rainier, I’m going to have to figure out how not only improve my endurance, but also enjoy it more, as well.
Changing my perspective
In that same vein, I think I finally understand where I went wrong. My whole approach to Rainier was to push through the training and force myself up to the top. I enjoyed the journey at the start a bit more than I have in previous training hikes, but as always, it quickly turned into a chore that I had to push through. When I asked Leah at the end of our climb what she does to stay in shape for guiding, she didn’t have an answer. She doesn’t do any kind of training. In the summers, she’s out guiding, and in the winters, she spends every weekend skiing in the backcountry. And that’s when it hit me – she truly enjoys long days of constant physical exercise. Whereas I had looked at hiking as something I needed to do, and get it done quickly so I could get back home again, she wanted to be out there as long as possible. If I ever decide to do this again, I am really going to have to change my perspective on spending long days hiking up.
Even though I didn’t make it to the top, I’m incredibly grateful for the experiences I did have. I don’t look at it as a failure because I got to meet amazing people and learn so many things about myself. I still haven’t decided if I’ll try again someday or not, but I don’t really need to know that now. At 33, I was the youngest person in our group. Even though it’s physically and emotionally challenging, I still have many years left to give it another shot.