After several hours of steep and quiet climbing, hours spent staring down at my feet monitoring my careful footwork through the dim glow of my headlamp, the first signs of sunrise finally beckoned on the horizon. I could not believe that we were actually here. It all started a few years ago at an Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) young members gathering. An offhand comment over dinner, followed by a couple of years of casual dreaming, and then nearly a full year of intense training and planning culminated in this moment. The moment we stood on the summit of Mount Rainier.
A little background: Mt. Rainier is the 4th highest peak in the contiguous United States standing at over 14,400 feet, rising nearly 13,000 feet above its surrounding valleys. It’s also the most glaciated peak, and even the standard route to the summit requires technical mountaineering skills to ascend safely. In other words, it’s a few notches above the Adirondacks with regards to difficulty and skill requirements.
The Adirondacks are where I cut my teeth, where I found my love for the mountains, and where I gained the strength and confidence required to attempt a climb of Mount Rainier. In fact, more than anywhere else, I consider the Adirondacks my home, and the Adirondack Mountain Club part of my family. So it is not surprising that the story of my climb up Mt. Rainier begins with ADK.
Years ago, as I neared the end of my quest to become a 46er, I started looking for new challenges. I reached out to friends and ADK members for ideas and advice, and Mt. Rainier kept coming up. However, at the time it was still far too big and far too expensive to seriously approach.
A few years later, at an Albany chapter young members social, organized by Stephanie Graudons, I met Joe Durma, someone who would eventually become my climbing partner and one of my best friends. Over dinner, he explained he was new to the outdoors and his ultimate goal was to climb Mt. Rainier. I mentioned Steph and I too were interested in a climb, and the seeds were planted.
Over the next couple years, Steph and I built a relationship with Joe through hiking, camping, and climbing. We explored new territory beyond the trails in the High Peaks and sought new adventures. During this time, we met Eric Adamchick and Danielle Lloyd, who also expressed interest in Mt. Rainier. Finally, I decided it was time to do this. We got together and started planning. We decided to hire a guide service for our climb as none of us knew the first thing about safe glacier travel, and most of us had no desire to fall into a crevasse. So a year before the trip we signed up for a 4-day summit climb and mountaineering school with RMI.
Our training took place in the Adirondacks, and while the Adirondacks don’t offer glaciers or high altitude training, they provide endless opportunities for training bigger mountains. We built strength by hiking up and down the High Peaks with heavy packs. We honed our technical skills with crampons and ice axes by climbing during the winter. Joe and I even took an introductory mountaineering course in Lake Placid to familiarize ourselves with some of the techniques required for climbing Mt. Rainier. We did slide climbs and the Trap Dike route to Colden. As our trip approached this summer, Steph and I led an ADK outing up the Left Wing Slide on Wright Peak, to help further prepare for some of the exposure on Mt. Rainier.
Finally, after nearly a year of planning and preparing, we packed up and flew to Seattle, which brings us back to where I started this story. As we climbed the last few feet up and over the lip of the summit crater, our journey to this point was over. All of the apprehension, worry, and fear we had at the base of the mountain dissipated. We had made it. All of us. We hugged, we cheered, and we rested. Sure, we still had to climb down 9,000 feet before we were safely off the mountain, but years of hiking in the Adirondacks had prepared us for that. So for now, we just celebrated.
As we stood there taking in the perfect sunrise from the summit, I couldn’t help but think back to how I got here. ADK played a pivotal role by fostering a love and appreciation for all things wild, by providing advice and wisdom from world-class hikers and climbers, and by providing friends to climb with. Now that we’re back from our trip, we’re already looking ahead for another big adventure. I’ve heard the Alps are nice, perhaps something in the Southern Hemisphere, or an Adventure Travel trip with ADK? Regardless of what we choose, I’m sure ADK will help us make it a reality.
Photos taken by Stephanie Graudons