In August of 2015, I embarked on a summer adventure to Seattle, Washington, where I explored the beautifully scenic Olympic Peninsula and successfully climbed and summited Mount Rainier, the most prominent peak in the continental United States, with a lofty elevation of 14,411 feet. It was quite a challenge to partake in, although that's what I was looking for, right?
After months of dreaming, training, and preparing, it was hard to believe the time had actually arrived. It was 5:45am, on a cool summer morning in Seattle, WA, and there I was, standing outside the Alpine Ascents International headquarters on West Mercer Street, tossing my Osprey pack with everything I'd be carrying for the next few days, into the back of a decked out van that would serve as my transportation to Mount Rainier National Park. After slamming the trunk shut, I stepped back onto the sidewalk, taking a chance to glance down the quite, abandoned city street. After my flight from Boston at the beginning of the week, I had spent the last couple of days exploring the Emerald City, from the tippity top of the Space Needle to the musty, dark passageways of Seattle's Underground. Already, I was loving every bit of my trip, especially the freedom I had to create my own agenda in the morning, and set out from sunrise to sunset to see every corner of the city. On Thursday afternoon I had gotten the chance to meet my climbing partners and guides at the briefing and gear check which had taken place at the Alpine Ascents headquarters. Along with myself, there were six other individuals embarking on the summit attempt. Lakpa Rita Sherpa would be the lead guide, in partnership with Jangbu Sherpa, John Van Nostrand and Troy Hoff. These men, especially our leader Lakpa Rita, had quite the amount of experience under their belts, and I would hear lots of stories regarding their adventures over the next 72 hours. Our van driver noted we were all set to go, so I filed into the vehicle along with everyone else, and slid the door shut, as the engine revved up. We were finally on our way.
On the way to Paradise, we would make a quick stop in Ashford, WA, which was around 1 hour, 40 minutes south in the Nisqually Valley. After a few minutes, we were out of the city and merging onto the highway. The inside of the van was still quiet, as people slowly woke up. Even though I had barely gotten any sleep the night before as a result of my eager anticipation for the climb, I was wide awake. I occupied myself for the first part of the ride by gazing out the window, observing how different the landscape was to that of the Northeast's which I am so accustomed to. Small houses and shops began to appear on our left and right, signaling our arrival to Ashford. After a minute or so we pulled off the road into a parking lot on our left. There was a small one story structure with a porch in front of us, and this was what we had stopped for. The building was the famous Whittaker's Motel & Historic Bunkhouse, which provides lodging for anyone visiting the Mount Rainier area. The Bunkhouse was built in 1912 to house loggers and mill workers in the Ashford Valley, and it was renovated in 1990 by Lou and Ingrid Whittaker. Lou is somewhat of a celebrity in Washington and the climbing world, and he was the founder of Rainier Mountaineering also known as RMI Expeditions. I headed for the bathroom, while my climbing partners went toward the cafe to grab a warm breakfast and/or coffee.
The day had just begun, and tourists were starting to roll in to check out all the park had to offer, filling up the parking spots one by one. With the sun emerging overhead, the day was beginning to warm up from the chilly morning I had experienced just a couple of hours earlier, but I had to keep in mind the ever-changing climate of the mountains, and how cold it would be several thousand feet of elevation later. After finalizing the setup of each one of our packs, making sure everything was in its rightful place and our ice axes were correctly attached so as not to rip holes through the rugged yet delicate materials holding together and carrying the entirety of our belongs for the next couple of days.