For years I have stared at this mountain in awe. Catching glimpses as I drove on the hi-way, standing in her shadow as I hiked on trails, hoping one day I would stand on her 14,000ft peak.
I slept restlessly all night, tossing and turning with anticipation and nervousness. As the alarm sounded on Tuesday morning, I stretched and took a deep breath before putting my feet on the floor. Today was the day I was headed for “the mountain”. I gathered myself together and checked my bag one last time before loading in the car. With a knot in my stomach I stared out the window as Scott drove, mentally going over my training and preparation.
Arriving at the park early we decided to grab a warm breakfast at the Lodge before meeting our team at Paradise. It was nice to start the day with something yummy and force myself to relax little. After breakfast we drove up to meet the rest of our team and go over the days plans before straping on our packs and heading up the trail to camp. Following my training and coaching plan carefully I hiked the 4 miles up the trail. We stopped at a little creek and refilled our water supply before crossing the snow field to reach Camp Muir, sitting high at 10,000ft. I knew that compared to what was coming, this was the easy part. Yet somehow at just a few hundred yards from camp my feet began to drag, and my legs felt tired. My friend told me it was probably the lack of oxygen I was starting to feel, but I knew it was my nerves getting the better of me. I had dreamt of this opportunity for so long.
Reaching camp we set up for a couple nights to acclimate ourselves to the elevation. I was surprised by how refreshed I felt the longer I stayed. I sat at camp and thought to myself that I could get used to this view. Watching the guides that spent so much time up here I felt a little pang of jealousy. Living above the clouds, climbing mountains at will. Someday I hope to move so effortlessly in that environment. We enjoyed an afternoon of relaxation. Eating dinner on the porch of the Rangers hut, discussing climbing and getting beta for the climb yet to come. I crawled into my sleeping bag that night with a renewed hope. The nervousness slowly melting away.
Rising with the sun the next morning I zipped opened my tent and took in all that was before me. Still not fully believing that I was sitting here, preparing to fulfill a long sought after goal. Hiking had first started out as a way to get my kids outside and to connect as a family, and then turned into my therapy. Hiking farther and higher each time. This mountain was my ultimate goal and what drew me to the world of mountaineering. The fact that I sat just 4,000ft below her summit was still an overwhelming thought.
After a breakfast of tea and yummy oatmeal, I met with the rest of my team to spend a few hours going over necessary skills and practicing crevasse rescue. We strapped on our crampons and practiced walking up steep hillsides, using our ice axe to assist us when terrain got too steep to take a normal step. We tied into the rope so we could get a better feel for pacing ourselves as we moved up the mountain since our ascent would start in the dark. After a run through of rescue techniques we all went back to our tents for a little R&R. With a such a big task looming in our future it was necessary to take time and decompress. I sat outside our tent and ate my lunch while going thru my gear and packing my summit bag. Double checking that I had everything I needed and that it was all in it’s place I could feel the knot in my stomach slowly return. This climb was no joke, and I was preparing to tackle the giant.
Finishing an early dinner I said goodnight to my team and climbed into my tent. The alarm would sound at 10pm. Sun from the day had warmed the tent making it super cozy and just the right place to spend some time journaling and going over my final thoughts and preparation. Scott and I spent a few moments going over plans and details before settling down in our bags to catch a couple hours of sleep. As I lay there listening to the hustle and bustle of those still awake outside I couldn’t help but smile to myself and think how lucky I was to have someone special to share this experience with. Sometimes I don’t think I would have made it this far with out his support and encouragement.
Sleep came in waves. There was too much still happening outside, and the noise was distracting. I would finally fall into a deep sleep, only to be shaken and told I was snoring. I couldn’t blame him, I had done the same. Finally about an hour before the alarm woke us I remember dreaming. Dreaming of being left behind as a small child at a park. I was warned my dreams may be strange up here. Sitting up I could feel the cold that had crept in over the last few hours. I slowly got dressed and made my way out into the dark. Scott had risen a few minutes before me and made some tea to warm us before we made our way out on to the cold, dark glacier trail.
Making my way over to where the team had set up our rope, I tied myself in. I would be rope lead for my team. It would be my job to set the place and guide us up the mountain. I had volunteered for this position, but couldn’t help feeling nervous at the task at hand. When we were all ready I led us out onto the main trail to wait for the other rope team. When they arrived we set out just after 11pm to make our way across the Cowlitz glacier leading to Cathedral gap. Up and over the frozen rock we climbed to reach Ingraham flats. The trail was very straight forward at this point and my nerves were starting to settle, and I was convincing myself that this was totally going to happen.
Continuing up the trail we hit the “Disappointment Clever”, a mix of frozen rocks, and hardened snow sticking up in sharp peaks all around us. This was not the place to stop, and we needed to move carefully and quickly. Making our way further into the climb we had to cross over and connect to a reroute on the Emmons Glacier because of crevasses opening up and making the usual “DC” route more unsafe than normal. It was just about this point at 13,000ft that I began to feel short of breath, and the weight of my legs felt heavy beneath me. Our group took a short break to eat and rest for a minute. I sat down and took time to look up. I could see a trail of head lights coming behind us. It looked like a snake weaving its way up the mountainside. And just on the horizon I could see the first rays of dawn rising. I took a deep breath before setting foot on the trail, and told myself I would make it.
Climbing higher up the route I took calculated steps, and deep breaths. It was getting harder to continue, harder to breath, and I felt so tired. I began to mentally yell at myself. Felling that I was just not meant to be here. And then I remembered those people that doubted me and how I so badly wanted to prove to them that I was strong enough. I thought about my kids, and I wanted to show them that it is possible to attain your goals. So I kept pushing myself. The farther I climbed the more emotional I felt. I had to stop my self from crying because it made breathing even harder. As I reached a large crevasse just yards away from the summit, I pulled myself together mentally and dug deep for all the strength I could muster, and crossed. With the encouragement of my team, and the strong hand of Scott I found myself at the craters rim. I had made it. I was standing on the summit of my giant. The tears began to fall.
As I sat back at camp letting the sun warm my tired body, recounting the previous hours events, I smiled knowing that I had done what I thought for so long was unattainable. That I had powered through and overcome my doubts and fears. I was reminded that the success rate is just 60 percent for guided climbers and only 44 percent for individuals like me. The fact that I made it on my first attempt was huge accomplishment. And this is just my first, I will return.