Wow, what a fantastic trip. Once again it was an incredible experience to work with these amazing men like Joey, Chad, and Ryan. I am left with many rich memories. Thanks for all of your support, thoughts, and blessings. All went as planned and it was a jam packed week indeed.
Picked up all the guys at SeaTac on the 5th, then drove straight to Qwest Field in Seattle to meet up with Mike Flood, the VP of Community Relations for the Sea Hawks. Mike gave the team a private tour of the stadium/field and tagging along with Mike was Jeff Kemp (ex Hawks, 49er, Rams – QB)! Jeff’s stories of the behind the scenes, locker room activities kept us all laughing. Jeff even tossed the ball around with the guys and ran a few patterns with Ryan, Joey and Chad. From Qwest, we all then traveled down to the Port of Tacoma for the “Tall Ships Festival” where we had a private “meet and greet” party on the deck of the USCG Eagle. This was all just day #1! The local Seattle/Tacoma support for Camp Patriot was incredible to witness.
Day #2 on the 6th was spent organizing the group gear at the RMI facility in Ashford, just outside the entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park. The gear for a team of 20 for 4 days can seem overwhelming. But you can’t look at it too long, just need to pack it up and go! Then finally on Day #3, we set off on the trail to Camp Muir with our full packs and great weather.
We were supported by a small team of hikers who helped to carry some of our food and team gear up to Camp Muir (10,000′), where we made our base camp for the next three nights. The support group included my family; Colleen, Keegan, and Beth! After a brief rest at Camp Muir, this support group made a quick turn around and descended the 4 miles back to the parking lot at Paradise. They all had a long day, arriving back to their cars at 9:00p.
Their help and great attitudes were indispensible in assisting us climbers with the long 4,500 vertical, 4 mile slog up the Muir Snowfield to camp. Upon arrival at Camp Muir, the rest of us climbers got busy setting up camp in the evening light, rehydrated, fueled up our bodies with some yummy freeze dried food, then retired to our tents and bags for a well deserved rest.
Tuesday the 8th, again brought us fantastic weather, and a great opportunity to train with the group around our Camp Muir base camp. The guides spent the day working with the climbers on such skills and techniques as; ice axe self arrest, cramponing, team rope travel and team arrest, etc.
Our group bedded down by 6:00p that evening in preparation for an early am (or late pm) departure. The weather pattern was solid H pressure with fairly strong upper level winds (40mph) and a relatively high freezing level (14,500′). Knowing this, the guides planned for a 11:00p departure out of Camp Muir, with hitting the summit hopefully by 8:00a, and descending before snow conditions became too sloppy.
In reality we struck out from camp at 11:30p with headlamps on and made solid, steady progress up the mountain, reaching the summit shortly after 8:00a. Joey, Chad, and Ryan all climbed exceptionally well and were an inspiration to watch.
Most people assume that descending is easier, but the reality of it is that the descent can be more strenuous and dangerous than the ascent. Warming temps can soften the snow bridges across the many crevasses, rock and ice fall become more prevalent, and the snow in general becomes less stable, making footing on steeper slopes more difficult. Our strong team rallied, maintaining our focus and concentration, and after exactly 15 hrs on the mountain, the last rope team of our group returned back to camp successful. After a short rest, the team regrouped around our camp’s kitchen area and feasted on more yummy freeze dried, and gulped down gallons of water. For me this was a time to finally relax a bit as I just sat back and watched the group’s interaction. The team’s energy was at a high. Stories and tales were swapped all around. It was fun to watch as these three amazing heroes joked around and the whole team was engaged in relaxed conversation. A huge success! And then a great night’s sleep. Many of us had been up and moving without any real sleep for over 36 hrs.
Our final morning on the mountain, July 10th, brought us a fitting end to our climb. Two F15’s from the 173rdFW out of Klamath Falls, OR, flew overhead at precisely 8:00a. This fly-by was all prearranged with the help of LTC’s Casson, Erickson, and Asay, who all fly with the 173rd and were with us on the climb. LTC Erickson (“Leif”) had direct communications with the pilots via FM radio which he packed along for the trip. The whole team stood on the ridge at Camp Muir (along with many other climbers from other groups), as “Leif” talked his F15 buddies in for a direct fly over. Once the pilots had a sighting on us, they spent the next 20 min. flying all around and over us, at times only 300′ directly above us.
What a great salute to our three vets successes – not only on this trip, but in life. It was difficult to leave the mountain, but a prearranged BBQ of smoked pork, ribs, chicken, cornbread, coleslaw, Blue Bunny ice cream, and all the fixin’s was waiting for us down in Ashford. Three days of yummy freeze dried is about all a person can take when one is faced with the prospect of home cooking, so it did not take much for us to shoulder up those heavy packs and head down the Muir Snowfield to a very receptive crowd in Ashford.
Just like last year, so many people jumped on board to help us make this happen. Many of these people, just spur of the moment. Never ending thanks to Beth Wolf and Kim Roscoe for arranging the Tall Ships event and many other local logistics and support. Thanks to RMI and IMG, the guide service(s) I worked for back in the “old days”, for their incredible on and off mountain support. Thanks to sis-in-law Kim and wonderful wife Colleen, for all the yummy BBQ (and it wasn’t freeze dried)! Thanks to Mark Seacat of Mystery Ranch Backpacks, who shot the great photos attached and about 2000 more! Thanks to Alex Quade from CNN, who along with the CamoUp video crew (Dale, Jake, and Gabe), documented the climb for future production. Thanks to the 173rdFW and Capt. Ritter who in face of bureaucracy, persevered and got us a fly-by. Thanks John Fay for your legalese. A huge thanks to my great on mountain guide support; Art Rausch, Anne Keller, Ashley Garman, Dave Conlan, Jake Beren, and Steve Sinor. Thanks to Micah and Camp Patriot for sparking the fire that created this vision. And special thanks to all our great climb sponsors; Seattle Sea Hawks, Native Eyewear, Sitka Gear, Leki Poles, Sportsman’s Warehouse, LithoFlexo, Mystery Ranch, Blue Bunny, Sun West, and Go Pro.
Like I said before – wow, what a trip! Joey, Chad, and Ryan are the greatest. Let’s never forget.
The Seattle Times also wrote a wonderful story of our climb and can be accessed at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008045927_rainier11m0.html
***This story was printed with permission from Camp Patriot and Curtis Fawley***
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