Mystery Ranch is proud to have sponsored Camp Patriot’s 4th annual Summit Challenge, an attempt by 4 disabled veterans climb 14,411 ft. Mt Rainier in Washington’s portion of the Cascade Range. As part of the marketing team at Mystery Ranch, we went along to outfit the veterans and organizers with U.S built backpacks, and to assist the team with photography and cinematography during the 4 day climb.
This year’s team included a heroic squad; Navy Seals Mike Day, Jason Redman, and Brian S, and Corpsman Kevin Ivory, all of whom received Purple Hearts for their services in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their inspiration to climb Rainier was facilitated by heroic stories from past attempts, especially the iconic summit by Camp Patriot Vet Ryan Job.
The kickoff to the event was hosted by the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field in downtown Seattle. The event featured speeches from previous summits, other Camp Patriot adventures, and a spectacular presentation by climber and astronaut Scott Parazynski, who joined the team on the mountain. His inspirational presentation about his 5 shuttle missions, an Everest summit, and life as a medic was a motivating speech that stirred adrenaline in all of us as we prepared for the next day’s trip to the base of the mountain.
Gearing up in Ashford at Rainier Mountaineering Inc. (RMI), the team spent the better part of the day packing, organizing, and fueling up in preparation for the hike to Muir the following day. An early morning drive to Paradise (the trailhead to Camp Muir and NPS Headquarters) wound us through Mt. Rainier National Park, climbing a total of 5,000 feet up the Nisqually River. A few miles from the trailhead we got the first glimpse of our objective, and within minutes we were staring at the broad south face of the Mt Rainier massif. Graciously, members from RMI and International Mountain Guides (IMG) volunteered their time to guide the team on their summit attempt which began by organizing the team with trip details and timelines. As the crew lined up in Paradise ready to march up to our first camp, Camp Patriot organizers bid farewell, and our 4 veterans set out on what they would all describe later as the trip of a lifetime.
View Camp Patriot’s Summit Challenge 2010 in a larger map
The hike to Camp Muir traverses the broad shoulder of the South flank of Rainier known as the Muir Snowfield, and after a sweltering 5 hours in the blistering sun, the team reached camp. Guides Eryka Thorley, Tim Hardin, and a highly dedicated support group from the Lewis McChord Joint Base, moved quickly prior to our arrival to set up tents, boil water, and prepare food for the crew, which was much celebrated after hauling heavy loads in the hot summer sun.
As the team began to settle into the oversized IMG cook tent for dinner, no one could help but wonder if the increasing winds would prevent us from climbing any higher. To pass the time as we awaited any changes in the weather, the 4 vets shared their own stories of war and trauma as the rest of us listened with utter amazement at the strength and capacity of human nature.
Sleep that night was difficult to come by as the once manageable wind intensified to gusts over 50mph, and another party’s reconnaissance higher up the mountain brought news of 80 mph gusts. The next morning, after a restless night as our tents got hammered with consistent 70 mph, our crew awoke to a training schedule organized by RMI guides. As veteran military personnel, training is second nature to the vets, who took to glacier travel, self arrest and rope management with the highest professionalism.
While awaiting a positive change in the weather, lead guides Curtis Fawley (Camp Patriot organizer) and Art Rausche contemplated the teams options as our time on the mountain was limited. The forecast called for high winds in the region for the next 24 hours, which only gave us 1 more day for a summit attempt before we had to make it back down the mountain. In an effort to try and summit that night, Curtis and Art decided it would be best to get some rest and see if the weather would cooperate, so that afternoon and evening was spent tent bound, praying for a break in the storm.
Tuesday morning’s late wakeup call was an obvious sign that we would not be climbing that day, so in an attempt to keep everyone in high spirits and acclimatized, we set of for a day of ice climbing on the Ingraham Glacier. Mike, Jason, Kevin and Brian all climbed the vertical ice with ease and the extra day of glacier travel was well received as the team looked dialed on the trek back to camp that afternoon.
Forecasters delivered some good news that afternoon. A word of calming winds were scheduled to begin late that night, which gave us hope for a summit attempt. After a few hours resting, hydrating and re-fueling, our team set off from Camp Muir at 11:30 p.m., roped up and full of adrenaline.
The route from Muir traverses the upper Ingraham Glacier and across the Ingraham Flats towards the base of the Disappointment Cleaver, an iconic rock ridge in the mountaineering world. Our team navigated this classic swath of rock smoothly and rested at the top, still in total darkness and isolation. The route continued around the east side of the peak, traversing up the Emmons Glacier around impressive seracs, rock faces, and deep dark crevasses that appeared to have no end or bottom. Our team moved strongly and methodically up the glaciated east face, taking few breaks, just for the essentials. The sun began to present itself early, around 3:30. The faint wisp of light on the horizon soon became sunrise and cloaked us in a pink auditorium of rock and ice. As the light went from a faint glimmer to orange alpenglow and eventually bright white, our crew made their way up the upper flanks of the mountain towards the summit crater. At 6:30 in the morning, 4 disabled veterans, wounded from war and exhausted from 7 hours of climbing, stood on top of the 14,411 ft. Mt Rainier. It was one of the more emotional summits I have ever experienced.
The sky was cloudless and calm which gave us an uninterrupted view of western Washington. Puget sound was 50 miles away, but from that perch seemed to be at the very base of the mountain. Locals from the area were able to identify skyscrapers in Seattle, point out Tacoma, Olympia and the surrounding volcanoes: Adams, St Helens, and Hood. Our summit experience was shared with photos, high fives, flying flags and plenty of smiles and hugs.
After an hour on the summit crater, we shouldered our packs and began the descent. The danger of the descent proved to be manageable as temps did not rise enough to see a lot of rockfall, nor did any of the snow bridges over crevasses melt out. A brisk pace back to the top of the cleaver and a delicate downclimb brought us back to Ingraham Flats and eventually Camp Muir. Our support team from Lewis McCord shouldered much of the load, as we packed up camp and began the long walk back down the Muir Snowfield and eventually Paradise, where the Camp Patriot organizers anxiously awaited.
Like years past, there was a warm welcome of both food and friends at the Whittaker’s home in Ashford and a celebratory Barbeque. Our 4 vets, the benchmark of this memorable trip, stepped off the bus and were greeted with whistles and cheers, and a ceremonial award presentation for their continued accomplishments.
A special thanks to those involved in this experience of a lifetime; Mike Flood, GM of the Seattle Seahawks, Scott Parazynski for his inspiration, Lewis McCord AFB for their continued support on and off the mountain. A huge thanks to our mountain guide support; Art Rausch, Anne Keller, Erika Thorley, and Tim Hardin. Thanks to Kim and Colleen for the BBQ and organizational support!
Thanks to Micah Clark and Curtis Fawley for their commitment to the troops in the creation of Summit Challenge 2010!
Brian, Kevin, Jason and Mike; thanks for all that you have done and continue to do….