Every year 9000 people attempt to summit Mount Rainier. Every year 4500 make it to the top–50%. This was statistically true for our group of climbers. 8 attempted, 4 summitted. For the first time in my climbing experience I made the decision to return to camp without summitting and live to climb another day.
Rainier is treacherous. With rapidly shifting weather conditions and steep traverses carrying a heavy pack, many experienced climbers compare it to the summit attempt of Everest. I underestimated its severity.
Failing upward. What I learned . . .
1. Every mountain is different and must be evaluated on its own merit. There is a reason climbers use Rainier to train for Denali . . . both are amidst the most challenging summits in the world. Having climbed above 19,000 feet on two previous occasions I assumed that the Rainier peak of 14,100 would be easily attained. Like life, never underestimate the challenge of the mountain you are facing.
2. You cannot climb unless you are in good health. I didn’t summit because I was sick. For 7 days prior to our climb I had been fighting respiratory congestion. I wrongly assumed that it would clear up as I started to climb. Shocking my system with prednisone caused serious stomach cramping and intestinal problems. It is imperative that you can breathe deeply on a climb. Getting medical attention prior to the climb would have made this mountain much more accessible.
3. In the months prior to the big climb I should have focused more on the upcoming climb. In the weeks prior to flying to Seattle I had been traveling extensively for work. Air travel makes you more susceptible to illness. Travel, in general, makes it harder to establish a routine for training. If you’re going to climb a big mountain then you need big focus on that mountain.
4. When you are leaving your climbing companions on the mountain (as long as they are safe) it is much worse for you going down than for those who continue to ascend. Always be gracious. So proud of my climbing partner, Brett White, who made it to the top!
5. Occasionally, turning around and not making a bid for the summit is the right thing to do. Some days, you just can’t go for it. Live to climb another day.