Noun: a deep open crack, especially one in a glacier.
Synonyms: chasm, abyss, fissure, cleft, crack, split, breach, rift, hole, cavity
“Loose rocks fell into the crevasse”
I received a message from a friend, one whom I consider a role model for the veteran based community. He is an ambassador to those of us who have been injured serving Our Great Country. Many of you who will read this know or know of this individual: Nick Colgin.
Now without stroking his ego any more than what’s necessary, I’m going to get to why I’m actually writing.
The message: “Homey, no BS. Would you be down for a July 4th Rainier summit this year? Let me know ASAP.”
This was sent June 13th. The climb was going to be July 2nd-5th. When I read those words I didn’t have much time to think or allow them to resonate because I was competing in a strongman competition. But before the contest was over that’s all that was on my mind. I kept saying to myself, “Rainer! I’m finally going to do it!”
You see I’ve lived in Washington for 16 years. Currently, I’m living in Eastern Washington, but every day driving through the Seattle area you can catch a great view of the mountain. It’s 14,409 feet tall and, granted, it’s not the tallest mountain in our country, but it is the tallest in the Cascade Range, and the largest in our state. Not only that but Rainier is also one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.
Now that I have painted a picture, you can see why I wanted to climb this mountain so badly. Less than three weeks out for this climb and being new to the climbing/hiking experience, I was nervous. I had never done a technical climb. I didn’t want to let the group down; I didn’t want to let myself down. I was determined to give full effort pushing forward.
Let me fast forward three weeks. I’m officially meeting all of the Leaders, other than Nick, for the first time. There was Frank Huster, Dan Aylward, Doug Sandok, Justin Davis and Brent Bishop. The following day I also got to meet the full team, in a conference room sorting gear.
I want you to understand, it’s difficult for me to begin a conversation with a stranger. I’m honestly not comfortable meeting new people, so it took the rest of the day just to relax around them.
Now I’m going to start talking about a man who I met on this trip. This individual’s name is Lonnie Bedwell. Lonnie without a doubt is one of the most lovable, humble, fearless, funny guys I know. He served Our Great Nation in the Navy. He had the misfortune of losing his eyesight on a hunting trip, but I’m not going to give any more information on that subject as that’s not my story to tell.
From when we first set off up the mountain my goal was to keep a slow but decent pace. Remember, I’m still new to the climbing world and I didn’t want to burn myself out on day one. I also wanted a chance to watch Nick guide Lonnie, so I chose to walk behind them. Little did I know that Lonnie’s middle name is “mountain goat.” Boy can that man move. He can traverse the trails, roots, rocks, and streams blind better than I can with sight. We quickly pulled ahead from the main group. I was amazed to watch Nick and Lonnie work together so seamlessly. They had never met before this climb.
Nick, along with the other leaders, had taken a group up Rainier the year before, same dates, same route, but not the same weather. This year the mountain had received an abundance of hot weather. We didn’t touch snow until almost 8,000 feet, about 4 miles into the trail.
As we hit snowline, we took a short break that turned into a thorough snow trekking lesson from walking as a rope team and how to self arrest, to being aware of threats and crevasses.
In the next mile or two, more than 1,000 feet of vertical snow and ice stood directly in our way. Our path: straight up, no switch backs.
We chose to follow a path left by the previous climbers, walking in their footsteps. I bring this up because Lonnie could tell when the lead team would turn around to talk to one another. He could actually feel, while he walked in their steps, when someone would look back. Their steps would change and Lonnie could tell if they looked back over their right or left shoulder. Amazing right?
As we got to the top of the hill, we for the first time saw the crevasses. Not just a few, but thousands of different cracks, snow bridges and holes big enough to swallow a house. That unsettling fear of “what the hell did I just get myself into” started to appear. Remember, I’m new, and I didn’t know what to do.
We got to a point where we had to rope up for the first time outside of training. As we were gearing up on a side of an embankment, I couldn’t stop staring at all the crevasses. As unsettled as I may have been, I also couldn’t comprehend the sheer beauty of everything. I was truly taken aback from the sight and the magnitude of the mountain.
The first 20 minutes of being on the rope showed just how dangerous it could be. Hell, the first dozen steps were along a cliff that if you fell it would be left to your Creator to decide if you would make it or not. Remember that I have a blind guy on my rope, so my inability to be comfortable with strangers was being tested knowing my life was truly in their hands.
We got to our first major set of crevasses. Now it’s hard for me to explain the detail of our situation and the maze we had to follow so that we wouldn’t be swallowed by the mountain, but we walked out on a 2-foot wide ice bridge, Dan first, then Nick, then Lonnie and finally me. Dan and Nick made it over without a hitch. Now it’s Lonnie’s turn. Remember when describing Lonnie I used the word fearless; there was a reason for that.
As he walks out he starts getting too close to one side and the ground gives way and he falls. Dan, Nick, and I all self-arrest. That’s right, I’m a stud. I didn’t screw anything up. I look over to see Lonnie sort of dangling, clutching to the side of the bridge. All he says is, “I got this, no worries. I got this man.” I’m thinking if he only knew how deep those cracks were, would he still be as cool headed? He struggles a bit but climbs up and stands, and almost falls off the other side… He says, “Man, I got this,” and stands up again. Next he has to jump over another crevasse without jumping too far and landing in yet another crack in the ground. He makes it, as do I, and we are soon on our way to high camp.
Skipping ahead several hours, we arrived at high camp and set up tents and stoves for dinner. We had to step off at 2300 and there was lots to do in a short amount of time especially if we wanted to get a few hours of rest before the final ascent. Throughout the evening and into the morning the leaders were discussing if it was still possible to allow us to summit safely.
The next morning less than half the team was continuing to the summit, due to health and risk assessments. I was fortunately able to push forward. We gained another 2,000 feet in elevation, and only had 2,000 more to go. Unfortunately with the weather being so warm, the snow and ice melting, and the mountain becoming too technical for our lack of experience, we had to turn around and make our way back down to camp.
It was July 4th, and the mountain was experiencing mid to late August weather.
After cleaning camp and preparing for the long trek down and off the mountain I had to tell myself that I still pushed. I still gave everything I had. I haven’t failed. I will walk on top one day, soon.
The hardest part of walking down is knowing you were so close to the top.
“Of all the fire mountains which like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest.” John Muir
I want to thank Paradox Sports and their sponsors for allowing me to be a part of this amazing experience, and to No Barriers Warriors for reigniting the flame for adventure within me.