Saga of a Summit Climb Part 4 of 4


Although the descent was a hard full day's work - from 10 AM to 4 PM - in retrospect it doesn't seem to have taken that long or been that hard. I guess it's because there was no concern or uncertainty of making it back like there was of making it to the summit. We almost ran down, taking long strides and sliding a few feet in the snow at the end of each one to make the strides even longer.

As we descended, the air became noticeably thicker, and we shed more and more clothing with each rest stop. Somewhere on Disappointment Cleaver, we had our last 'lost article' incident. At one of the rest stops the guide following behind our rope presented Dave with one of his (Dave's) crampons. Roger's earlier story of the lost crampon had been prophetic. Somehow Dave's crampon had come off his boot, with the straps still buckled, unbeknownst to Dave. He was surprised that he had lost it and puzzled as to how the straps could still be buckled up.

We only had one fall on our rope during the climb and that was on the way down at the bottom of "The Cleaver". Rick had fallen while we were traversing a moderately steep slope and slid down 30 or 40 feet. Dave immediately went into "arrest position" just like he had been trained and Rick's fall was stopped with no problem. I looked back after I had jumped into the arrest position and our rope looked just like a square root sign. Rick was at the bottom of the 'V', Dave who was still on the steep pitch of the Cleaver had the top left of the 'V' anchored, Karl had the right top of the 'V' and then the rope went straight across on the level from Karl to me to Roger. Roger just stood there and watched without saying anything. I noticed he was carrying a lot of fancy hardware hanging from his belt that he never discussed. I think it is for getting someone out of a crevasse if they fell in. We had no need to find out on this trip though.

The guide leading the rope behind us saw the whole thing and congratulated Dave on making a good arrest. When Rick had struggled back up to the trail, we all had a nice rest except for Rick; he was exhausted from the effort. Nevertheless, as soon as he was back on the trail, Roger took off again at the usual pace and I think Rick had some trouble keeping up for a while.

This probably should have happened to Rick on the way up. Dave told me after the climb that all the way up the mountain, Rick would climb faster than Roger's pace, evidently to show how macho he was, which would cause slack in the rope. Then he would stop until the slack was taken up and then proceed to do the same thing over again. I was fortunate in having Roger set a steady pace for me and in spite of hearing Roger repeatedly admonish Rick to keep the rope tight, I didn't know how much trouble Dave was having with the pace.

He said later that he never did get into a rhythm of walking all day long because of Rick. One minute he would have to run to keep up, and the next he would be stopped dead. He deserves a lot of credit for making it under those conditions because that is a very inefficient use of energy to climb that way.

When we reached Camp Muir, everyone allowed me to have first crack at the outhouse which I wasted no time to reach. It may be impossible to believe, but when I was in there it didn't even seem to smell bad, although I knew better.

As we packed all our stuff up and put it back in our packs, Rick broke out a small bottle of champagne he had brought along to celebrate. It was obviously a little awkward for him to determine how to share that little bottle. He didn't want to just drink it himself in front of everyone and yet if he shared it with everyone, he probably wouldn't get any. So he announced that this was for the number one rope team, the only one whose complete original membership made it to the top. This worked out well for him because Dave and I each only wanted a small amount, enough for a toast, and Rick was left with most of his bottle.

It was around noon or one o'clock when we left Muir and headed down without ropes or crampons. Except for our packs which were pretty heavy again, this was fun. In addition to having all our gear in our packs, Dave and I each volunteered to carry down a climbing rope. These were wet, heavy and awkward but somehow it still seemed pretty easy to go downhill.

We literally skied down, sliding on the snow with each step. On the way, we met the next day's climbing group rest stepping their way up. Phinjo Gombu was with them and we stopped and exchanged greetings with him.

Publicity and fame, to some degree, was ours even before we reached the guide house. Among the many tourists on the lower trails who watched the motley bunch of us clomp down the trail past them, was a man with a tape recorder who stopped Dave, me, and one of the guides. He was from some radio station and wanted to interview us about our climbing experience. We stood there for five minutes or so answering his inane questions which presumably were going to capture our experiences and deliver them to his radio audience.

The publicity and fame weren't over yet, however. After we had reached the guide house, turned in our gear, picked up our "successful ascent" certificates and my American Express card, gotten a huge drink of water and were on our way to our car, we were stopped by a little old lady from New Jersey. She wanted to have her picture taken with us for some reason. We must have looked strange. After the poses, she asked what we had been doing. We told her we had just climbed Mount Rainier and pointed up toward the mountain. She looked up in that direction to see what we meant. Low clouds completely obscured the view so the highest ground you could see was a little grassy knoll a few hundred feet up the trail.

"Oh, you mean you climbed that?" she said pointing to the knoll.

We had a hard time explaining that there was a big mountain in Mt. Rainier National Park that she hadn't seen.

She said "I thought all of this was Mount Rainier." as she pointed and glanced around the parking lot. I guess if you're from New Jersey you have to see the mountain to appreciate it.

Somehow the mountain looks different to us now. We have a better appreciation of what it is that we are looking at. During the climb I was convinced that there was no way I would ever consider climbing it again. At the time, the effort and pain were orders of magnitude greater than any offsetting benefits and in fact I was doubting that I would ever even put hiking boots on my feet again.

Driving home, Dave and I were both tired, hungry, and proud and we both agreed that even though we were glad we did it, there was not a reason in the world compelling enough to get us to try it again. Less than four hours later, though, when Paula heard that we made it, she exclaimed "All right! Next year you and I will have to do it." my resolve began to flag that instant and I responded with a not too sincere "Ok, if you can get in shape."

I can't speak for Dave, but by the time a couple more days had passed, I was sure I would try it again - provided there was a good compelling reason. If there is a next time, I am going over to Columbia Crest and take some real pictures. For this trip, though, the three pictures of the climbing school and this paper will have to suffice.

One final note, I found my driver's license. It was in a different pocket of my wallet where I had put it after the climbing school.

Paul Martin

September, 1983

Addendum, October 1, 1983:

A couple weeks ago, I talked to Pete who lives in Albuquerque and told him about our camera trouble. He was most helpful and sent me about a hundred slides of the climb. We selected about forty of them and have them in to be printed now. One of them, of course, is the posed shot of Dave and me with me wearing long johns and shorts.

Last week I got a letter from Karl who told me that his pictures got lost by the film developer and he wanted to borrow mine! I wrote back about my problem and suggested he also prevail on Pete to borrow his slides. Maybe the climb was jinxed by losses after all.

Addendum, August 21, 2000

Dave made another successful climb to the summit a year or two later. I did not make another attempt, nor am I considering one in the future. Once is enough for me.

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