Last week, I climbed to the top of Mount Rainier. I don't know why I did that. It was just there.
Actually, I blame the Olympia chapter of the Mountaineers. Since enrolling in their climbing course, instructors have forced me to claw my way up the sheer sides of huge stones carelessly scattered about in the forest and flung me into icy crevasses just to practice hauling me out again.
Compared to that kind of torture, climbing Mount Rainier was a piece of cake.
Seriously, mountaineering is an exciting sport that usually takes place on snow. It is not a universally popular sport because any normal and well-adjusted person would consider it insane.
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The earliest mountaineer was “Otzi the iceman” who went missing about 5,300 years ago on the Schnalstal glacier in the Otztal Alps, near the border between Austrian and Italy. Because Otzi wasn’t wearing a GPS tracking device, which could have used satellite technology to pinpoint his whereabouts, he wasn’t found until 1991.
It got the sport off to a rocky start.
Armed with everything the Mountaineers have taught me, I started up the Emmons Glacier recently with 11 other climbers, including my tent mate Konstantin from Stockholm, whose snoring kept setting off avalanches.
From down here, in the safety of our living rooms, the snowy sides of Mount Rainier look smooth and well manicured. But up close, the slopes are actually randomly littered with more pothole-like crevasses than a South Sound country road.
We climbed for two days, zig-zagging back and forth trying to avoid these big cracks in the glacier. Occasionally, we’d lose a climber or two, but nobody named Otzi.
On the second day, we reached our high camp, called Camp Schurman, and went to bed at 5 p.m. After pretending to sleep while Konstantin snored, we got up in a howling windstorm at 11.30 p.m., attached lanterns to our heads, strapped razor-sharp spikes to the bottoms of our boots and tied ourselves together with some ropes.
In the middle of the night, we proceeded to climb slopes so steep that even the mountain goats were riding the ski lift. Slipping meant sliding into one of those cavernous potholes where I would spend the next couple thousand years with one of Otzi’s buddies.
Because so many people try to climb Mount Rainier every year, the National Park Service rangers make it harder by removing all the oxygen from the air, which they then heat up and sell to certain politicians during election campaigns. I kept scraping my way toward the 14,411-foot top in hopes there would be an underwear-changing service up there. No luck.
Reaching the summit is a moment of sheer joy and triumph. It lasts about 3 seconds until you realize you have to go back down the same way you came up.
Jeanne Carras, owner of the downtown women’s shoe store, Bonaventure, says the new pay parking strategy is working well, and her customers seem to love it. Parking spaces are easier to find, she reports. Carras designed a special envelope into which she slips dollar coins to pay the parking tab for her best customers. Other merchants reportedly have adopted the idea … Lakefair winds up tonight with the grand fireworks display at Capitol Lake … Monday is the deadline to register to vote in the Aug. 17 primary election. There’s more information at www.thurstonvotes.org … The Reef bar and restaurant reopened its doors this week … Did you know the pay parking stations were made by a BP subsidiary? … The Pacific Northwest Mushroom Festival, put on by Hawks Prairie Rotary, starts cooking on July 24 and 25 at the Regional Athletic Complex near Lacey … Did you know that 79 percent of all responses from the Olympia Fire Department are medical calls? Only 21 percent are actually fire calls, and most of those involve situations other than what you might consider a “fire.”
George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357 0206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.