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Cascade Challenge Team Completes Mt. Rainier Leg on Summer Solstice
Posted on June 28, 2011

Be First recipients Greg Stafford, Will Fain, Cole Iverson, and Rex Shepard—the Cascade Challenge Team—are attempting a 1,000-mile multi-sport expedition to bike, hike, climb and ski over 14 mountains in the Cascades. Our Be First program is an opportunity to get sponsored when you go for your own summit, whatever that may be. To learn more and submit your proposals, visit Be First.

By Greg Stafford

Biking to Mt. Rainier on Highway 18, we found ourselves on a two-foot shoulder in a torrential downpour that was soaking us to our baselayers. Trucks were blasting past us, and we all were silently praying that we would not become the salami in a semi sandwich. Ahead of us lay another 100+ miles of road biking before our two-day ascent of Mt. Rainier.

We completed the 213-mile ride to Mt. Rainier on Sunday, June 9. The next day, we woke to sunny skies and some of the best weather we have seen all trip. Arriving at the Glacier Basin trailhead, we could see the glaciated hulk of Mt. Rainier. At 14,411 feet, Rainier would be the tallest and hardest mountain on our expedition to traverse the Cascade Range.

Our bodies slowly warmed up under the weight of our backpacks as we climbed up to Camp Schurman at 9,800 feet. We tried to keep our packs as light as possible with the knowledge that everything we packed would be carried to the summit. Reaching Camp Schurman after a six-hour climb was a relief for our mind and bodies.

The sun set at Camp Schurman and illuminated the clouds below us in a crimson red. The magnitude of the mountain overcame our fatigued bodies as we finally were able to relax in camp. This was one of those moments of pure energy where all your sweat and hard work becomes worth it.

The alarm clock rang at 4 a.m. to another gorgeous sunrise. We packed our bags and set off up the Emmons Glacier to what we hoped would be the summit of Mt. Rainier. We had just more than 4,000 feet to climb and paced ourselves accordingly. Of all the mountains in the Cascade Range, Mt. Rainier always gives one the feeling of a true alpine environment. It’s the little things, like the crunch of crampons and the slow panting of our breath as we slowly ascended to a summit far away.

Despite being weighed down with overnight packs and skis, we climbed steadily. Surprisingly, we met a couple of parties that turned back early from the summit. Rex Shepard was setting the slow and steady pace, and finally we knew that we were close to the summit. As we crested the last steep section of the Emmons Glacier, we were greeted with sustained winds and sunshine. At last, we had made it to the summit of Mt. Rainier.

The joy of reaching the summit was instantly replaced by the feeling that we had to descend. Reaching the summit is always short-lived with the knowledge that you are only halfway there. Descending is usually the most dangerous part of a climb, one where energy is depleted, and mistakes can happen all too easily.

Our planned descent route was the Furher Finger or the Kautz Glacier. The previous summer, we had climbed up the Furher and descended via the Kautz as a training run for the Cascade Challenge. However, this year the heavy snowfall made landmarks a little confusing. Traversing mountains is not only very hard but can be extremely dangerous as you are descending a route that you haven’t seen.

We quickly made the decision that we should climb back up 200 meters and try to find the Disappointment Cleaver route to descend. By this time, it was late in the day, and we knew that it would be dangerous if we tried to ski down our planned descent route. After a somewhat hairy traverse over some gaping bergshrunds, we finally found the route.

After locating the route, the ski descent almost became pleasurable. It was the Summer Solstice, and the sun had warmed the upper mountain enough for us to find some good corn skiing. Around 3 p.m., we had descended to a point where we could relax and enjoy some much-deserved turns.

We made it all the way down to Paradise Lodge. This was a rare descent where we could ski all the way down to a waiting ride. We always knew that a human-powered traverse of the Cascade Range would be hard, but this was much more then we could have ever expected. Just climbing to the summit was a challenge, much less descending by a route that we had not seen. Mt. Rainier put the whole expedition of the Cascade Range into perspective.

Something always has to go wrong for an adventure to be born. It is in this spirit that we as a team have realized that we have found the adventure that we have been waiting for. Despite numerous difficulties, we have found a way to keep going, and through this we have realized the magnitude of our experience. Adventure is never born sitting on the couch, and as we continue our travels we know that this adventure will forever be etched into our minds and bodies as a challenge that we can all be proud of.

Author: - Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

  1. Paula

    Three down … Congrats! Love your pix and blog writing. What’s next – Hood? Shasta? Safe travels.

  2. John Aerts

    Met your team yesterday at Bunny Flat campground as they prepared for ascending Shasta early this morning at 2:00 AM.
    Great to talk to such motivated young people!
    What a neat project to work on.
    Best of success in promoting this adventure and your products.

  3. Mary

    WOW… rock!!! I am soooo impressed and can’t wait to see you and all of your pictures. Awesome job, Greg. Hugs, Mary

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