4/21/12 to 4/22/12 – Below lies the story of Jonny Cromwell and I’s first successful ascent of Mt. Ranier. There are no photos or words of the summit or the descent, because the shared spiritual experience was too overwhelming to be portrayed authentically in either medium. Words by Jonny Cromwell and photos by myself. Please enjoy.
“I call this ‘dicking around’ because you can’t take these things too seriously. After all, climbing and skiing should be fun and all done with a healthy dose of perspective: that is humour is the best tonic, laughter can quash adversity and skiing shit should be a blast. That said, some of the stories that follow are a little involved and don’t really hint at how much fun climbing and skiing with friends is. Rest assured it wasn’t all serious, profound revelations; we had a savagely good time along the way too.
Late in the afternoon, we left the crowds behind and crested over Vista Ridge and got our first full frontal view of south side Rainier bathed in soft shadows and billowy waves of light. This was our last view of the mountain before dropping into the deep glacial canyon, and being engulfed by high walls, brilliant blue ice blocks and the long upwards roll of the Nisqually glacier. Far above, the Fuhrer finger and thumb cut bold lines through the prominent, rocky headwall, bridging glaciers and drawing lines through the countours of our imaginations. In my mind’s eye, my skis dance tight turns down the narrow chutes of snow, humbled to stand within such beauty, to be pilgrims in the clouds; just two specks on a giant earth.
Suddenly, everything was just so; a rare moment of clarity, a brief glimpse of the eternal light that hides behind a life of murky shadows. Love is all there is. Love for this earth, love for the mountain, love for friends, family, strangers. I was in the light. I was at home in the world. The spirit spoke to me on that mountain and said I am you and you are me. I am this mountain that you climb, the water that you drink, the food which sustains you, and the love which moves you. I felt the flicker of light that is in everything, that light that ensures our communal fate with the earth. Looking up at Rainier, at this long awaited dream, I shed a silent tear. A tear because in that moment everything in the world was in its place, everything was necessarily so, everything was at home.
And then it was over. Suddenly it was getting dark, and we needed to find a safe campsite and cook dinner, melt snow, sustain our warmth. I became a realist again, monitoring the mountain for hazards, thinking two steps ahead of our next move. But somewhere in the recesses of my mind that pure experience lives on. It serves as a reminder that there is something greater than the self, greater than the quagmire of drudgery and routine, and even greater than the mountain.
We found camp high on the fringes of the Wilson glacier in a wind roll underneath a rock. Darkness was moving in quickly over the mountain and we needed a roost to call home. Setting up the tent is a wonderfully creative experience: here in a hazardous world of grotesque grandiosity and stark beauty we make ourselves a home. Home tonight is a small but sufficient patch of earth on a very big hillside, a place to be comfortable for a couple hours, to eat, drink, laugh and share in the incredulity of our situation. Staking out the tent with Zach, I sensed he felt the same way.
What can I say? I love maps. Probably too much.
Following the rope up from my feet, across the snow, and out of the frame, I think about the other end of that rope and where it ties into Zach. To be tied together, physically, and emotionally; to share the same destiny and profound experience with someone else is beyond special. The rope is a symbol of trust, respect, cooperation and recognition of a mutual fate on the mountain. We look at the mountain as a team, drawing strength from each other. When I think of our time tied together, I think of the unspoken bond my friends and I share when we play in the mountains.
There are no words to well describe the unexpected light show Rainier put on that morning. Rays of soft, yellow light cascaded down through the clouds and melted the jagged edges and hard shapes of the rock and ice. It’s the unexpected moments that sometime etch the most vivid memories. Moments like this when all we can do is stand, watch and be humbled.
Looking out over the Cascades, I see a forgotten landscape contoured by blurred lines, lost in milky clouds and waves of rain and snow, inhabited by reverent ghosts. The land is a blank spot in my imagination, a place to sketch the lines, and colour them with wild experiences, and contemplate what else is out there. The Cascades have this ephemeral quality of feeling like every place is undiscovered; every mountain, ridge and valley holds a dark allure and the promise of profound hushed beauty. From our vantage high on Rainier, this climb has pollenated more questions about the land than provided answers. Zach and I gaze quietly at the mountains we call home, probing the depths of the landscape, knowing that we have a lifetime to explore these mysterious and discordant mountains.”