Foto Essay of a Day Hike & Climb
Up thru Global Climate Disruption & the Movement to Restore Native Names
to the Mountains
“Saw something beautiful Tuesday I’ve not ever seen before. During a dark, early morning drive to Mt. Rainier, the upper half of the massive volcano appeared to spout clear yellow flames without smoke. Weird. And pretty! The top half split into a dozen scimitar slices of bright golden pink. Ahhh, sunrise! The mountain’s glaciers, bereft of snow due to the drought, revealed giant crevasses open wide and staggered one above the other up the side of the volcano. These steep-sloped glacial crevasses of undirtied ice caught the dawn reflections. Traffic was too heavy to snap a pic, & I hate shitty pics. So I drove on. We ended up hiking up to Camp Muir at about 10,180 ft. Needed crampons. Hard blue ice. And dirt. No snow. True gold was the morning Light as it fell from the heavens into the open jaws of Earth.”
~ From my Facebook post of Thursday 8 October 2015 “at 5:20pm.”
When I first saw the summit crevasses burst forth with reflected alpenglow, I first thought the volcano was erupting. My new hiking buddy, Jon Weiner, a colleague of mine at work whose surname is pronounced “WHY-ner,” and I were a bit thrown off by such unexpected radiance. We both knew there was no way in hell Mt. Rainier was erupting. For one thing, our ride was smooth sailing down the congested freeway except for dragon potholes and snake cracks mauling pavement.
“There’s no eruption, man,” Jon declared. “Where’s the smoke? There’s no smoke. No steam. Nothing.”
“No earthquakes either,” I said. “We’d be bouncing all over the frikkin road with the planet cracking open under our wheels. Nawww, it’s some kind of illusion. Alpenglow in the bergschrunds.”
“Sunrise, man,” quipped my friend. “Let’s go get something to eat.”
I badly wanted to pull over and take a photograph, but traffic was heavy, the angle of light and morning shadows, clumps of trees, and other obstructions made it more challenging than it was worth. Besides, I really wanted more coffee, and I had to pee really, really bad. I didn’t want to move my torso until I absolutely had to. No, don’t even think about it. There’s no privacy out there along the freeway, where the traffic between Seattle and Tacoma is so slow and too fast all at once, except maybe behind an old gray mattress flopped over an upside down blue plastic laundry basket in front of a cluster of scraggly ass Scotch broom.
Soon enough, however, we were deep within the boreal beauty of Mt. Rainier National Park. We parked near the climbers’ bathrooms and trailheads of Paradise. Our intention was to hike and climb up to Camp Muir, the popular base camp for alpine climbers prepping for the summit.
We left the parking lot on foot about 9:45 in the morning. The elevation there at the Visitor Center parking lot was at 1,652 meters or 5,420 feet. Camp Muir sat at 3,105 m or 10,188 ft. The hike/climb/scramble was notorious for its 1453 m or 4,768 ft of elevation gain. The summit, however, loomed even further above us at 4,392 meters or 14,411 feet in height.
The main trail punches straight up steep thru a maze of wander trails because that’s usually how climbers go…straight up to the frickin’ top!
The meadows already looked Decemberish, dry and parched, ragged as Winter without snow. I was huffing and puffing right away but Jon slid off with a quick glide in his step. He’s only 7 years younger than me. I felt not out of shape so much, but rather ailing in some kind of deep, quasi-denial way I didn’t fathom. Didn’t feel well on this hike. Hadn’t felt well, really, since I fought off borderline Rhabdomyolysis since I trashed myself doing 65 miles across less than 4 and a half days in steep alpine terrain with very little sleep. It’s taking me longer to recover than I had anticipated, much longer, and my hips felt they could plop off into the heather and holler like old men a moanin’. I hate whining, hated whining in myself in particular, so I pretended to be a tough old two-balls Spartan. Which I’m not. I’m a Virginia-Cascadian from Outer Space!
There were a few other people hiking up, too, middle-aged men and women from some sort of Meet-up Group. Seemed as if some kind of dating and hiking group. Yes, let’s go meet each up for the first time huffing and puffing up the side of Mt. Rainier, woo HOO! Jokes on making love on top of dirty sharp rocks aside, it’s a great way to meet people, really, and see how potential mates perform under pressure. Grace under pressure? Or stumbling blowhards all labeled up in Big Name-a-guccies who keel over with oversized egos? Or shy, introverted, aware, and as fierce as swords of steel?
There was one woman who caught my attention, a most determined soul, short, East Asian in appearance, and dressed all in purple. Her gear looked worn and used. Her poise was confident and clear. She didn’t bother with the rest of the meet-uppers. She plowed straight up the side of the mountain to Camp Muir with swift grit, lingered briefly in the stone cabin, then took off back down the mountain to Paradise. She didn’t need any samurai katana against the elements. Her sword was her mind. I caught myself starting to develop a schoolboy crush on her. No, none of that for now. I was too busy struggling with myself.
As Jon and I rolled up the slopes, the dried wildflowers and grasses turned to heather and the conifers gave way to krummholz. The soil soon gave way to dirt and then sand and mixed crud amid broken volcanic rocks. Pebble Creek was the last stream of water flowing across sand and stone, tho we would later find more free-flowing water carving across the glacial surface. It felt spooky to hear water running under the ice, too. Just trying to imagine falling into a crevasse or wormhole full of flowing ice water left me in shudders.
The scramble trails seem to meander off to the right of a snout of glacier, but Jon and I veered left in a more direct route. After scrambling over ridges of grody, crumbly rocks, we hit what was left of the glacier.
We felt we were in a desert. Wherever we looked sprawled jumbled expanses of dirt, sand, rocks, and bare soil with small patches of little dried plants. A dinged-up orange metal sign propped up in a stack of rocks warned us of hazards such as open crevasses splitting open the ice. In addition, one look across the route saw large numbers of stones and boulders, some quite large and jagged, scattered randomly across the route up to Camp Muir.
Warming temperatures thawed out any ice bonds freezing stones to the mountainside, and so rockfall was a constant hazard. Rockfall didn’t merely mean a cascade of big ass rocks tumbling down a cliff onto the snow, but of bombardments of big ass rocks rolling across the ice to flatten anything in their path. I’m hard of hearing and wearing hearing aids, but I kept my “cat whiskers” out for any unusual vibrations and tremors.
We stopped to stare at all the peaks around us. Took pictures. Drank water. Peed behind boulders. Or in some cases, out in the open upon swaths of sandy dirt. Ate energy bars.
Then we pushed on. Forward. Up.
Jon and I had left our ice axes behind, tho I did leave mine in the car where it wouldn’t do me a damn bit of good if my aching ass dropped thru the snow to wedge my shorts all bloody into a crevasse. We choose to bring along our crampons, tho, and I’m glad we did. On the edge of Moon Rocks, scattered heaps and mounds of crushed, jagged, broken rock and grit, we stopped for water and crampons. We lashed and buckled those steel-fanged devils onto our boots, and boogied on up the mountain. The ice was hard and blue, but not necessarily slick. It felt warm. Not hot, not cold, but the surface, while steep and slick, was somewhat soft. The so-called Muir Snowfield had vanished; all melted away, thanks to global warming, or more accurately, global climate disruption. What was left was a small remnant of glacier called the Paradise Glacier. Small, yes, and still a potentially dangerous glacier. This glacier was in turn the lower arm or leg of the higher Cowlitz Glacier. The Muir Snowfield was the snow hub connecting those two with the Nisqually Glacier.
Back when I was active in the Seattle Mountaineers, there were a few stories of a rare person who broke thru the snow covering to plummet into a crevasse. People have died on this route, but mainly by getting lost and disoriented in sudden blizzards and whiteouts. Crevasse-fallers have been rescued, and some calls were close. Most choose to traverse the Muir Snowfield unroped. Many people who ascend to Camp Muir aren’t planning to climb beyond the camp, but merely challenge themselves with one of the most strenuous day hikes in Cascadia.
As I stopped to shoot lots of pics with my Nikon D90, Jon scampered on. He moved faster than I was, and being much more slender than I was, got cold quickly. He bundled up like it was Winter. I felt comfortably warm, altho the wind was intense at times. The wind would push down from above to shove air down the mountains into the river gorges below. I had layers and extra clothes in my backpack if necessary. Across the decades I’ve been blessed to experience many temperate extremes and rapid changes in weather in a number of alpine environments before.
My concern was feeling short of breath and shooting blood pressure, but I struggle with insomnia, not enough sleep, and too much stress even tho I work out to train for life. My training’s just been inconsistent since early August, darn it. Thus I’m paying the piper more than I wanna as a consequence.
The Purple Woman charged up on into the climber’s hut at Camp Muir. I stopped to shoot more fotos. I took about 80 pics, and chose 54 for this article.
There were numerous crevasses on the way to Muir. Most of them were slits. We jumped across. A small number were wide enough I had to jump hard and a bit far for a gasping, middle-aged, superhero action dude with a bandana around my neck and another around my head. I felt confident, tho, of my mountaineering skills including reading terrain. I made it every time. I loved the way my crampons bit into ice. My trekking poles dug in, too, but, hey, there were just accessories. For balance.
There were three crevasses so deep we couldn’t see the bottom. Dark and frigid down inside. Tombs of ice. Large icicles dangled in rows of teeth from overhangs. The crevasses with such long fangs were as monsters waiting patiently with open shark jaws sometimes dozens even hundreds of feet in length. We couldn’t leap straight over as the upper lip was too high, so we had to scramble right or left until we could do our alpine Sasquatch hops.
Why the Hell I failed to take any fotografs of these crevasses I don’t know. Dayum. I was too engrossed, too scared, and wanted to catch up with my buddy hopping on up the snow bunny trail. The Purple Woman apparently disdained the snow bunny trail as she charged directly up the glacier and disappeared into the main climbers’ hut. I realized I wanted to see her up close. Hmmn.
Jon arrived at Camp Muir about 12:30. I showed up about 13:00. What I thought was a het couple were in the hut, too. They weren’t a couple, but had met each other for the first time today. Oh, yeah, the meet-up group! Right… And there was Purple Woman in the corner, too. She was quite attractive, alert, smiling, and moved almost too quickly. Reminded me of a hyperalert skittish cat, but she really wanted to get back out into the wind and ice and rock and big mountain sky. I was relieved she appeared to be close to me in age.
Oh, right…disclosure, how embarrassing…OK; I am a single, divorced man. And not out currently looking, either, but, hey, just noticed a rare combination of qualities next to me. Before I could open my mouth to her, however, as I got caught up in a couple of rounds of wild ass story telling with both Jon and the other couple, as those three were amazed I was standing around wearing shorts and without any coat on to boot, Purple Woman took off. She pulled her purple hood up over her noggin, said a brisk goodbye to one and all, smiled serenely, popped thru the heavy gate-like door, and, BOOM!, gone. Just like that. She didn’t go zippidy-zoo-be-doo back toward the main route, either. Purple Woman took a bearing straight down Mt. Rainier to Paradise and straight back down she bore.
The new couple-but-hey-we’re-not-really-a-couple-because-we-just-met-and-we-just-found-out-we’re-from-two-different-countries-but-yeah-we-must-look-and-hike-together-like-a-couple-couple chose to take off, too. Then Jon peels away soon after 15:00. Shivering, he pulls on another layer. He smiles when he cusses.
I stayed behind with my shirttails flapping in the wind to pee in that funny looking mountain toilet over yonder and shoot more pictures. I had to climb up steps for snow that wasn’t there and haul my short stumpy legs and short pants over a half-door and back down into a funky shaped basement-like pit. Ahhh, relief! Relief beneath signs begging idiots not to drop garbage down into the pit. I wondered how many cell fones laid buried in excrement.
After I stumbled back out into the wind, I hung around for about 20 minutes or so to take in the views and compose fotografs. Most of all I was present to the solitude. Loved it. Embraced what Elvis called that high, lonesome feeling. Yeah…high, lonesome, feelin’…Woo HOO!!! All alone at the top of the planet…almost. Sure felt all alone at the top of the planet even tho there were people climbing above me and most likely navigating their tired behindos off trying to get back down from the summit to Camp Muir.
Time passed and began to pass quickly. I felt eaten up with high lonesome feelings. Time to go. Bent over to strap my crampons back on. Damn. One took longer than I liked. Then I was ready. To go. Glanced down at my watch. It was 15:30. Roll! And down I raced. I ran and jumped and soared and stretched out my legs like I was back in Hampden-Sydney College, Virginia racing with my cross-country running team. With crampons on! Woo HOO!
Far off in the distance Purple Woman was a solo purple dot. She looked like a teeny tiny beetle zipping directly towards Paradise as if all obstacles evaporated before the intensity of her mythic gaze.
I hollered again for the sheer joy of loving life.
Jon looked back with a grin and shook his head. He’s a proud, Patriot-loving Bostonian in Seattle, and here I was a drawlin’, dawdlin’ refugee from the Buckle of the Bible Belt running down a glacier like a damn fool crazy man and leaping crevasses with a shout. Woo HOO! (I do not ever shout, “Woot! Woot!” Get away from me with ‘em wooty-woot-woots, too.) Yeah, man, I ran with the Hampden-Sydney Tiger Harriers for a couple of seasons once upon a long time ago, a long, long, long time ago…OWCH! Dayum! My knees!
Felt as if mountain piranhas had chomped down on my knees. Felt their fangs slice into the outside of my knees like steel knifes. Lateral electric agony. I grimaced, remembered not to look all boohooey, set my jaw tight by my chinny-chin-chin, mighty tighty tight, and without a tear I scobbled downhill like a broke-down Bigfoot. Bucked up and kept going. Could be worse. Could be a blizzard. Or a grizzly bear. Or a shark. Or a heart attack. Or lightning bolts. Or whatever, a busted femur. You just go. Crawl if you must.
Passed three Mt. Rainier Rangers going uphill with massive packs. When asked about the glory and the cool factor of such an awesome job, they reminded us with glum grins they were on a serious mission to, ahem, clean out the shithouses. Before they freeze over for the Winter. Hmmn, I thought. Maybe they’d find some of those cell fones people drop in the privy. We admired the packs they lugged as Jon and I helped sell them where we work at the Downtown Seattle REI Flagship Store.
The clouds kept dazzling us above the summit. Lenticular caps morphed into slow mo horizontal tornados and back into ragged fog shredded by rocks and ice and then clear sunshine and then another storm descended. No sign of the climbing parties whose stuff was left behind in the climbing hut. A late-season climb in the second year of a drought was serious bidniss. That meant long, extra hours spent navigating thru mazes and labyrinths of wide-open crevasses included those monsters we saw earlier catching the early morning alpenglow. Some of the crevasses up there were so gigantic they required Himalayan-style ladder systems to cross.
Oh, pain. For me aging is the accumulation of injuries over time. Surrendered some dignity, too. Hobbled very slowly on the way to the car. I could tell my partner felt frustrated, and he was gracious and understanding nonetheless. My knees were in so much pain, however, I felt compelled to turn around and march down backwards. Plunged into a clump of gnarly evergreens to pee off a cliff so tourists wouldn’t see me, and raked open a bleeding scratch on my forehead. I pulled my ratty old bright red 1985 Marmot fleece Sherpa hat back down on my head. I had a manure-lime-green travel shirt on over a thin base layer, so I looked like a Tim Burton Christmas Nightmare meets homeless Will Ferrell Christmas Elf walking hallucination. With that big, old, antique fleece hat on, I reminded myself of the character Ignatius Reilly in the late John Kennedy Toole’s delusional novel, A Confederacy of Dunces. Oh, man.
So I was a sight to behold for the small number of tourists dayhiking along the Paradise trails as dusk began to descend. A large clan from France. A group from India. Hot young couples with little kids from Tennessee and Ohio. Wise old elders for whom hiking and climbing in Cascadia was second nature for them, except they were from Colorado now and everything looked so bare than when they were last out here years ago. Yeah, global warming climate changing planetary climate disruption was killing us all, or at least making our home Mother Earth quite ill. Even if our whole solar system is undergoing upheavals of all kinds which affect our climate, we were still polluting our nest into a woeful and shamefully nasty mess.
My knees. Again! Dayum. Mustered up all remaining dignity. Tried to man up and be tough, but, shit, I had to turn sideways and backwards and scrabble all Bobbly Suey down the trail like a daggone crab on acid. Turns out I had bilateral iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome, a wicked tendonitis common to endurance athletes and hotshot idiots such as myself who gallop down hill. Happy to get my Confederacy of Dunces behindo down into the parking lot, into the cold, breezy wind tunnel of a restroom, and then, finally, down into my 15 year old sturdy beater car. Yeahhh.
Jon and I drove on back to Seattle munching on bags of potato chips washed down with water. We had a great time together. Slept hard and long, and in a few days my ITBS was cleared up and my knees could sing and dance again. Behind us The Mountain loomed over us as she vanished quietly as into indigo darkness. The Mountain!
I love Mt. Rainier. While the word “Rainier” is a strong, two-syllable name I like the sound of, it’s also the name of a imperialistic British rear admiral who fought to crush the American Revolution. I support changing the name back to its Native American name. Recently what was Mt. McKinley in Alaska was officially restored to its Native Alaskan name Denali. Denali is a powerful and evocative naming of North America’s tallest and most demanding peak. This coincided with the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the South Carolina State House and of statues of Rebel generals who after losing the Civil War founded the Ku Klux Klan to carry on guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and ethnic cleansing of Blacks and their White allies. It is good news, heartening news, when America steps forward to right old wrongs in such a public manner.
But what name? Different Native tribes of the region had different names for what many White folks in Seattle today simply call The Mountain. Rainier seems too embedded in White privilege power to be so readily shifted. Not all that long ago, Robert Satiacum from the nearby Puyallup Tribe gathered together a group of Native American Indians to ponder which name would be the best. Would it be Tahoma? Or Tacobeh? Pooskaus? Tacoma? Or Takoma?
Santiacum’s group called themselves the Alliance to Restore Native Names. They prayed over the issue and prayed for the right name to reveal itself. The emphasized this was beyond simply changing names. Indeed this is a “restoration.” After all, this majestic and deadly beautiful volcano is sacred space. Instead of another tribal word for a big, white mountain, what arose was the name for a mountain so enormous it reaches up to touch the sky. So Elder Satiacum and his group chose to rename Mount Rainier as Ti’Swaq’, the Sky Wiper. Aye, Ti’Swaq’ the Sky Wiper! I like the name, and it fits perfectly. Ti’Swaq, the Mountain that Wipes the Sky.
They came up with Native names for some of the other volcanic giants of the Pacific Northwest as well. Mt. St. Helens became Suek, and Mt. Adams is to be renamed Pah Do. Kulshan is the perfect name for Mt. Baker. Farther south over the Columbia River looms Wy’East, the new name for Mt. Hood. It will take time to make these names so.
People have been debating and arguing over what to name these mountains since the beginning. In February of 1893, Native and Euro Americans gathered in Tacoma, Washington. There they engaged in the Proceedings of the Tacoma Academy of Science, and sought to determine what the original tribal names were and what names would be most proper in their day 122 years ago.
A name is but a symbol, as we are no more our names than is any mountain. I am not William Dudley Bass, for example, as I am not my name. I am a human being with the name of William Dudley Bass. In a much grander, deeper way in which the natural spirituality and scientific awe are both acknowledged along with history and culture, restoration is beyond symbolism and names affect the ways in which we related to things, including ourselves.
In the meantime, almost every day in Seattle I turn to see if I can find Rainier amid the clouds and sun. It’s an unspoken ritual of sorts, a way of reminding myself of my connection to this planet, to the Great Mother Herself. And sometimes there she is, Rainier, Takoma, no, it’s Ti’Swaq’! Ti’Swaq’, the Mountain that Wipes the Sky.
William Dudley Bass
Wednesday 21 October 2015
Postscript from 7 January 2016:
Snowfall at the Precipitation Gauge got up to 110 inches the night before but today dropped down to 104 inches. The Northwest Avalanche Center website warned the “gage may be partially heating, under-recording or melting older snowfall.” Avalanche conditions are moderate with wind slab hazards.
Snow began falling upon the slopes of Ti’Swaq’ in late November 2015. December 2015 was marked by record-breaking rainfall in the lower elevations of Western Washington State and prodigious amounts of snow up in the mountains. There were snow flurries in Seattle in early January 2016. The region was entering its third year of drought, and the drought was thought to now be at an end. Even so, however, water levels remain well below normal levels despite the welcome deluge. Welcome except for those affected by flooding, of course.
People began hiking and skinnin’ up to Camp Muir and skiing or snowboarding back down. Others have been snowshoeing around Paradise. The ski resorts in the Western regions of the United States and Canada have been fantastic. Snow lovers are euphoric. The Eastern regions, however, despite the previous two winters marked by polar vortex superstorms, remain warm with surprisingly high temperatures. Last year proved to be the hottest on record for our planet.
Global climate disruption with severely oscillating weather is affecting the general climate, of course, as well as the still not fully understood solar system wide phenomena of warming, stormier planets as we cross a energetically turbulent region of the galaxy. The current El Nino is a powerful one and is having a stronger than usual influence on local and regional weather. And in the eyes of some, weather is just weather and who knows what tomorrow brings?
All of these fotos were composed and taken by me with my Nikon D90 Camera except were Jon W. used my camera at my request to shoot a few pictures of me.
Jon Weiner’s povertyjetset Travel Blog
Jon is an accomplished world traveler and photographer. He’s been into a number of amazing places, travels with a certain depth, and thus experiences life on edge and sees things many travelers miss. Visit his website and dive on in @ <www.mytb.org/povertyjetset> or <https://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/povertyjetset/>.
Native Americans rename the Big Mountains:
Banse, Tom. “Tribal Alliance Seeks To Restore Native Name For Mount Rainier,” National Public Radio KUOW, 6 February 2012. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=146501063>.
Davis, Julie Hirschfeld. “Mount McKinley Will Again Be Called Denali,” The New York Times: U.S., 30 August 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/31/us/mount-mckinley-will-be-renamed-denali.html>.
Hetter, Katia. “Beyond Denali: Restoring Native American names,” CNN Travel, Fri 4 September 2015. <http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/04/travel/denali-renaming-natural-sites-feat/>.
Perkins, Andrea. “Decolonize the land: Native people welcome Mt. Denali name change,” People’s World: It’s your world. Communist Party U.S.A. and the People Before Profit Network, Long View Publishing Co., 3 September 2015. <http://peoplesworld.org/decolonize-the-land-native-people-welcome-mt-denali-name-change/>.
Zahn, Andy. “What’s in a name – Volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest,” Illuminations from the Attic. 30 March 2015. < http://illuminationsfromtheattic.blogspot.com/2015/03/whats-in-name-volcanoes-of-pacific.html>.
White, Euro-American inquiries into naming the Big Mountains:
Wickersham, Hon. James. Is it Mount Tacoma, or Rainier? Proceedings of the Tacoma Academy of Science, Tacoma, Washington. Tacoma News Publishing Company, I893. Digitized by HathiTrust Internet Archive from Library of Congress Original.
In the national park:
Camp Muir, Mount Rainier Area, Washington Trails Association.< http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/camp-muir>.
Current Weather Data Now, Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) at Paradise, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington. <http://www.nwac.us/weatherdata/paradise/now>.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, United States of America. <http://www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm>.
Copyright © 2015, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we establish Wise Stewardship for our Earth & Solarian Commons. Thank you.