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Climbing Mount Rainier in 2010

My non-stop flight to Washington was uneventful ... Just before landing I could see the behemoth known as Mount Rainier. At 14,412 feet it is among the tallest peaks in the 48 contiguous states. It also has one of the largest glacier systems in North America. Rainier is famous for creating its own weather systems and having extremely hazardous conditions. For this reason, many people travel from around the world to train on it before attempting Everest.

Here’s the first glimpse I got of Rainier on this go-around.

However, I am getting ahead of myself … Let’s back up a few months and talk about my training and preparation for this arduous task.

My training was pretty straight forward … I weight lifted a full-body routine twice per week. And, three days per week I did cardio on my VersaClimber machine. My cardio routine involved doing HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Essentially, I did one minute of maximum output cardio, getting my heart rate close to my maximum. Then I followed that minute with a minute of slow paced cardio. I repeated this for a total of 10 max/slow sets.

Along with the weights and cardio, I also did some yoga about two or three times per week. I was doing two different styles … Slow and flow. Yoga help me to have limber joints and a healthy, strong structure and To this use a good nutritional supplement.

If I could do it over again, I would have added some extremely heavy backpack training on some tall stairs. Also, my cardio training was only for about two months. I would have changed that to four or more months worth of mountain specific exercise.

Once it was loaded with all of my gear and the two liters of water I carried up the mountain, my pack was about 69 pounds.

Scean, Mike, Sarah, and I drove to the Cougar Rock Campground on the evening of Monday, June 28, 2010. We setup camp and crashed. Early the next morning, we packed up and drove the last fifteen minutes to Paradise. Once in Paradise, we checked in at the Ranger Station and found out that a storm was coming in mid-day on Thursday. Luckily, our plan was to complete the summit in the early morning on Thursday and be well on our way down before the storm even arrived.

From the Ranger Station, we walked over to the Paradise Inn and ate a very filling breakfast. I got French Toast, sausage, and some over easy eggs. Everyone else got the buffet breakfast bar

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Us at the Paradise Inn Restaurant (sorry about the lack of a flash).

We left the restaurant, donned our heavy backpacks and got underway.

Vaughn, Scean, Sarah, and Mike ready to roll out of the Paradise parking lot.

Sarah and Mike excited about starting.

Vaughn lathering up with Titanium Dioxide sun protection.

Once on the Paradise Trail, we got up to Panoramic View and did a nice switchback with some pretty good exposure. If you fell here, you’d live, but chances are you would end up with a broken leg, broken arm, and/or serious laceration. Next we pushed on to Pebble Creek and eventually the Muir Snowfield. Once you hit the snowfield, you are about halfway to Camp Muir.

We kept a sensible pace and managed to get up to basecamp without extreme exertion. However, that didn’t stop me from asking for a five minute break every 30 minutes or so.

Vaughn and Mike resting.

Sarah praying for good weather.

After a long and hard push up the snowfield, we finally got to Camp Muir. We found that the shelter had plenty of space, so we wouldn’t need to setup our tents Tuesday night. Sleeping in the shelter is nice. You are completely out of the wind and weather. And, you skip pitching and taking down your tent.

Mike, Scean, and Vaughn happy to be in the Camp Muir shelter.

Vaughn relaxing at Muir on one of the buildings. Notice Mount Adams off in the distance.

Scean at Muir, mountain hardman in cotton and soft boots!

Sarah ready to attack the glaciers!

Mike and Sarah enjoying the beauty of the mountain.

We spoke to a ranger at Camp Muir and he said that the weather had been updated. The approaching storm was going to hit earlier. According to the latest reports, we were now looking at a pretty serious storm system that would hit at midnight on Wednesday night. This was when we were planning on waking for our summit bid. Our stomachs turned sour at this news, but we decided to push on to the Ingraham Flats.

From Camp Muir, we headed out onto the Cowlitz Glacier and went through the Cathedral Gap. While heading up the gap, a rock fell off the overhead cliff and I had to sprint away from the line of fire.

While roped up, Mike was leading, with his daughter, Sarah behind him. Scean followed Sarah, and I was tail gunner. I should also mention that Mike’s pace was perfect and the reason why we were all so strong. A faster pace would have worn us all out, and we wouldn’t have been able to keep pressing forward.

Mike with the summit peering down on us.

After we got through the gap, we marched on to the Ingraham Glacier and headed into the Ingraham Flats camp area.

Vaughn with Little Tahoma behind him. The views are unbelievable from up on the Ingraham.

Coming down from Cathedral Gap, we can see the Ingraham Flats camp area ahead of us.

At the Ingraham Flats, we pitched tents. Since we were expecting a very windy storm, we decided to dig a tent pad that would leave a nice, solid, and tall wall around our tent.

Scean dug out our campsite at Ingraham Flats. He made a wonderful 3-wall shelter around our tent. Unfortunately, the winds that showed up later that night came from the exposed side… Figures!

Once the tent was pitched, and we had moved our gear in for safe keeping, we dug a little kitchen area for cooking snow and creating our water supply.

While waiting for the water to boil, I decided to send a message to my wife, Kristine. Earlier in the week I had set up the “help” button on my SPOT GPS to send a smoochie love letter to my adorable wife. The thing I over looked was that even though no one else would see my message, they would see that I had pressed the “help” button. Little did I know the consequences of doing this.

Apparently, many of my friends were following our trek and they each saw my supposed cry for help. Before you know it, every hospital, fire department, and the ranger station had been called and alerted of my last known coordinates. HA!

An RMI guide came to our campsite and asked if we were the Ripley party. We said yes, and he asked if everyone was okay in our party. Again we said yes. Then he explained that we had accidentally pressed the “help” button on our SPOT. Oops! Lesson learned … Now can we move on?

Shortly after making meals and filling water bottles, we settled in for sleep.

Our tent view from Ingraham Flats. It was the most spectacular tent view I’ve ever had in my life!

We woke up at midnight and the night was pleasantly clear … The calm before the storm. We decided to rope up and head up the Ingraham glacier to make an attempt at summiting. Perhaps the weatherman was wrong…

Up on the Ingraham glacier, the weather worsens.

As we trekked up the mountain, the weather rolled in. The winds picked up over time, and a small flurry of snow turned into an all out snow storm. The wind was blowing at a steady 30-40 MPH. To add insult to injury, an occasional surge would come through and give us gusts of up to 70 MPH.

Vaughn exhausted.

Sarah and Scean … Still happy.

Sarah, Scean, and a pooped Vaughn

We trudged. We struggled. We pursued our goal of reaching the 14,412 foot summit. Up around 13,400 (about 1,000 feet below the summit) all of the other climbing teams (there were about five or six going up to the summit at the same time as us) started turning back to head down the mountain. Everyone who passed us on their way down said that they were turning around due to the increasing nasty weather. We were literally the last team on the mountain.

We were stopped for a break and the wind was fiercer than ever before. I crept up to Scean and asked him what he thought. He said that he was willing to go on. I knew that I was strong enough to make it another 1,000 feet in altitude … However, the weather was lugubrious and I felt beaten up in many ways. I asked Scean to hike up to Sarah and Mike with me. They were already together talking about the situation as well. When Scean and I arrived, I could see the worry in everyone’s eyes.

I asked Mike what he wanted to do. He was stoic. I knew that everyone was capable of making it. I knew that everyone really wanted the summit. I also knew that we were risking a lot, because the weather was progressively getting worse and we were only going higher into more dangerous territory.

After a moment, I spoke up. “I think it would be best to head back down.” I continued by adding that the weather appeared to be getting worse, and our downclimb was going to be treacherous.

Everyone seemed momentarily sad to hear me say this, but they each realized that I was correct. Within moments they all agreed. We started to head back down the mountain.

Going back down the Ingraham was challenging to say the least

Along the way, we got to jump over four crevasse openings and we used a ladder twice to cross a very wide crevasse that lay right in our path.

Vaughn crossing an 8-foot wide and bottomless crevasse on a ladder.

After a nasty struggle in some atrocious weather, we finally got back to high camp at the Ingraham Flats.

Vaughn and Scean happily back in the tent at the Ingraham Flats, trying to warm up a hair.

Scean and I told Mike and Sarah that we were going to lay down for ten minutes and catch our wind before taking down the tent and preparing to head down to Camp Muir. We both laid down and fell immediately asleep. We slept for about 92 minutes. When we woke, both of us were surprised we had fallen asleep. Fortunately, Mike and Sarah weren’t waiting for us, because they had slept too. Talk about worn out!

We packed up our gear, roped up, and headed down the mountain. By the time we got to the Cathedral Gap, the storm had picked up so much that I thought we might blow off the trail! I was extremely glad that we weren’t stuck up near the summit with this latest bout of wind and snow.

Mike and Sarah do some route finding, because the blizzard made finding wands near impossible at times.

In a nutshell … Exhaustion!

When we got down to Muir, a Ranger approached us and asked if we had seen a solo climber. Two guys also walked up with fear in their eyes and asked if we’d seen their climbing buddy. We hadn’t seen him and we couldn’t help.

Note: As far as I know, he has been missing since Thursday, so I presume he is dead.

After a brief stint at Muir, we trekked down the snowfield. The lower we got, the slushier the snow was … Slushy snow is dangerous and slippery. Crampons do not work well in slush. Plus you post hole (post holing is when your boot punches through the top of the snow and you sink in, sometimes up to your knees). It is painful and tedious.

Scean almost all the way down and still full of vim and vigor.

Vaughn limps into the parking lot.

Sarah dances into the parking area.

Mike stumbles down into the parking lot.

Here is the output from my SPOT location device. It shows the path we took during our climb.

Final word
I am done with this confounded mountain. I feel that I have gotten a lifetime of adventure out of it. It is time to tackle another goal.


Posted by Vaughn Ripley

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