Arnette is an Alzheimer's advocate for individuals, their families
and anyone impacted by this disease through his professional
speaking, climbing and website.His objectives for the Memories are Everything® climbs
Educate the public, especially youth, on the early warning
signs and how to prepare
Increase awareness that Alzheimer's Disease has no cure
CURE, always Fatal
• No easy, inexpensive method of early detection
• 3rd leading cause of death in the US
• New case every 68 seconds, 4 seconds worldwide
• Impacts more than 5+m in US, 25m+ worldwide
• Devastating financial burden on families
• Depression higher for caregivers
• Issues are increasing rapidly as population ages
July 2012 climb of Mt. Rainier was a unique and complex climb that represented
the best of the human spirit and a mountaineer's courage. I know - that
is quite the setup.
Rainier, located in Washington State just outside of Seattle, is a
jewel for US mountaineering. It has more glaciers, around 26, than
any other US peak and one of the largest vertical gains on earth rising
from near sea level to 14,411 feet.
A volcano, over 10,000 people attempt it each year with about half
reaching the summit. Poor weather is usually the reason for stopping
a climb. By my experience, many US guides started their careers guiding
on Rainier and some continue well after moving up to the big Himalayan
click any picture to enlarge
A History with Rainier
I had climbed Rainier in 2004 via the Disappointment Cleaver route
with eight friends. We all reached the summit and it was a milestone
in my climbing progression that I always look back on for inspiration
and motivation. So when my climbing buddy, Jim Davidson, asked if I
was interested in returning to attempt the other side of the mountain,
the Emmons-Winthrop route, I was in - but not for pure climbing reasons.
had climbed the very difficult Liberty Ridge route in 1992 with his
close partner, Mike Price. As told in his book, The Ledge, Jim came
home but Mike did not. They both fell into a crevasse on the Emmons
Glacier. Now, 20 years later, Jim wanted to return to the route with
a group of close friends.
Glaciers and Crevasses
Glaciers and crevasses are not part of most people's daily conversation.
But if you climb, especially high alpine climbs, they become part of
your life. Glaciers eat climbers, they lie in wait disguised under
fresh, soft snow waiting for that innocent step. Without warning, the
deadly snow bridge collapses and the climber falls.
My first encounter with a crevasse was in 2002 in the Western Cwm
on Everest. I fell into a very deep crevasse just outside of Camp 1
when a snow bridge collapsed under my feet. I was roped up between
two teammates and without that safety line, I would not have survived.
When I got out, I sat on my pack and heaved with tears, fear and emotion.
It was all I could do to continue my climb after coming so close to
Each year, climbers fall into, or are swept into these deep gaps in
the moving ice - some survive, many do not. Earlier this year, 2012,
four Japanese climbers on Mt. McKinley died after an avalanche swept
then into a crevasse. Earlier in 2012, a friend of mine climbing the
same route we planned on Rainier, the Emmons Glacier, suffered serious
injuries when they fell into a crevasse. A Park Ranger, Nick Hall,
was killed by a fall during the rescue effort.
With Mike and Jim, they were doing everything right but on an unseasonably
warm late June day in 1992, Jim slipped in, and then Mike. They didn't
do anything wrong, it just happened. Once you fall in, hopefully your
teammates can pull you out, that is why you carry rope, slings, pulleys
and other devices to aid in an extraction. With Mike and Jim, Mike
died leaving Jim alone 80 feet deep with only a few climbing tools.
His solo climb out with minimal gear was be termed impossible by almost
every expert then and would be now.
Rodney Ley and Jim had climbed together for years, leading international
expeditions to Alaska, Nepal and South America for students of Colorado
State University. Jim had also summited Cho Oyu, 26,907 feet, a few
years ago and was an accomplished alpinist, rock and ice climber, as
was Rodney. Rodney had also known Mike well.
Stan Hoffman and Scott Yetman lived in the Seattle area and regularly
climbed in the Cascades going for week long outings annually for over
a decade. They had climbed Rainier over five times between them.
Even with all my experience of over 30 serious climbs, Everest and
the 7 Summits; deep down I felt nervous climbing with this team as
they epitomized skill, and wisdom plus had a long history climbing
together. Also, I had just turned 56 a few days earlier and the thought
of carrying a 60 pound pack up 10,000 feet was daunting.
I was honored to fly out of Denver with Jim and Rodney. In Seattle
we met up with Scott and Stan. Our plan was to drive to the White River
Ranger Station, hike to the InterGlacier and then on to Camp Schurman.
From there we would climb the Emmons Glacier passing the spot where
Jim and Mike fell into a hidden crevasse and continue to the summit.
We were in no hurry and had an extra weather day built into a four
day schedule. This was designed to be an experience, not a race. We
wanted to move safely, and purposefully, with no need or desire to
brag about times or records. I knew going in this would be a climb
of a lifetime with such experienced teammates and such a meaningful
The Lower Mountain
On July 29, we checked in at the Ranger Station at 4,300’ and secured
an intermediate camp site at the lower Glacier Basin Campground at
6,300’. This allowed us to hike only about 3.5 miles before camping
for the night - a welcome break given we were carrying heavy packs.
The trail was magnificent winding through the dense pacific northwest
pine forest. The weather had turned perfectly clear after several weeks
of rain, snow and high winds. Seattle had been experiencing one of
it’s coldest summers.
We found an open campsite and set up two tents, cooked dinner, swatted
hundreds of pesky mosquitoes and went to bed. The following morning
we packed up and continued to the terminal of the InterGlacier, the
first of three glaciers we expected to cross. The route started
with a low to moderate angle (15-30 degrees) snow climb from 7,000’
to the top at 9,400’. We did not rope up during this section. At this
point we reached Camp Curtis which is actually just a patch of loose
gravel on the ridge line. But it offered the first full view of the
Emmons and Winthrop Glaciers and the famous rock tower aptly named
A New Route
For the first time in 20 years, Jim was able to see the exact position
of the fall. I stood by quietly as Jim examined the route, describe
the precise spot and brought us all into his living memory. I continue
to be inspired by the strength and courage of this man. My sincere
hope is that Jim will tell his story of his return in detail on day
with another book or as part of a movie.
We descended a short rocky scree section to the edge of the Emmons
Glacier where we roped up and made the climb back up to Camp Schurman
at 9,460’. For the first time we started to experience the crevasses
of Rainier as we stepped over several on this short trip. But off to
both sides huge, wide open gaps in the slow moving ice really caught
We had been told that the “normal” route from Camp Schurman to the
summit was considered dangerous and once there we could see why. The
section called the Corridor had huge ice walls looming above it and
appeared ready to release at any moment. Other teams had stopped using
that route deeming it simply too dangerous.
At Camp Schurman, the Rangers had a seasonal presence located in a
large stone hut. They were friendly and open with information and pointed
out the alternate route everyone was using following the Winthrop Glacier
on a straight line to the summit. However, it did require navigating
through a labyrinth of broken ice, aka the Winthrop Icefall with a
few short sections of 60 degree ice. It was also advised to take pickets
to provide protection for the rope team on the exposed sections. Unlike
the more traveled Disappointment Cleaver, this route was not marked.
A Short Night
We set up our tents, one on snow and one on dirt, just outside the
ranger’s hut, cooked dinner and went to bed around 7:00 PM. Knowing
it would be a long climb to the summit, estimated between 6 and 8 hours,
we wanted to reach the top around sunrise meaning a departure before
midnight. Jim awoke us without alarm at 10:15 and we started our preparations.
The wind had picked up at sunrise and a steady breeze with a few attention
getting gusts kept us fresh. We layered up but not too much as the
air temperature was only in the 30’s at this elevation and we knew
we would be moving soon generating a reasonable amount of heat. Helmets
and crampons on, with the rope flaked out, we attached the “figure
of eight” knots to our harnesses. Ice axes in hand, Jim led our team
of five from camp at 11:30PM on Monday July 30.
It didn't take long to reach the Winthrop Icefall. Jim placed several
pickets along the boot path and we made steady progress higher. In
the glow of our headlamps the route didn't appear that bad but upon
the descent we saw fresh avalanche debris nearby.
Leaving the Icefall area, the route moved onto the higher Emmons Glacier
where we began a seemingly never ending slow climb at a steady 40 degree
angle. The snow was somewhat firm creating a pulsing crunch with every
step sometimes masked by the wind. Scott was now in the lead setting
a good pace higher.
It was a good feeling being on the rope with this team, knowing we
shared a common objective and a common trust. Our pace was coordinated,
steady and productive. We had all agreed that our goal was to summit
and return safely within a reasonable time limit. Our collective experience
would guide us through the night and over the multiple crevasses.
Around 2:30AM, Rodney was in the lead when he called out “Stop.” The
rope came to a halt. I could see his headlamp bobbing ahead as he started
to inspect a crevasse crossing. It was not clear if it was a simple
step across, a quick leap or something with soft edges - a waiting
trap door. The rangers had warned us of a tricky crossing at some point
with the advice to cross low. But this advice was a bit difficult to
interpret in the dark with the wind blowing on a steep snow slope.
Rodney placed a picket and called for the rope to be pulled taught
but to feed enough slack as he made his move. We all positioned ourselves
to protect our lead. In one move he made the crossing, placed another
picket for more protection and soon we followed. I remember this moment
as an example of teamwork and trust. Climbing in a pure team form.
Now Stan took the lead as we began to climb the upper mountain, Anxious
to see what was really ahead, we welcomed the creeping sunrise, enjoying
the morning alpineglow on the snow white slopes of the huge volcano.
The wind picked up more.
However, it seemed as the sun rose the summit got further away. But
one step at a time in steady rhythm, we made progress now following
a series of switchbacks toward the skyline mirage. Finally a line of
dirt, yes dirt, appeared and I knew we were approaching the edge of
the summit crater. After all Rainier is a volcano with steam vents
in the crater so the snow is often melted revealing a dirt rim around
a snow covered crater bottom.
One by one our team of five arrived with the previous climber pulling
the rope in slowly. I think we were all a bit stunned by the length
of time it had taken us, our continuous climb from midnight, the lack
of sleep the previous “night” and the reason we were there.
We gathered on the dirt rim and then took the final several hundred
foot walk to the true summit to Columbia Crest. There pictures were
taken, videos made and new and old memories sealed.
The Down Climb
The wind had picked up considerably causing the windchill to drop
into the single digits. But we were in no hurry. I took the lead as
we left following the wide boot track steadily back down the Winthrop.
Thankfully the mountain itself provided some relief for the wind as
we descended plus the sun was now shining brightly.
Jim took over the lead as we neared the Ice Fall and after about four
hours we returned to Camp Schurman.
We had a lazy afternoon catching up on food, water and sleep continuing
throughout the night before roping up the last time to cross the Emmons
back towards Camp Curtis. From there some of us glissaded down the
2500’ InterGlacier while others, more sensibly, plodded down. My torn
up calf and arm indicted which group I was in!
Back at the ranger station they informed us we were a day late but
then found it was a computer entry error! We were glad they had not
sent out a search party!
As I flew back to Denver from Seattle, I looked out the window and
was rewarded with another perfect view of Rainier and the face we had
climbed. My eyes traced each step, the three distinct glaciers and
the camps we had used. Without thought, my mind went back to the darkness
of the night watching the rope snake slowly at my feet and my ice axe
steadying my gate as I pushed higher.
I thought of my friends - new and old - and the experience. While
I thought of the summit, it was a fleeting thought as the large
scale of what we had accomplished occupied my mind. No, Rainier is
not K2 or Everest. No, we had not climbed on harsh winter conditions
or even taken the most difficult route.
But that is why mountaineering is so special. Often it is not the
magazine metrics that define a great climb. It is the company, the
reason, the experience. And for that I am grateful.
As the sight of Mt. Rainier dimmed with the fading sun from my airplane
window seat, a smile crept across my face. Yes, it was done.
Memories are Everything
If you dream of climbing mountains but are not sure how to start or reach your next level from a Colorado 14er to Rainier, Everest or even K2, I can help. Summit Coach is a consulting service that helps aspiring climbers throughout the world achieve their goals through a personalized set of
consulting services based on Alan Arnette’s 20 years of high altitude mountain experience and 30 years as a business executive.