W"e're climbing Rainier later this month. Are you interested?" chattered Matt over the phone. The wild idea is to climb Washington's highest peak from sea level, which is one of the lower 48s biggest and baddest. It's been an idea of his knocking around in the back of his mind for the past several years. With my flexible work schedule, I give it brief thought and send out a text on my new phone.

The day quickly looms closer, and I load up my pack the night before. Matt picks me up and we head north to Bozeman, MT. We pass several places that stir my mind from my Continental Divide Thru-Hike five years ago. There's the trail town of Rawlins, NM, and we pass Mineral X Road, the two track dirt road that pierces the heart of the Great Divide Basin. We arrive in Bozeman, MT and meet Braden, a childhood friend of Matt's, and one of the few that can keep up with his catamount cruiser-like pace.

Mt. Rainier's Paradise Jackson Visitor Center

After a couple laps on some of the local mountain bike trails, we wake the next morning and begin the next leg of this adventure-based journey. I've never driven through the eastern plains of Washington, where the dry plains and farms spill over the terrain rising towards the mighty Cascades. As we cross the Columbia River on I-90, memories of my Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike three years ago knock around in the back of my mind. We start our way over White Pass, where hexagonal volcanic columns of basalt stretch and twist over the volcanic cliffs. The cliffs are flung above the Tieton River snaking along the highway. We camp near the Pass, where the Pacific Crest Trail dives out from the Goat Rocks Wilderness, where I found myself in a wild electrical storm on my PCT hike three years ago. We camp at the end of a short dirt road playing frisbee and swatting at mosquitoes as the sun bumps its way below the horizon.

We head to the Park for the 'dry run' of the peak. Matt and Braden want to do a pre-climb before attempting their 77 mile, 7,500 feet of climbing on a bike to the base of the Peak at the Paradise Visitor's Center. After a quick change of clothing, and swapping bike gear for climbing harnesses, rope, and ice axes, a 9,000 foot climb to the Summit. We get our required permits and gather gear for the two day training run. The sky is pearl blue, and the Nisqually Glacier spills off the side of the peak. Its crevasses stare intently at us, and lenticular clouds build and break over the snow-choked summit.

Paradise Visitor's Center, Rainier National Park, WA

Weather forecast

We begin the climb on a paved trail, busy with tourists speaking in their native tongue from around the world. The trail turns to dirt, and crowds thin as fingers of snow sprawl across the trail. I struggle to keep up with the two speed demons as the trees thin and we reach timberline. The Muir Snowfield looms ever closer, and Pebble Creek dives under the snow. The climb to Camp Muir takes seemingly forever as we near the halfway mark of the 4,500 foot climb to the mountaineering camp.

Camp Muir, 10,080 feet MSL

A little under three hours later, I reach Camp Muir, with two stone huts and a hut for climbing schools, and a few stinky outhouses line the final ridgeline. I walk to the tent area and find Matt and Braden shoveling out a level tent platform. We fire up the stove and melt water and cook dinners as the sun slides behind the horizon. We head to bed early only to be woken up a couple hours later by climbers readying themselves for a summit push. As 11pm comes, the noisy, stern voice of a climbing guide directs a group. A while later I peek out of the tent and stare at the dozen plus headlamps snaking across the Cowlitz Glacier. I try to fall to sleep, only rustled awake again by the chatter of voices and steel crampons, ice axes, and other sharp, pointy dangerous tools as they're packed away for the four thousand foot climb to the summit.

July 27 Summit Day, Muir Camp, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

As 2am approaches, the three of us busily gather our equipment and fifteen minutes later rope ourselves together twenty feet apart as we start our trudge to fourteen thousand feet. We climb over Cathedral Pass with inky black skies overhead as the moon slides toward the horizon. I glance to my right at the edge of the trail, not knowing whether the terrain drops a couple feet, or a couple thousand. We pass what seems like dozens of people as the eastern horizon starts to glow like a dim nightlight. The terrain grows steeper and the wind whips around us like a freight train. A two-story deep crevasse looms to our right from the Ingraham Glacier cracking open like buckled pavement. The summit grows ever closer as the winds blow ever harder. My leather boots feel like lead weights as we push the last three hundred feet to the summit. The volcano's crater lies ahead, buried in hundreds of feet of ice and snow. we drop our rope and ice axes and walk up the Columbia Rest at 14,410ft MSL at 6:05am. I've now been to the five highest peaks in the lower 48, with a few more I may knock off in Alaska someday to finish off the top ten. After a couple handshakes and high-fives, we dart off the summit and begin the 9,011 foot descent to the Paradise Visitor Center parking lot. We drop into the thin veil of clouds, now fog, blanketing the valley below.

We stay with college friend of Braden that night in the outskirts of Seattle, and Becca shares her stories as a high school teacher and making us an amazing dinner to fuel us through the next adventure. We head on the next day to a friend of Matt's and ready ourselves for round two. Mike gets a day off of work from the hospital, and our party of three has grown by one person. After celebrating the 77th birthday of a neighborhood pub briefly, we're back at Mike's.

It's 29th day of July, and a blanket of clouds shroud the sky. Braden and Matt take a couple of deep breaths as the idea that's been rolling around in the back of their heads now comes to fruition. As early afternoon arrives, the two bikes go back on the car, and the four of us drive down to the Steilacoom ferry dock and stare at the small boat ramp that lies under the railroad tracks. They pull their bikes down off the car, lube the chains, and we head back to the water.

Only 15,800 feet of climbing and 85 miles to go

Mike and I take a few photos, and watch the two dart from the seawater nipping at their back tires at 2pm. We hop in the car and wind our way back to Mt Rainier National Park. There is a noticeable drop in temperature as we lazily climb our way by car to the Paradise Visitor's Center.

We get our permits again and throw our packs on. Mine now includes skis and boots, and Braden and Matt's climbing gear, food, and cooking implements. Mike helps me as I struggle to don the overweight frameless pack. We limp our way up to the Visitor Center and I continue to down as much water as I can. I fill up my quart bottle, and we start the 4,800 foot climb. The wispy clouds that were once above us now lie in our faces as fog. We soon reach the toe of the Muir Snowfield at Pebble Creek and gaze towards Muir Camp, towering on a distant ridge. The climb seems agonizing as 40 plus pounds of stuff slump down on my shoulders and hips. We climb onto the snowfield and develop a rhythm as the steep trail is replaced by endless snow. Hours slip by as we pass waterfalls gushing from the glacier's bowels ringing the surrounding terrain. The sky grows dark as we death march to Muir Camp. After four hours of slogging, we limp our way to an old tent site and I throw up my shelter. As I start to set up the stove, Mike returns from setting his sleeping bag in the crowded hut. "Hey, how's it going" blurts a climber to Mike. The two look at each other under dark skies and pause. "Is that you Braden?" mumbles Mike? He responds with a surprised look full of expression. Despite Mike and I driving the 80 miles from Puget Sound to the Visitor's Center, Matt and Braden have still managed to reach us less than a half hour after Mike and I arrived. They don't appear to be tired or ready for rest. Our goal of having a warm meal and water ready for them was about successful as the Feds having a balanced budget. The pace picks up as we busily race around camp melting water, cooking food, donning helmets and harnesses, changing out of wet gear, and eating.

We send off Braden and Matt onto the second leg of their epic feat a little after 11pm and watch their two headlamps disappear into the darkness. The rustling sound of tents opening and footsteps crunching in the firm snow surround me as I zip up my shelter and go to bed.

Sometime after 6am I hear the crunch of footsteps nearing my tent. I peek under the shelter and see Matt and Braden with tired, weathered smiles that reach from ear to ear. The two wobble toward the hut for some well-deserved rest and get another couple hours of rest.

As I sit here in the backseat typing up this trip report somewhere near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Braden spits out some statistics:
Matt & Braden's Sea to Summit climb:
•The climb from Steilacoom, WA (0ft MSL) to the summit of Mt. Rainier (14,411ft): 12hrs 44mins 30secs.
•Total vertical climbed: 15,800
•77.3mi of biking
•7mi of climbing
•9,000ft of downclimbing back to the parking lot.