Whether you’re a native climber or a first time visitor, the beauty of the Pacific Northwest strikes a chord in everybody. Having the opportunity to explore Washington for a couple of weeks, we saw an incredible mix of green, alpine meadows sprinkled with wildflowers, mountain layers in the Cascades, and prominent volcanic peaks that draw climbers from around the world.
Our original intention was to summit Mt. Rainier, the tallest mountain in Washington. A mix of bad weather, a lack of climbing partners available, and minimal knowledge necessary for glacial travel led us to survey our other options. We found ourselves on Mt. Adams, the second tallest mountain in Washington. While climbing, we had the privilege of making friends with and interviewing John, a Pacific Northwest local who had tackled just about every volcano within his reach.
I’ve climbed Rainier 13 times as of this month. It’s a beautiful view, it’s one of those places that always changes. You can do different routes, so it’s always something new. It feels like a new mountain each year.
One thing that has consistently intrigued Alex and I is how the draw to these mountains transcends location. Even though John had hiked Adams multiple times before, he still enjoyed the view just as much as we did.
It’s always beautiful. There’s definitely nice places everywhere you go, but I really like coming back here all the time. We’re very fortunate.. even when I travel all over the place, I love coming back here. I don’t think I would want to live anywhere else, for sure.
True to his nature, John shared with us both his passion for his local volcanos in the guise of a joke. When discussing how the mountains seem to think for themselves and decide whether or not they want people to summit successfully on a certain day, he had quite a clever remark.
Most of these… actually all of these are active, so they do have a life and mind of their own.
Alex and I usually find ourselves joking, chatting, and goofing around on our climbs. Obviously we know when it is time to get serious, but we never miss a moment where we physically can relax and take in the scenery. Making friends with and getting the chance to interview John was so refreshing, as he was one of the funniest mountaineers we had ever met. An incredibly experienced climber, and yet he was still making comments about how he sometimes drinks too much and starts a summit well out of shape. He truly brightened our days and sprinkled some well-needed humor into the 14-hour climb, and reminded us that as long as you’re safe, it’s okay to crack a joke or a beer at the summit.
Even though we weren’t able to personally summit Rainier, we were fortunate enough to gather insight from another climber who had summited this summer. One of eight total people to summit that day, our new friend Dawood made it to the top of Washington in July of this year. A San Diego native (hello new friends!) that we met only recently, we had so much fun interviewing Dawood via Skype and hearing his journey into mountaineering and eventually the top of Rainier.
I eventually made a solo trip which opened up a world to me. I hit the PCT and the never ending possibilities and opportunities in the outdoors opened up to me.
Dawood shared with us that he had a relatively late introduction to the outdoors. With the guidance of a few key mentors, all that there is to see and do beyond the corners of four walls unfolded in front of him. One of his main goals is to inspire other people of color, who may not see themselves represented in outdoor spaces, to feel encouraged to get outside as well. With a group of other adventure buddies with similar goals, he spends a ton of time in San Diego county training for other, more ambitious climbs.
We’ve all seen that we need inspiration and a positive role model to keep each other engaged in not only staying mentally healthy but also physically fit. We all really appreciate being on trails with each other. We don’t have a mission statement, but we’re just trying to create a fun safe space for a lot of people to enjoy each other outside and to have the best experience that they can.
While most people train to climb Rainier for months or even years, Dawood had no idea he would be standing on top of Washington at the start of this summer. A fortunate mix of friends in the climbing community, a permit available, and a personality that jumps at any opportunity led our new friend to saying yes without hesitation to quite an ambitious climb.
I’ve been studying mountaineering for the past years. I knew Rainier was an inevitability, I always wanted to do it I just didn’t know when. When my friend contacted me about a slot on the permit, he said, ‘Someone fell off of the permit, do you wanna come?’
I immediately replied ‘Yeah!’ Finances be damned, I’m going!’
It was me preparing for any opportunity available to me that inspired me to go on that mountain.
Spontaneity is arguably what led Alex and I together in the first place. Last minute camping trips and saying yes to any climb is our jam, and basically how we made this whole project happen. Connecting with more adventure-seeking friends back in San Diego is so exciting, and only foreshadows what our next chapter may hold.
On some of our climbs this trip, there have been times where Alex and I have had to put absolute faith in our physical bodies and the gear supporting us. Missteps simply cannot happen in some sections, and Rainier can be an unforgiving mountain.
I was intimidated by the summit of Rainier up until we got our feet on those sketchiest parts of snow, it was like really icy up there. Once I got my crampons on there, focus started setting in and I simply thought
‘I can’t afford to be intimidated anymore.’
He is so right. During our down climb on Mt. Hood, we could not think about what would happen if we fell or misstep. Anything less than technical precision was not an option. These moments of entire bodily awareness and full mental focus make standing on the summit or reflecting on a climb as a whole so much sweeter.
At the top, I said I never thought I would do this. Never in my life did I set Rainier as a major goal…I never said, ‘I’m gonna go up there, I’m gonna consciously prep for this and I’m gonna set this and this and this date in order to go up this thing.’
I think the spontaneity of it all made it more enchanting.
Reflecting upon an experience that you never knew you would have is something pretty darn special. Days after returning to San Diego, Dawood still couldn’t quite put his finger on just what he learned from Washington’s tallest peak.
I still don’t have words for it. I often say that I’m still on the mountain and that a part of me always will be. And, a part of the mountain will always be in my head.
But, that’s just why we go and do the things that we do, that’s why we appreciate the things that we do.
The inability to grasp and comprehend all that the mountains are teaching us is so perfectly put in these final thoughts of our conversation with Dawood. As Alex and I have the privilege of traveling and climbing in some of the most beautiful places on this earth, it almost feels as if we are ripping ourselves apart, leaving pieces of ourselves in each indescribable corner of nature we find. But, this is why we do what we do. If these experiences require relinquishing a part of ourselves to the mountains, maybe we were meant to leave that bit behind anyways.
As we continue to travel, conversations about all the incredible people we have met carry us through those long car rides. Each and every climb thus far has been made by the people we have met along the way, and taking the time to sit down and ask a few questions is something that we will carry with us long after this project is over.
For a more detailed account of our one day summit of Mt. Adams – check out the story here! As always, more content is on the way. The project has started to take on a bit of a life of its own, but videos from Washington and stories as we travel east for the first time are on their way!