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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Fort Thomas Man Conquers Mount Rainier and So Much More

Fort Thomas Man Conquers Mount Rainier and So Much More

Jeff and Jason Weier. 

By Chuck Keller

I can imagine Edmund Hillary sitting around one day staring at Mount Everest and saying to a friend something like, “Hey, what do you think is up there? What do you say we go up and have a look?”  And so he did. That strikes me how a lot of adventures begin.

Jason Weier, 39, and his brother, Jeff, 35, just returned from an expedition up Mount Rainier.  Some significant adventures begin rather casually and dismissively.

Jason Weier says, "Actually two years ago a friend asked me to climb and I said ‘No. No. No chance I was going to climb it. I wasn’t interested.’  I like to do the hiking and everything else but that was a whole different level." But once a great notion has been planted, though, it just needs a little nudge.

Weier continues, "So my little brother called me in September and said, 'I just signed up to climb Mt Rainier.'

I said, 'You're nuts. Good luck.'

'So do you want to do it with me?' he asked.

So when he put that offer on the table, I said, ‘Well, let me think about it.’ You know, I wasn’t in shape. So Heidi (wife) and I talked about it because the training would be a 5 day a week commitment for 9 months. I thought it would be fun to do it with my brother. It would be cool. So I called him back and told him I’m in!”

“It wasn’t on my bucket list. But I thought it would be awesome to climb it with him and train with him,” he says. And so the adventure begins.

Weier worked out every day, followed a strict diet, and lost 50 pounds. Now that is pretty impressive already, but as challenging as that program was it was just the beginning.

There was a chance that he would not even be allowed to climb Mount Rainier. Groups are limited in size and the group was full so the only way Jason would be able to climb was if someone cancelled. But that did not deter his training regimen. So while in limbo he trained and got stronger and leaner. We humans live in hope.

And then he got the call. Someone pulled out and he was in.

Mt. Rainer. 

Mount Rainier is dangerous - over 14,000 feet, covered in snow, cold, windy, with deadly crevasses.  So preparation is key. And that is what the group did on the first two days because the more you know about your gear, your team, your guides, and the mountain, the more likely you will succeed. They hiked up to about 6,000 or 7,000 feet and trained how to use the crampons, ice picks, and how to deal with falls, and being tethered on the rope.  “It was an all day training,” Weier says. As they acclimated to the mountain atmosphere, they hiked it to Camp Muir at 10,000 feet where they would train some more with ice picks and crampons.

They trained some more at Ingraham Flats, at 11,000 feet. There are no shelters or National Park people around like at Camp Muir so tents are pitched in the snow. The views, though, are stunning. You can look down at clouds.  Weier says, “We did more training. The guides showed us the route and what to expect. We went to bed at five o’clock because they woke us up at midnight. We only had an hour to get ready to be on the mountain to summit.”

They hiked in the dark. Headlamps illuminated a path, but they could not see around them. And that was bit terrifying. You don’t know what’s out there and you don’t know where you are. But you keep moving.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned.  Weier says, “They leave so early because they want to make sure that the mountain is frozen because it’s easier to use the crampons and everything else because once the mountain begins ‘shedding her layers’ it makes it difficult. The ice melts, the crevasses open up, the glacier moves, and everything else. We saw that at one point.” Every step could be one more step to falling hundreds of feet down a crevasse.

Weier continued, “We were just getting off at Disappointment Cleaver, the most technical part of the climb, and the guides didn’t know the glacier had shifted the day before so we had to do a complete reroute and go back down the mountain to get far enough away from that crevasse and head back up a pretty sheer ice portion of the mountain. We climbed ice stairs.” Things you didn’t expect. At this point a couple of people in the group bailed.

Weier confesses that, “I am afraid of heights, believe it or not.  So one part of this trip was about facing my fears and that I could do this. But my brother was the opposite. He was excited to cross the crevasse. I was staring straight across, not looking down, just get to the next point. It was about a ten foot ladder stretched over the crevasse and had wood planks lashed to it and a rope tether running along the side.”  And you carry all of your gear over that ladder. You may start with about 45 pounds of food, clothes, tent, water, and everything, but you shed some of that at each stop. “From Camp Muir to the summit you carry about 25 pound. Just what was necessary,” he says.

But here was the problem. The team had burned precious time because of a shifting mountain. They had to summit and return that day and they just had to detour that ate up an hour and a half. This was unexpected. It’s Murphy’s Law - no matter how well you think you planned, something can and will go wrong.

Mount Rainier, like most of the other major peaks in the northwest, is actually an active stratovolcano that last erupted in 1894. When Weier and his group arrived at the what they thought was the top, it was well below freezing and the wind made it feel even colder.  They looked into a volcanic crater. But that was not the top.

He recalls, “We set everything down. Everyone was just exhausted because we had added another hour and a half to our summit time because of the reroute. We thought we made it but the guide told us ‘No, you have another half hour before you get to the true summit.’" It was time to power on through the exhaustion. He hadn’t spent nine month of training and four days of climbing and training to stop now.

“It took us 7 hours to summit,” Weier says, but “it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The coolest thing was that we were on the mountain right before sunrise and we just happen to stop to wait for other teams to summit when our guide told us to notice the horizon. We could see the orange and red glow of the sun rising from the east coast. Then it popped up. But it was worth every ounce of energy to say that you made it to the top.”  That sunrise on the mountain was the beginning of more than a new day.

From this vantage point they could see about 500 miles and that included the other mountain ranges, Mount Baker, Mount Hood, and Mount Saint Helens. He says, “We could even see a mountain that is twelve miles south of the Canadian border. And we had a beautiful day.” It had to be spectacular to be three miles up on the one the tallest peaks in the country and watch the sunrise after climbing seven grueling hours to get there. But this was just the mid-point of the day. They still had to hike all the way down to the bottom. That’s right. It was a slow ascent but a quick descent.

If you have ever done any type of hiking then you know how difficult it is walking downhill especially with a load on your back. “Coming down felt like it would never end because I was so sore and tired. Blisters. Slamming the knees.” But when they arrived at camp Weier recalls,  “Oh, my God, when the camp came into view that was the best feeling. But then when we got closer to Paradise we had to walk on concrete and then my feet were done!”  Paradise is famous for its meadows of wildflowers and sweeping vistas as well as the visitor center for the park.  When Weier took the last step off the Paradise Trail the guide said, “Hey, you officially made it. How does it feel?”

He thought, “I can’t believe I made it but I am so tired right now. I could barely talk!”

Now that Weier looks back on the experience, he says, “I learned that I could face my fears. You know, climbing over that ladder over a crevasse was tough. I learned patience. I think the biggest thing was … knowing that I was able to lose all of that weight (50 pounds) and making sure that I am healthy and doing the right things. Just knowing I could do it. Being thankful for the sacrifice that Heidi made for me to go. That’s something special. If I put my mind to it … I can accomplish anything, but I think for me just being out in the wilderness felt like I need to do more to promote the outdoors to get people away from technology being outside more.”

“I made it,” he says. "Once you get to the summit and take a moment to relax, to settle down, it’s the relief that you made this amazing climb and that Jeff (brother) and I did that together. It was awesome…. It was by far one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life and the most difficult thing too. Now I am ready for the next adventure."

Edmund Hillary, the first to summit Mount Everest, said, “It’s not the mountain that we conquer.”  There is real joy in accomplishing something difficult. We often look for the easy way but that may not be the right way or may even be a dangerous way. Facing something difficult or challenging, facing a fear, to realize what you are capable of doing and finding your place in the world is joyfully difficult.

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