You’ll fly into the Seattle-Tacoma airport where you will meet your instructors and course mates. We’ll begin to get acquainted as a short drive and ferry ride across Puget Sound takes us to a scenic base camp by the sapphire waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
We can expect to see sea otters, seals, crashing waves, and dazzling sunsets as we backpack along the wild coastline of Olympic National Park for four days. You’ll become very familiar with tidal charts, as the changing tides will dictate our hiking schedule on a route that both traverses serene wilderness beaches and scrambles over and around rocky, surf-pounded headlands. At the same time, we’ll allow plenty of time to study natural history, polish backcountry skills, cover leadership lessons, and review goals that will ultimately dictate the curriculum for the rest of the trip. Our introduction to the Pacific Northwest and to each other could not happen under finer circumstances!
We’ll see an entirely different aspect of Olympic National Park as we climb through magnificent temperate rainforests into the high country of the Olympic Mountains. We’ll reach the flower-studded meadows above tree line and marvel at a landscape of gleaming snowfields, towering waterfalls, and vast, glacier-carved valleys dropping steeply to the icy blue lakes below. We’ll hone the skills we learned on the coastline and pick up new ones necessary in the mountain environment. Moreover, our demanding cross-country route will give us all an opportunity to develop solid wilderness leadership and navigation abilities and ensure that we are mentally and physically prepared for our upcoming climb of Mt. Rainier.
We’ll get the chance to polish our rock-climbing skills at the unique climbing Mecca, Smith Rock. Local Smith Rock climbing guides will teach us technical rope and rock skills, so we can climb high in the desert of northern Oregon. We’ll scale rock faces composed of welded tuff (compressed volcanic ash) reaching up into the deep blue sky. From there, we’ll be able to spot golden eagles, falcons, mule deer, and river otter.
You got your first glimpse of Mount Rainier from the airplane window as you flew into Sea-Tac. On our travels around Puget Sound, its gleaming cone has dominated the southern horizon. And yet our first close-up look from the Paradise Ranger Station will still leave us speechless; the combination of Rainier’s enormous bulk and the massive ice flows which mantle its slopes make this, quite simply, one of the most breathtaking mountain vistas in the world. We’ll spend the next few days preparing for the challenge of reaching the summit. We’ll begin by learning about the logistics of expedition mountaineering as we organize the food and supplies needed for the climb and outfit ourselves with ice axes, crampons, and other specialized mountaineering gear. Next, we’ll spend a full day in snow school with the expert guides of Rainier Mountaineering to learn rope handling, glacier travel and self-arresting techniques. Our first day of the actual ascent takes us to Camp Muir, a base camp located at 10,002 feet where we’ll be treated to a majestic panorama of wave after wave of great peaks stretching as far away as Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. From there, we’ll strap on our crampons and grab our ice axes and make a pre-dawn start for the long, arduous ascent to the summit of Mt. Rainier. If all is successful, shortly after a golden sunrise we’ll reach the summit crater and celebrate an accomplishment that we’ll all treasure for a lifetime.
We’ll complete our adventure just outside Seattle first by sleeping in and recovering from our summit attempt on Rainier! Then we’ll have the chance to wash our clothes, clean the gear, and take well-deserved steaming hot showers before enjoying a celebratory feast together at a final banquet dinner. Though we will soon have to say goodbye to one another, we’ll leave Washington having forged some of the best memories and strongest friendships of our lives.