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01.06.05: The Oregonian

Climb EVERY Mountain: A Clackamas Guide has Scaled the Highest Peaks on Each of the Seven Continents

Clackamas County is now home to a rare sort of mountain climber.

Craig Van Hoy, 46, the owner of Go Trek & Expeditions in Clackamas, on Nov. 20 became one of fewer than 100 people in the world who have climbed the highest peaks on each of the seven continents.

He achieved the goal by reaching the 7,310-foot summit of Australia’s Mount Kosciuszko.

“It’s great . . . that you can say that you climbed Everest and climbed all seven summits,” said Van Hoy, who lives in Clackamas and has been climbing for 30 years. “It’s part of trying your best at whatever you do.

“But, again, you want to be humble,” he said. “Nobody wants to be around somebody with a big head.”

A Web site,, lists climbers who have reached the seven summits. Van Hoy said he filled out an application, but it’s not that big a deal to him.

After Van Hoy reached the top of Mount Everest last year, after two attempts, he wanted to climb Kosciuszko simply so he could say he had climbed the world’s seven highest continental peaks.

“In the last couple years, I didn’t even think about it, especially with having not climbed Everest — it was back in my mind somewhere,” Van Hoy said. “Everest is kind of the clincher.”

Van Hoy is fluent in Nepalese and Spanish and climbed each of the seven peaks during the past decade with various clients and climbers: Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, South America, 22,834 feet, 1984. Mount McKinley in Alaska, North America, 20,320 feet, 1985. Mount Elbrus in Russia, Europe, 18,510 feet, 1991. Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, 19,340 feet, 1993. Mount Vinson in Antarctica, 16,864 feet, 1997. Mount Everest in Nepal-Tibet, Asia, 29,035 feet, 2004. Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, 7,310 feet, 2004.

Tim O’Brien, a senior guide with Rainier Mountaineering Inc., an industry-leading guide service in Washington, said the seven summits are “the culmination of American mountain climbing now. It’s the equivalent of the Super Bowl.”

As a professional guide, Van Hoy incurred few personal expenses on his climbs, as companies and affluent adventure clients sponsored each of his expeditions. Journeys to the top of mountains in remote countries can cost as much as $65,000 a person.

Van Hoy’s reputation as a top guide has grown along with his climbing success and knowledge of mountains around the world. Through word-of-mouth, he has cultivated a loyal client base at Go Trek & Expeditions.

“He’s the best guide that’s out there, and I know them all,” said Bonnie Seefeldt, 47, of Sammamish, Wash. Seefeldt has been a client of Van Hoy’s for the past two years and worked with guides at Rainier Mountaineering Inc. for eight years.

“He has made a woman who’s just about ready to touch 50 a successful mountaineer,” she said.

Van Hoy’s encouraging attitude helped Seefeldt, a self-proclaimed novice climber, reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro last year.

“He just makes you confident with what you have,” Seefeldt said. “He develops a comfort zone for the average person who really wants to touch the summit. I won’t travel internationally with anyone else.”

Van Hoy’s peers admire his ability to empathize with climbers during their emotional highs and lows.

“His client skills and his people skills are unsurpassed,” said O’Brien, who has worked with Van Hoy at Mount Rainier. “The easy part is the climbing. The hard part is the people skills, and that’s where Craig really excels. He’s got to be one of the nicest guys you’re going to meet.”

O’Brien added that Van Hoy, who holds speed records on various Mount Rainier climbing routes, is a refreshingly humble guide and climber.

“You have to have somewhat of an ego to be a mountain guide,” O’Brien said. “You don’t want to be too obnoxious or overpowering, but you don’t want to be timid, and Craig walks that line perfectly. He’s very humble.”

Van Hoy said that he has always loved the outdoors. His interest in mountain climbing is fueled by his love of experiencing different cultures and countries.

“It adds a much bigger dimension than just mountains,” he said. “People can get so locked into coming home and watching TV and the news and that’s it. I’ve always looked at experience as education and travel being one of the biggest educations.”

When he’s not spending weeks abroad climbing, Van Hoy likes to go canoeing, kayaking or camping with his children Josiah, 7, and Bethany, 5. While his children don’t yet climb, he said, he’d support them if they ever want to climb mountains thousands of miles away. His wife, Malaysone, is a hair stylist and may never be a climber.

“When my kids get a little bit bigger, I hope they can get to the point where they can join me,” Van Hoy said. “I’m trying to talk my wife into climbing Mount Hood, but she’s just not into the cold. She’s just not into the mountain climbing stuff.”

Article written by: CHRIS EHRLICH

11.23.04: The News Tribune

A Tacoma Native Enters One of Mountaineering’s Most Elite Clubs by Summiting the Highest Peaks on All Seven Continents

Tacoma native Craig Van Hoy has often climbed much higher than 7,310 feet above sea level, but that elevation must have felt like the top of the world Saturday afternoon.

Van Hoy, 46, reached the summit of Mount Kosciuszko in Australia’s Great Dividing Range at 2 p.m. PST Saturday, completing his quest to climb the highest peak on each of the seven continents. After returning from the climb, he e-mailed two pictures and a brief announcement of his accomplishment to The News Tribune at 4:27 a.m. Monday. Van Hoy could not be reached for comment.

Van Hoy is the 128th person to reach the Seven Summits. He is believed to be the eighth person from Washington to accomplish the feat. Tacoma residents David Van Hoy, Bert Brown and Ken Peters were also members of Saturday’s climbing party. Craig Van Hoy, who operates his own climbing service in Clackamas, Oregon, left for Australia Thursday afternoon. He climbed Saturday with guide Bart Eschler of Canberra, Australia.

Before his trip, Van Hoy described Kosciuszko as a non-technical hike but said he was not underestimating the relatively easy climb because “bad weather is always a possibility”. The weather did not appear to be a problem. A picture sent by Van Hoy shows the men posing on Kosciuszko’s rocky summit with one of the men in shorts.

Van Hoy honed his climbing skills in the Cascade and Olympic ranges. He guided with Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. beginning in 1977, then moved to Clackamas in 2000 to start Go Trek and Expeditions. He guides climbs and other adventure trips all over the world. His quest to reach the seven summits has taken him to Everest (29,029 feet) in Asia, Alaska’s Mount McKinley (20,320 feet), South America’s Aconcagua (22,840), Antarctica’s Mount Vinson (16,067), Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro (19,339) and Europe’s Mount Elbrus (18,481 feet). In comparison, Mount Rainier is 14,410 feet. Van Hoy has climbed Rainier more than 300 times via 19 different routes, some of which he established himself. The Seven Summits designation is not without debate. Some mountaineers don’t consider Kosciuszko among the seven summits because they don’t consider Australia a continent. Instead they consider Oceania – the islands of the southern, western and central Pacific Ocean including Australia – to be the seventh continent. This would make new Guinea’s Carstensz Pyramid (16,023 feet) the seventh summit. Currently, Carstensz Pyramid is virtually closed to climbers because of political unrest in the area.

According to statistics kept by, Van Hoy is the 92nd person to complete the Australia list. Eighty-one people have climbed the Oceania version and 45 have bagged all eight peaks.

Tacoma’s Eric Simonson, Seattle’s Todd Burleson and Spokane’s Chris Kopczynski are the only Washingtonians to reach all eight summits. Jason Edwards of University Place completed the Australia list in 2002. Former RMI guide Greg Wilson finished the Oceania list in 2001. Phil Ershler of Seattle was the seventh man ever to complete the Australia version in 1989 and the first to do it twice in 2002 when he and his wife, Susan, also became the first married couple to climb the Seven Summits.

Article written by: CRAIG HILL


2004 Mount McKinley Expedition

Go Trek guides Gary Talcott and Tim O’Brien and fellow guide Shaun Sears will lead a group of climbers up the West Buttress Route of Mt. McKinley, Alaska. At 20,320 feet, Mt. McKinley is the highest point in North America and one of the famed “Seven Summits” of the world. This trip is being run through Rainier Mountaineering Inc. The group will assemble in Alaska on June 22, 2004, and if the weather cooperates, will fly on to the Kahiltna Glacier on June 24. Once the group is at base camp, the climb of 14 miles to the summit will begin! The group will have 22 days worth of food and fuel … check back here to keep track of the summit progress! We expect frequent calls about the group’s progress and the first call should come in on Friday June 25, 2004. Wish them the best of luck and check back often for updates!


  • Gary Talcott
  • Tim O’Brien
  • Shaun Sears


  • David Russell
  • Pat Leach
  • Alex Roberts
  • Elizabeth Munro
  • Dan Brotherton
  • Greg Paul
  • Rick Salter
  • Jeff Eberle
  • Chris Parker

Expedition News & Dispatches

Monday, July 12, 2004 10:30 AM PDT

Due to continued high winds at 14,000 feet we were unable to move to the 17,000 foot camp after 5 1/2 days of waiting. With a forcast of even more fierce weather to come, we’ve been forced to make a very tough decision and abandon our summit attempt and get off of the mountain. We are disappointed, but everyone undertands that the summit was optional and that safety was our primary goal. The entire team has now been flown off of the mountain and is safely in Talkeetna awaiting our return flights later today.

Tim O’Brien
Submitted via phone in Talkeetna

Friday, July 9, 2004 2:05 PM PDT

Update to Friday’s earlier dispatch:
We’ve attempted our move to 17,000 feet but the winds are still far too strong to make camp. We’ve decided to stay another day at Camp 3, 14,000 feet and attempt our move on Saturday.

Now it looks like Monday could be our earliest summit day. We’ll update you then.


Tim O’Brien
Submitted via Satellite Phone from Camp 3(14,000 feet) on Mt. McKinley

Friday, July 9, 2004 10:35 AM PDT

Good news! The weather has broken and the winds are dying down. Today we plan to make our way up to Camp 4 at 17,000 and prepare for our push to the Summit.

Everyone is in excellent spirits and very excited at the prospect of going for the Summit. Saturday will definitely be a rest day and depending on how everyone feels, we may rest on Sunday as well. The long-term weather forecast is good so it looks like we’ll have our choice of days to make the final ascent. Right now it looks like Sunday or Monday will be our Summit Day.

Next Update will be on Monday the 12th.

Check back then, we may have some more good news.

Tim O’Brien
Submitted via Satellite Phone from Camp 3(14,000 feet) on Mt. McKinley

Thursday, July 8, 2004 11:00 AM PDT

Well we’re still “stuck” at 14,000 waiting out the weather that has continued. There’s a rather large cloud cap over the summit of McKinley and very strong winds at the upper elevations.

We felt it much better to wait this out in the relative comfort of our camp at 14,000 feet than to move up to our more exposed high camp at 17,000 where gusts are blowing over 50 mph.

The forecast calls for diminishing winds over the next couple days, so we’re hoping to move up to Camp 4 on Friday or Saturday with a possible summit day on Sunday or Monday. We could be making our decision within the next 24 to 36 hours.

We’ll update everyone again on Friday the 9th.

Thanks for following along with us!

Tim O’Brien
Submitted via Satellite Phone from Camp 3(14,000 feet) on Mt. McKinley

Wednesday, July 7, 2004 12:00 NOON PDT

This day finds us resting in a holding pattern, awaiting better weather. The forecast is for increasing clouds, gusty winds and a chance of snow today. Beginning tomorrow, the clouds are supposed to decrease and create partly cloudy conditions through Sunday.

Tomorrow if the winds are manageable, we’ll try to sneak up to Camp 4 at 17,000. Friday would be a rest day and it looks like Saturday may be our best day for the summit.

We’ll update everyone tomorrow or Friday the 9th.

Thanks for following along with us!

Tim O’Brien
Submitted via Satellite Phone from Camp 3(14,000 feet) on Mt. McKinley

Tuesday, July 6, 2004 11:00 AM PDT

Today finds all 9 climbers of our party in very good spirits. We are all happy, healthy, feeling strong and enjoying this great climb.

Yesterday we carried our equipment and laid up our cache at the 16,200 foot level of the mountain in preparation for moving to Camp 4 at 17,000 feet. Today is a rest day back at 14,000. Currently the skies are crystal clear but the winds have picked up and are gusting at speeds up to 50 mph.

Weather permitting we plan to move to Camp 4 tomorrow, rest there all day on Thursday, and on Friday, July 9th push for the summit.

Next dispatch will be Wednesday, July 7th.

Thanks for following our progress!

Tim O’Brien
Submitted via Satellite Phone from Camp 3(14,000 feet) on Mt. McKinley

Friday, July 2, 2004 12:00 NOON PDT

Today is a rest day for us here at Camp 2 at the 11,000 foot level. Yesterday was spent carrying our loads up to 13,500 feet where we laid up our cache, 500 feet below where we’ll set up Camp 3 at 14,000. We plan to move to Camp 3 tomorrow and on Sunday, carry the rest of our gear up to 14,000 feet.

Monday will be the day we carry loads up to 16,200. Right now, we have Tuesday scheduled for a day of rest.

Sunday we’ll be celebrating Independence Day by raising the American Flag we’ve brought with us and on Monday, we’ll celebrate two birthdays. Expedition member Elizabeth Monroe will be turning a year older along with myself.

If the weather continues to hold out, we plan to make a push for the summit on Friday, July 9th. Next dispatch will be Tuesday, July 6th.

Thanks for following our progress!

Tim O’Brien
Submitted via Satellite Phone from Camp 2 (11,000 feet) on Mt. McKinley

Wednesday, June 30, 2004 3:20 PM PDT

We’re all tucked in comfortably at our 11,000 foot Camp 2. Everyone is happy and healthy and aclimitizing well to the elevation.

A cloudy overcast has moved in which is being compounded by very heavy smoke still blowing our way from the fires which persist in the Alaska Range. The smoke is heavy enough that it’s actually blowing up and over the summit of McKinley.

Tomorrow July 1st, we plan to carry equipment up to our next camp at the 14,000 foot level. Then on Friday depending on how everyone feels, we’ll either move to Camp 3 at 14,000 ft. or spend an optional “rest” day here at 11,000. Look for my next dispatch this Friday, July 2nd. Thanks for following our progress!

Tim O’Brien
Submitted via Satellite Phone from Camp 2 (11,000 feet) on Mt. McKinley

Tuesday, June 29, 2004 12:00 PM PDT

Just a quick update to let you all know that everyone in our group is doing great and the weather continues to be wonderful.

We do want to pass on that today, one of the other guided climbs on the mountain did suffer a tragic accident much higher on the mountain. A rock fall injured two members of the group and killed one of their climbing guides. The group was evacuated off the mountain by helicopter earlier today.

We will continue to carry our loads up to the 11,000 foot level with plans to make our first camp there tomorrow. Look for my next dispatch tomorrow, June 30th. Thank you for checking in!

Tim O’Brien
Submitted via Satellite Phone from Camp 1 (9,500 feet) on Mt. McKinley

Monday, June 28, 2004 12:30 PM PDT

Our climbing troupe has just completed the move to Camp 1 at the 9,500 foot level of the mountain and will be camped here for the next two nights. The weather continues to be wonderful with sunny skies and light warm breezes. There are a number of forest fires off in the Alaska Range putting smoke into the atmosphere and causing some very interesting lighting for us all.

We are all healthy, very happy and looking forward to the next few days. Tomorrow (Tuesday) will be spent carrying our equipment up to the 11,000 foot level. We’ll spend the night here again on Tuesday night and move to Camp 2 at 11,000 Feet on Wednesday. Look for my next dispatch on Wednesday, June 30th. Thank you for checking in!

Tim O’Brien
Submitted via Satellite Phone from Camp 1 (9,500 feet) on Mt. McKinley

Saturday, June 26, 2004

The group is camped on the Kahiltna Glacier at 7,800 and enjoying perfect weather with clear skies. Everyone is doing great and very eager to begin our first task of carrying our equipment up to the 9,500 foot level. We will begin to carry loads up to our next camp on Sunday, spend the night again at the Glacier and then move up to our 9,500 foot camp on Monday. The weather forecast is for clear skies and warm weather at least through Tuesday.

Tim O’Brien
Submitted via Satellite Phone from the Kahiltna Glacier, Mt. McKinley

Thursday, June 24, 2004 16:30 PDT

All parties have arrived on the glacier via airplane where we will be spending the night. Friday we will begin to ferry our equipment up to the 9500-foot level with plans to spend our first night at that level with everyone on Saturday. Spirits are high and the weather is wonderful. Check back on Monday, June 28th for our next dispatch.

Tim O’Brien
Submitted via Satellite Phone from the Kahiltna Glacier, Mt. McKinley[/acc_item]

  • 2002: The American Alpine Journal

  • The American Alpine Journal Documents Craig Van Hoy Speed Record Disappointment Cleaver Route


    Ice-Axing Your Way to the Top


    At 1:30 a.m., Win Whittaker’s voice broke the bunkhouse stillness. It was the news we had prayed for: a windless starry June night, firm snow, no precipitation. “Dress light. Eat as much as you can. We’ll rope up in an hour,” he said.

    So began Day Four of the Camp Muir Seminar, a five-day high-altitude-training program run by Rainier Mountaineering Inc. in Paradise, Wash. (206 569-2227). Such gatherings attract some 2.500 climbers each year from May to September. Since Monday, 23 of us had bunked shoulder-to-shoulder in a plywood shelter, from which we set out each morning to practice ice-climbing techniques. The spectacular 10.000-foot-high setting alone made Camp Muir worthwhile. Mt. St. Helens and oregon’s Mt. hood poked through a white cloud layer below us. The glaciers around us opened with regular cracks and pops, and the rumble of warmed rock and snow breaking loose was a reminder of the high-peak dangers.

    High Hopes. We came to Muir hoping to reach Mt. Rainier’s summit, 4,000 feet above us. Volatile weather ahd defeated several teams in the past few days. Still, we had mastered ice-ax safety, rope-climbing, crevasse rescues, and the six basic knots of mountaineering. Now, as we strapped ice-gripping crampons on our boots, we shared a rush of anticipation. At 14,410 feet, Rainier is the toughest endurance climb in the continental U.S. Two hours east of Seattle, its uge dome turns Arctic and Pacific air masses into a year-round brew of sleet, snow, and 80-mph winds. “When my uncle was training for Everest, this was the only place he used,” said Win, referring to Jim Whittaker, the first American to scale the Himalayan summit.

    Our conditioning had started earlier in the snowfields at Rainier’s Paradise Lodge. Perspiring under loaded packs and balancing with ski poles, we practiced step, rest, step, rest – exhaling with each move. It was the only way to avoid muscle burnout in the deep, wet snow.

    Like distance running or biking, high-altitude climbing tests mental discipline. “The best climbers are the most patient,” says Tracy Roberts, who has led expeditions up Everest and Mt. McKinley. Now, roping-up on the glacier, I wondered how much stamina I had really stored up.

    • 3:00 a.m.: The start across Cowlitz Glacier seems too easy. I slow down, but even with just a fleece top, long johns, and knee-high gaiters, I’m warm.
    • 3:45: The fun ends as we ascend a rock slide at Cathedral Gap and wheeze up a frozen ridge to the Ingraham Glacier. At first rest, we collapse and chug water. Our guide, Craig Van Hoy, rubs the shoulders of his three-person team. “It gets more difficult,” he offers.
    • 4:30: We’re on Disappointment Cleaver, where snow and fierce winds can ruin summer climbs. Today, the only sound is our team hyperventilating in the thin air at 12,500 feet. Look up and all you see is a ridge with no end.
    • 6:00: The Cleaver ends, but the angle of ascent stays nearly vertical. At the break, I force down a peanut-butter sandwich for energy.
    • 7:00: We’re an hour from the summit, with more chill and wind. Teammates Eve Gilstrup and Sandra Angus have pulled the rope so taut that I’m almost being tugged along. I speed up.
    • 7:45: We reach 14,410 feet, the summit – exhilarated. Across a snow-filled crater is a register to sign. many of us raise ice axes in a salute for photos.
    • 8:45: At the descent, breathing is easier, but walking in the deep snow is like water-skiing in boots. As we enter Muir, three who declined the blimb greet us with cameras and water bottles. While previous climbing experience isn’t required, anyone attempting this program should be physically fit. Pre-Training for at least three months is necessary. Our group of 10 women and 13 men, aged 25 to 60, ran the gamut from backpackers and bike racers to rock climbers and high-altitude veterans. The Muir course is $634, with equipment rentals extra. A three-day summit attempt costs $381, and special fall and winter clims are available. Whatever season you go, it’s sure to be one of the more inpiring events of your life.

    By Bob Dowling

    05.01.93: Horizon Air

    Climb To The Sky

    I dug my boot into Mount Rainier’s expansive whiteness. Below, Emmons Glacier cascaded and curled 8,000 feet to its snout in the fertile valley. A shout and a slight tug on the rope meant water break. I stopped. At this altitude trees looked like smears of charcoal. In the Sunrise visitors’ center children probably squinted at me through the telescope. “Those people look like ants, ” I imagined them reporting. “Why are they up there?” I didn’t have an answer yet. The top of Washington was only 1,000 feet above.

    In early April my friend and climbing companion Eric had called from Chicago. “When are we going to climb that big snow pile in your back yard?” he said. “Mount Rainier?” “Yeah, that humongous baked Alaska, ” he said. “How about the Fourth of July?”

    With that our plans were set. During the next three months we talked often, planned meals and routes, and rattled off checklists of climbing equipment-prussics, caribiners, harnesses, snow flukes, belay devices. We added mountain enthusiasts Michael and my wife, Maren, to the summit team. I became enthralled with Rainier, and read everything I could find. Three months later at 13,000 feet, Eric stopped and gazed upward at the crater rim. “This is quite a drift,” he said.

    Climbing Mount Rainier was one of the most challenging things I have ever done; it was also one of the most rewarding. The mountain is one of the most extreme places in the Northwest – rising nearly 3 miles above Puget Sound, it creates its own weather – yet on its frozen upper slopes, I found a tranquility unknown even in the hush of the forested lowlands. On Rainier’s glaciers, climbers shiver at midnight and sweat at noon. They sleep in the close confines of bivouacs, then ascend to some of the most stirring vistas in the world-panoramas of the Cascade Range and Washington’s eastern and western lowlands.

    The mountain, by nature, evokes the contradictory. It was born of fire, but now lies mostly dormant beneath a massive glacial cap – the largest in the contiguous United States. At 14,411 feet, Rainier is the monarch of the Cascade Range. It’s the highest volcano in the lower 48 states, and its 27 glaciers cover 35 square miles. Six glaciers, the Emmons, Ingraham, Kautz, Nisqually, Winthrop and Tahoma, flow from the summit ice cap.

    Such alpine features herald Rainier as one of the most coveted mountaineering destinations in North America. Notable mountaineers such as Lou and Jim Whittaker, Willi Unsoeld and Fred Becky spent their early climbing days on its slopes. Today, about 2,500 climbers of all ages reach the summit each year, most climbing mid-June through August with Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (206-627-6242). In 1973, Dean Bentley, 15, became one of the youngest first ascenders. In 1978, 80-year-old Julius Boehm became one of the oldest success stories. Speed demons such as Rainier guide Craig Van Hoy have reduced the usual two-day roundtrip climb from Paradise to the summit to five hours, 25 minutes. Most notable in the annals of mountaineering history, however, Rainier served as a training ground for Sir Edmund Hillary’s first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 and Jim Whittaker’s 1963 first American ascent. I would be among the ranks of masters.

    For our first ascent we chose the standard route from paradise – a two-day haul with a 10,000-foot base camp at Camp Muir and a summit attempt on the second day via the ominous but well-traveled Disappointment Cleaver. When we hit the trailhead with towering packs stuffed with four days of food and clothing for arctic weather, we ascended through alpine meadows ablaze with wildflowers. But trees soon became stubby, and intermittent gusts swept from the glacial faces dropped temperatures by 10 degrees.

     As I ascended through the tree line at panorama Point, a popular day-hike destination, I thought of those who had gone before us. In July 1857, Lieutenant August V. Kautz managed to ascend just above 14,000 feet on the present-day Kautz Glacier, reaching a high point near the summit plateau, but not attaining his goal because of high winds, poor snow conditions and impending darkness. In preparation for his climb Kautz noted, “We sewed upon our shoes an extra sole, through which were driven four-penny nails with the points broken off and the heads inside. We took with us a rope about 50 feet long, a hatchet, a thermometer, plenty of hard biscuits and dried beef.”

    The four of us were clad head-to-toe in Gore Tex, Ultrex, Supplex, polypropelyne, Capilene, varying grades of nylon, high-tech plastics, sun block, glacier glasses and state-of-the-art crampons. For energy we would eat freeze-dried chicken tetrazzini, sweet-and-sour shrimp, stroganoff, dried cranberries, chocolate chips and handfuls of Powerbars.

    On August 17, 1870, with considerably less, Philemon Van Trump and hazard Stevens reached the summit and claimed the first ascent. In 1890, climbing in a full-length skirt, Fay Fuller became the first woman to top Rainier.

    Pebble Creek, just above panorama point, marks the beginning of the Muir snowfield, an undulating swath of permanent snow, where climbers first encounter false summits and thing air. It is also here that hiking ends and climbing begins. The terrain is noticeably different – the trees are gone, leaving just snow, ice and igneous rock. Weary climbers on their descent pass us. “From the top we could see Canada,” they shout.

    To the south, views of Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and on a clear day, Mount Jefferson, unfolded. After five hours of climbing we reached the rude huts of Camp Muir, named for John Muir, who, recognized the presence of light pumice on the ground as an indication of shelter from the wind, selected the site during his 1888 ascent of the mountain. At camp we erected the tents, dug a snow kitchen, and began to melt snow – a nonstop activity = to replenish our water supply.

    Base camp was lively as the 30 or so climbers swapped stories, recounted past climbs and studied ascent routes. “The glacier is pretty well closed up this year,” said one climber about crevasses. “Next time I’ll bring my snowboard,” said another. They talked of dream climbs, of soloing K-2 or McKinley. Languages from Europe, Asia and South America were heard among the ranks of doctors, custodians, homemakers, professors, business professionals and mechanics. But such distinctions were irrelevant. Above 10,000 feet technique, wisdom and teamwork write the success stories. We were now officially “at altitude.” From time to time, climbers would look up in awe, surveying the gradient, the rocks, the ice, the weather. They seemed to contemplate the summit of this great mountain, still distant, aloof, secretive. At midnight we awoke to stars and fired our stoves to melt snow. The atmosphere was calm. It was a go. In blackness, the camp came alive with murmurs and the frigid chink of metal. From Camp Muir, we became a four-person team, “tied in” at 41-foot intervals by a 9-mm rope, which would serve as a lifeline in an emergency. Crevasses, stress fractures in the ice, are the most common glacial hazards for climbers. The people tied to your rope quickly become the most important people in your life. Petty worries and personal rivalries brought from the lowlands are discarded or the team goes no farther.

    With headlamps flickering, we began the ascent through the alpine blackness, looking like a string of torch bearers from an ancient tribe. I could only hear the crunch of snow and the rush of air through my windpipe. I led our team over the ice, studying with sweeps of my light the subtle undulations of the glacial surface. I was conservative in my judgments, always balancing safety and speed as we made our way through Cathedral Gap and across the Ingraham Glacier to the foot of Disappointment Cleaver – a prominent igneous monolith. Obsessed as we were with altitude, lateral steps lost purpose. The only successful move was up. In comparison, the ascent to Camp Muir is like an adventurous day hike; the upper mountain gives the feeling of leaving the planet. Altitude usually takes its toll at the top of Disappointment Cleaver, 12,000 feet. Some people turned back, despite the clear weather. Although we were winded, we felt strong and stopped for water and a Powerbar. My thighs burned and vapor condensed inside my glasses. Within minutes I went from sweating to shivering. Ice crystals streaked my water bottle. The eastern sky was glowing. At 5:15 A.M., when we were at 13,500 feet, the sun’s red disk broke the horizon.

    The route zigzagged across the whiteness toward the top. My steps were methodical and measured, my breathing regular. I was working hard, but efficiently. I felt the rope go taut at my waist. The others wanted a break. I stopped. Then we continued. Step. Step. Breath. Step. Pause. Step. Step. Breath. Approaching the crater rim, the slope eased. The wind that had kicked up at 11,000 feet now howled at about 50 mph. The morning sky was still clear. Rime ice covered exposed rock and half my face. I stepped down. The crater that had once boiled lava revealed itself – an expansive dish of compact snow – and across it, Columbia Crest, the summit. As a reminder of Rainier’s fiery past, the crater has firn caves that are kept open by warm gases emitted from volcanic fumaroles. These “steam caves” warmed Stevens and Van Trump in 1870 when they bivouacked on their first ascent. There’s even an underground lake, Lake Grotto, 150 feet beneath the older western crater. From here, the summit itself appears as little more than a pile of snow. Eric assured me this was the snow pile he spoke of. As I ascended the final few feet, I knew exactly where I stood on the globe. This spot is visible from Seattle. I waved my arms. For Washington, this is where the earth stops and the sky begins. Below was a blanket of cloud, and above, the deep blue expanse of space.

    An important and somewhat unexpected realization on every summit is that the climb is only half complete. After three months of planning and training, and 11 hours of climbing, I spent just 15 minutes on top. My mind was in ecstasy, but my legs were trembling. My lungs heaved and my heart pounded, trying as a team to gather and circulate as many scarce oxygen molecules as possible. The sweat from the ascent was beginning to freeze inside my coat. It was time to go down.

    The descent, however, was magnificent. In daylight now, the majesty of our path was revealed. Great blue glaciers cascaded down the upper slopes, their translucent turquoise fissures fading to darkness. In some areas the ice was broken into cubes the size of bungalows. In other places it had cracked into barrack-like rectangles or Gothic mansions, all built on a foundation of snow that fell a half-million years ago.

    Ultimately, I asked myself the perpetual question: Why do I climb? My answer: Because it builds perspective. Few advances of modern age, except radios, high-tech climbing gear and a solar toilet at Camp Muir, have penetrated this extreme wilderness. Longings for domestic amenities such as tap water and mattresses are obliterated by contemplations of scale-the-gargantuan mountain, its glaciers and the comparatively insignificant span of my steps.

    By dusk, we were speeding in a car toward Seattle at a mile a minute. What we had done would imprint our memories, somehow affect future decisions. “We usually don’t get drifts like that in Chicago,” Eric said, breaking the silence. Humans have evolved while the great ice sheets have waxed and waned through time. On Rainier I came to terms with the ice. Carpe diem.

    By Byron Ricks


    Faces in the Crowd


    Craig Van Hoy, 23, climbed 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier in five hours and 25 minutes – one hour and 16 minutes faster than the record set in 1959. The route from Paradise via Camp Muir and Disappointment Cleaver usually is scaled in two days.


    Morning stroll: Hiker Conquers Rainier in 5 1/2 Hours

    Craig Van Hoy, 23, climbed himself to a new record this week on Mount Rainier. The Rainier Mountaineering guide, a California resident who graduated from Federal Way High School, on Tuesday climbed the most-used route to the 14,410 foot summit – from Paradise via Camp Muir and Disappointment Cleaver – and back in 5 hours 20 minutes.

    The previous record, set in July, 1959, by Dick McGowan and Gil Blinn, was 6 hours 41 minutes, according to Dee Molenar’s book on Mount Rainier. The route normally is climbed in two days. A spokeswoman for Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., at Paradise said Van Hoy left the parking lot there at 2:30 a.m. and returned “just in time for breakfast” at 7:50 a.m. The weather was good and some private parties were on the route as well, she said. Paradise is at about 5,600 feet. Van Hoy clocked himself to Camp Muir, at 10,000 feet, in one hour 40 minutes. His timing from Paradise to the summit was three hours.

    At the top, he took time to sign in the summit register and climb the Columbia Crest before rushing down the mountain, 9,000 feet, in less than an hour.

    He wasn’t particularly tired, either. “He had a normal day of activities”, said Jason Edwards, Tacoma, a fellow guide who was to participate in the climb, but was sidelined by the stomach flu. “We just wanted to see if we could do it,” Edwards said.