Outward Bound Invitational: The Challenge of Climbing Mt. Rainier

After climbing the upper slopes of the Emmons glacier on Mt. Rainier by headlamp for five hours, I noticed the thin arching lens of red dawn light over the horizon. I thought to myself, “this is going to go! We’re going to make it!” The conditions at 12,000 ft. were calm, cool and crystal clear – a dream compared to the high winds, low visibility and blasting snow that had turned around so many parties just days before.

A mere 96 hours earlier, day one was a whirlwind of logistics: a crowded commute into Mt. Rainier National Park, climbing permits and finding a site at the busy White River campground. But all that stress and chaos seemed farther away as we sat down for our dinner of enchiladas carefully baked in a Dutch Oven over coals.

Outward Bound on Mt. Rainier

Wyatt Southworth serving Mike Perlis enchilada dinner from a Dutch Oven at White River Campground on night one.

After our meal, sitting in a circle each member of the team – Mike Perlis, Mike Rooney, John Griffin and Penry Price – shared their expectations, concerns and goals they had for this very ambitious course. Climbing Mt. Rainier via the Emmons glacier was not something you could just show up and expect to do. It was a climb and was going to be a battle the entire way. Last year, the park issued a report showing that less than half of the climbers who attempted Rainier made it to the top.

Our ‘circle up’ that night lasted only 20 minutes, but it was clear each member was prepared for a serious challenge and expected nothing less from an Outward Bound course. Each participant had done this kind of thing before – collectively, a few dozen times. While this was their first time on Mt. Rainier, everyone in the group is an experienced Outward Bound alum.

Backpacking and Moutaineering Trips

From L to R Michael Rooney, Mike Perlis, John Griffin, Penry Price and author Wyatt Southworth going over our gear at White River Campground, day 1.

In addition to their courses, each of our four crewmates has provided their expertise in the media and publishing industries to help Outward Bound receive millions of dollars worth of placed advertising in leading magazines such as Town & Country, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and many others.

Next month, for their years of service, Outward Bound will be recognizing Mike Perlis, CEO of Forbes Media and Michael Rooney, SVP/Chief Revenue Officer of The Wall Street Journal, at the 49th Annual National Benefit Dinner in New York. Our other two climbers, Penry Price and John Griffin, are serving as Co-chairs. For event details and to support Mike and Michael click here!

The second day, we woke at dawn to shoulder 60 lbs. packs and move from White River campground (elevation 4,400 ft.) up to Glacier Basin (elevation 6,200 ft.). As we were ascending, an occasional climber would pass us on their way down. Their red sun burned cheeks and an overall look of utter exhaustion made me wonder what conditions they faced – and if they were successful.

Rainier Climbing Trip

The team on the move from White River up to Glacier Basin. On the right is Michael Rooney and to his left John Griffin. In the background is the rest of the team.

Arriving at camp that afternoon there was much to do. We all dropped packs and busied ourselves with pitching tents and piling up our camp food in the kitchen. After camp was set, we hiked to the toe of the Inter Glacier. We practiced mountaineering skills such as how to ‘self arrest’ with an ice axe. This is how a climber can stop themselves if they fall on a snow slope and begin to slide.

As the day warmed up, outer layers came off, and I noticed Michael Rooney was wearing a long sleeve white shirt with ‘ROONEY’ hand painted on it in big green letters. Michael told us his family made him the shirt to wear during his last marathon. Somehow the hand-painted, green ‘ROONEY’ captured Michael’s great sense of humor!

Glacier Travel Training

Mike Perlis (left) and Michael Rooney at the toe of the Inter Glacier during snow school.

Leaving Glacier Basin the team continued to hone skills by traveling as a roped climbing team to Camp Schurman (elevation 9,440 ft.). Heavy as the backpacks were, they pushed on without so much as a whisper of complaint.

Mountaineering in the Northwest U.S.

From L to R: Penry Price, Michael Rooney, Mike Perlis and author Wyatt Southworth in the move from Glacier Basin camp up to Camp Schurman.

Finally, summit day was upon us! We woke at midnight to find climbing conditions couldn’t be better. On Rainier, it is best to climb the upper, and more dangerous terrain, during the cooler parts of the day.

Wearing headlamps, participants strapped on crampons (metal spikes which fit under our boots) and then took their places as part of a rope team. It was perfectly still and often the only sound was the loud crunch of crampons biting into the frozen glacier.

Hours went by with the same marching pace and then, suddenly there was a long, red glow along the skyline. For moments, the rising sun turned the glacier from cool blue to a blazing, glossy red. We all paused to take it in – then headlamps came off and sunglasses went on, and we quickly kept marching.

Summiting Rainier

Foreground: John Griffin climbing on the Emmons Glacier at sunrise on summit climb day (elevation 11,000 ft.).

After nine long hours, we at last arrived at the top of Mt. Rainier (elevation 14,411 ft.). Mike Perlis was there first and greeted Michael and the rest of the team with arms wide. A round of handshakes, hugs and congratulations went by quickly before we headed down.

Climbing Mount Rainier

Mike Perlis (left) and Michael Rooney on top of Columbia Crest, the summit of Mt. Rainier’s crater rim (elevation 14,411 ft.).

Back at Camp Schurman, we celebrated with a big meal and went straight to tents for much needed rest. The next day we concluded our course by descending back to the trailhead at White River, stopping one last time as a team for a quick but meaningful break.

The group formed a circle in full view of the Emmons Glacier, and I lay the Outward Bound pins down in a small cluster in the center. Each participant then took one pin and awarded it to one of their teammates for their contribution to the group.

The climb was tough, probably more so than any of the participants expected. Yet they didn’t complain once. They exemplified Kurt Hahn’s notion of ‘indefatigable spirit’ and in so many ways exemplified what it means to strive – and not to yield.

John, Penry, Mike and Michael, congratulations again on successfully completing another Outward Bound course! And remember “A ship is safe in harbor, but that is not why is was built” -William Shed

I would like to say a special thanks to my co-instructor, Dave Moskowitz. Check out his beautiful photography from this course by clicking here. The trip would not have been half as rich had he not been there to let us know what we were looking at!

Wyatt Southworth
Outward Bound Instructor

For more information on the 2011 Outward Bound National Benefit Dinner, honoring Mike and Michael, click here!

Please watch the video of our mountaineering trip above.

One thought on “Outward Bound Invitational: The Challenge of Climbing Mt. Rainier

  1. Pingback: The 49th Annual Outward Bound National Benefit Dinner | Outward Bound: Outdoor Adventure Education Blog

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