Mt. Rainier Summary

Fundraisers First
Climbers Second
Ambassadors for Christ Always

The above is our mission statement for our Last Well mission trips and on this particular trip I and for that matter our entire team of 16 were tested to see if this is merely a slogan for us or if it is in fact a motto that we live out and exemplify.

This was the most brutal climbing experience nearly everyone on the trip had ever been a part of. The weather was ridiculous, then perfect, then ridiculous again providing pain and fatigue wrapped around the hope of a summit attempt and then acceptance that it was not going to happen. So how did all of this fit into our motto, what did God reveal to us from it, and what role did you our supporters play in it?

Lets talk about “Fundraisers First”. As most of you know by now all of us take on these challenges because we have taken up the mission of providing clean water to the ENTIRE nation of Liberia in 7 to 9 years in Christ’s name and to provide the people of Liberia with not only physical water but also the living water that comes from saving faith in Jesus. I am pleased to inform you that due to the generosity and commitment of supporters like you, depending on the final numbers, this will be either the first or second most successful trip from a fundraising perspective that the Last Well has ever done, more than doubling our goals for the trip! Thank you so much! Therefore it appears it is safe to say we have honored our first mandate.

Now comes the interesting part. “Climbers Second”. I have to share with you a concern that each of us missionaries wrestles with whenever we go on one of these purely climbing trips. These trips are no jokes on many levels. First off there are the physical hazards. The day after we descended there was a huge avalanche on the mountain and one man was killed. Two members of our party had borderline hypothermia and 4 members of team 1 were caught in a smaller avalanche of their own. We took a week off from work for the trip and between guide, gear and travel costs spent thousands of dollars out of our own pockets. Finally there were months and months of dedicated preparation, training, hiking, and fundraising. All of this is to say that if we are not on our guard we can get caught up in the experience of it all and lose sight of the primacy of being fundraisers and ambassadors.

We have had some glorious trips experientially. We’ve had perfect weather, good health, everyone summiting and breathtaking views of God’s glory in nature. These were wonderful experiences and we are grateful for them and I believe we should anticipate that we will have all these things on our trips but sometimes the most profound lessons God teaches us are when He doesn’t give us what we want. I guarantee you everyone on this trip wanted to stand on the summit with 360 degree views and images of being in the next IMAX film. That is not however what we got (I will describe the actual trip in more detail below). What we got instead was a test of our commitment to being climbers second! No one who was right in the head would call what we went through a good time (though I have to admit in a sick sort of way I’m glad for the blizzards because it expands your assumptions of what you can endure). We had near hurricane winds and white out conditions the first day on the way to high camp, we had an indescribably beautiful second day which raised our expectations of a summit bid and frustrated us because we could not take advantage of it due to avalanche dangers, and then another blizzard and a descent without so much as even an attempt at the summit. One could understand how we might return home thinking this was a failure but upon reflection I can tell you that to a person everyone on our trip views it as a triumph because of the chance to fulfill our commission as fundraisers and ambassadors. We take no credit for our conclusions however. Such is merely the power of a God inspired mission.

Finally and most importantly “Ambassadors for Chris Always”. Difficult times present some unique opportunities to represent God’s characteristics. After all the preparation and sacrifice to not have the chance to summit the mountain or to even have an enjoyable attempt would have provided us with ample cover to grumble, complain, and perhaps even stomp around a bit. I believe to the amazement of our guides I am pleased to say that I saw none of this from anyone on our team. Somehow we remembered that since Christ gives us grace we are to extend grace to others, since He gives us forgiveness we are to forgive others and that since He is in control there is no point in complaining. This really made an impression on our guides and lent credence to our discussions about our ministry and faith with them. I feel compelled to point out that I don’t consider repeated statements through chattering teeth of “I am really, really cold” to constitute complaining. Additionally we ended up cooped up with about 20 other climbers for the better part of two days riding out the weather and guess what, we got a chance to tell them all about our ministry, why we do what we do, and who we serve. So you see God can take a situation where a bunch of smelly people are shivering in extremely cramped spaces and turn it into an opportunity!

All of this is to say, and I can hardly believe I am saying it, is that I would not in a million years trade the experience we had for the one I had envisioned. If that’s not proof of God I don’t know what is.

Here is the day by day summary of the trip:

Day 1: I was looking forward to catching my first glimpse of Mt. Rainier as we flew into Seattle. You know, the majestic photo with the snow capped peak poking through the cloud cover. No such luck. The mountain was completely socked in as was the city. It is Seattle after all. We got into town for our gear check and it was of course raining though not very hard. Apparently it rains so frequently that the residents don’t bother with rain coats as it seemed no one was wearing one.

We got together at Alpine Ascents to do our gear check and to go over schedules and Todd and I were standing in the front window looking out when up pulls this old car and this guy gets out. He had deep color and looked lean but not skinny, weathered but not haggard and he strode with confidence and power. Todd and I looked at each other and said “That’s a Sherpa”. Sure enough it was one of our guides Lapta Sherpa. Yes he is a Sherpa and his name is Sherpa. This turned out to be more appropriate than we could have possibly known. It seems he had just returned two days ago from summiting Everest for the 14th time and he holds the world speed ascent record for one of the routes on Everest as well as on Aconcagua. In other words he is pretty much the Steven Tyler of Mountaineering (note the rock and roll reference because everyone we met on the mountain treated him like a rock star). At this point I was feeling pretty confident about the competency of our guides.

Day 2: Too excited to sleep much and we headed out to the base of the mountain to make our first ascent from 5,000 ft to Camp Muir at about 10,500 feet. Along the way we stopped to pick up two more guides, one of which was a female Sherpa named _____________. She has only climbed Everest 3 or 4 times. Now I was feeling really good about our guides. Perhaps you noticed that I capitalized Sherpa. That is because we found out that Sherpa’s are actually a distinct people group in the Himalayas with their own culture, language and religious practices. Porters in the Himalayas have just come to all be known as Sherpas even though they are not. I’ve taught you something new.

We got to the base of the mountain, got geared up and stepped onto the snowpack for the first time in very high spirits. It was about 40 degrees and raining so not uncomfortable at all. We made good time for a little over an hour and then took our first rest break. The temp had dropped a bit and the wind had picked up and we were a bit wet from the steady rain. Mountaineering rain gear is never really fully water proof since it needs to breath for temperature regulation. We all discovered air out = water in. No biggie at this point however. After about another half hour the wind was really starting to pick up and visibility had totally dropped and we were now acutely aware of the true definition of our “rain proof” gear. Still no biggie. Two hours into it and time for our second stop and now we are in a different world. The temperature was well below freezing and the wind was a steady 40 to 50 miles an hour, it was snowing and oh yes we were still wet. I pulled out this gooey food bar that had been squished and mangled in my pack. The kind of thing under good conditions it would take me 5 minutes to get out of the wrapper. I tore it open and managed to roll it down the bar about an inch and then stuck the end in my mouth. Then I turned into the wind and it peeled the wrapper right off the bar in my mouth and it disappeared into the mist.

The next 4 or 5 hours were an odyssey of pain, gut checks and wonderment for me. We were getting 60-70 mph gusts of wind and when I extended my hiking poles in front of me the wind would blow them sideways in my grip so I had to angle them into the wind. The wind was blowing so much and in combination with the snow if you dropped more than 20 feet or so behind the people in front of you by the time you got to where they were their footprints had been erased. Todd and I got into a little climbing rhythm of step, groan, breathe.

Our only guide up the mountain other than the person in front of you were these tiny little wire stakes with little red one inch square flags on top of them spaced out about every 10 yards. At one point I was standing there thinking that if we wandered off the row of flags or lost sight of the others in the group we were screwed. That led me to resolve to do neither.

At one point we ran into team 1 on their way down. My buddy Chris told me this is what I got for wishing for a little snow and a challenge before we left. That’s correct. I uttered the ultimate “I can’t believe he said that” phrase. My bad. The meeting lasted about 30 seconds as they had had enough of the mountain.

We finally made it to camp Muir and collapsed onto the three tiered glorified storage shelves that would serve as our home for the next two days. We had plenty of company as the group that was to have left could not due to the weather so we became quite friendly. I found myself laughing since every time someone would open the door for any reason the wind and snow would come pouring in on the dirt floor. The reason I was laughing is that no one complained since the internal temperature of the hut was a balmy 37 degrees! So we helped the couple of troopers from the trip, especially Bobbi who is really an overcomer, who were hurting the most to get warm and then we crashed for about 12 hours.

Day 2: This one made it all worth it. The wind was still blowing like crazy but the sun was out and we could see Mt Adams, Mt. Hood and Mt St. Helens rising above the cloud cover in the distance. It happened to be my birthday and I found myself speechless in awe thanking God for such a wonderful gift. I was reminded of Psalm 19 vs 1-2 “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge” God brought His paintbrush out that morning for sure.

After a hearty breakfast prepared by our Sherpas we went out to do some ice ax and rope training. We headed up about 500 feet from camp training all the way and learning how to arrest ourselves if we fell and how to help others on our rope team. We really wanted to at least keep going higher or go back and gear up for a summit attempt a day early but our guides kept insisting that this was as far as we could go due to avalanche conditions. We understood but the glaciers looked so inviting and the weather and sights were so spectacular some of us were having a little trouble accepting it. Well we got our demonstration on the way down. I was leading the first rope team down and got a bit tangled up and ended up falling backwards so I ended up just sitting there on my butt on the slope with my feet below me. I wasn’t even moving when suddenly the whole top layer of icy snow all around me broke loose and down the mountain I went. I fell about 20 feet and then used my ax /to stop myself along with my rope mates digging in and arresting my slide. Kind of fun and we all got the point.

We spent the rest of the day enjoying the sights and talking with the others in camp and preparing for a summit push at around 2:00 in the AM if conditions permitted it or a leisurely descent if they did not. Regrettably the weather worsened once again and the avalanche dangers continued so we did not get a chance to go for the summit.

Day 3: After another hearty breakfast we got to go down at least part of the way in another blizzard. The highlight of the descent was all the glissading we did towards the bottom. Glissading is a fancy term for sitting down on your butt with a 50 lb pack on your back and letting gravity do the rest. I felt like one of those guys on the luge at the Olympics. Then it was a nice dinner followed by a ridiculously early morning return flight when I got to actually see Mt. Rainier for the first time from the plane while leaving. We are definitely coming back for another shot at it!