Climbing Mt. Rainier

Several months ago Will Hodgman, CEO of AdRelevance, recommended I read The Worst Journey in the World, a book about an expedition to the South Pole that took place almost a hundred years ago. Will lives in Seattle, is an accomplished rock- and mountain climber, and accounts of hazardous adventure appeal to him. The Worst Journey in the World, all 600 pages of it, still awaits my reading, but Will and I, along with three others, staged our own little reenactment last week.

AdRelevance and Evaliant spent the last three years competing in the challenging Web ad tracking space, fighting the frustrating battle for shrinking research dollars in an industry that was melting faster than an ice cube on pavement in July. But our competition didn’t stop Will and me from forming a relationship based on everything other than business; it’s far more interesting to compete against someone you know than a disembodied name.

More than a year ago, Will and I agreed to climb Mt. Rainier, a 14,411-foot dormant volcano outside Seattle, and the date we set was September 15, 2001. After a summer spent training and running up stairs, I felt ready for the challenge. But, of course, events intervened and the climb couldn’t take place on September 15. We postponed until June 14, 2002, and my training had to continue through the winter and spring.



Here’s the truth about this climb: I had little idea of what I was really in for. Having done some climbing in the Northeast, particularly in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, I felt prepared. But what I didn’t know was that the White Mountains are anthills compared to the Northwest’s Cascades, and that the Cascades are just the foothills of Mt. Rainier.

We took off on a sunny morning, carrying our sixty—60!—pound backpacks up a trail that refused to level off. Hour after hour it was step…step…step…step…step. Nothing ever got any closer. The ridgeline seemed just as far away as it had been hours ago. I began to hallucinate about attaching helium balloons to my backpack, which I began to hate with an intensity I didn’t know I had. Misery stimulated a torrent of random questions: Why are there no Sherpas on American mountains? Why did I decide to do this in the first place? Who played the starring role in A Clockwork Orange? How is it possible for a human being to sweat so much? Why is the ‘k’ in ‘knee’ silent? And so on, for an eternity.

After six hours, 64 ounces of water, four Balance bars, a half pound of cheddar cheese, a peanut-and-honey bagel, and gobs of trail mix, we reached Camp Schurman, ‘high camp’ at 9600 feet. Camp Schurman is a semi-flat postage stamp perched between two glaciers, and consists of a telephone-booth-size ranger station, an outhouse, and a half-dozen climber-filled tents. The camp also offers breathtaking views of the Cascades, views I was only able to appreciate after my pictures came back from CVS. There is lots of water all around Camp Schurman, but it’s of the white variety that requires defrosting. So we set up little stoves, melted snow, and ate surprisingly tasty freeze-dried dinners. But I suspect that after the day’s labors chalk-covered cardboard would have gotten a similar reception from the taste buds.

Nightfall, a short four-hour rest (fully dressed) in sleeping bags, then a 1 a.m. wake-up call for the rest of the climb to Rainier’s summit. The climb starts out in darkness, with the aid of headlamps, team roped together, crampons on boots, ice axe in hand. When I say ‘team roped together’ I am referring to the other four members of our team, those daring enough to take on the challenge of the final four thousand feet. With a sobriety that surprised me, I decided to deal with the challenge by remaining in my sleeping bag. Never did the phrase ‘discretion is the better part of valor’ have so much meaning for me.

The rest of the team was able to gain the summit and get back to Camp Schurman in the stunningly short time of eight and a half hours, returning almost completely drained of energy and emotion.

The trip down was not uneventful—an ugly, slushy wall had to be traversed—but the rest was, if I can use the word in this context, fun. We glissaded (read: slid on our butts) down approximately two and a half thousand feet in seven minutes, a distance it had taken us two and a half hours to climb. The rest of the hike out was just a walk in the woods. Downhill beats uphill anytime.

I was, of course, exaggerating when I referred to The Worst Journey in the World in relation to this climb. It only seemed that way during the sweatiest times. It was clear, however, that here two Web competitors worked successfully toward a common goal.



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