My friend, Mick called back to us as we crossed the upper reaches of the mountain.
This was it. This was the moment I’d been waiting over two years for.
It was 7:45 AM, we’d been climbing since 12:30, having rustled out of our tents under gray skies at 11:30 the night before.
My crampons dug into the snow, while my calves were trying and failing to bear the weight of my exhausted body. Every part screamed to stop and catch breath, as the summit ridge lay smothered in thick clouds. I was now at the highest elevation that I’d ever climbed, and the altitude made itself known, sucking out breath and energy as we walked by crevasses that fell into abyss-like depths. My pack, which was light, considering we had taken out the tents and cooking gear, felt like a ton-weight on my shoulders, bearing down on me with every step. I looked over my shoulder and in the break of the clouds, I could see the face of the mountain, bathed in a golden light from a partially obscured rising sun. I’d seen the sunrise on Rainier once before, but this time it was different. While in 2012, the sunrise over thick clouds was a forewarning of the storm we were about to run into, this time, it was hopeful and joyous, making us turn off our headlamps, and guiding to the long-awaited summit.
We climbed up a final steep snowbank, the spikes under our boots digging just millimeters into the thin ice and reached a plateau under a stony field of talus, that lead to the true summit. My companions forged ahead while I took an extra moment to regain my strength for the last 50-feet. Mick stayed with me and treaded behind as I began the exhausting climb up the ridge, my ice axe digging into the soft stones, as clouds enveloped the trail. I looked over to my left and in the break, I could make out the crater of this semi-active volcano, while the snow swirled all around us, coating my blue puffy jacket. As I got closer, I could see misty figures on the plateau, arms raised, cheering, beckoning me, and my eyes began to well. I heard the calls “C’mon Mike!”, “You got this!” and I stepped across onto the flat surface. My companions were cheering around me, I clutched my axe and felt a hand comfortably pat my back.
Then I began to cry.