Labor Day

Posted by Ken Campbell September 6, 2011 0 Comment 1001 views

I can hear the thunder of rock fall from somewhere to the west but I never see it. Except once. Clouds of dust and debris hang in the air and huge boulders bounce down the steep terrain and make me glad that I am over here, instead of over there. Mostly though, the visible signs of falling rock are over by the time the sound reaches my ears.
We’re climbing up to Camp Muir on a perfect bluebird day. It’s Labor Day and the mountain is crowded, very unlike what it will be when we come back here in a month, for our summit bid. Today we’re in shorts and t-shirts, light packs and no worries.

Ned is testing his rebuilt achilles tendon, seeing if it is up to the effort of climbing again. After 14 years as a guide on this mountain, he wasn’t sure how well it would go. From where I’m standing, he doesn’t need to worry much; he’s a climbing machine.
Ned’s daughter Camille and her boyfriend Brad round out our little group. They are going on the climb next month as well, along with a couple others who aren’t with us today. I suppose this qualifies as “training,” but it doesn’t feel like it to me. It mostly feels like a great day to be alive.

Rainier is a long walk uphill, at least here on the south side. “The autobahn.” Just follow the steps of the thousands of others who have come before you this year, follow their tracks in the snow. If you’re looking for solitude or alpine challenges, you’ll need to look further up the mountain, and probably on a different route. Still, the views are insanely beautiful and conditions couldn’t be better.
The hike up to Muir takes us a little over 4 hours. Not overly fast but still respectable. We eat or sandwiches while Ned tells us stories of his many visits to this spot, his home-away-from-home. The bunkhouse and cook shack, stone architecture so perfect and precise, belong to the location and seem to have grown in place, not just built there. They are solid and permanent, at least as permanent as the mountain itself.
At one point, I ask someone to take a picture of Ned and me. As we stand there together, I mention to him that, at that particular moment, it looks like we might be the oldest people there at Camp Muir. He looks at the groups of other climbers and hikers for a few seconds, and concurs. “That’s happening a lot more often these days,” I say, and we both laugh. A little.
On the hike/slide/tumble back down to Paradise, we cross paths with at least three different guided groups, tramping single-file up the snow slope, purposefully fighting gravity, pressure breathing, rest-stepping. Ned knows all the guides and each of them stops their group for a moment to catch up with his life and ask about what he’s doing now. I feel like I’ve broken into a family reunion that doesn’t involve me and I continue on down, chasing Brad and Camille down the hill.

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