Conquering one of the tallest mountains in the contiguous 48 states is no small feat. That’s exactly what Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Samuel Stewart did June 8 when he reached the summit of Mt. Rainier with Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Colin Field.
Standing at 14,411 ft., Mt. Rainier is second in elevation in North America only to Mt. McKinley. With 36 square miles of permanent snowfields and glaciers covering the mountain, it is no surprise that proper preparation is a must.
“I grew up in Colorado so I’ve been hiking and climbing all my life,” said Stewart. “There were a few things that set it apart from other mountains I’ve climbed. For one, it’s the most glaciated mountain in the lower 48. Being from Colorado, I never climbed any glaciers or crossed any glaciers. So that’s a big hazard. You can fall into crevasses and there’s falling ice and rock. Also, it was a pretty long climb.”
Stewart and Field decided this hike is one they wanted to do without a guide. A guide is recommended for those not experienced or familiar with a mountain of this size and type. A guide will know the ropes of the mountain and be able to give some training to those wishing to hike to the top of Rainier.
Before attempting the summit, Stewart and Field hiked a few smaller peaks. They also hiked Rainier a few times prior to prepare, just never to the summit.
Making sure you have the proper gear is paramount to your safety and success. Some of the gear required to climb a mountain such as Rainier can be pricey, but can be rented from various outdoor stores. Some gear can even be found in Naval Station Everett’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation shop located in the Commons.
“You can’t prepare by just being physically ready,” said Field. “You need to be technically proficient. You need to know how to use your ropes and your crampons, self arrest and all your other gear.”
Cold weather gear is another must for prospective summit conquerors.
“You definitely need to have your cold weather gear,” said Stewart. “So [you need] your sleeping bag for those temperatures and enough layers and clothes to keep you warm. I own most of it but rented some of it.”
The journey to the summit on Rainier typically takes hikers around three days to complete. Stewart and Field embarked on their journey on a Friday at 1 a.m. and did not complete their hike down the mountain until Sunday evening.
“You start so early because that is when the snow is at its hardest point,” said Stewart. “When you’re crossing a glacier, a lot of the times you’ll walk right over crevasses and not even know about it because they’re covered with snow. So you want to go earlier so those snow bridges over the crevasses are stronger.”
The two Sailors reached the summit Sunday morning around 8 a.m.
“It was awesome,” said Stewart. “It was a great feeling. The view was breathtaking. You can’t beat it. Clear day-you could see all over. You were above the clouds. I plan on climbing it again.”
For this Sailor, this summit meant more than thin air and a beautiful view of the Cascades. He had achieved something most people never attempt.
“The benefit of climbing and hiking is the relationship it has to just everyday life,” said Stewart. “In everyday life you get into these situations where it feels like there’s this huge mountain in front of you. You can either go for it, do what ever it takes to reach the top and overcome these obstacles, or some people take the other route.”
Story by MC3 (SW/AW) Aiyana S. Paschal
Photos courtesy of MM2 Samuel Stewart