To most people with two feet planted on solid ground, a mountain is no more than an eye-pleasing vista, an earthly gentle-giant posing for a tourist’s camera. The mountain is harmless as long as it is seen from a safe distance.
Some people, however, see a mountain as a conquerable object.
This May, a group of 14 members of the ISU Mountaineering & Climbing Club plan to summit Mt. Rainier — one of the tallest and most challenging peaks in North America.
The ISU Mountaineering & Climbing Club recently climbed Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, both of which tower over 14,000 feet into the thin Colorado air. But the Mt. Rainier climb will be their most bold summit attempt yet.
Mt. Rainier, located in Washington, stretches 14,441 feet above sea level — equivalent to nearly 48 Statue of Liberties stacked on top of each other.
Colton Kennedy, coordinator and lead climber for the Mt. Rainier expedition, is well aware of the audacity of this trip. He has stood atop the peak of Mt. Rainier four times prior to leading this particular expedition.
“We haven’t done anything this serious before. … There has been a lot of hiking and climbing trips, but this is the first true mountaineering trip that has been done in a long time," Kennedy said.
A summit attempt of this magnitude requires months of intricate planning and strenuous training. “We train 2 to 3 times a week, doing things like hill-running, cardio training, hiking and weightlifting,” Kennedy said.
Leah Merner, senior in mechanical engineering and international studies, will be participating in the climb this May. Merner and her teammates have been training intensively for the last 10 weeks.
“We have weekly meetings where we learn mountaineering skills like knots and rope team travel. … You can often find us traveling through Beyer Hall connected in rope teams,” Merner said.
Training is vital to the success of the climb. On a crevasse-ridden mountain like Mt. Rainier where disaster lurks at every step, climbers must be ready to save themselves or a fellow climber.
“You aren’t just preparing for the perfect day. You are preparing for the disaster scenario. If something goes wrong, you need to be able to do whatever it takes. The mountain is very unpredictable,” Kennedy said.
Mt. Rainier has long been a popular destination for adventure-seekers. Every year, thousands of climbers set out to conquer the peak and a much fewer amount of people actually make it to the top.
On average, about five Iowans per year travel to Washington to climb Mt. Rainier. The ISU Mountaineering & Climbing Club will nearly triple that amount this year.
The risks involved with climbing Mt. Rainier are very serious, but the climbers leave any doubts or fears they have at the foot of the mountain.
Chris Stolte, junior in software engineering, looks forward to reaching the summit this May.
“When I’m on a summit of a mountain, I know only a small percentage of people have seen what I’m looking at from that point of view. You get a whole new level of appreciation for nature."