Think Rainier In A Day Is Tough? Try Biking There, First.

Just to set the record straight, this idea was not mine. In fact, I tried to distance myself from this idea from its inception.

This Feels Like A Bad Idea

My friend Dan had climbed Mt Rainier a few times in a single day from Paradise, and was was looking to add to the challenge. He called me up with an idea in late fall, 2010:

“Lyle, what if we ride our bikes from my house in Magnolia, climb Rainier from Paradise, and then ride back to my place?”

I thought this could be fun, and asked,“Will your wife drive the support car?”

“No, you don’t understand. We have to do this totally unsupported, a human-powered adventure.” 

I couldn’t fathom how we would get our climbing gear to the mountain, but Dan explained that we would carry it in panniers, of course. I started to avoid Dan, screening his calls for the next couple of months.

The Fatal Mistake: Commitment

After multiple messages, I finally answered Dan’s call about his Ranier By Bike Fiasco. He had started calling the adventure this because it seemed doomed to failure. 

Extremely discouraged, Dan told me that everyone he mentioned his plan to thought he was insane. A few of his biking friends showed interest initially, but once they realized all the plan would entail, they all dropped out. Dan and I have had many great adventures together, and I couldn’t bear to hear the disappointment in his voice. In a moment of weakness, I committed the tragic mistake: I told him that I really didn’t want to ride my bike to Rainier, but if he couldn’t find anyone else for the Fiasco by July, I would go with him.

An avid road racer and single-speed cyclocross competitor, Dan rides his bike pretty much every day. I mostly get dropped and end up limping home by myself when I do local Tuesday evening rides in Bellingham. The summer of the Fiasco, I had done one training ride from Glacier to Mt. Baker Ski Area with my girlfriend, Kelly, and maybe ridden a couple of times around Lake Whatcom. The longest I had ridden my bike was a single day STP two summers before, when I swore I would never ride that far again. I was definitely not planning to ride the Fiasco.

Two-Wheeled Makeover

Dan transformed my only road bike, an aluminum and carbon racing bike, into a heavy touring bike complete with steel wheels, fatter tires, a softer seat, and panniers. I could barely lift it off the ground when it was loaded with climbing gear. I just hoped that the brakes would still work with all the weight bearing down on them. I persuaded Dan to plan to stay the night at the Paradise Lodge instead of camping, but except for summit-day food, we would buy food along the way instead of carrying it.

We packed minimal equipment. We each brought trekking poles—no ice axe, strap-on aluminum crampons made for running shoes, light leather climbing boots (i.e. La Sportiva Trango S), a light harness, minimal crevasse rescue kit, and a 30m randonnee rope. Our layers for climbing were biking clothes. We each had a jersey, spandex biking shorts, arm warmers, leg warmers, OR Foray Pants, OR Helium Jacket, a down sweater and a Ferrosi Hoody. We figured our summit day would require more water than we could carry, so we took a Jetboil. Everything fit neatly into our panniers, except the ski poles strapped on top, which I would forgot about every time I dismounted, smacking my leg each time.

Day One: Paradise Bound

We shoved off from Magnolia at 5 a.m., and it surprised me how long it took just to get out of Seattle. We would stop every hour or so at convenience stores to refuel on junk food—maybe not the greatest idea. I think the Choco Tacos and the Drumsticks cost us about two hours over the course of the 13-hour ride to Paradise. We took our time, sitting down for lunch at the Fred Meyer Deli in Orting and buying the snacks we needed for the next day’s ascent before we started the climb to Paradise. The Fiasco might not be a failure after all, we thought.

Just past Longmire, we noticed it was getting late. We had planned to have dinner at the Paradise Inn and talking about it all day long, dreaming of a nice, big steak, maybe a baked potato. Halfway up the climb to Paradise, we realized: We might miss dinner. 

With just the meager snacks we had in our packs to make it up and down Ranier, our whole plan depended on making it to dinner at the Paradise Inn. We started taking turns pulling each other up the road, legs numb to the pain of hours on the bike, lungs suffering. We made it to the lodge just in time. Exhausted and still in spandex, we ate mostly in silence—quite a feat for Dan. We didn’t get to bed until 10 p.m., having showered, cleaned our bike clothes in the sink, and prepared for the next slog. Our alarm was set for midnight. 

Day Two: Climbing In Bike Clothes

With only a couple of hours of sleep, we slipped into our wet bike clothes and headed out the door. I don’t remember much between Paradise and Camp Muir. It was dark and I’m sure I slept most of the walk. We roped up for glacier travel at a quiet Camp Muir. at about 4 a.m. We had the climbing route mostly to ourselves until we passed the parties coming down from the summit. At the top of the Disappointment Cleaver we stopped  to brew up, taking turns napping and refilling our CamelBaks. The last few hundred feet to the crater seemed to take forever—which is usually the case, in my experience—but that day it seemed particularly never ending. At the summit, Dan and I hugged with little excitement and then just sat in the sun to bask in our accomplishment for about 30 minutes. There was not a cloud in the sky and it was still cold enough to preserve climbing conditions late into the day. We couldn’t have asked for better as we passed through Camp Muir and then strode into Paradise for another steak dinner.

Day Three: I Thought This Would Be Downhill

After a couple of beers at Paradise, we passed out.  Waking late, we ate breakfast and were on the road by 9 a.m. I had this crazy idea that the trip back would be mostly downhill. But after a quick descent from Paradise, it felt like we climbed all the way back to Seattle, arriving in South Seattle at about 7 p.m., but it took us until 10 p.m. to get all the way to Dan’s house in Magnolia. Legs flat, I left my bike at Dan’s, had a celebratory beer and drove to my girlfriend’s house.

In the end, the Fiasco wasn’t a Fiasco at all. We planned, prepared and hit the weather perfectly for a fantastic three-day “human-powered adventure.” It took a lot of effort,  and I’m not sure when I’ll ride my bike again—I think my ass is still suffering from saddle sores, and my bike is still in storage at Dan’s place. but I’m thinking of going by and grabbing it one of these days. I might like to take a little ride.