Thirty years is a long time to be doing anything, let alone yearly summit attempts on 14,411-foot Mount Rainier -- the most glaciated mountain in the Lower 48, and one of the most demanding technical mountaineering climbs in the United States. But that's what JanSport just completed at its 30th Annual Mount Rainier Dealer Seminar June 9-15 in conjunction with Rainier Mountaineering Inc.
Besides hitting the big 3-O milestone, this year's trip was exceptional because the JanSport entourage broke a summitless dry spell that began following a successful summit bit in June 1997 (SNEWS® co-publisher Michael Hodgson sat on the summit with Lou Whittaker and Sherpa Nawang Gombu on that trip). JanSport reported 19 of 22 team members successfully summited Mount Rainier June 14.
Unlike recent years past, where howling winds, avalanche danger and white-outs KO'ed any summit attempt beyond the 10,000-foot Muir Camp, this year's conditions cooperated beautifully. The JanSport crew had a four-day string of cloudless, virtually windless days that helped climbers reel in Rainier via the Ingraham Direct Route, according to a SNEWS® reporter on the scene.
Nice weather played a huge factor in summiting, but it wasn't a cake walk. Routes change in technical difficulty every year, and Ingraham Direct was full of challenges for the crew. Sheet ice, a patchwork of dicey crevasses, rotten rock falls and considerable exposure were constant companions. RMI guides minimized the risks by lacing up the infamous Ingraham Headwall with running belays, and installing an aluminum ladder to cross a yawning crevasse. It was thrills without the spills, our reporter told us.
A partial roll call of the JanSport team included Lowa/JanSport rep Mark Fulton (his second Rainier summit with JanSport), JanSport exec Tim McGuire (his sixth Rainier trip), REI's Jody Hall and Nancy Shimizu, Mexican distributors and brothers Louis and Ricardo Garcin, and 17-year-old Tad McCrea, nephew of Adventure 16 president John Mead.
RMI guides included Phil Ershler, fresh from his second successful Mount Everest bid, which he did with his wife -- the first husband/wife team to top Everest. Another JanSport guide was Kurt Wedberg, an Everest alum and ordained minister who only seven days earlier plunged into a 60-foot crevasse with a couple he was to marry on Rainier's summit. Kurt ended up clawing his way out with a single ice ax and helped coordinate the successful rescue of the couple. The worst injury was the women's broken ankle, and maybe Kurt's pride. Our reporter -- darn -- didn't tell us if the couple actually tied the knot!
Showing up for the ancillary festivities were JanSport friends Sherpa Nawang Gombu, director of the Himalayan Mountain Institute and the first person to climb Everest twice; and Mr. Lungs himself, Ed Viesturs, who was seen hanging about with Skip Yowell and a videographer who's working on an upcoming JanSport video.
After bagging the summit, the group returned to RMI headquarters to enjoy another well-worn JanSport tradition at a nearby bar, the kind of activity where swinging an ice ax is replace by a lot of hoots, hollers, high-fives and bottoms-ups. (SNEWS®' eyes on the party learned that McGuire has a fondness for pushing shots of Jaegermeister…. Pass it on.)
JanSport throws this annual high-altitude shindig as a way to connect with its dealers, reps, some media types and others in the outdoor food chain. The five-day RMI seminar includes all the essential mountaineering skills for tackling the big 14er.
SNEWS® View: Our hats are off to JanSport for continuing to support the opportunity for outdoor industry veterans and newcomers to cut their teeth first-hand on an adventure that might otherwise be unattainable to many. Having participated in one successful climb ourselves, prior to this, we can attest to the life-altering experience many retailers feel when on the mountain's shoulder and then at its top. We've lost count of the number of JanSport Rainier participants who've gone on to become future guides, store owners, top reps -- industry leaders all. There's no better way to inspire than simply getting out there.