"From the first time I saw Mount Rainier, I felt some strange connection to it," Brazil resident Shawn Lucas said. "I always dreamed of one day climbing it."
A friendship developed between Lucas and one of his customers, Scott McGregor, in Yakima, Wash. After mentioning his desire to someday climb Mount Rainier, Lucas discovered that McGregor shared the same idea.
In 2002, they agreed to climb the mountain before turning 40-years-old in 2008, but life and time crept by.
"It's human nature to procrastinate," Lucas said about the delay. "Our goal was to do it before we turned 40, and we were both running out of time."
In January of this year they decided to get serious and set the climb date for September.
Once the decision was made, Lucas was ready to go, but climbing Mount Rainier isn't something climbers rush to do.
With some of the largest and most dangerous glaciers in the United States south of Alaska, climbing Mount Rainier is difficult. Requiring at least two to three days to reach the summit, climbing teams require experience in glacier travel, self-rescue and wilderness travel. Although 8,000-13,000 climbers safely reach the top of the mountain, about three climbers are killed each year because of rock, ice and snow avalanches or from hypothermia due to the severe weather conditions on the mountain.
To plan a climb on Mount Rainier, officials at the mountaineering service recommend climbers train and condition for at least 12 months before their scheduled climb date.
Safety was a concern for both men, but they were anxious and determined to reach their goal.
"We used a well-known and respected guide service, Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. from Ashford, Wash.," Lucas said. "We also chose the four-day summit climb, the longest they offer."
Before they could attempt to ascend the mountain, Lucas and McGregor had to attend climbing school the first day they arrived at Mount Rainier.
Lucas said they learned how to properly breath at high altitude, how to self arrest and team arrest to prevent falls; rest-stepping to transfer weight to the skeletal structure in order to relax overused muscles; and the basics of acting in unison on a rope team.
The second day the two men, loaded down with 60-pound packs, hiked more than 5,000 feet to reach Camp Muir, located at 10,080' elevation, around 5:30 p.m. Tired, they ate dehydrated meals and rested for the night, while temperatures dropped to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Our water froze solid overnight, Lucas said.
After spending a day to adjust to the lower air pressure at higher altitude, the senior guide, who had 12 years of experience guiding climbers on Rainier, informed the group that unseasonably warm weather had eroded some of the snow/ice fields making a longer, circuitous route necessary and this would be the longest summit attempt ever.
"He said we would also be adding 1,000 feet of climbing since we had to sacrifice some altitude after gaining it in order to traverse some too wide ice crevasses," Lucas said.
Shortly after midnight on Monday, Sept. 10, the group of six men woke up in preparation for the climb to the summit of Mount Rainier, but they had to make some tough decisions along the way.
"We knew we would stop hourly for rest, and that after the second rest stop, it was all or nothing for the summit," Lucas said, explaining that if anybody elected to turn around after the second stop, the whole group would have to go. "I think that knowledge coupled with treacherous icy terrain that we knew was to come forced the decision on several of the others to turn back."
Four members of the original group stayed behind, including McGregor, only Lucas and the guide continued on to the summit in the early morning darkness.
Lucas admits that it probably was a good thing the ascent was made in the darkness with only headlamps to light the way.
"I was a bit apprehensive," Lucas said about the danger of the climb. "On the ascent, we were doing so in darkness; on the descent we could see in the light of day what our headlamps didn't show."
The two men were unable to see the treacherous ice crevasses, some that dropped hundreds of feet, they were going over and around on the way to the top of Mount Rainier.
"Once I made that decision to continue, I put the body on auto-pilot and simply went step after step for the next 4 hours," he said. "At 6:15 a.m., we made our final rest, looking out at Mount Adams, before the summit."
Knowing the goal was only 30 minutes away; Lucas couldn't help but get excited and want to push onwards.
"We reached the summit of Mt. Rainier, 14,410 feet, at 6:45 a.m.," Lucas said. "I don't mind saying I cried. It was a flood of emotions. I can't explain them all, and I think only a true poet could find the descriptive prose necessary to translate the intangible feelings to words. I re-established complete confidence in myself to overcome adversity in order to reach my goal."