We met our party in the climber's registration area at the Timberline Lodge. It was 11:30 pm and the room was a quiet swirl of excitement, nerves, and cold mountain air. After a word from our fearless leader, we split up pickets and ropes and began our ascent up the the climber's route along the Palmer Glacier.
The moon and the summit remained shrouded in black: our headlamps provided the only light and our feet the only view. Earlier climbers offered flickering beacons along the high walls of the mountain. They were inviting us to join them while reminding us of the thousands of vertical feet remaining.
By the top of the Palmer, two in the party had turned back. The remaining climbers attached crampons and forged ahead. We began moving west along a steep snow field as we approached Crater Rock. We could see our first challenge, the walls of the West Crater Rim. Our leader continuously evaluated the walls of the crater, displeased with what he was seeing. "It's all rotten!" Just what we wanted to hear.
We reached a staging area as the sun peeked over the horizon behind the mountain, turning it into a sun dial and casting its shadow for hundreds of miles. As the light picked up, so did the wind. Ice and rocks were chased out of the Devil's Kitchen by sulfar scented gusts. Time to get going. Split into three rope teams of three, our party began the steep ascent on the least rotten stretch of ice available. The climb was slow and demanded faith in our axes, crampons, and pickets.
At the top of the rim, we traversed to the Old Chute for the final push to the summit. We worked up the steps planted by the parties before us, weaving through the bottleneck of excited climbers. At the top, the wind was howling, but it couldn't spoil the view- or the delicious cheeseburger we were about to eat. We were greeted with bluebird skies and a backdrop of St. Helens, Rainier, and Adams to the north; Jefferson and the Sisters to the south, and a juicy Hawthorne Hamburger Project burger to top it all off.
We couldn't stay long, as the rising sun was melting our descent route and powerful gusts threatened to force us off the narrow ledge where we'd paused for pictures and burgers. We headed back along the knife edge of the rim, down the Old Chute, and across the Hogsback. We were able to glissade from the Steel Cliffs back down to the Palmer, then slog the rest of the way to the parking lot for hard earned snow cones and beer, and eventually, more burgers.