Go climb a glacier!

What I wrote for The Gazette today:

It’s the middle of June, and Adam Zawilinksi is hoping the snow holds off.

Zawilinksi is leaving for Seattle from Albany International Airport today at 7 a.m. From Seattle he will take an hour and a half bus ride to Mount Rainier, which towers over the Cascade Range as the most prominent mountain in the United States, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

This trip is why Zawilinski is spending his summer days thinking about snow.

He and his brother Paul plan to hike to the top of the 14,411-foot mountain over a four-day span. “It’s supposed to snow the first two days but we’re hoping it clears up,” he said.

Zawilinski, a 36-year-old state auditor from Scotia, is embarking on the trip with a hiking company called Alpine Ascents International, based in Seattle. He and Paul will climb Rainier with a group of 8-10 other people from all over the country and four guides.

The easiest way up is a rock/ice climb via Disappointment Cleaver. The Zawilinksi’s aren’t taking the easiest route, though.

Their climb is called the Emmons glacier climb and offers experienced alpinists an unusual opportunity to climb America’s most distinguished mountain via a lesser traveled route, according to Alpine Ascents.

This will be the brothers’ second attempt at the climb. They tried in 2004 but a snowstorm stopped them after they had reached about 10,000 feet. Zawilinksi said the rest of the climb was canceled because the weather posed a significant safety threat.

“We’re going back because we want to finish it,” said Zawilinski, who has also climbed various mountains in New York state including Mount Marcy.

Mount Rainier is about 500,000 years old, according to the USGS. In 1870, Hazard Stevens and P.B. Van Trump became the first to ascend the mountain.

Mount Rainier is considered an active “stratovolcano,” which is a volcano composed of layers of lava and volcanic ash, and though it hasn’t erupted since 1894, it could still pose a threat.

According to the USGS, Rainier is capable of producing pyroclastic flows as well as lava. The mountain is inside Mount Rainier National Park, which has 26 major glaciers and 35 square miles of permanent snowfields.

Mount Rainier is one of the most glacial mountains in the United States, meaning a large percentage of its surface area is covered with glacial ice more often than not.

“In 2004 we were kind of taken aback by all the signs that said ‘volcanic eruption escape route,’” Zawilinksi said. “But it was a good experience and we want to do the whole thing.”

Zawilinski will tackle this climb with 50 to 60 pounds of supplies on his back. He has rented supplies from Alpine Ascents, including double plastic boots and winter hiking gear.

What else has Zawilinksi done to prepare for this potentially dangerous climb? “I’ve been running and doing basic cardio to prepare, but that’s really all you can do.”

“The whole trip should take about four days, we have a day of cushion just in case we need more time with anything,” Zawilinksi said. “Hopefully the weather will hold out and we will finish this time.”

Reach Gazette intern Caitlin Tremblay at 374-4141, ext. 4080.


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