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Alpine wildflowers greet us in a swirl of colour as we climb, giving way to rock and then ice fields higher up. Following in the footsteps other climbers had kicked in the snow, we trudged upwards, reaching our destination six and a half hours later.
Camp Muir, deriving its name from the naturalist John Muir, perches at 3,048 metres. Here a ranger station, solar toilets, a public shelter and a multitude of brightly coloured tents dotted the glacier.
After a restless sleep, the next day was spent preparing for the summit attempt. That night teams assembled in the moonlight and headed up. Choosing to stay behind as I hadn't had enough time to train for the summit push, I watched the procession of bobbing headlamps as the teams moved up the Ingraham Glacier Direct route and counted shooting stars as I shivered in the cold.
The wait seemed endless the following day so I killed time melting snow for drinking water. At last, 15 hours later, the team emerged over Cadever Gap and staggered towards camp.
Exhausted but elated, they had made the summit.
It was a profound experience for them all — I could see it in their eyes.
"At that altitude you definitely start to feel that you are pulling your breath in," said husband Simon describing his time on the summit.
"I felt very much alone up there and through that aloneness, I felt an immense connection and love for everyone close to me in my life."
Fallat noted that she not only felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, she also fulfilled a personal mission — to bury the ashes of a friend's son and read a letter of encouragement from her partner, Aimee Molinaro, who wasn't able to participate due to an injury.
Jane Metcalfe's son Eric died in 2001 from a brain tumour. She asked Fallat to take some of his ashes to the summit — the rest are spread all over the world, from the tops of mountains in France to the foothills of the Himalayas.
"He was a huge mountaineer and had been to Rainier several times so it was awesome to get him back up there to rest," wrote Fallat in an email. "His ashes are all over the place as friends continue to take him where he loved going."
Hours later, as we drive back to the big city and the massive mountain shrinks in the distance in the rear view mirror, I think to myself that this is more than just a mountain — it's become a place for people to challenge themselves, to undertake an immense physical and mental test, to be humbled by nature's fury and to find solace in the clouds.
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