To my sons…

22 Jul

In The Beginning…

joseph1

Joseph in Iraq

The climbing started around 20 years ago. Your uncle Joseph had signed up with the Marines and before he actually went to Boot the recruiters took him, a few other recruits and potential recruits out to some cliffs for some old-fashioned rappelling. I went along because – well why not, it seemed like a fun thing to do. There we learned to tie rope harnesses and rappel. We spent the day rappelling and generally horsing around. Apparently the whole thing was a ruse though – to show potential recruits that were not yet signed up just how fun being in the Marines was. The ploy worked for some of the naive ones; as history confirms, I was wise to their ways.

This newly acquired knowledge and skill was not forgotten on those cliffs. The next few months were spent roaming the town with various friends in the very early morning climbing various buildings and a sundry of objects; each new building climbed increased our confidence and caused us to set our heights anew…but it was not long until Joseph shipped off to boot camp. And it wasn’t long after that all four of us brothers had left Montana and went our separate ways in pursuit of our careers, education, and to build a life. Of course we stayed in touch and tried to see each other when we could. But the visits were almost always brief and not very involved. Each of us got married, and after 9/11 all three of your uncles went off to war, we had children of our own…

Now, almost 20 years later, your uncles are nearing their military retirements. The last 20 years have not been dull, they have been packed full of experiences for myself and your uncles. Our lives could never be described as “not fulfilling”. Sure, your uncles and I have seen our share of disappointments, experienced loss, and have been through some difficult times; but those things do not compare in scale to those things we have also been blessed with…

It is a McCarty trait to lean towards the adventurous side of life even from earliest times when our ancestors had rule of Southern Ireland. It was the valiant that achieved and maintained rule there and we did so for nearly three millennia. And when our ancestors were exiled by Cromwell, some sought continuance on the continent of Europe, but our family chose to forge a new life as common men on the frontier of the New World; not afraid of the ocean to get there nor what might await them on the other side. This example, and this history, is your inheritance and you need to take time and consider it. As you know, I too have traveled the world, hiked various mountains and canyons, run various mud races and marathons, and I have been on many other adventures you are privy to; this is my example to you. Your uncles also have experienced much in these ways in the military; this is their example to you. The willingness to endure hardness has been crucial to our success in life. If you learn this lesson, it will serve you well.

The Question and Answer

Last July your uncle Joseph attempted to summit Mt. Rainier; the attempt was not successful. He did not know it at the time but it was providential that it was not a success. Disappointed he planned to attempt again and asked me if I wanted to go. I ignored him as I always ignore such ludicrous requests; I live in Oklahoma. Mount Rainier is in Washington. I have a busy life; so many other things to do. There just wasn’t time unless I could find a three-day weekend. It would mean no family ski trip this year. But a seed of adventure was planted. For every reason I could think of not going a solution would work its way through. The last time your uncle and I went climbing together was a hot summer night in Montana. There was a group of 5 or 6 of us that night. The mosquitoes were out in force but the water tower would take all of ten minutes to scale. Several people started to ascend the tower, and right before your uncle Joseph and I went up, a police officer pulled over a speeder and they stopped right next to the water tower. We lay still in the grass for about 30 minutes, trying not to be detected, but being eaten by mosquitoes. Those already on the tower froze in position and hoped the officer didn’t look up at the brightly lit tower and see them. By the time the officer drove off our friends were in no mood to climb anymore. We called it a night and went home failing to achieve our objective. We never went back to climb that tower. By December of last year I had made up my mind. I told your uncle that I would climb Mount Rainier with him, and that this time, on this climb, it would be just the two of us and that we would not fail…

I am not a “mountain climber”. I have done my fair share of hiking and adventuring. I think that the closest thing to what I was about to do was hiking perhaps the toughest and most notorious route on the Southern rim of the Grand Canyon, the Tanner Trail. It was tough but it was certainly doable by most anybody with a moderate level of fitness. There is nothing technical about it. Rainier would be different – as Rainier is one of the tallest Mountains in the United States and the Grand Canyon, well it’s a canyon, which is kind of like a mountain in reverse without the thin air, but that was over 10 years ago…

Mount Rainier can be a dangerous mountain. The mountain claims people’s lives every year. There were six people who died just a few months before I went. Their bodies are still on the mountain. Naturally, your mother did not ask me not to go but she also did not want me to go. We discussed it at length. We discussed the risks, her fears, the silent mocking or ridicule from others should I lose my life on this quest. I explained that the virtues I wish to uphold, and for my sons to have, now require me to fulfill my word; if I were to live, or to die, my sons would never be without a Father, and she would never be without a Husband. The cowards who might mock me would be alive, but they would have to continue to live their petty existence; never venturing, and never achieving: never coming to know what living really is. So does one have to do hard things to be a man? The world will tell you, “No”, but that is a siren lie. The answer is, “Yes.” Of course this does not mean you have to climb a mountain, what it means is that you must learn to keep your word.

Preparing

Paradise Base Camp

Paradise Base Camp

I normally train for power to better compete in the Highland Games. But after the spring games in Yukon I switched to Crossfit in order to increase my overall fitness and most importantly my metabolic conditioning. To deal with the altitude I also started using special breathing exercises where you forcefully breathe through ever smaller straws in order to strengthen your diaphragm and increase lung capacity and efficiency. I reviewed various equipment recommendations, read some about the climb itself, and reviewed my knots focusing on self rescue. I did much research, but as is true of many things in life, only experience can bring you the true impact of the words of those that have gone before. My brother went out to the mountain several times as the time drew closer to get a view of what we were up against. We chose the weekend of July the 4th – the three-day weekend I needed. I would arrive on Thursday. The next few days would be for preparation and Rest. Sunday we would begin our ascent. We would summit the mountain in 2 days since we were on a time budget, though most people take 3 or 4 days. I did plan a third extra day in case something held us back.

The mountain report was positive. The rangers reported the route to the summit has “never looked better, with only one crevasse and it had a ladder bridge already over it”. The weather forecast was perfect. Now, the rangers turned out to be wrong on some points but they were immaterial. The crucial thing was the weather. Nobody makes it to the summit of Rainier if the weather does not cooperate. My brother and I had spent thousands of dollars up to this point and taken valuable vacation time to summit Mount Rainier, we trained and prepared but there is only so much a man can do alone. But I am not alone. There is a God in heaven, and as evidence of that weekend’s weather, He hears the prayers of faithful men. My sons, this too is a lesson that will serve you well.

The Mountain

Sunday July 6, 2014 about 5 AM

The alarm went off at 5 AM. We checked our gear one more time, loaded the truck and off we went only to return 30 seconds later to retrieve my hat…good thing, I needed that hat. We then drove the several hours to Paradise at Mount Rainier, elevation 5400 feet. Where we live in Edmond Oklahoma the Elevation is 1198 feet. Paradise is already a third way up the mountain. When I got out of the truck I could tell the air was thin. The smell of the pine and the thin air reminded me of Montana when I was young…and I realized for the first time that I can remember that I missed it. We put our packs on. Mine was 55 lbs and your uncle’s was 70 lbs. A bit on the heavy side, but it didn’t seem so at first.

We trekked past a snow-covered meadow and some foot hills, past Pebble Creek and then we ventured onto the Muir Snow Field that would take us to Base Camp Muir. The snow field is where it got steep. It was slow going with your uncle setting the pace as his pack was heaviest. We stopped for lunch at some point, shared two quarts of water with a day hiker that was running low, and by the time we got to Camp Muir we had gone through about 4 to 5 quarts of water each.

It was almost 11 hours to Camp Muir. It took much longer than we thought it would and we were more exhausted than we thought we would be but no matter, we were only four hours to the summit. We were also out of water so we set up camp and began the slow process of melting snow to get more water for the summit climb. We ate dinner, checked in with the ranger. Our clothes were soaked with sweat so we changed into new clothes as soon as we could. Though it was fairly cold during the day we were mostly running hot from the amount of work we had to do carrying our packs up to Camp Muir. As the sun set and the wind picked up the temperature dropped quickly. The air was noticeably thinner now. Elevation: 10, 080 feet.

We got to bed around 9:30 or 10:00 PM. We slept for two hours, if you can call it that. It wasn’t good sleep – the cold prevented us from really sleeping well. I woke with an intense crick in my neck. Too many years of soft living I suppose. I remember being very hungry. My dinner had not filled me.

Monday July 7, 2014 Midnight

At midnight we got up; put our summit gear on, leaving most of our gear in the tent. Our packs were probably less than 30 pounds now. We took our ice axe but left our poles – we should have taken those. It was dark and you could see a string of lights out on the route under the rock fall area where paid guides were taking people up already. Some of them would make it, some would not. It was the first time I began to feel real excitement about making it to the summit.

We left at midnight because the snow is cold and stays in place, the crevasses are at their smallest and not as likely to widen. Looking back on it, it probably would have been better to climb the Muir Snow Field at night too since the snow would not give as much. The first place on the route that you go through is the rock fall area. We could hear the rocks falling the evening before. When there was a bunch of rock collapse off of the wall it sounded like thunder and we thought it was a distant avalanche at first. We began to realize it was the rocks and not the snow and that they were much closer than we thought. On this part of the route, since the rocks can fall on you, the instructions were to move through this area fast and we did so. Looking at some of the freshly fallen rock as we passed by I was thinking that if we were hit by those rocks it would not be survivable. That encouraged us to move with a little more speed.

After the rock fall area is place called Cathedral Gap. This is steep area of sharp rock. The Gap was easy enough to climb, but a little cumbersome with the crampons since there was no snow. It did not seem to take too long to cross it. From there we passed on to Ingraham flats – a very large Glacier. Some choose to stay here instead of Base Camp Muir. It puts them an hour or so closer to the summit. Here we came across our first crevasse. It was the one with the ladder bridge already over it so crossing was not a problem.

After passing Ingraham flats we came to a place called Disappointment Cleaver. Aptly named, it is like a never-ending Cathedral Gap – with snow. It is here that most people decide not to continue or turn back. As we began to reach the top of the Cleaver, the sun began to squint over the horizon. As beautiful as it was, it was not particularly welcome. We were supposed to be on the summit by now, it was past 4 AM. Elevation: 12, 300 feet.

Monday July 7, 2014 about 5 AM

At this point the elevation was proving to be a serious contender. Just walking normally required breathing like I was in a brisk run. Everything was taxing. We brought trail mix but found we could not eat it though we were hungry. The chocolate M&M’s we could get down, but nothing else, and we had very little of them. We were tired from lack of sleep and physically worn out from the climb thus far and the wind made it rather cold. But that was o.k. We had water and we could see the summit. We guessed perhaps it was an hour away; it was not.

Hour after hour we slowly climbed our way up across switch back after switch back and across 2 crevasses and 2 so-called ice bridges that were not supposed to be there. My right hip flexor cramped making it painful to move and even more painful to stop. It was six more hours until we rounded the last switchback and peered into the crater.

Monday July 7, 2014 Noon

Matthew Signing the Log Book

Matthew Signing the Log Book

That’s right – Mount Rainier is not really a mountain – it is a volcano. No lava in the crater though. It was just full of snow. We walked across the crater, found the log book and wrote our names down for posterity.

So on July 7, 2014 at Noon, two brothers, members of the Mac Cárthaigh clan, stood on top of Mount Rainier. For almost an hour the great Mount Rainier remained under the boots of the McCartys. Elevation: 14,500 feet. The view was spectacular. We could see Mt Adams, Hood and St. Helens in the distance and they were below us. The sky was clear…God delivered the perfect weather we needed. We took a drink of whiskey and rested.

Joseph Resting on the Summit

Joseph Resting on the Summit

Getting Off the Mountain

Monday July 7, 2014 about 1 PM

We began our descent amid some consternation. There were two guys already at the summit and they left about the time we got there. The only other person was a woman and she was a bit bewildered because she had lost her climbing partner. They had made an amateurish mistake and separated. She descended to Disappointment Cleaver more or less with us in sight in case something went wrong. At this point all we could do is tell the rangers once we got back to Muir Base Camp. None of us were in any condition to help her partner if he had fallen somewhere.

Going down was easier but not easy. The snow was soft and slushy at times, the crevasses were bigger, and every so often your leg would sink into the snow all the way and your foot would seem like it was free swinging as in a pocket of air. Which means there is probably an open chamber below you, who knows how deep? We were out of water by the time we reached Muir Base Camp.

Monday July 7, 2014 about 5 PM

At Muir Base Camp we melted more snow and broke camp. As interesting as it was, it would be a place I would not miss. I borrowed a ranger’s phone and left your mother a voice mail letting her know that we had reached the summit and would be home soon. Little did I know that you and your brother were at Paradise with your cousins hoping you might see us come down. I am glad you got to see some of the mountain close up while we were in Washington.

We brought thin plastic children’s sleds for the descent on the Muir Snow Field. After a few different tries we settled on the best way. Put the pack on the sled, lay on the pack and go…and go we did! I have never been sledding faster – that I remember anyway. It was at times rough going. Depending on the snow conditions it was like being punched in the stomach – but we had not any food in our stomachs so it turned out o.k. Besides, it was worth it not to have to trudge down that snow field.

We had to continue several more hours to Paradise. My hip flexor’s cramp finally came out about this time. The loss of that pain was welcome and I started to feel like I had more energy.

Monday July 7, 2014 about 8 PM

We finally arrived at your uncle’s truck. I was dehydrated, hungry, my shoulders were rubbed raw from my pack, various muscles hurt, I was tired from no sleep and just plain exhaustion from moving for over 30 hours in the past two days, my lungs were wheezy from breathing so hard at the higher altitudes but when I finally took my boots off I felt like a new man, at least for a little bit.

We didn’t need that third day.

Home

We arrived Home at about 10 PM that evening and your mom and your Aunt Angie were happy, but they were even happier when we told them that perhaps we were done with mountaineering. We were famished so we ate dinner and before bed had a last drink of whiskey.

It was good to see your mom, and it was good to see you boys. I look forward to the day I look upon you as men; and I wonder what heights you shall conquer…

Rainier

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3 Responses to “To my sons…”

  1. Ruth July 22, 2014 at 11:36 pm #

    Thanks for sharing Matt. What an awesome adventure and a legacy to leave your boys. They have much to aspire to. Glad you and your brother are safely back!

  2. Billy McCarty July 23, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your military and climbing experience. I too am a military veteran. I was stationed in Ft. Wainwright Alaska. I was and still, very much am an arctic infantry soldier. I trained with the 10th Mountain Division at Ft. Lewis, Washington near Seattle and Mt. Ranier.
    It is great to find out that while enjoying and excelling in this training, as a younger man. Not understanding why I had this enormous, uncontainable, desire for adventure. That all along, it was my heritage. I am proud to give that credit to my brave Irish blood line. Now I know!

  3. theMrs01 July 23, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

    This is what you set out to do. I’m proud of you.

    Someone once told me that when YOU put your hand to the plow, there’s no turning back for you. I admire that in you and love the man that you are.

    YOU are the father I prayed my children would have.

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