Kimber Cross - Adaptive Climbing On Mt. Rainier

Hello! Who are you and where are your hiking roots?

My name is Kimber Cross and I am born and raised in Western Washington. My parents raised me on a small farm an hour away from Mount Rainier. We raised cows and have a massive orchard and garden.

My hiking roots begin in my youth when my friends and I would do weekend hikes. That turned into backpacking trips as I got into my twenties, then full on mountaineering and summiting all the volcanoes and peaks that I could in this beautiful state during my thirties. The tipping point was a close friend telling me we should join The Mountaineers and take a course to train for a Rainier climb. We learned everything from glacier travel to rock climbing. It was full immersion into the mountaineering world.

What’s your Story From The Mountain?

My story from the mountain starts at the parking lot of Paradise in the Mount Rainier National Park. I was thirty years old and about to embark on my first summit attempt of Mount Rainier (native name is Tahoma). This three day climb would completely alter my perspective on life, through the joy and sufferfest climbing a mountain gives you.

Three years later, I still vividly remember the long haul of my 45lb pack from Paradise up to Camp Muir at 10,000 feet. It is a one foot in front of the other, breathe and take water breaks kind of push. The guide huts at Muir look forever away and as you feel the effects of altitude, you cannot wait to reach base camp and collapse in relief for a bit.

My team and I, composed of friends and climb leaders from The Mountaineers, an organization in Washington State that provides alpine training and climb trips, had a day in between to acclimate, hang out with the climbing rangers and guides, and talk route assessments. I was in awe of our sunrises and sunsets from basecamp, continuing to look up every once in a while, at the route leading out of camp, trying to process what the long journey ahead may entail. 

The rest day in between getting to base camp and making the summit push was a day of sleeping, eating, and snow school. We practiced crevasse rescue, glacier travel while roped up, and went through a gear prep.

Being an adaptive climber meant my ice axe has a strap for my right hand that I slide my glove through and tighten. Transitioning hands as we traversed needed to be swift and effective for my safety. I had been prepping this adaptation/modification for months and it was time to take up the mountain for real.

"The mountains and nature have a unique way to demand more from you, in such an alluring and awe-spiring way."

The five pm bedtime with a 10pm wake up (in the same night) was daunting. My relaxed but elated self the last day and a half on the mountain suddenly felt a rush of nervous fear while I unzipped my tent’s door and gazed up at the top of this 14K+ mountain. The stars were glowing brilliantly, and the milky way seemed to point straight towards the summit, as if beckoning me upwards. My heart raced and my stomach turned. What were these strong feelings?!

I continued the prep process of putting on my gear, eating my breakfast, talking with the team. We were all ready and stoked. I tried to push my fears to the wayside. I felt completely safe and ready, but having never climbed higher than Camp Muir, the unknown was wrecking me in a beautiful array of emotional rollercoaster madness. I was going to climb Mount Rainier, no going back!

Right as we began to leave, one of the rangers updated us on the travel path, a bergschrund had given out, meaning the normal DC route was altered and our new route would take us on a spiral path around the mountain with a bonus 600ft descend then ascent up through the last of the Emmons right on the other side of the mountain. It would be an extra long night, but my team had so much supportive resolve to work together to gain the summit, that my fear and nervousness faded the second we took off one at a time, roped up and ready to go.

Hours of traversing, regulating body temperature, making sure we each were getting enough food and water as not to bonk, and I began to feel extremely exhausted. I could have stood still and fallen over, fast asleep. It was so dark, so quiet, and the lights from all the other climbing teams seems like flickering fallen stars. I felt that anxious flood my emotions again. Could I go on? I wanted to stop, I was getting cold and dizzy. Suddenly the green and slightly red glow in the distance because to swiftly change.

A sunrise looks incredibly different from 13 thousand feet. Like a ball of fire, the sun broke the horizon and the light felt like a shock to my system. We were all stunned at the beauty of the new dawn and to my great surprise, my body reacted in a positive energy filled focus, almost like getting a second wind.

"Physically difficult aspects of the hike are what grow and change me as a person."

An hour later, we were on the summit. Unbelievable. I looked at the 360 degree view, from Columbia Crest, the true summit. I was standing still on top of this 14,411ft tall volcano. All the fear gone, all the anxiety dissipated. I felt relieved, disbelief, joy, and a sense of awe.

We took in the summit for a good twenty minutes before making the very long descent back to camp. The descent is a whole other experience to be saved for another story time, but I look back at this first ascent of Mount Rainier for a wide eyed adaptive climber and I am filled with a deep sense of accomplishment. I was so proud of my team for trusting each other, for trusting and pushing me past fear and into the realm of unbelievable accomplishment.

Through hiking/climbing, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?

Through hiking, which mostly is an approach to an alpine climb in my world, I have learned that the sometimes physically difficult aspects of the hike are what grow and change me as a person.

I am far stronger mentally and physically than I realize. The mountains and nature have a unique way to demand more from you, in such an alluring and awe-spiring way. Hiking is a way to connect deeply to nature and those on the adventure with you. It resets our bodies, minds, and spirits. Allowing that realization to be the focus, when the hiking is hard is a valuable aspect I’d love to pass onto others to remember.

What’s your favorite item in your pack?

I love warmth and I love sweets. So my favorite item in my pack is my oh so warm summit puffy and the snickers bar I always make sure I have for the summit. You lose your appetite at altitude and really have to force yourself to eat. So I make sure its always something I love to eat regardless of being hungry, which is for me, the snickers bar. Yum!

Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?

Invest in good gear, good poles, good hiking shoes, and if you’re in the northwest, a quality rain jacket. Also, don’t compare where you are in your hiking journey to others ahead or behind you. It’s a personal journey of growth and adventure that we get to share with others. Enjoy all of it!

What have been the most influential hiking books, podcasts, or people?

On The Sharp End is an amazing podcast I listen to nearly every time I am tented up waiting out bad weather. The list of books is endless, but I am really into books by A Falcon Guide. Their Hiking Washington book is quality. This company puts out many great technical climbing instruction books as well.

There are many many many people that have influenced me as a climber and hiker. Too many to mention. Three that quickly come to mind are Savannah Cummins, Anna Pfaff, and Maureen Beck. All three The North Face athletes who are the kindest and hardest working women on the mountains that I know.

Where’s your next adventure?

Ice climbing in Hyalite Canyon and some winter scrambles in the Cascades. As soon as May rolls around, I am heading for my third summit of Rainier via Ingraham Direct.

Where can others learn more about you?

I share my adaptive climbing journey on Instagram. My handle is @kimberbelle. Follow along and say hi! Maybe I’ll see you out on the trails!

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