Dive enthusiasts scale the
Key Largo couple tackle Mt.
|Ric and Janet Altman take a quick break
on a steep snow-covered slope at Mt. Rainier in
Washington state. A fall could mean a slide into a
crevasse. For more photographs and details on Ric and
Janet Altmans' attempts to climb Mt. Rainer, see their
courtesy JANET and RIC ALTMAN
altitude-induced exhaustion, the bone-chilling cold and very real
danger of plunging into an icy crevasse, Ric and Janet Altman have a
hard time themselves explaining their 'obsession' with conquering
'It's not fun when you're up there,' said Janet.
'There were times we looked at each other and said, who's idea was
In July, on their fifth attempt in five years
at climbing the 14,410 feet to reach Mt. Rainier's snow-covered
summit, the Altmans saw the view from the top.
'The scenery is one reason we do it. It's something
you can't see anywhere else,' said Ric. 'This biggest draw is
probably that it's so completely different from everyday
Especially when that everyday life is running a dive
shop in balmy Key Largo, where elevation above sea level gets
measured in inches.
To take a break from the dive business,
the Altmans got into recreational cave exploring several years ago.
Caving skills helped Janet overcome a lifetime fear of heights, and
Ric had always been curious about mountain climbing.
After attending a five-day mountaineering school in
Alaska, the Altmans considered themselves ready to take on Mt.
Rainier in September 1999.
|The last sleep before mounting an
assault on the Mt. Rainier summit comes in a small tent
perched precariously on a rock-and-snow covered slope.
Photos courtesy JANET and RIC ALTMAN
A naive notion, said Ric. 'We
grossly underestimated the mountain.'
The exhausting physical
demands of the climb, compounded by altitude, proved overwhelming.
'Your legs feel like lead. You can barely move,' Ric
said. 'At 11,000 to 13,000 feet, you're completely trashed by the
|Looking back over their shoulders, the
Altmans see the cold, rocky terrain covered in climbing
Mt. Rainier. 'We don't have pictures of the really scary
stuff,'Janet says. 'That was no time to be taking the
Added Janet, 'You have to eat, but you have no
Four times over the next years, the Altmans
crossed the country to Washington and started up Rainier. Four times
they turned around.
'You get to a point where you're trashed, and you stop
to think: Can I get through this safely?' recounted Janet. 'You
swear to yourself that you'll never do this again.'
generally is not considered the most formidable mountaineering
challenge in the U.S., but it's on the list. A local climbing firm
warns of risks including 'avalanche, ice fall, rock fall, crevasse
fall, inclement weather, high winds and severe cold.'
Ric, 'You need to stop and rest but you can't because it's too
steep, too scary. You say, I'll never put myself in this kind of
A climb to the top of Rainer typically takes
about three days: a hike through woods to reach the base camp, then
a trek to another camp far up the mountain, all while carrying a
pack weighing about 55 pounds. 'You've got all your outer gear,
ropes, heavy boots, crampons [boot spikes for ice climbing],
sleeping bag, tent, and all the food you're going to need,' Janet
The final push up the last several thousand feet, up
steep snow-and-ice covered slopes to the summit, often begins at
'The goal is reach the summit by dawn,' Ric
explained. 'The ice is frozen at night. Once the sun starts hitting
everything, the risks increase. Rocks become unfrozen and there's
more danger of an avalanche.'
The Altmans gained experience
on each attempt at Rainier, and on successful climbs of somewhat
lesser peaks. They worked on conditioning, strapping on dive weights
to repeatedly climb the stairs of their Keys home.
making their fifth attempt in July, the Altmans spent a week
climbing in Colorado, getting their bodies used to the
With climbing partner Chris Molling of Homosassa
('He's a motivational speaker,' Ric Smiled. 'What could be
better?'), the Altmans finally reached the Rainier summit on their
'About two hours from the summit, we
realized we were going to make it this time,' Janet said.
view was indeed grand, said Janet, 'but it was cold and very windy.
We couldn't stay long.'
They reached the peak at mid-morning,
'which is late to be summating,' said Ric. 'We had to get back
The sense of achievement was tempered by weariness and
some melancholy. They remembered well the long hours of frigid
'We'd been working toward this for six years,' Janet
said. 'It took about three weeks, but then we said, you know, that