Bedtime is 4:30 in the afternoon! The snow re-hardens as the hours pass on this August afternoon, and after two days of hauling heavy packs 5’200-feet up to high camp (with one day to practice making the difficult crux move in daylight on a last minute route change) Max Tanous and Garrett Rawlings have no problem passing out with the sun still shining.
They’re exhausted, but butterflies of anticipation and excitement (as well as alarms) wake them up at 2:30 the next morning. Eight months of planning, prepping and training have brought them to today, when at just 14-years-old, the boys will attempt to summit Mount Rainier, the highest glaciated peak in the continental United States.
Upon first meeting sandy-blond haired Max Tanous, you’ll immediately notice his sparkling eyes and a genuine smile, which is easily ignited, particularly when talking about anything having to do with being outside. Garrett stands about a foot taller than Max, but holds a similar gangly teenager stature and an equivalent passion for playing in the wilderness. Both have grown up surrounded by the allure of the Wood River Valley, taking family and school trips that fuelled their fires of constantly wanting to do more in the great outdoors.
Last fall, the two saw a talk by Ed Veisters, a world-famous mountaineer, and after hearing about explorations and adventures up Mount Everest and other rugged and daunting peaks around the world, Garrett and Max were determined to start their alpinism career—now.
The young enthusiasts attend the Community School, a local K-12 boarding and day school with a renowned Outdoor Program. At the Community School, students are required to do an eighth-grade project in which they explore a personal interest, so Max and Garrett proposed an all-out venture in mountaineering that would involve learning the skills necessary to find and conquer their first peak, as well as partnering and fundraising for the locally-started breast cancer research foundation Expedition Inspiration.
After sending out an array of emails over Christmas break, Max and Garrett had convinced their teachers that they could make their project happen both academically and “in the real world.” Their first obstacle was that no guide company would take anyone under 16 up Rainier, so they put together a team that consisted of Rob Landis, the Outdoor Program Director of the Community School, Tom Boley, a longtime local and qualified climber, Bob Polk (who unfortunately broke his foot a couple of weeks before the trip), Travis Vanderberg and Annika Landis, Rob’s 14-year-old daughter.
Next, Max and Garrett immediately set out to work creating a fundraising campaign, setting up a website, making t-shirts to sell, writing letters, and meeting and calling potential sponsors in order to raise money both for Expedition Inspiration and for their goal to climb Mount Rainier. As Max explained, “We wanted to give to a non-profit, but also quickly learned that climbing mountains is really expensive and we did not expect our parents to pay for it. I think the combination fundraiser helped because people were really excited to help us achieve our goal. We were able to raise $1,000 to give to Expedition Inspiration.”
After many phone calls and follow-ups, Max and Garrett’s team was able to get a permit both for Mount Baker and for Mount Rainier. “A lot of people told us we shouldn’t do Rainier, that it was too big of a first step,” Garrett said. “But we wanted it. And so finally we got everyone to back us up.”
It was on, and the two young men were taking it very seriously, as Landis and Boley helped them practice necessary mountaineering skills, such as self-arresting with ice axes on snow and setting up proper and safe rope systems. Landis says, “The great thing about these guys is that they didn’t want us to do it for them, they wanted us to teach them how to do it. In terms of gear lists, menus and permits, they researched it and put it all together because they wanted the knowledge.”
In addition to learning about logistics, Garrett and Max were adamant about being fit and would wake up at 5:30 in the morning to go to the gym to train before school. They frequently hiked Baldy with heavy weights in their backpacks and Boley led them up the tallest peak in Idaho, Mount Borah, just a week before Rainier so that they could get a sense of a long day and a higher altitude.
It was all worth it, as after about seven hours of making their way up under the stars, through the sunrise and past countless false summits, Garrett and Max spotted the top of Mount Rainier, dropped their packs and clanked the crampons that they had long ago thought were incapable of another step to the zenith of their climb.
“It was incredible,” Max beamed. “It was our greatest life experience, and we’re definitely the most proud of it.”
Max and Garrett were in somewhat disbelief that all of their time and effort for the past eight months had paid off. They are already gearing up for their next climb, and as they both said, “We learned that anything is possible with hard work.”