Ed Hrivnak is a pilot and a writer (New Yorker and Operation Homecoming) and last September he took a special trip to Mount Rainier for two friends. Normally, this sort of activity wouldn't be too big of a deal (Ed flew many of the maneuvers behind the photos in my book), but his two friends have a special connection to Rainier and this trip could be their last chance to get up close and personal with "The Mountain." Here is an edited version of that flight and those men.
“I can not begin to express what an honor it was to fly John Simac and Lee Tegner around the mountain in September, 2007. As a climber and rescuer, the stories I heard from them during the flight were truly amazing. John talked about his first Rainier climb in 1932 and the body recovery of Delmar Fadden in 1936; Lee talked about being strapped into the open door of a plane while making cargo drops to the Camp Schurman hut in the early 1960's. Both reminisced about camping on the summit for a week, playing football and eating watermelon while teaching young Explorer Scouts the skills of mountaineering.
John had mentioned a flight to see the mountain six months ago realizing that at age 93, he may never see “the hut” and Mount Rainier up close again. After months of scheduling conflicts, we finally had a day that worked for all three of us.
The weather that day was absolutely perfect. There was a light wind and clear skies which made for stable air on the NE side of the mountain. This would be great for viewing Camp Schurman and the Emmons Glacier. You see, John and Lee both volunteered to build the Camp Schurman hut. Both spent many years on Mount Rainier's slopes. Both volunteered with Mountain Rescue for over 50 years. Both had given so much and I wanted to honor that.
We took four laps around the north and east face of Mount Rainier, Little Tahoma, and in particular Camp Schurman. No one was around that day; it was just us, the mountain, and the hut. After all I'd heard, I decided to pull a maneuver that would give them a clear view. I took the plane to 11 K and then dropped the flaps, pulled the engine to idle, and gently rolled in for closer inspection. We quietly glided over the glacier with the hut to our right. Then John spoke with a tear in his eye, "Seeing that hut again brought back a flood of memories that I can't sort out at once." Lee, with a smile, said, "we had a hell of a time on this mountain."
As the plane descended over the Winthrop Glacier, we watched large open crevasses pass beneath us. I looked over at Lee and John and noted that they were both lost in memories that I could only imagine. I wonder if there is anyone alive today who has volunteered more time on the upper mountain of Rainier as John and Lee. It was a privilege to pilot them for what might be a final view of a place so special. For me, I hope someone will do the same when I am 93." -Ed Hrivnak