This Team Navigated Mount Rainier’s Deadly Ice Caves For Science

The researchers crossed invisible lakes of noxious gas in order to map the mountain's caves and search for clues to life.

Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier (Getty Images)
Getty Images

A team of cavers and researchers studying Mount Rainier’s network of glacier ice caves requested permission to use a helicopter to shuttle 1,800 pounds of scientific, safety, medical and expedition equipment to a camp at 14,250 feet. The gear included a NASA ice-climbing robot that may one day explore Martian ice caps. They needed the gear placed at a volcanic crater just beneath Rainier’s summit reports National Geographic. But the National Park Service denied their request.

So Eddy Cartaya, a lead organizer of the Mount Rainier Fumarole Cave Expedition, and his team decided to use old-fashioned 19th-century mountaineering tactics to get their gear to the top of the mountain. More than 100 people volunteered themselves to carry equipment.

“It’s terrible to be up there for so long,” said Cartaya, according to National Geographic. “You’re always cold. You’re always tired. You always feel sick. You’re exhausted. It really sucks. But everyone’s excited because they’re so passionate about doing this work and sharing it together as a team. It’s this bizarre kind of elation, I guess, to be part of something like that.”

The goal is to study the cave systems and conduct geo-microbiology, geochemistry, and climatology studies. But the mountain and the ice caves are dangerous, and there have been some close calls. Invisible and odorless lakes of noxious gas form in the caves, which means the researchers have to carry CO2 monitors and re-breathers that would provide 20 minutes of air if needed.

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