A midlife crisis comes in many forms – a sports car, hair plugs, or, for Devaul Lanier, hiking Washington state’s Mount Rainier, a volcano that stands 14,400 feet above sea level.
Lanier, 59, said that when he awoke at 2 a.m. with his team to begin the ascent, the snow and 55 mph winds made him briefly second-guess his decision.
“You sort of blindly walk out with a headlamp, roped to two guys you met two days ago, and just go,” said Lanier, a sales manager for a medical-equipment company in Clayton.
Lanier said hiking has long been a pastime of his. For the past five years, he has been hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail with friends. Together, they cover 100 miles each year.
Lanier said growing up in Johnston County did not prepare him for the subalpine weather he experienced on Mount Rainier, which has 27 glaciers. And nothing could have prepared him for hiking a sheer cliff.
Like Mount Everest, where people constantly start but cannot finish, about 55 percent of those who start the Mount Rainier climb do not make it to the top.
“When I showed up to hike, I met all these people who had climbed Everest, and thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ ” Lanier said. “This was the big leagues.”
Lanier decided last summer that he wanted to tackle Mount Rainer. To prepare, he spent many weekends carrying a backpack full of cat litter on training hikes, from 50 to 90 miles, at Clemmons Educational State Forest.
When he arrived in Washington last month to embark on his adventure, Lanier first attended a two-day mountaineering school. There he learned how to use the equipment, including crampons that made it possible to walk on ice. He also learned how to walk with the two other climbers he would be roped to.
“Some areas that we walked across, if you fell, you’d drop 4,000 feet into a crevasse,” Lanier said.
His guide told him to pack three pairs of gloves because they’d get so wet from the snow.
The hike spanned three days. The first day, Lanier, his hiking partners and their guide climbed 9,600 feet. They spent the night in a cabin on the side of the volcano.
The next day, at 2 a.m., their guide woke them, and they headed out into the freezing air to attempt to reach the top.
“Did I have my doubts? Yes,” Lanier said.
But he made it.
“The thing about doing something like this is you always want the next thing,” Lanier said.
Now Lanier has his sights set on Everest, though he is still negotiating that trip with his family because Everest poses a much higher risk of death.
Lanier has two sons, 14 and 15 years old, and he hopes they’ll summit Mount Rainier one day, too – but not until they’re ready. A couple of young men on his trip – about 18 years old – stopped before they got to the top because they weren’t prepared mentally or physically, he said.
Lanier said he has tried to find other people locally who’ve climbed such heights to share his experience, but in looking at records, he so far hasn’t found any.