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For many who are attracted to the mountain, climbing and summiting it are equivalent goals! These days about 10,000 people attempt to summit Mount Rainier every year. About 5,500, or just over half, make it to the top. There are people who have tried five or six times and failed to summit. Weather, reactions to altitude and personal determination are variables which all impact on the success of a climb.
From 1968 - 1997, the only climbing guide service allowed to operate within the national park was Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated (RMI). This single service policy has served to protect the mountain from over-use. More recently the National Park Service has experimented with allowing in more guide services. In April 1997, it awarded the Emmons Glacier route to Cascade Alpine Guides & Adventures. About one third of those attempting the summit use guides, and the rest climb in self-guided parties.
Prime climbing season runs from about June to September. As the summer wears on climbing can become more difficult as crevasses open up on the glaciers, and scree (loose rock and debris) emerges from the melting snow.
There are nearly 50 possible routes to the summit. The two most popular routes are Disappointment Cleaver above Camp Muir on the east side, and Emmons Glacier above Camp Schurman on the north side. These are the routes most-used by the guides. The passage of many climbing parties can create a deep trail through the snow that can be followed all the way to the summit. (When you think of 10,000 would-be summit-ers squeezing through the four-month window, that's averages at more than 80 people per day.)
You will be required to register and obtain permits in advance, and to check out upon return. There is no self-registration - you must get your permit from a ranger. These can be obtained from the Longmire and White River Information Centers, and the Carbon River, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise or Paradise ranger stations. Party sizes might be limited. See here for more information.
For unguided climbers, there is no substitute for good judgment and technique developed with climbing experience, as well as proper equipment.
The mountain has claimed an average of more than three lives each year since its designation as a park - a reminder that visitors need to continue to treat Mount Rainier with respect, despite any sense of familiarity. While not all those killed are attempting the summit, it must be noted that fatalities do occur due to unprepared and inexperienced climbers attempting the summit.
Historically, climbing accidents have involved avalanches, icefall, rockfall, and falls down glaciers into crevasses (both individuals and whole rope teams), hypothermia, and mountain sickness. Bodies of at least a dozen fallen climbers remain sealed in glacial ice. The highest death toll in a climbing incident in the U.S. occurred in 1981 when an ice avalanche on Ingraham Glacier killed 11 of a 29-member climbing party.
Cascade Alpine Guides & Adventures, LLC. 5103 190th Place NE, Sammamish, WA 98074. Phone: 425-898-7329; Toll-free: 800-981-0381; Fax: 425-836-2793.
Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. 30027 SR 706 E, PO Box Q, Ashford, WA 98304. Phone: 1-888-892-5462.
Best selection of books on the Northwest.
Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide 2nd Edition by Mike Gauthier. From the Lead Climbing Ranger for Mt Rainier National Park. The latest information on logistics, regulations and permits. Expanded material on understanding and surmounting Rainier's glaciers, tips on selecting a guide service, mountaineering training sites around Rainier and bonus routes on adjacent Little Tahoma. Order now...
The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan. In June 1992, best friends Jim and Mike stood atop Mount Rainier, celebrating what they hoped would be the first of many milestones in their lives as young mountaineers. Instead, their conquest gave way to catastrophe when a cave-in plunged them deep inside a glacial crevasse. Order now...
Climbing Mt Rainier with the Chicks by Cindy Peyser Safronoff. A sweet real-life story of a woman who as a newby to mountaineering connects with other similar women in an informal women's climbing network to further their climbing skills. The all-female climbing team cheerfully meets each challenge and ends up surprising themselves with sucess. Order now...
Call Out Mountain Rescue? by Judy Whiteside. This book takes the reader through preparation route planning, what to take, how to pack, how to stay safe and what to do if you have an accident. If you do hit trouble, there's a run down of the mountain rescue call out procedure and how to relay the relevant information to the emergency services and some useful advice on websites, publications and organizations. Order now...
Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills: 50th Anniversary by Ronald C. Eng. From choosing equipment to tying a climbing knot, from basic rappelling techniques to planning an expedition, it is all here in this mountaineering reference. A team of experts, all active climbers and climbing educators, reviewed, revised, and updated this compendium to reflect the latest in mountaineering equipment and techniques. Order now...
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