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Mount Rainier National Park

Climbing Mount Rainier

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.)

Every person is required to register and obtain permits in advance, and to check out upon return. In the summer you can obtain a climbing pass at Carbon River Ranger Station, Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise, Longmire Wilderness Information Center, Paradise Climbing Information Center or White River Wilderness Information Center at the White River Entrance. In winter months permits can be obtained daily at Longmire Information Center and on weekends and holidays at Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise. Climbers may also obtain a climbing pass purchase form on-line. these forms are returned by fax or mail.

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, rock fall, 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.

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