What's It Like To Climb Mt. Rainier?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Several years ago I had the opportunity to attend an RMI Expeditions seminar at a local outdoor shop. The folks at Rainier Mountaineering Inc. gave us (mostly hikers and backpackers) an in-depth explanation on what it's like to climb Mt. Rainier, the highest mountain in the state of Washington. RMI also described to us on what prospective climbers can expect on the two-day expedition to the 14,410-foot summit - including several hours of training, such as self-arrest techniques on snow. Ever since attending that seminar this "little adventure" has simmered on the back burner of my bucket list.

Below is short video from Backpacker Magazine that provides a quick overview of what it's like to climb Mt. Rainier:

Back in 2013 Kathy and I had the opportunity to visit Mt. Rainier National Park for the first time. Although we didn't climb the mountain, we did hike the famous Skyline Trail in the Paradise Valley, just below the southern slopes of Rainier. We have a trip report with several photos posted here.



John Quillen said...

Good article. It was a guided climb of Rainier that gave birth to my taste for big mtns. It was with RMI and their one day pre climb course really gives the basics from self arrest to glacier travel. I suggest everyone with any interest in mountaineering make this climb a priority. I have since made two subsequent attempts via different routes. It is a tough bugger no matter which way you ascend.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

John - thanks for the comments.

If I were to ever do this I would probably take the Disappointment Cleaver route - which I believe to be the main route.

What time of year did you go, and which month would you recommend? The RMI representative mentioned that early in the season (`May-June) you'll have worse weather and issues with avalanches, while later in the season (~September), the weather is better, but the crevices are an issue.

I've done a couple of 14ers in Colorado (climbing roughly 4000 feet in most cases) in perfect weather with no snow - how much more physically demanding is Rainier than what I experienced?

Any big plans for this upcoming climbing season for you?

John Quillen said...

On my first climb we did the usual disappointment cleaver route and it was a very good introduction to alpine starts and roped glacier travel. We traveled in June and had great weather. I climbed in other months on Rainier with mixed results on the Kautz and Ingraham Direct routes.
With regard to comparison of Rainier and other 14ers, it is quite different. I just returned from Colorado where we spent a week ice climbing on Mt. Lincoln which is near 14 k, I believe. Each day we would climb 1.5 miles to set up ropes and pick our way through small ice fields but had no worries about crevasses and minimal avalanche danger. On Rainier you get a dose of many things that are found in the Himalaya on a smaller scale. So in summary, I find Rainier much more challenging than the Colorado 14ers. The latitude and proximity to the ocean also play a factor.
But let me be the first to encourage you to pursue a guided climb. It is a life enhancing experience. As for my future plans I have some options in Alaska this summer on the Ruth Glacier and another opportunity to climb Kiliminjaro. Depending on which of those come together, I hope to finish with a two day attempt on the Grand Teton in late July.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I'm no expert but am a good source of "what to avoid"!