Here are mini-profiles of four people who ascended Mount Rainier in recent years, with their tips on what to do (and not).
He climbed many stairs
People from all over the world climb Mount Rainier. Scott Borrillo, a property manager from St. Augustine, Fla., had a 2008 summit attempt foiled by bad weather, but reached the top in 2009. Borrillo trained in Florida’s flatlands by climbing stairs at a 10-story hospital while toting a 55-pound backpack — 20 round-trips per visit.
He credits his success to hard training, good leaders (International Mountain Guides), savvy packing (his pack weighed just 37 pounds) and, crucially, a can-do mental outlook.
“You can train all you want, but if your mind is not set for the challenge, you’re not going to get up the mountain,” said Borrillo, now 41.
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Just two days before his Rainier attempt, Borrillo made the unconventional choice to climb 12,276-foot Mount Adams, Washington’s second highest peak. What might have drained others energized Borrillo.
“I should have been hurting, but I wasn’t,” he said. “I woke up the next morning and felt like a million bucks. I was charged up. That carried me the entire way up Rainier.
“I told myself I was going to make it to Camp Muir, then to Ingraham Flats, and then whatever comes next. Take an obstacle 50 feet in front of you, get past it and go on to the next one. I was setting new goals constantly, telling myself I was never going to quit.”
— Terry Wood
Toughest going down
Paul Silvi, sports director at Seattle’s KING-TV, made many training hikes up Mount Si and other high points last year after getting an invitation from the Seattle Seahawks to climb Rainier with then-coach Jim Mora and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Silvi (“Not a hiker, not a climber, definitely not a camper,” he concedes) had one month to prepare. He turned to KING meteorologist Jeff Renner, a climber, for help. Silvi borrowed one of Renner’s backpacks and started hiking with a gallon of water (a touch more than eight pounds) inside. He worked up to five gallons.
A week before the climb, he hiked to Camp Muir. Fun stuff? “I was absolutely exhausted after that final training climb — never been so tired in my life,” Silvi said. “But it turned out to be a huge benefit going into the main event.”
Silvi and company enjoyed great weather. The toughest part of the climb? “Coming down. You reach the summit, you’re feeling a tremendous high, and then your guide says, ‘OK, pack it up. We’re only halfway home.’ We basically climbed from 2 a.m. straight through to 4 p.m., reaching the summit and then descending all day. With no real goal after the summit, it was brutal.”
Best advice? “Our guides told me to drink plenty of water, and when I’m done, drink some more… Constant hydration is very important. And wear comfortable boots. I had a pair of rentals, and I lost a couple of toenails. I think boots are the most important piece of equipment on the climb. It is a nonstop slog.”
— Terry Wood
Willpower stretched her limits
Boglarka Gyurkocza, a physician and research associate at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, played the mental game well during her 2008 ascent, the graduation climb of a Mountaineers climbing course.
“It’s an empowering experience,” said Gyurkocza, 36, a native of Hungary. “You learn something about yourself on the climb. I learned that using my mental willpower I can push my limits farther than I thought I could.”
“A successful climb is a balance between conditioning and mental focus,” she said. “The more conditioning you have, though, the more fun you will have in the end. I could have enjoyed it more if I was in better shape.”
Gyurkocza endorses the self-sufficiency aspect of an independent trip without a professional guide. “You just feel more a part of it,” she said. “We shared the gear. No one was carrying it up for us. No one was in a passive role. It felt a lot more natural.”
On the day she climbed, Gyurkocza estimated the male-female ratio on the mountain was maybe 70-30.
“I don’t think in general there was anything that was particularly challenging for a woman,” she said, though she noted at rest stops she wished she had brought one extra layer of insulation. “I didn’t notice any advantage or disadvantage for being a woman on the climb. It all comes down to skills and conditioning, and everyone working as a team.”
The payoff? “When we got to the crater rim, it was exhilarating,” she said. “All these people were drinking, eating, talking. Everyone had thrown off their packs and were just walking around. It was very liberating. People were grinning like crazy.”
— Terry Wood
Not everybody gets to the top
In the past five years, 56.8 percent of the 47,898 people who made a summit attempt on Mount Rainier have succeeded.
Mike McQuaid was not one of them — and he’s OK with that.
“By the end of the climb, I was as proud of myself as I have ever been for anything I’ve done,” said McQuaid, owner of a Seattle public-relations company who attempted a climb in 2006.
The reason: His climb included an extra challenge — a dread of heights that could affect him anywhere, even on at the top of a flight of stairs. “When I got off that mountain, a fear of heights literally was not an issue for me anymore,” he said.
Fatigue, not fear, caused McQuaid, then 43, to withdraw from his summit attempt, the third person in his party to became too gassed to reach the top. Guides from Rainier Mountaineering bundled him in a sleeping bag and, using ice axes, “tacked” him to the mountain at 12,300 feet, above Disappointment Cleaver.
“I was perfectly happy with that,” said McQuaid, a former All-Pac-10 rower at Washington State (and no relation to the Mike McQuaide who regularly writes for The Seattle Times). “I was clearly holding back my line. From rowing I knew a team was only as good as the weakest rower in the boat.”
He still enjoyed a nice payoff. “From 12,000 feet I watched the most incredible sunrise I think I’ve ever seen. Other than a very large crow or vulture circling overhead, it was all very quiet. I was thrilled that everyone else in the party got up to the top. I was just happy to be there.”
McQuaid understands where he fell short. “With my athletic background, I should have known to train harder. I should have done more hikes at altitude, more running, more endurance training with weights, aggressive hikes up Mount Si.”
What advice for anyone pondering an initial Rainier climb?
“Do it. I haven’t lost my respect for high places, but I have overcome my personal fear of heights. This is the kind of experience that can change your life.”
— Terry Wood