Respect the mountain’s fickle weather, watch your ropes and keep your urine clear, among other things.
Plan to climb Mount Rainier? Here are more tips from Seattle-area climbing experts:
Tom Vogl, CEO of The Mountaineers
Vogl has summited Rainier four times in seven attempts. “In full disclosure, one of the four was Liberty Ridge, and we ‘only’ summitted Liberty Cap (14,112 feet), not Columbia Crest itself,” he said. “It was hard enough that I counted it as a summit.”
His other three ascents came on Emmons-Winthrop routes. “I much prefer that side of the mountain,” he said.
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“Respect ‘The Mountain.’ Rainier is a remarkable, almost magical place but it can also be fierce and unpredictable. Many climbers underestimate Rainier’s tendency to rapidly create its own tempestuous weather, even when Seattle is calm and sunny. For example, in 2016 an experienced climber who had previously accomplished the Seven Summits was caught overnight in an unexpected spring storm on the Gibraltar Ledges route and died of hypothermia. Trying to beat the weather can be especially tempting for folks who have traveled from out of town. If the Mountain is moody, be smart and leave the summit for another day.”
Mark Scheffer, climbing instructor
A climbing instructor for more than 26 years, Scheffer developed the Glacier Climbing Course taught by The Mountaineers. He has climbed 200-plus peaks in Washington, but Rainier just twice. “Most other peaks in the Cascades surprisingly have better views due to Rainier’s height above local peaks and its distance from any significant summits,” he said.
“One of the easiest, yet least developed, skills essential for glacier climbing is rope management between climbers on the same rope. I routinely have to remind new climbers to pay attention to their rope so that it does not become too tight or develop too much slack between party members. Too tight, and they cannot make an end run around a crevasse and they pull slower climbers faster than they can safely go. Too loose, especially on descent, and the climber in front can trip on the loose coils around their feet and fall, resulting in the team needing to go into self-arrest.”
Stefan Lofgren, lead climbing ranger, Mount Rainier National Park
Lofgren followed Mike Gauthier as Rainier’s lead climbing ranger, holding that position since 2009. He offers these recommendations:
• Listen to the advice of climbing rangers at your high camp.
• Know the weather forecast and allow for a buffer.
• Do not overestimate your physical condition.
• Exhale forcefully; use “pressure breaths” to purge stagnant air from lungs.
• Drink enough water to keep urine clear/transparent.
• Establish a pace. Walk 90 minutes at a time. Don’t stop and start.
• On summit day, be prepared to survive a night out.
• Exhaustion leads to injuries. Stay within your boundaries.
• Don’t split up your group! Parties time and time again make this same mistake. The leader is usually the most experienced climber in the group. The party that splits away is almost always being led by someone who is not equally qualified.
Gauthier chimes in with one more tip:
“People like to glissade in crampons. Don’t do it. That injures a lot of people, hurting their knees or ankles when their crampons catch. They’re tired and don’t want to hike down, but it doesn’t help much if you blow out your ankle and you have to be littered off the mountain. That’s one accident that gets repeated a lot, and it’s totally avoidable.”