Summiting Mount Rainier

Kenon took his annual man trip to Mount Rainier this year. Mount Rainier is located in (you guessed it!) Mount Rainier National Park in the state of Washington.

I (Savanna) do most of the blog writing but since my experience does not reach to Mount Rainier, and now Kenon’s does, I’m turning this one over to him. There are so many reasons I do not want to climb Mount Rainier. It is freezing, it takes so long, it is dangerous, and you have to carry A LOT of gear. Listening to his stories and seeing his pictures, though, are making me rethink my decision. His experience was so incredible! It takes a ton of upfront planning, though, along with acquiring proper skills and gears. Mount Rainier is a BIG mountain and should be approached with respect and caution.

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Kenon’s story:

This is a very intense mountain and should not be taken lightly. This is training ground for people doing Mount Everest. Just about any serious hiker can access Camp Muir but past that point you either need experience and skill training or a guide. Follow this link to the National Park Service’s guide, or this link to the website, to find out if this mountain is right for you.

Planning Ahead:

First, you have to put together a team that you can trust. Ideally, you want three people in your group. This is the optimal size for making sure you can self-arrest and rescue a team mate if someone falls. I went as a two-man team. Two worked out great for us but it would have been nice to have a third person to help with decision making. It is extremely important to find a partner you trust and that has the same knowledge and skill level as you. You could literally have to trust your life to this person.

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In order to summit Mount Rainier you need to obtain permits. At about three months out you need to reserve a camping permit (either winter tenting or getting a space in a bunk house) which is $20 per group. The $20 covers the whole group but you do have list how many people are in your group. 40% of camping permits are first-come, first-served but this is one of those trips where you want to plan ahead. A climbing cost recovery fee also must be paid. This is a $48 per person fee that is good for the entire calendar year. Anyone under 24 only pays a $34 recovery fee. This can be done ahead of time or upon arrival. Again, I would do this ahead of time. Upon arrival, a climbing permit documentation must be filled out. The climbing permit is free. You must be 18 or older in order to obtain a permit. You can summit alone and get a Solo Permit, however you do have to convince the rangers that you are qualified with previous mountaineering experience.

You have to check out your climbing permit at the end of your trip at the same ranger station or the rangers will call you and your emergency contact.

Route Description:

There are two parts to climbing Mount Rainier. The first is arriving at Camp Muir. The second is ascending to the summit. Most guided tours will do this in two days. They will park at the ranger station at Paradise and check in. Then they will hike to Camp Muir and spend the night. By “spend the night”, I mean arrive in the afternoon, eat, go to bed, and wake up at midnight to begin the ascent. They will reach the summit around sunrise on day two and then begin their descent. Groups will arrive back at Paradise to check out around early evening on the second day.

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Calvin and I planned on doing our trek similar to that of a guided tour. However, storms at the summit caused us to delay at Camp Muir. We arrived Sunday afternoon, stayed all day Monday, all day Tuesday, and began our summit Tuesday night just before midnight. We were back to the Paradise ranger station late Wednesday evening.

We decided to take the popular Disappointment Cleaver – Ingraham Glacier Route (also known as DC Route). The route total is 9,100 feet of elevation and 15 miles round trip. 90% of people choose this route. The hike starts at Paradise and the first leg takes you to Camp Muir. There is an estimated 5 – 6 hours time on this climb. There is a little over 5,000 feet of elevation gain in about 5 miles. The last two miles of this hike is through the Muir Snowfield which is always covered in snow, very exposed, and exhausting. When I went, there were gusts of up to 90 mph winds and it was the most difficult “last mile” I have ever hiked. Winds like this are not always present but they are regular, so stay up to date on conditions.

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Staying at Camp Muir was an incomparable experience. Even though we were stuck up there, postponing our dream of summitting, I am incredibly grateful for the time I was able to spend with other mountaineers. I was also better able to acclimate to the elevation and the weather. I was able to practice skills, such as crevasse rescue.

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This is also the highest point in Mount Rainier National Park that you are allowed to hike to without a permit (obviously, in order to spend the night you would need a camping permit). The views are outstanding and it is worth the trip even if you have no desire to summit Mount Rainier. Many people also backcountry ski from this point.

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We slept in the bunkhouse. The bunkhouse can sleep 30 people. Even if you do not sleep in the bunkhouse, you can still use it to prepare food and get out of the weather for a bit. During the busy season (June – July) plan on not sleeping very much because it is SO LOUD in the bunkhouse. Imagine 25 men snoring, breathing, rustling, and farting all night long.

Finally, after over two days of doing nothing except boiling snow to make water, learning from other mountaineers, and sleeping, Calvin and I were able to begin the ascent to the summit. We woke up Tuesday night at 11:00 pm. We were planning on about a 12 hour round trip travel time from Camp Muir to the summit and back to Camp Muir. They say about 60% of your time goes to ascending and 40% goes to descending. Late at night is the best time to begin your travel because the freezing temperatures cause the snow to be more solid, allowing for easier and safer travel.

From Camp Muir on, you are traveling on a glacier. You have to rope up with your partner, be fully equipped for self-arresting and self-rescue, and be cautious to stay on the route in order to prevent falling into a crevasse. Past Camp Muir, there is an alternative to the DC Route that is shorter but only available during the winter season. It is also more dangerous. It is called the Ingraham Direct Route (ID Route) and eventually rejoins the DC Route. The ID is steeper but less miles, the DC is more miles and less steep, but both ultimately have the same elevation gain.

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On the way up, we were sticking with the DC Route. On the way down, we followed the ID Route. If I did it again, I would do the ID Route both times. Both routes are well-marked by poles that stick out of the ground, thanks to the guided tours. Stay on route, otherwise you risk falling into a crevasse. There was a point when we could not see the marked route and had to sit patiently and wait for more light in order to get back on route.

The summit is what makes it all worth it. There is the crater which is an awesome view. Then there is the true summit. You’ll know it because everyone will be walking up to it. The true summit never has snow on it because the sun always melts it.

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For the descent we went down the ID Route. It is dangerous because you have to cross snow bridges. The snow bridges melt after a certain point in the year so, again, check conditions before taking this route.

After Camp Muir, I began the worst descent of my life. I was exhausted and the snow was all beginning to melt. We were slushing through ankle deep snow. The best part, though, was being able to slide down parts of the slope on our trash bags. Remember a trash bag because this part breaks up the descent and adds a little fun!

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Once you get back to Paradise, remember to check out at the ranger station. Also, grab yourself a Rainier Beer at the lodge. Perfect way to end the trip!

Tips:

1. It is important to be up to date on current mountain conditions.  This site is the NPS recommended site to keep up with current conditions.

2. Train, educate, and get in shape for this mountain.

3. It is extremely cold at the top. Layer accordingly.

Gear of the Trip:

Outdoor Research Men’s Incandescent Hoody. There is a lot of gear that you need to summit Mount Rainier. But if I have to choose just one thing that I am extremely thankful I brought with, this would be it. It compacts down, is pretty durable, and is extremely warm. It really stood up to the test of Mount Rainier.

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