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Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

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Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby wifey » Thu Jun 07, 2012 4:52 pm

Hi,

My husband wants to climb Rainier this summer with his friend. This is their plan (I’m not a climber, so my apologies in advance if I get technical stuff wrong):

• Two-man team on rope
• Start on a Friday night, hike straight through (i.e., without sleeping) to the summit weather and legs permitting. Only sleep if they need to. Hike down mountain on Saturday. He will begin around 10-11pm on Friday after a full work week and a 4-5 hour drive to the trailhead.

He thinks this plan is reasonably safe. I fear that it is not. I would prefer that he:
1. Do Rainier next year after doing a lot of fitness training, skills training and training on practice mountains
2. Go this year with a guided team
3. Add a third, expert climber to their team

He says #1 and #2 of my preferences are out. #1 because we will move to New England in a few months and because we have a baby on the way.#2 because I think he’s keen on going unguided.

That leaves us with either their plan or my Option #3: add a third, expert climber. Given these options, I’d like your thoughts on the following:
1. Is their option reasonably safe?
2. Is Option #3 reasonably safe?
3. If Option #3 is okay, what are some good ways to find good climbers?
4. What should the team be doing in the next few weeks to prepare?

Here is some background on their expertise/skills/preparation:

My husband’s friend: He is apparently an experienced climber. I’m told that he has climbed a lot of mountains in Montana and WA (I don’t know how many or at what difficulty/altitude). I’m inclined to think that he has good skills and is comfortable in high-altitude situations. He has tried to summit Rainier twice but turned around both times because of bad weather. He’s also done a ton of backcountry skiing. He has some PTSD issues related to a near-fatal skiing accident from a few years ago. The PTSD came back as recently as this winter, when he got caught in a small avalanche during a ski trip with my husband. He was not harmed in this accident and was able to get up on his own, but he could not ski the rest of the season bc of the PTSD. He is feeling confident about the Rainier trip, though.

My husband’s experience: I would consider him a novice climber because he (1) has never climbed up and down a mountain in boots and crampons, and (2) he began learning climbing and safety skills only recently. He has not put these skills to work in real situations. He would say that he is something more than novice at climbing because he did a good amount of backcountry skiing this winter- 5-10 times this season, one time as an overnight, on altitudes of 5-7000 ft. He used his ice ax a lot while skiing, in what capacity I don’t know.

Their fitness levels: My husband is 34 and his friend is 28. I don’t know his friend’s fitness level, but I’m inclined to think that it’s more than adequate for the climb. A few years ago, I would have had zero concerns about my husband’s fitness level: he qualified for his age-group national team in triathlon and duathlon and completed a very mountainous and difficult Ironman. He got very burned out on triathlon, though, and hasn’t been doing much training at all for the past year. He’ll go on a long run or bike every few weeks, but that’s about it. Now he could probably finish a local marathon race that is steep and hilly and place top-5 age group, but he’d be hurting. His endurance hill workouts were from the 5-10 times they went backcountry skiing this winter. He has almost no experience in altitudes above 10,000ft. Eight years ago he did some wind sprints up a 10,000+ mountain in CO and felt fine, but no experience doing endurance sports at that altitude.

We keep going around in circles about this. I’ve asked him to ask around to see if their plan makes sense, but for whatever reason he hasn’t done it. I don’t know if I should back off or if I really should be as concerned as I am.

I would appreciate any insight you can offer. In your response, it would be very helpful if you could mention your level of mountain climbing experience. Thanks!
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Re: Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby wifey » Thu Jun 07, 2012 5:29 pm

Almost forgot: Question #5: if neither option makes sense, are there other options you can recommend for doing Rainier this summer safely?
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Re: Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby ExcitableBoy » Thu Jun 07, 2012 5:38 pm

It is hard to say if going with a two person team is safe without knowing more about both climber's experience. Have they both had crevasse rescue training? Are they both absolutely proficient in it? How many glacier climbs have each completed? Which mountains? No mountains in Montana will replicate the conditions found on Rainier. In Washington only Mt Baker, Mt Hood, and the north side routes on Adams will give an idea of what to expect on Rainier. Do you trust your husband's life implicity with this other climber? Adding a third experienced partner to the team adds a large margin of safety. BC skiing really adds nothing to one's glacier travel and crevasse rescue experience, unless said skiing is done on glaciers.

Most runners/triathete types find climbing Rainier to be significantly harder than anything they have done previously, so their itinerary might be a bit optimistic. Their proposed itinerary concerns me for another reason. Their is no built in time to rest/rehydrate/acclimatize. If they start from the trailhead at 10-11 PM, they will not have any time to rest at high camp. Had they spent years climbing to altitude this may not be a problem; the body 'learns' and retains the ability to acclimatize. A more flexible itinerary would be to drive down Friday evening, spending the night at one of the higher campgrounds, (e.g. Cougar Rock or White River, depending upon the chosen route), start out first thing Saturday morning. This will allow a little acclimatization. Hike to high camp Saturday morning, spend Saturday afternoon rehydrating and resting. Leave for the summit between 10-12 PM and descend the same day. The extra time spent at high camp resting and rehydrating will make a huge difference. This itinerary allows no time for acclimatization; climbers are essentially 'outrunning' altitude related illness which can work if one is fit enough. If they are pinned down high on the mountain, by a storm for example, serious complicatons can arise. It takes 5-7 days of yo-yoing to fully acclimatize to 14k. Of the altitude related deaths that have occured on Rainier, most have occurred when scientists or climbers spent the night on the summit without taking enough time to acclimatize.

My personal suggestion is hook up with a third, experienced climber; someone who has done Ranier multiple times as well as other big, glaciated peaks. This is probably going to be tough. Most experienced Rainier climbers want to climb hard routes, not the beginner ones. If they do decide to climb as a two person party they need to read up on two person glacier travel and practice building snow anchors, Z x C haul systems, prussiking, self arrest, etc. Andy Selters Glacier Travel book is an excellent resource. There are specfic tactics to improve safety for two person teams that work, but require training so in an emergency they can be employed without thought.

<shameless self promotion> http://www.summitpost.org/so-you-want-to-climb-mt-rainier/507227 This article includes some tips on climbing Mount Rainier, training tips, gear tips, as well as suggestions for helpful books, resources, and links to the NPS site for reserving camp sites and their permit system. </shameless self promotion>

Oh, my mountain climbing experience: I've been around the block a couple times.
Last edited by ExcitableBoy on Thu Jun 07, 2012 7:15 pm, edited 7 times in total.
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Re: Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby mountainsandsound » Thu Jun 07, 2012 5:42 pm

Oh man. You joined summitpost just to make sure your husband doesn't do anything dumb. That is funny. I wonder if my lady is lurking on this site.

Probably should tell him to do Adams instead.
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Re: Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby Snidely Whiplash » Thu Jun 07, 2012 5:42 pm

My guess is that if one of you falls into a crevasse, the other will be able to arrest the fall, but with a two-man team, no one will be able to assist the climber out of the crevasse, which means it will be up to him/her to do it by him/herself. Speaking from experience, that is really, really hard. You'll be imposing on passing climbing parties to help out. If you're comfortable with that, fine. Otherwise, like Excitable Boy says, get a third person.
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Re: Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby ExcitableBoy » Thu Jun 07, 2012 6:09 pm

mountainsandsound wrote:You joined summitpost just to make sure your husband doesn't do anything dumb.

My wife is VERY picky about with whom I climb. Some partners she trusts implicity, others she has forbid me to climb with again.
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Re: Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby clmbr » Thu Jun 07, 2012 6:24 pm

People climb Rainier in a day. I think the average time is 18 hours. However, fitness is mandatory to be able to walk up the slope but it's not enough to navigate through crevasses. The good news is there is a snow path and wands as well as many other people climbing (usually) all the way to the top, so they just may follow it, assuming they are attempting the standard route from Paradise.

The other good news is that your husband's friend turned back a few times due to bad weather. The bad news, however, is that this time, especially your husband, is so badly determined to summit due to…

They may be lucky that the route conditions and weather would play in their favor and as long as they are physically and mentally fit may make to the summit and back.

However, if the conditions change: storms & whiteouts may come on volcanoes quickly without much warning, the visibility may become none, the snow path may disappear, the navigation becomes extremely difficult; or on the opposite side, starting around noon to evening the heat may make bridges very weak, create many rock falls or even avalanches. The snow path and wands are set by climbers (guides and rangers) at reasonable climbing time when the air is cold and snow hard but after that time the fixed ropes set (e.g. on DC) for safety become traps if used. Once again they may be lucky.

I assume they are very proficient with self-arrest techniques, so in case of a fall on some steep slope they would be able to stop before being consumed by a mouth of a gigantic crevasse or hidden one. But if one of them is not so lucky, would he know how to get out of the crevasse; or if hurt, would the other one know how to rescue him? Yes there may be many other climbers around but don't count on their skills or willingness to risk their lives by helping others.

The conclusion:
Climbing such a big and heavily crevassed volcano is not just physical fitness contest. It requires a great deal of expertise and skills. "It's not just the route. It's the conditions." Most often people die in the mountains due to the rapid conditions change. But perhaps those are most often unlucky lucky. I would definitely recommend making this overnight (with base camp) trip which would dramatically shorten the exposure time in questionable area (above 10,000) and provide more options for making rational decisions. Well, I can only wish them to have perfect route and weather conditions, so they can make the roundtrip safely.

I feel much safer traversing glaciers alone than with questionable (lucking skills and experience) people. You should always ask a question, "what if?" If you cannot find a favorable answerer, then well, you are playing Russian roulette.
Last edited by clmbr on Thu Jun 07, 2012 8:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby clmbr » Thu Jun 07, 2012 6:40 pm

By the way, the high altitude sickness may strike anyone at any time. But I would avoid climbing to extreme exhaustion and then (especially without losing elevation) taking a nap or longer rest.
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Re: Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby wifey » Thu Jun 07, 2012 8:15 pm

I should mention that my husband is prepared to turn around before reaching the summit if that's the wise thing to do. His friend strikes me as cautious about these sorts of things, too. I'm more worried about the situation turning on them before they get a real chance to decide to head back down (ex: surprise storm, crevass accident, altitude sickness). I've hiked to 19,000 ft myself, and I acutely remember how the altitude snuck up on me. I went from feeling okay to not wanting to go another 100 ft. pretty quickly. If you layer on top of this weather or technical issues I fear that they could have some big problems.
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Postby Wastral » Thu Jun 07, 2012 8:46 pm

I don't have a problem with his fitness level. Many folks run up and down Rainier in under 24 hours. I believe the record is under 8 hours. Altitude sickness can hit folks as low as 8000 feet. It has happened to me before at 9000. I hadn't been drinking enough water and salts and it laid me out. Likewise I have been perfectly fine at 13,000-14,000 feet when living at sea level as well. For some reason around 13,500 no matter what condition I am in, I will always start to get altitude sick. IE fly from here to Colorado and immediately climbing or going up Rainer. Difference is that in Colorado the weather is generally very benign and descent is very easy and straight forward. On Rainier it is not.

I do have a problem with their lack of crevasse rescue skills. On 2 person teams they BOTH must be proficient. From what you have said your husband certainly is not. How much belay/self arrest practice does your husband have? Seems like none. So, if his climbing friend falls in, it seems highly likely to me that your husband will 1) not be able to stop the slip/fall/bridge fall in as he has no practice doing so, and 2) If he does stop the fall he won't be able to extract himself.

I would personally NOT climb Rainier with your husband because of his lack of high angle snow and crevasse rescue skills.

If he puts in the time to learn crevasse rescue and practice it, then I would have no problems going up Rainier with him, though not on a 2 person team as he has no high angle crampon/ice axe skills meaning his likelyhood of a slip is fairly high. 1st rule of alpine snow/ice: DO NOT SLIP! DO NOT SEND ROCKS DOWN ON YOUR PARTNER! It is a learned skill. On a 3 person team, Ok. Any climbing team needs at least 2 highly proficient climbers skilled in crevasse rescue, otherwise if the knowledge is in the hole or injured...

2 person team one essentially has to equate it to going solo in regards to carefulness and knowledge.

PS> I almost killed my brother due to rock fall. IT IS NOT a good feeling even though it theoretically wasn't my fault as it was a 3 foot boulder I stepped on that slid out beneath me even though it "rang" sound when the knock test was used. I was still at fault as recollection has forced me to observe said rock was on slab and said slab wasn't a divit, or much of one even though said rock/slab looked like it was attached. Thankfully we had set up the belay station behind a rock outcrop as we were worried about SMALL rockfall as the entire area was a choss fest. HA! SMALL! HA!
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Re: Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby mountainsandsound » Thu Jun 07, 2012 9:09 pm

ExcitableBoy wrote:My wife is VERY picky about with whom I climb. Some partners she trusts implicity, others she has forbid me to climb with again.


So is mine. Her people reading skills are off the charts. Personalities aside, the ex-guides, wilderness EMTs, ski patrollers = potentially good partners. Old college friends who show up at crags with a belay beer and smelling like doobie = no chance. We have the same opinion on that though.
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Re: Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby clmbr » Thu Jun 07, 2012 9:28 pm

wifey wrote:...I'm more worried about the situation turning on them before they get a real chance to decide to head back down (ex: surprise storm, crevass accident, altitude sickness)... ...If you layer on top of this weather or technical issues I fear that they could have some big problems.

You are right, that's the Russian roulette part if they are not really prepared for the worst. But on the bright side, many people on this route (except rangers and guided trips and few other) are on the same page: lucky lucky, and then they proudly say "I've climbed Mt Rainier." Statistically not too many people die on Rainer. You just want to make sure not to become one.

Camping at Camp Muir gives many benefits (mentioned already) but one of other benefits is the ranger on duty who has access to the current weather conditions as well as may suggest if it's "safe" to climb. The other benefit is making the "go/not to go" decision based on observation of other climbers. If majority of them go, it usually is a good time to climb. If only few or none go, I would ask a question "why" and reevaluate my options.

I'm not advising climbing Rainier without proper preparation though.

* * *

However, I've climbed Rainier before with 2 person team (three different routes). Neither of them had previous mountaineering experience (except rock climbing). My policy, however, is very strict, "NO FALLING." I set up belay station on icy sections and while crossing questionable crevasses. They were scared sometimes and they had to be.

But most of other times (on other mountains) I turned back even before touching the glacier. And those people told me they were experienced and also took some mountaineering (technical) classes before. For me roping is basicly increasing risk dramatically; unless, with the "right" people.
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Re: Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby splattski » Fri Jun 08, 2012 9:03 pm

Lots of good points made here, especially altitude issues being affected by fatigue, and problems with crevasse rescue.
Rainier makes for a long day, with 9000' of gain. Then back down. If you are fit, it can be done (I've done it). But running or cycling, while great training for going uphill, doesn't really prepare your legs for descending.
And last, if you are going against the flow of climbers, it can really slow you down. The main route is a 'trail' that is one climber wide, and the many switchbacks mean that ropes are all over the place. If you are polite (and safe) you stop and allow people to pass. That really slows things down.
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Re: Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby Ben Beckerich » Sat Jun 09, 2012 12:23 am

I'm so glad my wife has never had jack shit to do with my climbing.
where am i going... and why am i in this handbasket?
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Re: Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

Postby Ben Beckerich » Sat Jun 09, 2012 1:26 am

Hay, I'm not the shit-talking internet climbing board poster, but I just feel compelled to stand up to this madness. I can't believe all of you are just playing into this and freaken helping this chick totally undercut her husband.

OP- Is your husband an able and competent human being?

Yes? Then how's about having a little faith in his decisions?

No? You shouldn't have married the worthless sod to begin with- do yourself a favor and let him walk off the edge of the planet.

Does your husband know that people die on Rainier all the time? I bet he does. I bet he's decided to be a big boy and climb that sonuvabitch anyway- like every climber who climbs mountains that've killed people. Should a couple noobs go climb Rainier? YES. They should, if they feel compelled to. Know how I started climbing? I bought a rope, and grabbed a couple friends, and I climbed the closest peak. That happened to be Hood, but if it'd been Rainier in my back yard, it would have been Rainier.

Give the guy some credit.
where am i going... and why am i in this handbasket?
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