Climb Mt. Rainier

Climb Mt. Rainier

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Mountaineering

So you think you want to climb Mt. Rainier?

After all, the NFL commissioner did it- so it can’t be THAT difficult, right? Hmmm. Okay, well, you’ll get over that soon enough. Let me guess, you’ve been training hard for a year now, right? Climbing stairs (trails, step mills, stair masters) with a heavy pack… walking instead of driving… and you’ve dropped a deposit on the guided trip of your choice (mostly based on the days you were able to take off from work).

First of all, climbing up and down flights of stairs with a heavy pack on is just another way to destroy the remainder of the connective tissue in your knees, hips and ankles. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Here’s some food for thought: mountains aren’t climbed straight up and down like a staircase. If they were, anybody (including you) could put on a pack and just walk up and down. Think back to the 12 Day Mountaineering Course you participated in recently; roped glacier travel, walking/climbing in crampons, self-arrest, self-belay… what’s that? You didn’t take a mountaineering course? Huh?

Do not advance to “Go”, do not even think of peak bagging until you have some idea of what you are getting into. I know, the Muir route is billed as an “easy, walk-up route” and it’s only a three day climb… any ole person could do that, right? Hmmm.

Providing you did have the wisdom and foresight to prepare for climbing by taking a mountaineering course, you should have some basic tools in your toolbox. Dust them off, and follow me to the next topic: The Gear List. Of course you can rent most if not all of the required gear from the guiding outfit. But should you? Only if you want to take a chance on boots that may not fit properly and might even take chunks of your heels as a souvenir, a pack that mysteriously sways from side to side in spite of every effort to control it, and the chance that your trip may not have the outcome you desire (missing heel chunks can do that to an expedition). Consider this: you wouldn’t take off on a marathon in used running shoes that you have never tried before. Or maybe you would. In that case, you are NOT OKAY and should immediately seek professional help. I realize that plastic mountaineering boots don’t require a break-in period, blah, blah, blah… but the LINERS of these boots are in direct contact with your feet (and were in direct contact with the feet of the 18 climbers who preceded you) and it is possible that the liners are worn down just a bit, maybe even lost some of their cushioning, and they might even smell like someone else’s sweaty feet. Just saying. As for your backpack… in a world where companies like Osprey make custom heat moldable hip belts (male/female specific, too) and size them to fit your torso length perfectly… why on earth would you take a chance on loading a pack with 65 pounds of junk and finding out halfway through the first day of the climb that it is wearing a hole in your iliac crest? I promise you, it is not a super cool discovery. Climbing harness? That seems easy enough. You really only need it for this trip (or so you think) and the guiding outfit seems confident that their trusty Alpine Bod will serve you just fine. Ladies, ladies. Come on! When is the last time you put one of those one and wore it all day long for several days? Do yourself a favor and buy an Arcteryx A300. The gear loops are removable (hmmmm… novel concept, considering that you will be wearing the pack OVER the climbing harness and the gear loops would otherwise provide for a dynamic shift in where the pack rests).

By now, you’re wondering if you can afford to do this trip on the shoestring budget you had planned. Anything is possible, but a few good pieces of your own gear could make all the difference between summiting and tapping out halfway through the trip. There are a few items you can safely rent from your guiding outfit: sleeping bag, closed cell foam pad, ice axe, possibly crampons (depends on which boots you bought, but we’ll get to that in a minute), avalanche transceiver, over-mitts, climbing hardware (belay device, ascender, ice screw). Beyond that, you pretty much want to dial in your own clothing system well in advance. This goes back to the rant about renting boots… wouldn’t you want to make sure that the layers you have chosen to protect you at 14,000 ft. actually will work well together AND you can work around them to relieve yourself while roped up to a team and in a climbing harness? Not feeling confident? Better practice. A lot.

Oh, the joys… that is a topic that seldom gets full coverage (no pun totally intended). However, it is a critical issue- especially for female climbers. There are no statistics readily available as to how many women lose out on a summit bid because they are dehydrated as a result of decreasing their fluid intake on the approach. Yes, it is awkward to deal with Nature’s call under these circumstances. But making a choice to NOT DRINK fluids in order to avoid having to pee is a recipe for failure. Guaranteed. And that doesn’t just apply to female climbers…

Now that this article has turned into a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” let’s hit the basics, starting with a good training program. If you are a well-conditioned athlete who regularly cross trains between 15-25 hours a week, add in some multi-day hikes over rough terrain, with significant elevation gain, that are more than 30 miles in total length. Put on a 65 pound pack and hike up and down hills, ravines, gulches, river crossings, ridgelines, cliff faces and marsh bogs for 8-10 hours at time. Set up your tent. Sleep with your tent on an incline with no less than three hummocks, rocks and holes under your sleeping pad. If there is no wind blowing, have your tent partner slap you with a dirty sock, randomly, as soon as you doze off. Then wake up and do it all over again, increasing your mileage and hiking hours by half. Still feel like a well-conditioned athlete? Congratulations. You’ll survive the latter half of the trip just fine.

Starting to wonder if I’m exaggerating? Try it. Or not. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. If the above training hike completely decimates you for a week, or you are unable to plan/complete a wilderness hike, stop and consider whether or not you are going to enjoy winter camping at altitude after aggressively climbing for 8-10 hours a day (or more). The wind blows, it often rains even on the glacier, and sleep can be elusive- especially if the guides snore. (They have learned to sleep under these conditions, which means that you are likely to be wide awake, with your tent lashed to theirs, on a ledge of snow chipped out of the side of the glacier, with the wind howling and the sound of their peaceful sleep resonating in your ears). Be sure to include ear plugs in your personal gear.

This is by no means a comprehensive gear checklist, overview of climbing conditions or even sound advice. It is simply a collection of random thoughts on preparing to climb. If I were to pinpoint the crux of any trip, it would be the living room floor. The most important stage of your trip is your personal gear check. If you haven’t comprehensively constructed a gear pile that it nearly equal to your climbing objective, well… there’s going to be plenty of time to wish you had. Try out each piece of gear. Test it. Wear it. Climb in the sleeping bag (preferably while in a tent, on a multi-day hike).

Knees giving you trouble? It’s unconventional, but I recommend training for your climb by cycling. A lot. Long distance grinders with loads of hills will build the same quad, hamstring and calf muscles that you will come to rely on when climbing. Cycle for hours at a stretch, learning to hydrate, refuel, pace yourself, breathe, and eventually do it all with minimal effort. Then fill your panniers with heavy, bulky items and ride for hours with greater wind resistance and more weight to push uphill. Believe me, you will thank yourself later for this bit of ingenious torture. Right about the time that you summit with a big smile on your face, instead of crying like the NFL commissioner did. Contrary to the bit of folk wisdom I hear bantered about from time to time, you don’t have to be a marathon runner to climb big mountains. Having the strength and endurance comparable to a marathon runner is enviable, but there are no absolutes. I had a guy tell me once that if I couldn’t sustain an 8 minute mile pace for 26 miles that I couldn’t climb a mountain. Huh. That’s one person’s theory… and I still don’t run unless a bear is chasing me.

When it’s all said and done, be honest with yourself about where you stand. What is your conditioning level? If you honestly don’t know how to gauge it, find a qualified, certified personal trainer and ask them to help you figure it out. We have our ways....

Rule of thumb, if you are a guy- you probably have overestimated your fitness level and capability by at least 1/3. If you are a woman, you have most likely underestimated by ½. If you don’t know who you are, I can’t help you. It’s all good. That’s why starting your planning process, training program and gear accumulation well in advance of any given trip is highly advisable. When in doubt, do your own research. There is an enormous amount of information available about every piece of gear, incredible beta on every imaginable climbing route, and reviews of every major guide service. Don’t be shy.

Want more information on gear or particulars on training for a climb? Leave a comment or go to my profile and click on the email link.

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Viewing: 1-20 of 30
Sierra Ledge Rat

Sierra Ledge Rat - Aug 2, 2009 11:02 am - Hasn't voted


You are too funny. BTW, I like to sleep on hummocks with rocks poking me in the back.....


Titanium - Aug 18, 2009 2:05 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Ha!

Glad you enjoyed the hummocks! For more hummock-humor, check out a recent whitewater kayaking trip post:


nickkarl - Aug 2, 2009 12:06 pm - Voted 10/10

Random Thoughts

Sometimes a collection of random thoughts can be the best advice you will ever get! Thanks for the entertaining write-up.


Andinistaloco - Aug 2, 2009 10:50 pm - Voted 10/10


I dig your writing style... this one flows well and it's a pleasure to read.

Keep in mind, though, that not all of us learned how to climb by taking mountaineering courses. Some did it the old fashioned way... by gradually doing harder and harder stuff, and by climbing with a variety of partners with a variety of experiences. ;)

Cool story! Have a beer at the Arctic Bar for me... if it's still there.


Tbacon251 - Aug 3, 2009 12:09 am - Voted 10/10

This was great!

Ha! I loved this! Great article/thoughts!


lingana - Aug 3, 2009 6:06 am - Hasn't voted

Nice !

Funny and nice way of saying - Beware....
I liked the last part - If you don't know who you are: hehehehe !!!!
Good One...


Alpinechallenges - Aug 3, 2009 9:11 am - Hasn't voted

Im not usually one to start contraversy usually, but....

All very insightful and good wisdom for most people.
That being said, I have done Mt. Rainer in two days, off the couch, unguided and it took us half the time must guide books suggest. If I went back to do it again, I would do it alone, in a day, car to car, with my skis, as many of my friends have done. If you are not a climber, the above advice is wondeful for you.
It is a big mountain and can kill people. Hire a guide, get good gear, train hard, period.
My take on it, if you are experienced enough to have a well used harness and broken in boots, scratched up crampons and a well worn pack, then you are probably experienced enough to climb Mt. Rainer. Being from a Badass state like Montana helps too!!
( I am probably one of those guys that overestimates his ability by 1/3)
Thanks for your wisdom Titanimum

Steve Larson

Steve Larson - Aug 3, 2009 12:11 pm - Hasn't voted

Entertaining, but...

just a wee bit overblown, dontcha think?


realdeal577 - Aug 3, 2009 2:06 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Entertaining, but...

way overblown!! Its Rainier not K2!


Titanium - Aug 3, 2009 3:31 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Entertaining, but...

Remain calm... you are not the target audience. It was a humorous piece written for the benefit of those who have not climbed and are thinking of jumping into the fray without fully thinking it through. Believe me, there are one or two members of that audience still lost on the way to White River campground. Cheers :)


realdeal577 - Aug 5, 2009 6:13 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Entertaining, but...

Sorry if I offended you. It was a good read, actually it made me think a little. =)


Titanium - Aug 18, 2009 1:50 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Entertaining, but...

No offense taken- and I should have clarified the target audience up front.


ExcitableBoy - Aug 3, 2009 8:19 pm - Voted 4/10

Beginners perspective

It was interesting to read the perspective of a beginner.


Titanium - Aug 18, 2009 1:56 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Beginners perspective

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." TS Eliot

Cygnus - Aug 3, 2009 10:52 pm - Hasn't voted

Entertaining AND...

Funny! And might help some of the folks who dont perpetually have a bivy sack or crampons drying in the bathroom.


Baarb - Aug 4, 2009 4:38 pm - Voted 10/10

Good read

As a current climber of active volcanoes rather than snowy mountains I found the article full of useful advice particularly with regards to fitness and gear hire. I've had invitations from colleagues to climb Cotopaxi and Rainier before but having read this certainly makes me reassess my state of readiness for such things.


welle - Aug 6, 2009 12:31 pm - Hasn't voted

self-loathing sexist

"Rule of thumb, if you are a guy- you probably have overestimated your fitness level and capability by at least 1/3. If you are a woman, you have most likely underestimated by ½."

I was going to actually put a title "Sexist", but then clicked on your profile - don't generalize and put down your gender! We, women, actually tend to be way conservative. Also, just like in rock climbing, I find that women tend to make smaller more efficient steps then huge lunges men make that use bigger quad/ham/glute muscles that take up more oxygen...


MountaingirlBC - Aug 9, 2009 4:15 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: self-loathing sexist

I think she was saying that women tend to be more fit than they think wasn't she? I think you are both making the same point. :)


Titanium - Aug 18, 2009 2:18 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: self-loathing sexist

Mountain Girl mediated that one nicely- but I have to say that is the first time a woman has offered me such a title... to read my thoughts on "a woman's place" in life:


welle - Aug 21, 2009 11:44 am - Hasn't voted

Re: self-loathing sexist

LOL, I just re-read it, and yes, MountainGirl is right. Sorry!

Viewing: 1-20 of 30