You've decided to climb Mt. Rainier, but you want to take the easiest route. You've come to the right place. This is a very
popular route. If you plan to climb on the weekend, it is recommended that you get permits ahead of time.
Your first day is a climb from Paradise (5500ft) to Camp Muir (10000ft) along the Muir Snowfield. This route is quite popular just as a dayhike, and during the summer months the trail is fairly crowded. In nice weather route-finding is easy and you simply follow the beaten path that starts at the large parking lot at Paradise. In less-than-nice weather, the route-finding on the Muir Snowfield can be trickier. You don't want to get too far off the correct path, or you might find yourself in a crevasse on the SE side. A surprising number of hikers have died on this "easy" section of the route. You can get a set of compass headings or GPS coords from the ranger station in Paradise. They are posted outside so you can get them any time of day.
Go early, and you can assure yourself a spot at the Muir hut, which can obviate the need for you to carry a tent. There are several alternatives if the permit quota is full for Camp Muir. You can go higher to Ingraham Flat, camp on the Muir Snow Field, or even at the base of Gibralter Rock Route. If you go during the week, you should have no trouble getting a permit. Be sure to get your permit at the ranger station - you have to stop here to pick one up even if you have advance reservations. The ranger station is on the north side of the large parking lot (not next to the visitor center).
Rainier Mountaineering Inc (RMI) grooms this route all season for the thousands of clients they take up Mt. Rainier each year. There are generally no technical sections, crevasses are well marked, and the steepest portion on the Disappoinment Cleaver (DC) has fixed ropes. The route is open from May to October, but late in the season significant crevasses open and the route necessarily meanders to find the easiest crossing. RMI fixes ladders late in the season to get over the nasty ones. Though most climbing is done before August because of the increased difficulties, speed ascents are often done at this time due to the lack of snow lower on the route. Chad Kellogg set the current record of just over 5hrs roundtrip from the Paradise Ranger Station during August.
Most people leave Camp Muir anywhere from between 10p and 2a, depending on their fitness level and expectations on how long it will take to climb. It is only a few miles, but another 4,500ft of vertical. Leaving Camp Muir, the route contours across the Cowlitz Glacier to Cathedral Gap. A shorter, steeper alternative is to take Cadaver Gap, but that is more difficult (and avalanche prone - Willi Unsoeld died coming down here). As you climb Cathedral Gap, shorten your rope between partners some to ease the negotiation of the switchbacks (then go back to regular spacing on the other side).
On the other side of Cathedral Gap, you climb onto the Ingraham Glacier and soon pass Ingraham Flat, an alternative overnight spot. The route contours around this glacier to the large rocky ridge to the north, the DC. Later in the season large gaps may open between the glacier and the cleaver, so be careful to watch your step, particularly if it is still dark. RMI fixes ropes at the base of the cleaver for the steepest section here that climbs up and to the right. Once on the ridge, the ropes end, and the climbing eases. Marvel at the sight of Little Tahoma Peak immediately behind you to the east. Follow the beaten path to the top of the DC where you will get a great view of the upper mountain.
You now climb out onto the Emmons Glacier for the last, steep climb to the crater rim. The oxygen gets scarce up here, so you probably have to slow down and take your time. Let others pass you if you are going slow, be courteous when attempting to pass others. This is not a Wilderness experience with all these folks out here, so take it easy and relax. You still have a long way to go. There are usually wands marking the entire route, and it is pretty easy to follow these in good weather. In nastier weather they are lifesavers and will guide you back along the proper route.
At the crater rim, the route goes left and enters the crater on the southeast side. The true summit is still 20 minutes away to the NW, though many parties call it quits at the crater. Go to the summit no matter how tired you are - that way you won't have any nagging regrets later. There are no crevasses in the crater so you can drop your ropes, packs, harnesses, and all the extra gear you carried but never used. Enjoy your moment on top of the world.
There are no technical sections, but it is recommended that your party carry some of the following:
harnesses (waist and chest)
That said, you may use almost none of this equipment on this route. But having it with you, and knowing how to use it will make your climb more enjoyable (and more responsible). Don't call for rescue unless its serious - the Park Service doesn't appreciate calls because climbers are tired or hungry or cold.
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