At 14,411′, Mt. Rainer is one of the five tallest peaks in the lower 48 states. Even more stunning is its location in an amazing national park with easy access. Our adventure to Mt. Rainier National Park was a last minute decision made partly because of an easy flight from Denver to Seattle. Upon arriving in Seattle we rented an SUV and loaded up on supplies at the original REI store in downtown Seattle before embarking on the two hour drive to Mt. Rainer NP’s southwest entrance.
You know you are in climbing country when you arrive in the small town of Ashford just outside the park. There you will find several climbing outfitters, the biggest being RMI, mountaineering shops, and fellow climbers loaded down with heavy backpacks. To contact RMI visit their website www.rmiguides.com. To summit Rainer you have two options. Either book a guided trip way in advance with an outfitter or climb by yourself. Should you choose the unguided option, proper glacier experience and training is necessary. Training courses are available from the outfitters as well. You may also obtain all permits ahead of time (they are only needed to ascend above the Camp Muir base camp located at 10,000 ft.) or pick them up at the ranger station within the park (reservations are recommended).
In our case, glacier training was a problem. We haven’t been trained to climb alone, but had no reserved spots on a guided trip. We put our names on cancellation list with RMI in hopes that other climbers might not show, giving us a chance at the summit. After camping and hiking in the park for a few days we decided to get permits for the Camp Muir shelter and make the trip on our own since nothing opened up at RMI. It’s an easy drive through the park to the Paradise Visitor Center at 4836′. There is a parking lot for climbers and the ranger station has all the maps you might need for shorter hikes or the hike to Muir. Learn more about MRNP by visiting their website, www.nps.gov/mora.
The hike itself is almost entirely on glaciers and snow so boots with crampons are a great idea. While the hike to Muir is only 4.65 miles, it’s uphill and strenuous. The views are spectacular and you feel like you are on Everest as you watch the hiker’s up above you. There is a staircase of steps in the snow for the steepest parts of the trail, created by the many rope teams of mountaineers walking single file. While Alex made it to camp in five hours, it took me an additional two; most of which was spent taking 50 steps and then stopping for a 50 count breather.
As you’ll see in the video, Camp Muir will give you a taste of what it’s like to climb Denali or Everest. The camp has an air of success and ambition as well as apprehension. Bottom line as adventures go, it’s just plain cool!