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How to Climb Mt. Rainier, Part 2: Going for It

Enough planning; it's time to climb Rainier.

About me: A hiker/scrambler who has logged an estimated 11,000 career trail miles; total includes frequent peakbagging, including a 21-mile day hike to the summit of California's 14,494-foot Mt. Whitney; never previously roped up for a technical climb. Why? Not a fan of slow paces or icy conditions.

The challenge: Climb 14,411-foot Mt. Rainier, the fifth-highest peak in the lower 48. In 2009, 10,616 people of varying skill levels attempted to summit Rainier; 6,438 succeeded (almost 61 percent).

Game plan: Know all regulations; begin Sunday morning (July 18); hike up the Skyline Trail near the Paradise Visitor's Center (5,420 feet) past Camp Muir (10,080 feet, a common camping spot for climbers); continue to Ingraham Glacier (11,000 feet) and camp. On Monday, rise at 1 a.m. (ugh); begin climbing by 2 a.m. (double ugh); travel 5 miles and ascend roughly 3,400 feet, taking 5-6 hours; gasp and wheeze only when no one is looking. Soak up the early-morning view from the summit; descend to Paradise by late afternoon. Dump barrel of Gatorade on climb leader.

My posse: A 12-person party organized and led by the wise, patient and kind-hearted Mark Scheffer, a volunteer climbing instructor from the Seattle branch of The Mountaineers, a Pacific Northwest nonprofit club created in 1906 that promotes wilderness exploration. Team members range from experienced climbers (including several who have previously stood atop Rainier) to fellow Rainier novices.

My preparation: Began with preexisting good health and active lifestyle, though love of cookies fills my heart with song and regret; researched the climb in detail; turned research into a trio of how-to-climb-Rainier articles for The Seattle Times (worth reading if you're contemplating a climb); boosted intensity of leg workouts and cardiovascular training at gym (where I'm a stair-stepper fool); spent a day in the company of Mark sliding down a snowfield practicing self-arrest (grade: C+, but Mark figures I'll somehow survive); repeatedly hiked nearby peaks with increasingly heavier loads; 10 days before the climb tromped up 6,100-foot Desolation Peak (4,500-foot elevation gain in 5 miles) in the North Cascades National Park Complex while toting a 35-pound pack on a 90-degree day; 7 days before climb carried a 50-pound pack to 7,500-foot level at Rainier, where thick, lowering clouds persuaded me to turn back and reacquaint myself with my appreciation for roofs and climate-controlled spaces.

My mindset: Confident, but not cocky. Legs? Strong. Lungs? Strong. Concerns? How will I perform above 10,000 feet? Will I go gangbusters or get gassed? Altitude has humbled me before. Recommended antidote: Keep eating, keeping hydrating. Pre-climb goal: Keep pack weight low. Speaking of which…

My gear list: Climb-specific items

Helmet (borrowed)
Plastic boots (rented)
Crampons (rented)
Harness (borrowed)
Ice axe (borrowed)
Carabiners (borrowed)
Single ski pole with large basket (borrowed)


Pack (REI XT85)
Bag (Marmot Pinnacle +15)
Pad (Exped Downmat 9)     
Headlamp (Petzl Tikka XP2)
Multitool (Leatherman Juice S2)
Compass (Silva Ranger CL)
First-aid supplies
Water bottles and hydration bladder         
Sandwich (for climb up)
Freeze-dried meal (Backpacker's Pantry Shepherd's Pie)
Quick-energy foots (several Hammer products, inlcuding gels, bars, drink mixes, protein drinks and recovery drinks, plus chews from FRS)
Spoon (skipping a pot)
Lip balm
Cell phone
Toilet paper and WAGbags
Climbing permit ($30 annual fee)
Camping permit (free)

Shared gear

Glacier rope
Stoves and fuel


Waterproof/breathable shell (Arc'Teryx Theta AR)
Waterproof/breathable pants (vintage item; owned 'em since the 1980s)
Insulating jacket (REI Salix; PrimaLoft insulation; available in fall)
Insulating pants (vintage Patagonia fleece)
Insulating pullover (REI OXT Activestretch; available in fall)
Wool tee (SmartWool NTS Microweight)
Synthetic long underwear (Patagonia Capilene)
Synthetic briefs (REI Briefs)
Wool socks (SmartWool Hiking Socks)
Waterproof/breathable gaiters (Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain High)
Insulated gloves (Outdoor Research Arete)
Balaclava (vintage item; a colleague recommends bringing it in case the wind whips up)
Sun-shielding hat (vintage Gilligan-style fedora; zero style points, but useful)
Sunglasses plus goggles (in lieu of glacier glasses, since I wear eyeglasses)

Whaddaya think, folks? What would you add to my pack? What would you leave out? And do you think I, the novice climber, will summit? Mark wonders if my coworkers are running a make-it/won't-make-it pool. Ha. Don't bet against the blogger.

Read part 1 of this blog series.


Sunset view of summit (by Mike Gauthier).

T.D. Wood sizing up conditions at Rainier 7 days prior to his climb.

T.D. Wood trains by climbing to summit of 6,100-foot Desolation Peak (North Cascades National Park Complex); Ross Lake stretches out in the background.


Posted on at 6:05 PM

Tagged: Climbing, The Mountaineers and mt. rainier

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Joe P. Staff Member

Good luck!

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Do you have shorts to hike in if it is nice? A summer hike up the snow field is actually quite warm! I love Snickers bars for the trek to Muir. Good luck!!


I'm curious to know how it goes. My only suggestion would have been bring some real food and a cup for a good hot beverage.


I am impressed by your training Terry. I wish I could have done some with you.


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