Each year at our Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge Finishers Party, we do an exercise we call Your Next Adventure. We ask everyone to take an index card and a permanent marker and write down their big adventure goals for the year ahead. The simple act of committing it to paper, and sharing it with others is the first step towards making a dream become reality.
UPDATE: Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, our trip was postponed one year, so I’ll be attempting this in 2021.
A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true. – Greg S. Reid
Two years ago, my big goal was to climb Mount Shasta. Last year, it was to thru-hike the Wonderland Trail. For 2020, my big goal is to climb Mount Rainier. It will be an attempt, as any mountain as big, gnarly and technical as Rainier may have other ideas. The weather may not cooperate. Someone on our team might get injured. There are any number of reasons why the climb might be called off. And so you have to go into it telling yourself (and others) not that “I’m going to climb Mount Rainier” but rather “I’m going to attempt to climb Mount Rainier.” Statistically, only about half the people who attempt to climb Mount Rainier in any given year successfully reach the summit.
Climbing Mount Rainier with a Guide Service or as an Independent Group?
Once I had made the commitment to climb Mount Rainier, the next step was to assess whether this was something I wanted to tackle with a guide service, or as an independent group. Mount Rainier is the most technical mountain I will have attempted, mainly because of the weather conditions, the glacier travel (often with deep crevasses), and the gear required. I had coaxed one of my Wonderland Trail friends, Jason Fitzpatrick to join me on this adventure, after all, we had hiked all the way around the mountain. We might as well climb it.
We quickly decided that going with a guide service would be well worth the additional cost. Neither of us have aspirations of following this attempt with more technical climbs, so having the support of experts who have done this dozens if not hundreds of times themselves would be invaluable. And just as it’s helpful to hike a new trail with someone who has been there before, there’s a comfort that comes with going with an experienced guide.
We opted to sign-up with International Mountain Guides for their 3-1/2 day climb via the “standard” Disappointment Cleaver route. They have a 2:1 client-to-guide ratio, and permanent camps setup at Camp Muir and The Flats (our two overnight camps on Rainier). They provide the tents, stoves, group climbing gear, and even cook breakfast and dinner (I’ve heard rumors of awesome breakfast burritos). This means I won’t have to carry quite as much stuff, and my pack weight should come in around 35 pounds; a lot for a summer backpacking trip, but relatively light for winter mountaineering.
The cost for a guide service isn’t cheap. Booking the 3-1/2 day climb with IMG cost $1,571, and that doesn’t even including getting up to Mount Rainier National Park from Southern California. Paying that bill made the commitment all the more real. I had skin in the game.
Rescue Travel Insurance
One of the items that IMG strongly recommends is rescue travel insurance. I ended up getting the trip insured through Ripcord Rescue Travel Insurance. I’m covered in the event of a medical or rescue evacuation, as well as trip cancellation (fingers crossed that COVID-19 doesn’t become a factor).
Disappointment Cleaver-Ingraham Glacier Route Overview
Our first half day is spent at IMG headquarters reviewing the gear and schedule. The climbing begins on day two. We begin at the Paradise Ranger Station (5,420 feet) and climb the Muir Snowfield to Camp Muir (10,030 feet). We will climb nearly 4,600 feet in 4.5 miles, practicing climbing techniques along the way. Incidentally, Camp Muir has a couple of stone huts and is said to be quite lively with groups of climbers and hikers gathering year round. Camp Muir is the highest point on Mount Rainier that you can climb without a climbers permit, as it is (technically-speaking) a non-technical ascent. As long as you stay on the Muir Snowfield, there is no glacier travel to that point. Camp Muir is also one of the goals of the Pacific Northwest Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge.
Day three, we do glacier travel and skills training on the Cowlitz Glacier before a relatively easy and short climb up Cathedral Gap, then up the Ingraham Glacier to our final camp at The Flats (11,200 feet). We retire early for a short sleep and and alpine start shortly after midnight.
On day four, we start by the light of our headlamps (similar to what I did with Mount Shasta from Lake Helen) with the goal of climbing the remaining 3,210 vertical feet to the summit near sunrise. From there, it’s all the way back down to Paradise in one long day with 12-14 hours of trekking.
And that’s if all goes well.
In my next two posts, I’ll be talking about the gear requirements for climbing Mount Rainier and go over my training program.