Map, Compass & GPS

Map, Compass & GPS
Wild flowers along Fall Creek on the way to the Green Lakes - Oregon

Monday, March 27, 2017

Fire and Ice: How To Prepare for Climbing Mount Rainier

Lee Flynn has a new post for us:
Fire and Ice: How To Prepare for Climbing Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier is one of the most iconic peaks in the United States. Rising 14,410 feet above sea level, this active volcano combines breathtaking beauty with unpredictable and occasionally life-threatening hazards. Summiting this unique mountain is an exhilarating and unforgettable experience, but it does take some special preparation.

Focus on Fitness  

To reach Mount Rainier's summit, expect to climb a minimum of 9,000 feet in elevation while carrying at least 35 pounds of gear. The extensive glaciation means that it's not a simple hike, either. You may have to use your hands to hoist yourself up or rely on crampons and other tools that may change the way you move. Start training early and focus on a general fitness plan that works all your major muscle groups. Include both short-term, intense cardiovascular exercises and endurance training.

Learn the Skills

Mount Rainier's extensive glaciation means that snow and ice stick around all year, as do the hazards that accompany them. Make sure to practice climbing in those conditions. Avalanches are less common during the climbing season, which lasts from April to September, but they remain a risk all year. Learn to recognize and avoid avalanche-prone areas. Make sure you know ice climbing skills, such as how to self-arrest with an ice ax. Get basic training in first aid and rescue techniques so you can handle any problems that may arise and choose a route appropriate to your skill level.

Pick Your Partners

No solo climbers are allowed on Mount Rainier, and the National Parks Service recommends at least three to four people per party. First-time or less experienced climbers typically have the best chance of summiting when they hire a professional guide. If you create your own expedition, try to choose teammates whose skills balance each other out. The most experienced mountaineer should generally be the team leader.

Know the Risks

Volcanic activity and glaciation create unusual risks that aren't found on many fourteeners in the United States. In addition to avalanche risk areas, learn to recognize unstable seracs, or ice cliffs, which can collapse and fall on climbers. Lower on the mountain, volcanic activity sometimes causes lahars, or debris flows, which can clog rivers and cause sudden and unexpected flooding. Mount Rainier also has notoriously unpredictable weather compared to many other mountains. Make sure to check weather reports and carry the right equipment to handle any likely weather conditions.

Test Your Gear

Never take unfamiliar gear on a major climb. Giving everything a trial run or two not only lets you identify any defective or ill-fitting equipment, but it also ensures that you know how to operate or assemble things. This can come in handy if you have to set up in the dark or in inclement weather. Make sure to try out any new technological equipment, too, such as testing solar chargers or familiarizing yourself with a vape box mod if you plan to use one on your climb.

Planning Is Everything

A detailed plan is the key to a successful summit. Make sure to create a realistic timeline for your climb. Tailor it to the slowest member of your team so no one feels rushed or exhausted. Plan around typical weather conditions as well. Climbing on glaciers during the afternoon can be grueling and unpleasant due to the warmth and the sun reflecting off of the snow. Most experienced climbers leave extremely early in the morning to maximize travel time while minimizing sun exposure. Stick to your plan no matter what to avoid getting stuck on the mountain in dangerous conditions. Remember that reaching the summit is only half of the journey, so don't spend too much time relaxing or celebrating before turning around to hike back down.

Mount Rainier's unique geology and environment combine to create an exceptional climbing experience, but reaching the summit can be dangerous. Planning, training and preparation are the keys to a fun and successful climb.

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