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kmehrtens

Rainier Advice for Newbie

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I am looking to climb Rainier next year (2011) with a guide service. Living in the mid-west, I am looking for some advice on the best time of year to go for the best chance of success. This will be my first venture into ice/glacier climbing, I do have experience in rock climbing, but this is something I have always wanted to do and my Wife said go for it, as long as you use a guide service. Any advice any one can give would be greatly appreciated.

 

Thanks in Advance.

 

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You want to get on it when the weather stable, yet before the summer heat melts out the cravasses and exposes glacier ice. Late Jun, early Jul is your best bet, give or take a few weeks depending on the particular snowpack that year.

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If going with a guide service, from what I know of them they will usually help you plan a fair bit and give you advice, so I'd pick one out and start working with them early on. I haven't used a guide service for climbing, but I've done some training with them and know some guides and they have always been good in helping their clients prep and plan. Also, if you reserve early you won't have to worry about your desired date slots being full.

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I am looking to climb Rainier next year (2011) with a guide service. Living in the mid-west, I am looking for some advice on the best time of year to go for the best chance of success. This will be my first venture into ice/glacier climbing, I do have experience in rock climbing, but this is something I have always wanted to do and my Wife said go for it, as long as you use a guide service. Any advice any one can give would be greatly appreciated.

 

Thanks in Advance.

 

I'm a guide for one of the three concessioner guide services in RNP; considering what you said above I think you would appreciate going on a guided trip.

 

Pros: 1) guides help w/ route finding, skill training, and safety. 2) Training info and equipment advice/rental services for your climb.

 

Cons: 1) having a fixed date/timetable - you take chances with the weather -if it doesn't cooperate, well that's out of our hands. July-Aug generally brings the most stable weather. 2) Partners on guided trips are random and you have no control over their preparedness/fitness level. Not saying they'll sabotage your chances, but it is something to consider if you are a hyper-driven/"summit fever"/type A personality.

 

Good thing you're looking ahead to 2011 - our trips fill up a year ahead!

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So it seems that Late July - Early August might be the better time. Does anyone have any other advice for me? Gear, training, etc. I'm looking at double plastic boots and backpacks currently.

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I guide w/ the Mountain Hardwear South Col pack (I bought it - was not a freebie) and like it - light and expandable but not too big either. Plastic boots are bomber and warm, though lighter insulated single boots will work in the warmer months of July & Aug. Boots are so personal though... make sure you work out the quirks (hot spots, toe bang, shin bang, etc) LONG before you get on Rainier... Highly recommend buying a Buff (or two) - its utility is amazing.

Edited by denalidevo

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... Highly recommend buying a Buff (or two) - its utility is amazing.

 

Buff? Big Ugly Flying Fellow (B-52)?

 

Ok, funny mode off, what is a buff?

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The snowpack is gonna be thin this summer so I wouldn't push it into August if I were you. Mid to late July is probably the safest bet.

 

Obvious advice: Train HARD and work up to a heavy pack on your back while training to make your exertion on Rainier seem less extreme.

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There's a lot of advice, but the 2 most important things I know are; make sure your crampons are sharp on climb day. And acclimatize, don't try to climb from sea level to the summit in 2 days, it turns it into a death-march ordeal. Go to Paradise (5,000 ft.) and hang out at least 24 hours before departure, prefer 48 hrs.

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The snowpack is gonna be thin this summer so I wouldn't push it into August if I were you. Mid to late July is probably the safest bet.

 

I believe he is looking to climb not this summer but in 2011...

 

make sure your crampons are sharp on climb day. And acclimatize, don't try to climb from sea level to the summit in 2 days, it turns it into a death-march ordeal. Go to Paradise (5,000 ft.) and hang out at least 24 hours before departure, prefer 48 hrs.

 

I wouldn't really worry about sharpening crampons: I climb Rainier 20-30 times a summer and have never felt it to be necessary. He's planning on climbing with a guide service, so who he choses will dictate whether he climbs it in two or three days. RMI does it essentially in 2 with one night at Muir; Alpine Ascents and IMG do it in three, with a day at Muir (10,000 ft.) and an evening at Ingraham Flats (11,000) - that could be an advantage. I don't believe hanging out at Paradise (5,000 ft.) will do too much for acclimatization - it's not high enough. Generally speaking, "high altitude" begins somewhere between 8-10,000 ft. Most people don't have any significant acclimatization issues at Muir - it's mostly a fitness thing up to that point, and once you leave high camp for the summit you should be on top and back down before your body "catches on" to what you're doing. Altitude (at least in regards to mountain sickness) isn't the biggest factor unless you get caught out overnight. Not saying it's easy work up high, but at least on Rainier it's primarily a factor of fitness (training), mastering the efficiency techniques the guides teach you, and mental determination. That said, summit day is a bitch-and-a-half (whether it's a two or three day schedule). Climbing 3-4,000 feet and descending 9,000+ feet in a day has brought many too their knees (literally)!

 

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I believe he is looking to climb not this summer but in 2011...
Oops! indeed! Pray for big snow next winter!

 

I don't believe hanging out at Paradise (5,000 ft.) will do too much for acclimatization - it's not high enough.
If you have extra time in your shcedule when you arrive, you could do Mount Adams which requires little to no technical skill on the south spur route but will give you plenty of altitude to start acclimatizing for Rainier. Just make sure you leave plenty of recovery time between the two. I realize this is probably not feasible for somebody traveling in from the midwest, but it's a thought. If you fly into PDX, Adams isn't far from there. You could go directly from the airport to Adams. PDX is also easier (but not as short) access to/from paradise so if you use RMI or IMG, you never have to deal with the mess of Sea-Tac and seattle traffic. It's also almost always cheaper to fly into PDX than SEA.

 

If you're interested in doing an Adams trip prior to Rainier, I can provide some specific advice on logistics for the out-of-towner. Before I moved to WA this winter, I lived in VA. I did this exact combo - PDX to Adams to Rainier. If you're short on gear or partners, I am certain you could find a person willing to go up it with you if you post in the Climbing Partners section.

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Does being up on adams for a few hours really do anything for acclimatizing? Or more get one mentally and physically tested/checked out for rainier..

 

I always had the impression that acclimatization was a bit like metabolism.. ..generally a low gear thing (whether you have a fast, slow, or average metabolism) that takes a lot of time to change one way or another, though you can have short-term impacts/reactions from it due to a variety of factors. For instance if you hike for 180 days almost non-stop, then stop for 7 and are eating everything you want, you probably won't gain too much weight cause your metabolism is still extremely high (or should be)

 

similar for acclimatization--?

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Does being up on adams for a few hours really do anything for acclimatizing? Or more get one mentally and physically tested/checked out for rainier..

 

It certainly wouldn't hurt! I think Adams via the South side is a perfect "warmup" for Rainier for both the altitude and physical aspects. Most people do it in a day, but if you were to camp overnight in the 8-10,000 ft. range - say within a week of climbing Rainier - I think you would see benefits.

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Debatability of actual acclimation effects aside, as denalidevo mentions, a 'new' mountaineer can get a LOT of use out of climbing Adams prior to Rainier.

 

You get a chance to walk on crampons, use an ice axe, get your gear/pack/clothing system dialed in, and hopefully pick up some knowledge from a partner.

 

PLUS it'll be terrific exercise and help make Rainier seem less impossible. Just don't cram it up too close to your Rainier trip or you won't have the recovery time you may need. Leave yourself a couple days at least.

 

If you're going with IMG, their first 'day' is actually just in Ashford to go over some basic information, techniques, safety topics, sort out your gear issues, etc.

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""I wouldn't really worry about sharpening crampons: I climb Rainier 20-30 times a summer and have never felt it to be necessary.""

 

One of these days you're going to get bit. What happens is the freezing level goes real high and then right around the time you summit a front quickly arrives and the freezing level plummets and makes the upper 2K to 3K a sheet of boilerplate ice. Your crampons had better be sharp. People have died from this very phenomenon including a climbing ranger due to inadequate crampons. Dull crampons are pretty common if you're doing the DC Cleaver a bunch of times in a summer. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

 

""I don't believe hanging out at Paradise (5,000 ft.) will do too much for acclimatization - it's not high enough. Generally speaking, "high altitude" begins somewhere between 8-10,000 ft.""

 

Then you've never tried it because it does make a difference. The guys that do the speed records acclimatize to Paradise.

 

And we are talking two different things. I'm talking pressure change and you are talking oxygen levels. With pressure change acclimatization 1,000' gain is the same from sea level to 1,000' as it is from 13,000' to 14,000'. If you acclimatize to 5,000, then you are that much closer to 14,000 than you would be from sea level. This is proven by how easy the 14ers are to climb in CO. (I used to live and climb there) All the valleys are mile high or better, and you can waltz to the 14K summits in 1 day. CO climbers come to Rainier and try to climb it in a day from sea level and get their asses kicked.

 

I've done Rainier both ways in the span of 1 year, in 2 days from sea level and in 4 days with 2 days at 5,000'. On the 4 day trip I was literally climbing circles around my buddies that had come right from sea level. My performance level difference between the two methods was like night and day.

 

Pressure change acclimatization has very little to do with physical conditioning. Oxygen level acclimatization is mostly to do with conditioning. Pulmonary and Cerebral Edema are caused by pressure change, that's why these can hit you no matter how good your aerobics are.

 

""That said, summit day is a bitch-and-a-half (whether it's a two or three day schedule)""

 

try it in 4 days, it turns it into something fun instead of a death march. I climbed it in 2 days with a school group from Pierce College. About 3/4 of them said it wasn't fun and they wouldn't do it again. People get dragged up when you do it in 2 days.

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This is proven by how easy the 14ers are to climb in CO. (I used to live and climb there) All the valleys are mile high or better, and you can waltz to the 14K summits in 1 day. CO climbers come to Rainier and try to climb it in a day from sea level and get their asses kicked.

 

I've guided several aspiring Coloradan's up Rainier. In my experience it's nothing to do with the altitude that causes them so much difficulty - it's the difference between climbing up Rainier's steep, treacherous glacial terrain efficiently vs. walking on a fairly benign trail/scramble at the same altitude in Colorado. In their case I think our clients from CO overestimate the altitude equation in their favor and come less prepared for the strenuous physical demands of Rainier.

 

Then you've never tried it because it does make a difference. The guys that do the speed records acclimatize to Paradise.

 

You're right, I've never tried it. I'm sure it may help, but I don't really need it - by the time I've guided my third trip of the year I'm fully acclimatized. And even on the first few trips I'm still more efficient than our clients, whom we take up at a slow, steady pace - it doesn't wear me out, so I don't bother to acclimatize beforehand. For most of our clients (who aren't there to set speed records), they don't have time to come early and hang out at Paradise - so for them physical conditioning is the key component vs. acclimatization.

 

Pressure change acclimatization has very little to do with physical conditioning. Oxygen level acclimatization is mostly to do with conditioning.

 

I was talking about acclimatization as it pertains to air pressure. I'm confused by your distinction of "pressure change acclimatization" and "oxygen level acclimatization", and I think such a distinction (as worded) is flawed.

 

What we think of as "oxygen level" on big mountains is directly related to pressure. In reality there isn't less oxygen at altitude - the amount of O2 molecules in the air is exactly the same as at sea level. The difference is the lower atmospheric pressure at high altitude causes the 02 molecules to spread farther apart, thus when you take a breath you get a lower concentration of O2 molecules per breath. It takes time for your body to adapt to this - this adaption process is termed acclimatization, and yes it has little to do with physical conditioning, but on a 3 day climb of Rainier you aren't getting acclimatized. That's why I've noticed good physical conditioning is more helpful than acclimatization for the clients I've guided. Now on Denali, it's a different matter: you spend 18-20 days on an expedition at much higher altitudes but exert less effort per day on average. I think you can actually be less in shape to climb Denali in 20 days comparatively than Rainier in 3, but acclimatization is key to that mountain regardless, where on Rainier it certainly helps but isn't a key factor.

 

try it in 4 days, it turns it into something fun instead of a death march. I climbed it in 2 days with a school group from Pierce College. About 3/4 of them said it wasn't fun and they wouldn't do it again. People get dragged up when you do it in 2 days.

 

I completely agree that four days is nicer than two. Again, kmehrtens (who started this inquiry) was talking about going with a guided service and none of them do a four day program via Camp Muir/DC (the company I work for does it in 3, not 2). All my advice was given in this context. Many of our clients would certainly enjoy a fourth day though... as would I, but I'm just a working stiff, I don't make the schedule. :)

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Wow, there is a lot of good advice flowing around here. I will need more time to read through all of it. I am looking to climber Rainier in 2011, it sounds like late July to EARLY August is best. I am looking to go with a guided service like RMI, IMG or AAI. I like AAI or IMG currently just from the fact that they spend a full day at 11,000 feet to help with acclimatization. I don't think I will have the time nor vacation to allow climbing Mt. Adams too. Living in the Midwest time my time will be limited, so I am hoping that my physical training/conditioning will push me to the top. I am going to try to spend the night before I meet up with the guide service near Paradise so I will not be coming straight from the Seattle area. My wife and I are going to try to spend a little time before the climb in Seattle as a mini vacation before Rainier. In the past I have not had problems going from sea level to 9,000 feet. We made the drive from sea level to the visitor station on Mauna Kea (9,000feet) in Hawaii in 2 hours this past fall and I had no high altitude effects, unlike my wife who did. So we did not make the summit.

 

Keep the advice coming, this is great and a load of help to a newbie who loves information.

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Wow, there is a lot of good advice flowing around here. I will need more time to read through all of it..

 

Glad we could help! Best of luck to you - train hard!

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kmehrtens, sounds like pretty reasonable plan.

 

If you're planning to stay at Paradise, keep in mind that AAI operates out of Seattle while RMI and IMG operate out of Ashford, only about 30-40min from Paradise (near the park entrance). It may be much more convenient for you to pick one of those two if you intend to be at the mountain the night before. And if you like the extra day at 11,000, well that helps narrow it down further. If you intend to be back in Seattle the night before, AAI seems an obvious choice.

 

All three fill up their programs fast (2010 3day programs are already full) so make sure you find out when registration opens for 2011 and get in early!

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One of these days you're going to get bit. What happens is the freezing level goes real high and then right around the time you summit a front quickly arrives and the freezing level plummets and makes the upper 2K to 3K a sheet of boilerplate ice. Your crampons had better be sharp. People have died from this very phenomenon including a climbing ranger due to inadequate crampons. Dull crampons are pretty common if you're doing the DC Cleaver a bunch of times in a summer. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

 

FYI - for kmehrtens and any other "newbies" who may be following along: It's not that a pair of well-conditioned crampons aren't important. Proper gear is very important, but on a guided trip (as kmehrtens was inquiring about) clients most likely rent or (occasionally) purchase a pair of new crampons, so in this sense I don't consider it one of the "two most important" things that you need to focus on. Any guide service you hire should give you advice as to what gear to bring for a particular trip and do a complete gear check prior to your climb, including inspecting your crampons. In my experience, clients often focus too much on the gear/technical aspects of climbing Rainier (toys are fun!) but I can count on two fingers the number of clients who actually overtrained for the climb (and they walked the mountain like they owned it!). That's why I have emphasized that clients focus on their physical conditioning (how hard you can work) and mental fortitude (how you handle suffering).

 

Regarding the scenario Buckaroo mentions above, sharp crampons would keep you attached to the mountain, but in the case of an actual fall would do little to stop you once you were off your feet. The conditions he outlined above warrant the use of fixed anchors and running belays, techniques I have used in such conditions when necessary. That's one of the reasons people often go with a guided trip, to handle such dicey situations safely.

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I've met AAI clients at Paradise before - just let the company know that's your plan so they aren't waiting for you to show up in Seattle.

 

kmehrtens, sounds like pretty reasonable plan.

 

If you're planning to stay at Paradise, keep in mind that AAI operates out of Seattle while RMI and IMG operate out of Ashford, only about 30-40min from Paradise (near the park entrance). It may be much more convenient for you to pick one of those two if you intend to be at the mountain the night before. And if you like the extra day at 11,000, well that helps narrow it down further. If you intend to be back in Seattle the night before, AAI seems an obvious choice.

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