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2-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?


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My husband wants to climb Rainier this summer with his friend. This is their plan (I’m not a climber, so my apologies in advance if I get technical stuff wrong):


• Two-man team on rope

• Start on a Friday night, hike straight through (i.e., without sleeping) to the summit weather and legs permitting. Only sleep if they need to. Hike down mountain on Saturday. He will begin around 10-11pm on Friday after a full work week and a 4-5 hour drive to the trailhead.


He thinks this plan is reasonably safe. I fear that it is not. I would prefer that he:

1. Do Rainier next year after doing a lot of fitness training, skills training and training on practice mountains

2. Go this year with a guided team

3. Add a third, expert climber to their team


He says #1 and #2 of my preferences are out. #1 because we will move to New England in a few months and because we have a baby on the way.#2 because I think he’s keen on going unguided.


That leaves us with either their plan or my Option #3: add a third, expert climber. Given these options, I’d like your thoughts on the following:

1. Is their option reasonably safe?

2. Is Option #3 reasonably safe?

3. If Option #3 is okay, what are some good ways to find good climbers?

4. What should the team be doing in the next few weeks to prepare?


Here is some background on their expertise/skills/preparation:


My husband’s friend: He is apparently an experienced climber. I’m told that he has climbed a lot of mountains in Montana and WA (I don’t know how many or at what difficulty/altitude). I’m inclined to think that he has good skills and is comfortable in high-altitude situations. He has tried to summit Rainier twice but turned around both times because of bad weather. He’s also done a ton of backcountry skiing. He has some PTSD issues related to a near-fatal skiing accident from a few years ago. The PTSD came back as recently as this winter, when he got caught in a small avalanche during a ski trip with my husband. He was not harmed in this accident and was able to get up on his own, but he could not ski the rest of the season bc of the PTSD. He is feeling confident about the Rainier trip, though.


My husband’s experience: I would consider him a novice climber because he (1) has never climbed up and down a mountain in boots and crampons, and (2) he began learning climbing and safety skills only recently. He has not put these skills to work in real situations. He would say that he is something more than novice at climbing because he did a good amount of backcountry skiing this winter- 5-10 times this season, one time as an overnight, on altitudes of 5-7000 ft. He used his ice ax a lot while skiing, in what capacity I don’t know.


Their fitness levels: My husband is 34 and his friend is 28. I don’t know his friend’s fitness level, but I’m inclined to think that it’s more than adequate for the climb. A few years ago, I would have had zero concerns about my husband’s fitness level: he qualified for his age-group national team in triathlon and duathlon and completed a very mountainous and difficult Ironman. He got very burned out on triathlon, though, and hasn’t been doing much training at all for the past year. He’ll go on a long run or bike every few weeks, but that’s about it. Now he could probably finish a local marathon race that is steep and hilly and place top-5 age group, but he’d be hurting. His endurance hill workouts were from the 5-10 times they went backcountry skiing this winter. He has almost no experience in altitudes above 10,000ft. Eight years ago he did some wind sprints up a 10,000+ mountain in CO and felt fine, but no experience doing endurance sports at that altitude.


We keep going around in circles about this. I’ve asked him to ask around to see if their plan makes sense, but for whatever reason he hasn’t done it. I don’t know if I should back off or if I really should be as concerned as I am.


I would appreciate any insight you can offer. In your response, it would be very helpful if you could mention your level of mountain climbing experience. Thanks!

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There's really no simple answer to is it safe or not


I would imagine your husband and friend are planning to climb the ID route which has minimal objective danger and is pretty well marked out by mid-summer. A group still needs to have some level of general mountain knowledge and experience though.


Doing Rainier from sea level in a single push from sea level is challenging even though people do it all the time. For fit individuals the challenge is the elevation not so much walking uphill for 7000 vf.


Sounds like your husband is in pretty good shape. Regardless of fitness level having experience with altitude is very helpfull. There's a good discussion on TAY on what's more difficult Rainier in a day vs. an Ironmal Triathlon.




I've climbed and skied Rainier in a single push and a few times with a single bivy. I think doing it with one bivy makes it much more enjoyable and more reasonable.



I think a lot of people who get in trouble on Rainier do so because they don't turn around when they should due to weather, illness, etc. I think the key to your husband doing the climb safely would be for them to make the decision to bail if things aren't working out.

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Mods, you might want to move this to Newbies to prevent the inevitable spray down on this poor woman who is trying to look out for her hubby?


Wifey: you are correct to be concerned. It sounds like your husband has a reasonable base level of fitness, however from what you describe he is lacking in technical climbing experience on glaciated peaks, and at altitude. Their plan to climb Rainier in one push adds an unnecessary increase in their exposure to danger. Very skilled, fit, acclimatized, individuals do Rainier in one push, rarely.


A few questions you should ask your husband:

1) Does he know how to perform a crevasse rescue of his partner by himself. Is he familiar with setting up a mechanical advantage system to do so?


2)Why does he want to skip the traditional layover day at a high camp? Not only does this aid in acclimatization, but in my opinion it adds to the overall experience of being in the mountains.


3)Please don't take this the wrong way, but why does he have no respect for a mountain like Rainier? If he's inspired to climb it, he should be willing to go through a normal progression/apprenticeship to gain the skills to do so.


I know it doesn't fit in your husband's timeline, but a recommended progression would be to climb Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Baker before attempting Rainier. These peaks would allow him to gain valuable experience traveling in glaciated terrain, at more moderate altitudes. Along with that, he should either make a concerted effort to study and self-educate in the ways of glaciated travel and climbing techniques, or take a course from a guide service. There are many texts out there that cover these topics.


I work on Rainier, I've climbed in the NW my whole life, and I've seen many accidents over the years involving well-intentioned, but inexperienced parties.

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Ultimately, he'll do what he wants and even with the opinion of every climber ever he'll likely not change plans. However, I do think you are right in wanting them to find a 3rd experience partner. The standard route on rainier, while heavily trafficked, is a moderately serious glacier route that might be asking a lot from a first time mountaineer without more experienced eyes. By this time of year, the route will be wanded and tracked by the guide services, however a crevasse fall is still possible on either of the glaciers crossed. If your husband has not had a lot of practice with necessary rescue techniques (reading and video watching are not practice) he ought to have a couple days, at a minimum, of practice outside with someone, perhaps his current partner, to talk him through a couple scenarios, and then do similar scenarios with his partner acting only as a barrier against critical mistakes.

Beyond practicing rescue techniques, acquiring a 3rd patner for the climb is probably the best thing he could do, so ling as the person is competent. If he could be talked into taking a skills course with a guide or instructor, even just a day-long course will benefit him, and your anxiety, hugely. That way he and his partners, if they take the course together will all have a common foundation of knowledge and confidence in eachother's abilities to perform their duty as a partner on the mountain.

Hope this helps.

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Well I doubt it happens very often. The husband is probably at least a moderately intelligent guy. I'm sure he could figure out how to set up a 3:1 in about 20 minutes in his backyard.


Walking uphill on snow isn't exactly that hard either. The guys apparently a good athlete, b/c skiier, triathlete, etc. Just don't jump into a crevasse or walk over a serac - not that hard.


Someone will say he needs self-arrest practice. But I'm sure we can all agree that throwing yourself down a snowfield like a cracked-out Mountie really doesn't do all that much for you.

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I would be curious to hear from a knowledgable person (RMI guide, NPS climbing ranger, etc.) how many successfull crevasse rescues occur each year on Rainier involving mechanical advantage rope systems?



this. I'd love to know myself. I've practiced (on snow) specifically with a 30m rope and two people a number of times. My confidence extracting a severely injured or non-ambulatory partner with this setup is practically non-existent. Even getting an initial anchor (picket) in from an arrest position holding someone's fall into a crevasse is a big challenge unless conditions are ideal. 3 people makes such a difference, 30m or 60m rope, it becomes feasible. Two people on a longer rope, you could get a drop loop down to an injured climber at least. not so feasible on a shortie rope.


That said I seem to almost never ever read about any even semi-serious/injured CR falls here in the NW...just thinking through reading 20yr of ANAM and very few instances in NW.


Being willing to turn around if things are bad (partner sick/bonking, weather coming in, snow conditions sketch) seems like the biggest thing to be mindful of. Your husband has a bit of a summit fever it sounds (baby on the way, moving to NE..). Make sure it doesn't cloud his judgment while up there.

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Suggest your husband cut his teeth on a few smaller peaks with less hazard beforehand, like doing Adams in one day. That will at least give him an idea of how he handles altitude and get some experience with crampons and an axe. And if he gets his ass kicked by the altitude he might have a change of heart.

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Walking uphill is not that hard, you're right, but over a glacier that does have a few bits where you ought to be able to recognize and negotiate crevasses does require some practice. The attitude you've taken inyour response essentially implies that attempting to learn mountain skills beforehand is worthless, because, hey you're a smart guy and can figure it out. I wholeheartedly disagree with this sentiment, as a guide on mt shasta, which is nit a serious mountain to climb, I see people, every week, doing things that jeopardize their and other's safety. Going into the mountains without the ability to properly use the gear, crampons, axe, rope, biners, etc. Is very irresponsible, much less on a route with substantial objective danger. After two years of instructing people, of all ranges of fitness and intelligence, I would say that even those on the higher end of both spectrums still take practice in basic skills like walking and self arrest, not to mention mastering glacier rigging, nots, rope mgmt, and rescue techniques.

Also, he may be able to figure out a 3:1, by will he be able to build an anchor while in self arrest with his parnter's weight pulling him, escape the arrest and then execute a rescue? Also, a 3:1 will never be successful with one person. A 6:1 or 9:1 will be needed to get a climber out of a crack if there is only one rescuer.

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I would imagine your husband and friend are planning to climb the ID route which has minimal objective danger

I disagree. The worst mountaineering disaster in the US ocurred below the ID. Lots of opportunity for rock fall (Jim Wickwire lost a partner this way), serac fall, (over a dozen died at one time this way), crevasses, avalanches off the Cleaver have taken lives, weather, as it is all over the mountain, is an objective hazard.

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I'd want to be fairly confident that I could catch and rescue my partner if we were climbing as a roped team. Finding a 3rd experienced partner that could drill them in the basic skills required would be a good idea. I agree with Pete_H that someone with decent common sense should be able to head up there as long as they're willing to turn around if they feel uncomfortable.


It sounds like he's going through a quarter life, "I'm going to have a baby" crisis.


Just make sure his life insurance policy is large, covers mountaineering accidents, and let him get it out of his system.

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Good comments above.


Your concerns are reasonable, but pressing too hard is more likely to lead to tension in your relationship than increased safety. Maybe you can reassure him that he can still climb after a baby comes. #3 sounds like a good suggestion. He might consider posting on this site to try to find a partner - there should be plenty of interested parties. Scope them out by climbing S Face Adams. This serves a second purpose, which is to get the team more experience on snow at altitude in a safer (no crevasses) environment.



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I would imagine your husband and friend are planning to climb the ID route which has minimal objective danger

I disagree. The worst mountaineering disaster in the US ocurred below the ID. Lots of opportunity for rock fall (Jim Wickwire lost a partner this way), serac fall, (over a dozen died at one time this way), crevasses, avalanches off the Cleaver have taken lives, weather, as it is all over the mountain, is an objective hazard.



Fair enough. Good points.


Concensus seems to be: consider doing it with a high camp, consider adding a third experienced party member, make some training climbs with maybe some practice sessions, and be smart enough to bail if necessary.

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It sounds like your husband is in good shape which can go a long way on a mountain like Rainier. That said, it sounds like he is a little unqualified from a technical perspective (in my opinion). Mountaineering, like other sports, typically involves progression. I’m an experienced climber but there is no way I’d personally ever take a fit but inexperienced buddy (who has never done actual rescue practice) on Rainier under those circumstances (one day climb and one a 2 person team). Adding the one day push and then adding the 2 person rope thing further adds to the risk. One day climbs of bigger peaks like that are not done as often and are typically carried out by people who have a pretty good understanding of how their bodies will react to 14k. If he’s never been that high, probably not the best idea. All that said, I tend to run conservative on these things. A guide service is a good option for people who are fit, but lack the technical skills and experience in those types of environments. I’m not sure why he doesn’t want to consider that option (could be money, could be ego) but that’s what those services are for. Rainier really isn’t that hard of a mountain, and the vast majority of people who might not have the technical skills or experienced come through just fine, but when something goes wrong, bad things can happen quickly. If he has never even practiced crevasse rescue and has not set up and used a 6:1 system to haul some actual weight, I think it’s a bad idea to head onto a mountain on a two person rope team. There just isn’t any room for error if his experienced buddy goes into a crevasse. It’s not very likely to happen and considering the number of people that climb each year, very few people have incidents like that. But again, if something does happen, it doesn’t sound like he has the skills or experience at this point to safely take care of the situation. Adding a third experienced person to the team would go a long way to making this much safer. Also, some people may point out that there is lots of traffic on the route which can add to the safety factor. They are right, and if I found myself in a bad situation I’d welcome the help, but relying on the presence of others to offset a known lack of skills on your part is super bad form, IMO.



More specific answers to your questions

1. Is their option reasonably safe? No.

2. Is Option #3 reasonably safe? Much better (but still not ideal)

3. If Option #3 is okay, what are some good ways to find good climbers? post here, climb more to meet people

4. What should the team be doing in the next few weeks to prepare? Adams, Hood, practice 6:1 systems under real weight, in the snow in realistic conditions, climb Baker


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Very important thing to consider is the weather. Sounds like your husband really wants to get this mountain done on his terms (time-wise) which tends to lead to poor decision making when deciding to turn around or even start the climb.



On a good day, ID or DC may not hold much challenge for many, but that can change very rapidly when the weather turns bad.



At the minimum they should make sure they know how to navigate in poor visibility and simply don't even start if the weather is coming in.


Also, crevase rescue in a party of two is much harder than in a larger party.

It's quite unlikely to fall into crevasse on well-traveled route, but still a possibility (otherwise why even carry a rope?)


Finally, one day is hard way to attemt the mountain for the first time. Not only is it not enjoyable (for most) as you're going to feel like puking every step near the summit.

Alititude does make a difference, and going in one day to 14k is much different than doing 2 lapses of similar elevation gain in a day, but never exceeding 7-8k

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Did I hear that he's never worn crampons? That alone to me is a big red flag to me. Catching a crampon on your pants is a great way to go for a ride.


I've heard a few people minimizing the danger of crevasse falls, and remember that there was a fatal one on the Emmons Glacier two years ago by a very experienced climber. It's only walking up hill until it's not.


Backcountry skiing is all well and good but the skills do not necessarily transfer over to steep technical ground where you are in a no-fall situation.


On the fitness front, I'd second the recommendation of a trip up Baker, Adams or something similar. I've seen marathoner's and triathelete's laid low by going uphill with a pack on. Their cardio is great but ascending with weight requires more power and leg strength then body weight training will get you. The only way to shake this is out is to go uphill with a pack on.


IMHO climbing can be generally safe but it's very unforgiving of mistakes, even minor ones. From what I've heard he hasn't done enough technical travel that I would be comfortable tying into a rope with only him.


I'm generally anti-guided climbing. But I would suggest that given the short amount of time left, general level of technical inexerpience, and his determination to get up in the next month or two that's likely the safest bet.

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I'd say that the risk he'd be taking would be similar to riding a motorcycle from Seattle to San Francisco with his buddy on the back without a helmet on. They'd probably pull it off, but would have looked kind of stupid in the process. Also when they got home they might not feel all that good about the trip considering the risk they took.


14000 feet is high! It's higher than 12000' by quite a bit


Bringing a third person would put them at a more common risk level, even if the person is not an expert, but is in pretty dam good shape.




my two cents take it for what it's worth


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Rainier is a funny mountain. As a triathlete, marathoner, climber myself, I have had great success on Rainier. I'm three for three so far on two different routes. Two of those were in very poor weather, and we were some of the only parties to summit. I attribute it to being damn stubborn and stronger than most.

The first two times I did it I trained like an animal and did great. The last time I did it off the couch and everyone was calling me an "animal" for being so strong. I chalk that up to a good base fitness and good genes.

I would not recommend getting on a two-man rope team with a novice that does not know crevasse rescue. Have I done it myself? Yes. Would I do it now? No.

There is some very good, hard earned advice from all the other guys. Take the time to earn Rainier. I think it is a good goal (one that I attained) to be able to do Rainier without help from other expert climbers- IE- not being dependent on other people for knowledge, expertise, or assistance short of emergency help). Too many people just eek by, just a simple mistake short of disaster. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and get the experience necessary. It bastardizes climbing when you go through the motions without getting the experience. I understand that you have time limitations and I respect that. But don't expect to slide on through without any problems when you try to wing it. Just this last trip we turned around 2 people who were scared, inexperienced, under-trained, and unprepared for the hazards and challenges that Rainier can bring about.

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