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My girlfriend and I have recently (last 6-12 months) gotten into hiking/backpacking. In the course of doing so, we ended up doing the old trail at Mount Si and then doing Mount Defiance shortly thereafter. The challenge of both was great, and the satisfaction of getting to the summit is addicting to both of us. After watching a bunch of Everest TV shows, my girlfriend and I have set sights on doing Mount Rainier with RMI (hopefully) next summer. I just picked up Freedom of the Hills and have started reading it too.


I am looking for some help in identifying some summits that we can conquer to build up our confidence and endurance. We've recently done our first overnighter up in the North Cascades and we love that area. I've been looking through Summit Post but I'm wondering if anyone has some personal insight they can lend. We have all of our backpacking/hiking gear and lots of layers/clothing. We are still relatively new to hiking and are completely green when it comes to mountaineering and summitting. We don't have ice axes or crampons or anything yet, and neither of us know how to read avalanche or snow conditions.


With that being said, where should we go or look? Defiance was a challenge for us, but we have been training to get into better shape. We are in good shape but we are not seasoned hikers/climbers yet; we know our limits. I recently looked at White Chuck Mountain but I'm not sure we're quite to that level yet. Unless the pictures make it look more intimidating than it really is. I think we'd just love to do something that has that Alpine feel without completely destroying us on our first go. Hopefully that makes sense!


Thanks in advance for any help you can give. I'm looking forward to picking people's brains and learning more about this stuff. It's addicting.

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Get on Amazon.com and order a copy of Washington Scrambles - a good way to get started on nontechnical summits, and put the Freedom of the Hills on the bookshelf for awhile.

You could also try the popular I-90 corridor hikes if you have summit fever - such as Mail Box Peak, Granite Mtn. or McClellan Butte.

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Great suggestion by Obwan on the Washington scrambles book. Tons of fun stuff in there, and it's helpful that she rates scrambles on two scales - technical difficulty and physical difficulty. To start out, pick ones that are easy in technical difficulty, that way you won't get in over your head but can still challenge yourself physically.


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+1 for McClellan Butte. I have never understood why Mailbox "Peak" is so popular when this is next door. Another good I-90 corridor summit is Snoqualmie Mountain.


After you purchase crampons and ice axes, here are some fun, nontechnical (no rope needed) overnighters that will give you some experience with easy scrambling and snow travel and get you on your way toward your Mt. Rainier goal:


Colchuck Peak- Colchuck Glacier route.

Dragontail Peak- Standard Route

Gilbert Peak- Meade Glacier Route (unlike others on this list this one is rarely crowded and has exceptional views of Rainer and beautiful flower filled alpine meadows).

Mt. Adams- South Spur


For getting experience in technical glacier travel and climbing, look into taking a course with or joining the Mountaineers. More info here: https://www.mountaineers.org/


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Thanks so much for the help guys. This is exactly what I was hoping for. I purchased the Washington Scrambles book this afternoon. It looks like a really useful bit of kit for beginners like us.


I will look into the I90 corridor again. We enjoyed Mount Si and Mount Defiance. We didn't necessarily enjoy the crowded trails and views of I90 from the top though. Maybe I'm just being snobby but looking down and seeing the freeway kind of puts a damper on the sense of adventure... haha.


Sid Vicious (long live the Pistols BTW), thanks for the route suggestions. We would love to do some overnighters like that, where we get a bit of an intro to the Alpine environment without having to get in way over our heads.


I will also look into some of the Mountaineers training classes. Some of the training classes I looked into previously don't work with our schedules unfortunately. We work the night shift. Right now we are thinking about doing the 6 day seminar with RMI next year. We want the extra knowledge and skills so we can hopefully do some other summits as well. I'd like to do the Kautz route but I'm not sure if my girlfriend is as keen on that one.


Thanks again everyone.

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Think of the corridor hikes as conditioning and don't worry so much about aesthetics. Conditioning is the cornerstone of many high peak aspirations. Many a training regimen includes Mt. Si or the like with a pack on- its close and has sufficient mileage and vertical to get the legs and cardio in shape. Branching out north and east adds a little more car time but expands horizons a lot. Hiking books have lots of ideas and go on the shelf right next to the scramble one.


I think you will learn a lot and save time from a course about general mountaineering and you can also find out about a whole bunch of suitable goals from instructors and participants.


Have fun!

Edited by matt_warfield
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Sid's right. There seem to be high density of folks in a few places. Mailbox on I90 and Lake 22 on Mtn Loop come to mind. In both areas there are plenty of other nice, strenuous outings you can do that won't be nearly as crowded.


Scrambling is a great way to get some experience. Don't be fooled though, sometimes the unroped 3rd and 4th class can be just as dangerous as any roped climbing. Pay attention and be careful and you'll be fine. Learning to move quickly and safely over this terrain is key to being successful on bigger outings.

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I've lost several friends on 4th class terrain. It's not to be taken lightly.


I'd stick with 3rd class and snow travel until you've gained a good deal of experience (a least a season or two). A long apprenticeship will serve you well in the hills.


Some good scrambles: Cashmere, Black, Sperry, Vesper, Crater, Tomyhoi, Cadet, Del Campo, Gothic, Snoqualmie, HiBox, Gunn, Baring, etc.


Lots to keep you busy as you work up to technical climbing in the Alpine.

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  • 1 month later...

Definitely get on some snow as well and practice traveling efficiently and confidently on snow. Practice using an ice axe in all the ways its meant to be used.


Most of the below may be a bit difficult yet but all should be doable before you are ready to hop on Rainier.


In addition to the suggestions above, to get some more snow / glacier travel experience, consider the below. Most of these require competence in glacier travel techniques (i.e. on a rope team) so if going on a glacier make sure you know what you're doing! A 2-3 day glacier course with any guiding company would possibly be sufficient if you go and practice the skills they teach you independently after the course.

- Sahale (Glacier)

- Eldorado (East Ridge)

- Hood (Old Chute)

- Shuksan (Sulphide Glacier)

- Baker (Coleman Deming route)


Also, other hikes/scrambles to consider as you progress:

- Three Fingers (off mountain loop highway)

- Cashmere Mountain

- Silver Star

- Maude, Seven Fingered Jack, and Fernow

- Fortress and Chiwawa

- Tower and Golden Horn (skip the last few feet of Golden Horn for now, the summit block is class 5)

- Stuart (Cascadian Couloir)

Edited by ilias
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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Some of the lookouts can make for really fun outings and a lot of them are more exposed than you might expect. I really enjoy the hike up to Hidden Lake Peaks Lookout, Park Butte is another fun one with good mileage and a great perspective to get you excited about the range of peaks you can see from there. I haven't been up to Lookout Mountain (near HLP) but I hear that trail is a grind as well.


As for places to learn more professional guides will offer the most focused education experience, volunteer organizations offer various levels of education but typically their courses are spread out on weekends that stretch on for several month, a climbing mentor can be the most rewarding but that's very dependent on who you end up matched up with.


Good luck and stay safe in the mountains.


BTW, I agree with JasonG, 4th class scares me more than moderate 5th with good protection.

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  • 9 months later...

Just wanted to bump this up to provide an update and ask a couple more questions.


My girlfriend and I ended up going on a 6-day seminar with RMI late last month. We trained hard for 6 months, amassed all our gear, and successfully summited Mt. Rainier via the DC route on May 31st. Without a doubt, it was the coolest thing I've ever done and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. I can't say enough good things about RMI; they were absolutely fantastic.


With that being said, we are looking forward to our next adventure. We have been scoping out peaks like Eldorado, Shuksan, Baker, and Sahale. In terms of experience and comfort, we feel that Sahale is do-able on our own. We were looking to hire a guide for a 3-day, 2:1 outing on something a little more "advanced" like Shuksan to provide more knowledge and mentoring. Unfortunately RMI is booked until September, which we feel might be a little late in the season to learn a lot of snow skills, route finding, etc.


I am wondering if anyone has experience with guide services other than RMI and can recommend one that would be great for a small trip. Obviously I'm not sure if any would still have open time slots, but we were looking at mid to late-July. Secondly, what do you feel is a natural progression from here? We feel pretty confident in our crevasse rescue skills, rope travel, knots, ice axe use, etc, but don't want to get in over our heads on our next trip or two. Especially if we go unguided. What would you recommend for the next mountain? Neither of us have much interest (and zero experience) in rock climbing, so 5th class rock isn't a good idea (unless we have a guide to help us). Preferably it would be somewhere a little less crowded (Hood looks terrible for crowds) but with a solid alpine experience.


Thanks for all the help.

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Congratulations on Rainier, the first time is always special.


For guide companies I would recommend Pro Ski and Guiding based in North Bend for three reasons: they are at the forefront of the professionalization of guiding in the U.S., have a stable of awesome guides, and seem to be more flexible than the other guide firms in terms of custom trips.


As for progression, since you do not want to do any rock climbing and already have climbed the biggest glaciated volcano in the contiguous U.S., what about doing something steeper? I would recommend (with a guide) North Ridge, Park Glacier Headwall, and Coleman Headwall on Mt. Baker, North Face of Mt. Shuksan, and Adams Glacier. All offer challenging alpine ice climbing and fewer crowds than Rainier.


Without a guide, Sulphide Glacier on Shuksan, Coleman Demming, Easton, and Boulder glacier on Baker, East Ridge of Eldorado.


Shuksan will require rock climbing and route finding, but it is possible to climb it at 3rd and 4th class. You should be comfortable rock climbing at low 5th class for Shuksan, even though you can certainly find routes that are easier. It would not be much less technical than Sahale.


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Thank you, it was definitely special. I was lucky enough to be behind my girlfriend on our rope team. Getting to follow her up and watch her make the last push over the summit crater was unbelievable. Something I'll never forget. We got the full meal deal for our first big mountain experience. Good weather, bad weather, watched a rescue happen, everyone came down safe, and got to meet/hang out with some awesome guides and people.


I would say we're definitely open to something steeper. The issue (if you want to call it that) is that we're still pretty inexperienced. The Rainier seminar is more or less the only mountain on our resumes. From what I've seen, some of the guide services want you to have previous ice climbing or rock climbing experience for some of the more technical routes. At some point we won't rule out rock climbing. In fact we almost signed up for a 4-day class next month. Right now we want to do some easier, less technical solo peaks to build our confidence and skill set before we go for the gusto. Rockier stuff would be more of a next year kind of deal I think. For what it's worth I watched Colin Haley's video of the Infinite Spur and would love to do something like that eventually. Dream big, start small I guess??


Right now my only concern with doing some of the "bigger" routes by ourselves is route finding. I guess it's a fine line between it being sparsely populated and having a boot path to follow, so beggars can't be choosers. Is that an issue I'm overthinking too much?

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A couple ideas I haven't seen thrown in here. These are all snow routes with either no or basic glacier/crevasse hazard. Provided you are feeling good about your CR strategy as a team of 2 it seems like you could tackle these on your own and build some experience as well as your resume.


No particular order

1. Mt St Helens (May have permit issues at this point)

2. Standard south route on Adams (Nice 2-day/weekend climb)

3. Glacier peak (Great 3-day trip. I climbed this in a very similar position as you are now - highly recommend)

4. Middle Sister. I would combo it with S Sister if you make the trip.


I'll second some from above:

5. South side of Mt Hood. (Getting out of season, keep it on your radar for this coming late fall/winter/next spring)

6. Mt Baker C/D


Based on your posts I think you could tackle any of these. IMO a lot is gained early on by just getting more and more mileage in the hills. Get this experience and all of your systems will improve. It will help you make the next steps. The more experience you have the more you can take away from guides and/or experience partners/mentors when you get those opportunities.


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Thank you for the suggestions all. Contrary to what I said earlier, I've backtracked on our earlier plans. Girlfriend and I are looking to do Forbidden Peak with RMI. After looking at the climb we felt it was a good situation to get more comfortable on rock so that we can set our sights on Shuksan and other routes with rock involved. Not quite a 180 on the earlier viewpoint, but close enough. This also gives us a shot at potentially bagging another peak, as RMIs itinerary mentions possibly hitting one other as a training peak. Ideally, we can knock off Sahale or something as well.


Long story short, we feel this trip/learning opportunity will make us a bit more well rounded in our quest to be weekend alpinists. Rainier wetted our feet on glacier/rope travel, crevasse rescue, etc. Forbidden will wet our feet on the basics of alpine rock travel we hope. After this trip, we'll see what the weather and season holds. We're not big fans of hot weather summer trips, so maybe the other peaks get held off until late winter or early spring next year.

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Colin Haley has said that he felt like Forbidden Peak was the first real alpine climb. I felt the same way, something clicked, like, 'oh, so this is alpine climbing'. Of course Colin was 10 when he did it and I was 23.

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