So You Want To Climb Mount Rainier

©istockphoto/jeffhochstrasserIf you’ve ever traveled through the Pacific Northwest, you’ve seen Mount Rainier. At 14,411’, the peak dominates the Seattle skyline, and it’s no coincidence that more than 10,000 people try to climb Rainer’s glaciated slopes each year. If you’re thinking of making a summit bid, keep these tips in mind.

Plan Ahead
If you’re climbing with one of guide services that operate on Mount Rainier, book early: most summit climbs fill 10-12 months out. If you’re organizing your own trip, set dates with your partners and reserve climbing permits with the National Park Service. On busy weekends, the demand is so high that some climbers get turned away.

Get in Shape
Put simply: you’ll want to be in the best shape of your life. Training for mountaineering can be challenging if you work a 9-to-5, but be creative. Work on strength and balance at the gym, go for long hikes on weekends, and commit to moving your body consistently. Embrace the challenge: the stronger you feel, the safer and more the enjoyable your climb will be.

Dial in Your Nutrition
It might sound simple, but consider this: on an average 12-to-18 hour summit day, you’ll need to consume several hundred calories per hour. There’s nothing wrong with nutrition bars and energy gels, but chances are good that you won’t feel great if highly processed foods are your body’s only source of fuel. Plus, it’s very natural to lose your appetite at altitude. On long training hikes, figure out what kinds of food you can stomach on hour 8.

Practice With Your Gear
Mountaineering is a gear-intensive sport, and summit morning isn’t the time to be testing out your systems. Break in your boots ahead of time. Adjust your backpack so it fits you perfectly. Practice layering for different kinds of conditions. Make sure your crampons are fixed correctly. Show up with your systems dialed.

Watch the Weather
Summer conditions can vary wildly on the Cascade volcanoes, and by watching temperatures for the week or so before you climb you can make sure your gear choices are well suited to conditions. When it’s hot, bring extra water, lots of sunscreen, and a shirt with built-in SPF. When it’s cold, bring chemical hand-warmers and an extra layer or two.

Keep Your Camera Warm
Lots of climbers carefully hoard camera batteries during days of climbing, only to reach the summit and find that cold temps have drained their lithium-ion charge. Keep phones and cameras in a warm pocket until you’re ready to take that summit selfie.

Think Carefully About How Your Define Success
Mountaineering is a complicated sport, and it’s important to be honest with yourself about your goals for the climb. The summit is never guaranteed, and experienced climbers take the time to straighten priorities in their head. Hint: it’s safety first, then the summit.