Top 7 Dangers of Climbing Mt. Rainier (2023)

Jack's passion is climbing mountains. He also enjoys skiing, mountain biking, and writing about his adventures.

Top 7 Dangers of Climbing Mt. Rainier (1)

Mt. Rainier towers over the Cascade Mountain range of Washington state at 14,410 feet. It is affectionately referred to as "The Mountain" by Washingtonians. It is the most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states. Such a large mountain has obvious appeal for climbers the world over. Many climbers use Mt. Rainier as a training ground for larger mountains such as Mt. McKinley, Aconcagua, and even Mt. Everest. Over 10,000 people attempt to climb it each year and well over half of those people do not make the summit. Each year there are rescues, injuries, and even fatalities on Mt. Rainier. Climbing a mountain carries a unique set of risks and necessary skills to overcome them. Climbing a mountain as big and dangerous as Mt. Rainier ups the ante quite a bit. Do you think you have what it takes to navigate the Top 7 dangers of climbing Mt. Rainer?

1. Weather

A mountain as big as Mt Rainier can generate its own weather. Warm, moist air flows in from the ocean and hits the cold glaciers and rises up the face of the mountain. What is an otherwise blue bird day at the base of the mountain can be a whiteout with hurricane force winds on the summit. High winds, snow, rain, whiteout, and freezing temperatures can all contribute to the dangers of climbing, regardless of the season. The weather can change rapidly as well, catching an unprepared team in a very precarious situation. There are documented examples of climbers seeking shelter on the summit of Mt Rainier in the warm sulfur exhaust of the volcano for days waiting out a storm. Flying snow, wind, and poor visibility can make a rescue impossible.

2. Avalanches

Mt. Rainier is heavily glaciated and covered in snow. Even in the summer months, fresh snow can fall under the right conditions. Any time you have snow in the mountains, you need to keep avalanche danger in the back of your mind. Especially early in the climbing season (spring), Rainier can get a hard freeze followed by significant snowfall, which leads to an incredibly unstable snowpack. A huge slab can let loose at any moment during the day when the mountain is pounded by the sun. In 2010 a huge avalanche came down the center of the glacier on the main climbing route on Mt. Rainier, injuring several people and killing two more.

Top 7 Dangers of Climbing Mt. Rainier (2)
(Video) Expert warns of risks involved with climbing Mount Rainier

3. Crevasses

A glacier is essentially a river of ice flowing off the mountain. As gravity pulls on the ice, it "flows" constantly downward. As it bends or drops steeply, it can break into deep fissures known as crevasses. In the winter and early season, these fissures can be covered in snow. As the snow melts these "bridges" can become weak and an unaware climber can fall deep into one. Besides the obvious dangers of falling deep into a hole, the temperature inside a crevasse is much lower than on the surface of the glacier and a climber must be able to prevent hypothermia while working with the rest of the rope team to get out of the crevasse.

4. Rope Team Fall

A team of climbers is tied together by a climbing rope as protection against a fall into a crevasse. Ideally if one person falls the other members of the team would be able to '"arrest" their fall by anchoring into the snow and ice with their ice axes. If the conditions are particularly icy and your rope team travels across and up the glaciers, one member who slips and falls can potentially pull the entire team into a slide down the mountain. Rocks, crevasses, ice, your climbing partners, and all the sharp and heavy equipment on your pack become potential dangers.

5. Altitude

As you climb higher, there is less and less oxygen to breathe. Your body reacts in multiple ways to compensate for this lack of oxygen. You get headaches, run out of breath, have trouble thinking clearly, see things that aren't there, and you can black out. All of these conditions are very dangerous high on a mountain far away from the safety of a hospital. Altitude impacts every person differently. Some people don't even notice it at the top of Mt. Rainier and other people have splitting headaches at only 7,000 feet.

Top 7 Dangers of Climbing Mt. Rainier (3)

6. Rock and Ice Fall

During the day, the sun and warmer weather melts the snow and ice high on the mountain. This water flows into the cracks between rocks. At night this water refreezes and expands. This cycle eventually works rocks loose and they tumble down the mountain, often across highly trafficked climbing routes. Rocks can be small and bullet-like or as large as cars. Also, huge chunks of ice, called "seracs," can rise up and eventually topple over and down the mountain. A glaciated mountain is constantly in motion, with gravity slowly pulling the mountain downward.

7. Exhaustion, Dehydration, Overexertion, Etc.

Despite the seemingly slow pace and cold conditions when climbing Mt. Rainier, climbers can still become overheated, dehydrated, and exhausted. When you are on a glacier, there are very few safe places to stop and rest. The cold, dry mountain air saps your body of moisture with every breath. Despite the icy surroundings you are sweating from the exertion of climbing up and up. You can quickly become dangerously dehydrated and exhausted.

(Video) This mountain is insanely beautiful but deeply dangerous | Mt Rainier

What Can I Do to Make It Safer?

There is no way to completely eliminate the risk of climbing a mountain like Rainier (but it wouldn't be as interesting then, would it?). You can only hope to mitigate and manage the dangers. You can do this most successfully by learning as much as you can about the different hazards of venturing into the high places. Books and courses about avalanche danger, crevasse rescue school, wearing a helmet, training and practicing every year, and carrying the necessary equipment to deal with an emergency are all ways to ensure a safer trip. You also can use resources like websites, guides, and climbing rangers to get up-to-the-minute route information and current conditions. Yes, climbing Mt Rainier can be very dangerous, but with the appropriate training, knowledge, and equipment, it can be an incredibly rewarding adventure!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Yoleen Lucas from Big Island of Hawaii on October 26, 2013:

When I lived in the Seattle area, I wanted to climb Mt. Rainier. I was hanging out at the bookstore there, and met Ron Warfield, who had taken the poster photograph "Cloud Dance", with two funnel clouds next to Mt. Rainier. He used to be a guide on the mountain, until he disappeared in a blizzard for 3 days, then his wife made him stop. He was now working at the bookstore. I got his autograph in a picture book.

To train for high altitudes, I greatly recommend long distance running and swimming. I now live on the Big Island of Hawaii, and handle Mauna Kea by doing those things.

marshacanada from Vancouver BC on November 03, 2012:

(Video) Mountain Climbing Disaster | A Tragic Story of Mountain Climbing Gone Wrong

Thanks Jack for this well written hub with good photos.

It brings back memories.

I was climbing Mt. Raineer with friends many years ago, and we were approaching the summit, when Mt. St. Helen exploded. It was a scarey,gritty descent since the ash blanketed us and the snow making glissading impossible, and ranger's radio message was: "Get down off the mountain immediately, dont breath in any fumes."

RTalloni on February 24, 2011:

Ummm...I don't think so. But this is hub has great information for those who do think so! :) Well done and voted up.

I was up above Anacortes last fall and it was amazing, although I don't know how they got the ocean up in those mountains... I can't call what I did even a little hike after reading your hub, but it was a beautiful walk.

(Video) Watch This Before Climbing Mt. Rainier...

Being from Florida I find the mix of ocean, mountains, and snow in your end of the USA remarkable. We were there in July and saw snow. What a world! :)

Jack Salathe (author) from Seattle, WA on January 19, 2011:

Thanks for the question, Santi! Yes, a lot of what I know is from first hand experience. I've been climbing in the Cascades for several years now and although there is a lot to think about, I wouldn't trade it for anything!

Santi Lio from erehwon on January 18, 2011:

First hand experience, I wonder?

Santi,

(Video) What if Mount Rainier Erupts?

FAQs

How long does it take to climb to the top of Mount Rainier? ›

Most people take two days not including a day for the school. On the DC route, from Paradise to Camp Muir, it takes about 5 hours at a leisurely pace. Then from Muir to the summit, using the Disappointment Cleaver route, the climb can take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours, depending on weather and your level of fitness.

Who is the youngest person to climb Mount Rainier? ›

At age 4, Johnny was the youngest person to summit Mt. Rainier. When he was climbing Everest, the Sherpas there nicknamed him "The White Sherpa."
...
Utah teen becomes youngest ever to conquer 7 summits.
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Which is harder Mt Hood or Mt. Rainier? ›

Hood has steep terrain and technical challenges, but is relatively low elevation and has fairly simple access. Mt. Rainier is technically challenging due to glacier travel, and also poses elevation and access challenges.

Who is the oldest person to climb Mt. Rainier? ›

Bronka at age 77, climbing Mount Rainier. For years, Bronka and her husband, Ake, hiked regularly at Mount Rainier, including dozens of trips up to Camp Muir each season.

Can a beginner hike Mt. Rainier? ›

Sunrise Nature Trail is the perfect hike for families or beginner hikers to enjoy wildflowers in bloom and catch a glimpse of Mt Rainier from high elevation. The trail begins at Sourdough Ridge trailhead and loops around in either direction to offer slightly more elevated views than those at the parking lot.

Can beginners climb Rainier? ›

Can I climb Mt. Rainier with no experience? Yes, although it's a good idea to take guide in this case. All three licensed guide services (RMI, IMG, and Alpine Ascents) take fit beginners on their Disappointment Cleaver and Emmons Glacier trips.

How fit do you need to be to climb Rainier? ›

Be able to carry a 30-45-pound pack for 5 to 8 hours a day. Be able to ascend steadily for 5,000 ft on slopes up to 40 degrees. Be able to descend 9,000 ft on slopes up to 40 degrees. Be able to recover from a difficult day of climbing and repeat in consecutive days.

How much money is it to climb Mount Rainier? ›

The fee changes with the Consumer Price Index every year. The fee for 2022 is: $53 per person 26 years and older. $37 per person 25 years and younger.

Can you climb Rainier in a day? ›

Donahe, like almost every climber who does this route, took three days to reach the 14,411-foot summit of Rainier. Most climbers take an entire day just to hike to the base of the route. Edwards and Nicoletti did the entire route in 21 hours.

Can I climb Mount Rainier with no experience? ›

Mount Rainier is not a climb for inexperienced hikers or climbers. If you are interested in climbing Mount Rainier but do not have experience on glaciated mountains or are unfamiliar with crevasse rescue, do not attempt this mountain on your own.

What do I need to know before climbing Mt Rainier? ›

Reaching the summit via any route requires a vertical elevation gain of more than 9,000 feet and traveling over ten miles in distance. Climbers must be in excellent physical condition and well prepared. Technical glacier-travel rope skills are also required to ascend and descend the mountain safely.

Why is Mt Rainier so hard to climb? ›

Rainier is one of the more demanding climbs in the west. It is a healthy blend of mixed climbing, crevasse movement, glacier traversing, and exposed areas. A general physical fitness is required to partake in many of the Rainer programs.

How many people climb Rainier a year? ›

More than 10,000 people try for the summit each year, according to the National Park Service. All routes require ropes and crampons; as the most glaciated mountain in the contiguous United States, Rainier boasts more than 35 square miles of ice and permanent snowfields.

Who is the youngest person to summit Mt Everest? ›

on June 10, 2010. Jordan Romero American mountain climber who was 13 years old when he reached the summit of Mount Everest. Rameo was accompanied by his father paul Ramero and his step-mother Karen Lundgren, and three sherpas, Ang Pasang Sherpa, Lama Dawa Sherpa, and Lama Karma Sherpa.

How safe is climbing Rainier? ›

In the last 65 years, over 400,000 people have attempted to summit, less than 100 have died. That comes out to about 1/50th of 1%. That's about the same as the rate of people that die in a car crash in Oklahoma each year. About half those deaths might have been avoidable.

Are there bears in Mt. Rainier? ›

Mount Rainier National Park contains a wide variety of wildlife species. Among the largest and most feared are the black bear and the mountain lion.

Is Mount Rainier explosive or quiet? ›

Mount Rainier is a type of volcano called a stratovolcano. Over the past half million years, Mount Rainier has erupted again and again, alternating between quiet lava-producing eruptions and explosive debris-producing eruptions.

What class climb is Mt. Rainier? ›

Mount Rainier, the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, offers an exciting challenge to the mountaineer. The regularly climbed routes are the Disappointment Cleaver and the Emmons Glacier which are consider class 4 routes.

Is Mt. Rainier a hard hike? ›

Mt. Rainier is one of the largest and most challenging endurance climbs in the United States. It is the most imposing glaciated peak in the lower 48 States and has long been a premier training ground for experienced climbers.

Do you need crampons for Rainier? ›

For Mt Rainier, steel crampons are mandatory. This is the distinction that companies usually make between their entry level crampons and their more technical crampons. Typical crampons have 4 points on the heel piece, 2 front points, 2 secondary points and either 2 or 4 additional points on the toe piece.

How many days a week should I climb? ›

Find a way to schedule at least two climbing sessions per week (3 or 4 is ideal)–any bouldering or roped climbing session, indoors or outdoors, counts towards this total.

Can you climb Rainier solo? ›

That is $44 dollars/person if you are older then 25, $31 if you are not! I started the climb around 11:30 am at the Muir Camp (10,080 ft). If the weather is any helpful, the scenery is hands down fantastic: Mt Helens is visible.
...
Mount Rainier Solo.
Page Type:Trip Report
Activities:Mountaineering
Season:Summer
2 more rows
15 Jul 2012

How cold is the top of Mount Rainier? ›

Average Temperature in Mount Rainier

The cold season lasts for 3.2 months, from November 30 to March 4, with an average daily high temperature below 53°F. The coldest month of the year in Mount Rainier is January, with an average low of 29°F and high of 44°F.

How many steps to the top of Mount Rainier? ›

Next is the towering Mt. Baker at 10,781 steps, followed by the majestic Mt. Rainier, which takes 14,410 steps.

Can you sleep in your car at Mt. Rainier? ›

the rules state you can only park at paradise with a backcountry permit, or paradise lodge overnight permit (i shoulda remembered this from staying there). you are also not allowed to sleep in your car anywhere within the park.

How much do Rainier guides make? ›

Base pay is $195 per day for entry-level guides. A guide's previous guiding experience, training, and certifications will increase this base pay rate. Guides are tipped on average 10% of the program cost by each client they work with.

Is Rainier harder than Mont Blanc? ›

To me Mont Blanc is much more like a climb in the Cascades. A little easier than Rainier, but much higher. There is an Class 3 ridge right after the hut, and a narrow snow covered ridge right before the summit, also a steep gully to cross, but that is about it.

What hazards are associated with Mt Rainier? ›

The most likely hazards at Mount Rainier are debris avalanches, lahars, and floods (Crandell and Mullineaux, 1967; Crandell, 1973; Scott and others, 1992; U.S. Geodynamics Committee, 1994), as well as hazards that occur during eruptions, such as tephra, ballistic projectiles, pyroclastic flows and surges, lava flows, ...

Which side of Mount Rainier is better? ›

Paradise (South side)

Paradise, which is located on the southern slope of Mount Rainier, is the most popular area of the park. The area is known for great views of meadows, mountains, wildflowers, and of course, epic views of Mount Rainier!

Is Mount Rainier a threat? ›

Hazards of Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier is the most hazardous volcano in the Cascades not only in terms of its potential for eruption, but also the risk of producing major debris flows even without eruption.

How much money does a Sherpa make? ›

How Much Does Sherpa Pay? Sherpa pays $77,410 a year, on average, or $37.22 an hour. Sherpa pays the lowest earners $42,000 a year, while the top 10 percent are paid over $139,000.

Do you age faster on Mount Everest? ›

Using those numbers as reference, we can calculate that if an observer at sea level stayed there for 100 years, someone who would have stayed on the Everest would be older by roughly 0.003 seconds. Technically yes, relative to an observer on Earth, a person at higher altitudes will age faster.

Can you climb Mount Rainier in one day? ›

It takes four to five hours to ascend from our High Camp to the crater rim and then another hour to Columbia Crest, the main summit of Mt. Rainier. Along the way, we'll route-find around crevasses and seracs and make our way up the mountain, clipping fixed protection with our climbing ropes when necessary.

How difficult is it to climb Mt. Rainier? ›

A Rainier climb — a multiday, roughly 9-mile ascent of 9,000-plus feet over snow and rock amid unpredictable obstacles — is an always arduous, potentially dangerous undertaking that, despite its daunting specter, is, when successful, exceedingly satisfying.

Is Rainier hard to climb? ›

Mt. Rainier is one of the largest and most challenging endurance climbs in the United States. It is the most imposing glaciated peak in the lower 48 States and has long been a premier training ground for experienced climbers.

How much training is needed to climb Mount Rainier? ›

Most people will need to train for a Mount Rainier climb for at least 4-6 months. THE PHYSICAL DEMANDS YOU ARE SPECIFICALLY TRAINING FOR ARE: Hiking with a 40+ lb backpack for 5-6 hours at a time. Steep climbing and glacier travel with a 15-20 lb backpack.

Do you need bear spray at Mt. Rainier? ›

Hikers are advised to check with the park they will be visiting to see if the use of bear pepper spray is recommended and permitted. Mount Rainier National Park encourages anyone who spot bears to report it to a ranger or to call park dispatch at 360-569-6600.

What do I need to know before climbing Mt. Rainier? ›

Reaching the summit via any route requires a vertical elevation gain of more than 9,000 feet and traveling over ten miles in distance. Climbers must be in excellent physical condition and well prepared. Technical glacier-travel rope skills are also required to ascend and descend the mountain safely.

Is Mt. Rainier quiet or explosive? ›

Mount Rainier is a type of volcano called a stratovolcano. Over the past half million years, Mount Rainier has erupted again and again, alternating between quiet lava-producing eruptions and explosive debris-producing eruptions.

What is the easiest route up Mt. Rainier? ›

The Disappointment Cleaver (or 'DC') route is the easiest route to the summit of Mount Rainier. It is the standard route used by all three mountaineering guides to the summit.

Can you solo climb Mt. Rainier? ›

That is $44 dollars/person if you are older then 25, $31 if you are not! I started the climb around 11:30 am at the Muir Camp (10,080 ft). If the weather is any helpful, the scenery is hands down fantastic: Mt Helens is visible.
...
Mount Rainier Solo.
Page Type:Trip Report
Activities:Mountaineering
Season:Summer
2 more rows
15 Jul 2012

How do you get in shape to climb Mt. Rainier? ›

To train for Mt. Rainier, Start with:
  1. Hiking as much as possible on trails with elevation gain.
  2. A good gauge is being able to carry a 40 lb pack on a 2000 ft elevation hike in about 2 hours.
  3. Run 10-14 miles per week.
  4. Focus on building leg strength.
  5. Focus on endurance.
  6. If possible climb Mt. Baker, Mt.

How much do Mt. Rainier guides make? ›

Base pay is $195 per day for entry-level guides. A guide's previous guiding experience, training, and certifications will increase this base pay rate. Guides are tipped on average 10% of the program cost by each client they work with.

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