Living in the Pacific Northwest the mountains are an ever-present part of our landscape and none other looms larger and more prominent than Mt. Rainier.
On sunny days this beautiful beast of a mountain can be seen from almost every unobstructed view point and creates an every-present mystery and allure.
Every mountaineer, climber, and hiker I know is dreaming of standing on top of this magnificent mountain at some point in their life, including me. Every year when I hear people planning an attempt I mentally check my gear list, my fitness level and my emotional commitment and then take a deep breath.
Friends, coworkers, folks who know of my love for the mountains all eventually ask me the obvious question:
“When are you climbing Rainier?”
And every time I answer: “Not yet!”
This is not a ‘don’t ever do anything risky in life’ post.
Of course, I know of the statistics, and know that tons of people successfully climb this mountain every year. When people don’t come back there is always a story, always a reason. Even if most stories can be only guessed or pieced together from afar.
This is also not an article to point fingers, far from it. I sincerely feel terrible want to extend my deepest sympathies to the friends and family of Norwegian Arvid Lathi 63, who died a few weeks ago in the arms of his climbing partner Monique Richard.
No other mountain of that scale is that close to a metropolitan area like Mt. Rainier is to Seattle. My heart starts racing just thinking about visiting Paradise, at Mt. Rainier National Park, and watching the guided tours unloading mountaineers and gear in the main parking lot right in front of the mall-like visitor center where people walk around in flip flops taking selfies for their Instagram feed.
The most common travelled route up to the peak is often called a walk-up and yet at 14,411 ft. this is no joke of a mountain. Far from it.
There’s the weather: so close to the Pacific Coast this mountain receives the full brunt of coast freak storms and weather can be very unpredictable. You might be wearing flip-flops at Paradise, but it’s snowing at the peak.
There are the glaciers: Just looking at this snow-covered peak for many years doesn’t make it easier to climb on ice. It takes a level of experience you can’t acquire by spending every weekend browsing the aisles at REI.
There’s the altitude: While you can drive around the mountain, and feel you’re close to the peak, over 14,000 ft. Rainier feels like it was plucked from the Himalayas and even experienced mountaineers come to Rainier and are being denied by the mountain.
Mt. Rainier is a special mountain among many special mountains. We’re truly #blessed here in the Pacific Northwest to live among so many fascinating rocky giants. There are over one hundred sixty mountains with an elevation over 5,000ft in the Olympic Mountain Range alone. Why bypass them all to pick the cherry of the top of the pie?
I’m in no rush. I don’t want to skip all those incredible peaks along the way and go straight for the crown jewel of Pacific Northwest mountains.
Mt. Rainier is THE mountain of the Pacific Northwest and it deserves its healthy respect, reverence and admiration.
When I am going to climb Mt. Rainier, I’ll be ready for it. Physically. And mentally. And spiritually.
But not this year. This year I shall keep myself content with dreaming about it.