IMG's Mt. Rainier Instructional Climbs and Courses Frequently Asked Questions
Please click on a frequently asked question below to see the answer lower down on this page:
- When is the best time to climb Mt. Rainier?
- What programs and routes do you offer?
- What route would you recommend for the novice climber?
- How do I sign up and what application fee is required?
- What's included in the trip cost?
- Is there a minimum age for participants?
- I understand the program I wanted to register for is full. Can you squeeze one more person on that climb? Is there a waiting list?
- I already purchased a climbing permit for Mt. Rainier National Park. Do I have to pay for this again to climb with IMG?
- I already purchased a park entrance permit (or annual National Park pass) for Mt. Rainier National Park. Do I have to pay to enter the Park again with IMG?
- If I am climbing with IMG more than once this season, do I still have to fill out all the forms for each individual trip?
- How early do I need to register to climb with you next year?
- Can you send me a brochure explaining your programs?
Travel and Logistics
- Where do I need to be and when?
- How do I get to IMG Headquarters?
- How do I get from the Seattle airport to IMG Headquarters?
- I am staying at a hotel up the road. Do I have to meet you at IMG Headquarters or can IMG just pick me up on the way up to the mountain for the climb?
- Can I make a flight out of SeaTac on the same day that my trip finishes?
- Have you heard any reports of trouble with the airlines checking ice axe and crampons through as checked baggage?
- Should I buy Travel and Trip and cancellation insurance for a climb on Mt Rainier?
- I need a place to stay before/after my climb is there lodging nearby? Restaurants?
- Is there a place to store my personal belongings at IMG?
Preparing for the Climb
- What type of boots are sufficient for Rainier?
- How should I train for an ascent of Mt. Rainier?
- What kind of weather can I expect for my climb?
- Is rental gear available for the climb?
- Can I pick up my rental gear the day before the climb?
- How heavy will my pack be?
- Do I have to carry any of the group gear in addition to my own gear?
- What should I bring to eat for my Mt. Rainier program?
- What kind of meals can I expect while on the mountain?
- How much drinking water will I need? Is the water on the mountain treated?
- Can I wear my contact lenses while on the mountain?
- I wear prescription glasses (or contact lenses). What combination of sunglasses and goggles will work best with them?
- Can I use my bladder and hose hydration system for a climb on Mt. Rainier?
- I am very comfortable hiking in cold temperatures below 0°F using layers of fleece and Gore-Tex. Do I still need an insulated parka with hood on Mt. Rainier?
- What kinds of tents do you use? How many people sleep in a tent?
- What kind of camera should I bring?
- What can I do to help prevent altitude sickness? Are there any medications I can take?
- What are "Blue Bags"?
- What is wind chill?
- Can you tell me more about Mt Rainier, its history, geology and flora and fauna?
- What books would you recommend I read prior to my upcoming climb?
After the Climb
- Should I tip our guides?
- Can I get Internet access in Ashford?
- Are there showers/restrooms available at HQ to use after my climb?
- What else is there to do in and around Ashford or Mt. Rainier?
- After I climb Rainier, what's the next mountain I should climb?
Q: When is the best time to climb Mt. Rainier?
A: We start guiding the "summer season" in late May and guide Rainier through the end of September. That said, the conditions on the mountain change throughout the season. Below is a quick look at how it shakes out… Remember there are pros and cons to climbing at any time of the year!
This is still early in the season. When the weather's good, these are incredible months to climb Rainier. The mountain is typically at its pristine best, snow covered and beautiful. The route tends to be more direct and number of other climbers is lower than the peak months of July and August.
This is the peak Rainier climbing season. Though weather can prevent an ascent at any time of year, the odds of good weather are certainly the best during these months. Number of other climbers is at its peak. As the season progresses, the route tends to get a bit more circuitous.
After Labor Day, number of climbs on Rainier diminishes. That's a big selling point for September climbs. Plus, potential climbers have had the summer season to get in the best shape of their lives. We often get periods of very nice weather in September. And, we normally don't encounter any snow prior to Pebble Creek, at 7,200 ft., on the Muir approach. The snow is typically firmer on the upper mountain
Q: What programs and routes do you offer?
A: Check out our Quickscan Schedule for mountaineering difficulty and instruction level, route descriptions, and availability.
Q: What route would you recommend for the novice climber?
A: All of our Rainier climbs programs are basically snow and ice mountaineering instruction so it really depends on your goals and objectives. A greenhorn should consider the Classic 3.5 Day Muir/DC Summit Climb, or the 4.5 Day Emmons Glacier Climb both are considered beginning level.
Q: How do I sign up and what application fee is required?
A: Please contact the IMG office for availability. (360)569-2609 or
Carefully read, execute and submit the
Please Note: Your position is not confirmed until all properly executed forms and application fees have been received and reviewed at the IMG office in Ashford, WA. If within 48 hours of submitting the Application Forms you have not received an IMG confirmation email, please contact our office to confirm we have received all of your information.
(Please click here if you need help with PDFs »)
Q: What's included in the trip cost?
A: Cost includes:
- IMG's world renowned guide staff
- all training curriculum and instruction
- round trip transportation from IMG Headquarters to the start of the climb
- dinners and breakfasts during the climb
- group equipment including tents, stoves, climbing ropes and group hardware
- avalanche beacons for each participant if required
- National Park entrance and climbing permits
- lodging the evening prior to the start of the climb and after the end of the climb
- meals while not climbing
Q: Is there a minimum age for participants?
A: You must be 18 years old to climb without a parent or legal guardian accompanying you on the climb. With a parent, 16 is generally our minimum age on scheduled climbs, unless special arrangements have been made prior to the climb. For all climbers under 18 years of age, their parent or guardian must stay with them at all times for the duration of the climb. If either person needs to turn around during the climb, the other person will also need to turn around and an IMG guide will work with both of them to descend back to camp.
Q: I understand the program I wanted to register for is full. Can you squeeze one more person on that climb? Is there a waiting list?
A: We are not able to add an extra person to a climb. The National Park Service limits the number of climbers we are allowed to have on the mountain at any given time no wiggle room on this one. However, we do have a waiting list. When we get cancellations, we notify people on the appropriate waiting list by email. The first person to send their completed forms and payment will be awarded the open slot. Call or email the IMG office to be placed on the waiting list.
Q: I already purchased a climbing permit for Mt. Rainier National Park. Do I have to pay for this again to climb with IMG?
A: Climbing permits in Rainier National Park are good from the day purchased through the end of that calendar year. If your climbing permit is valid for the dates of your climb with IMG, we will deduct the permit fee from the cost of your climb with IMG. Please send/scan/fax a copy of your permit to the IMG office prior to your trip, and bring the permit with you for your climb. If you do not already have a climbing permit, IMG will issue you one for your climb upon your arrival for the beginning of your climb.
Q: I already purchased a park entrance permit (or annual National Park pass) for Mt. Rainier National Park. Do I have to pay to enter the Park again with IMG?
A: If you are planning on entering Mt Rainier National Park before the start of your climb and you purchase a National Park pass or already have an annual National Park pass bring it with you on the first day of the program so we can make a copy of it and we will then credit your account the $10.00 fee.
Q: If I am climbing with IMG more than once this season, do I still have to fill out all the forms for each individual trip?
A: Yes. Our legal counsel advises that we receive new forms for each subsequent program on which our clients participate. We expect that an application takes our customers approximately 10-15 minutes to complete. Our hope is that you do not find the process to be arduous, but rather that you understand the degree of importance upon which we place the accuracy of these legal documents. We thank you for your cooperation and understanding.
Q: How early do I need to register to climb with you next year?
A: IMG traditionally posts the next year's schedule during the first week of September after we receive approval of the new season rates and dates by the National Park Service. We send an announcement to everyone who has contacted us by email. We then begin accepting applications immediately for the coming year. The peak summer season (July and August) is normally booked by the first of the year, and all remaining dates are filled by the end of February to early March. If you want the best chance of getting your first choice of dates, we recommend sending in your application forms and fee as soon as we post our rates online for the coming year.
Q: Can you send me a brochure explaining your programs?
A: We do not print brochures with detailed program descriptions (we like to save trees), but if you are interested in a printed handout to read when away from your computer, please open our Trip Info PDF file and print this document for your use. There is a PDF document that describes the trip in detail for each of our various programs.
For example, if you were interested in going on the 3-Day Rainier Summit Climb, select the Rainier Climbs option, then select the 3-Day Climb page: www.mountainguides.com/rnr-dc3.shtml
Then select the Trip Info button, which will open this PDF document: www.mountainguides.com/pdf/rnr-dc3.pdf
...Which you can then print.
Please click here for help with PDFs »
Travel and Logistics
Q: Where do I need to be and when?
A: For all climbs, meet us at IMG HQ in Ashford (Map and Directions ») at 2:00 PM on Day 1 of your program for orientation, gear checks, rentals and group training. The following morning, plan to meet at IMG HQ at 8:00 AM sharp.
The Mountaineering Day School, Advanced Mountaineering Day School, and 2-day Crevasse Rescue School meet at 8 AM on the day of the climb at IMG HQ.
Q: How do I get to IMG Headquarters?
The IMG office is located in Ashford, WA, just before the Nisqually Entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park:
Ashford, WA 98304
Set your GPS: N 46°45', 27.6" W 122°01', 20.4' Altitude: 1658', or:
See Map and Get Directions »
See PDF doc of possible road routes and distances »
Driving Directions to IMG Headquarters in Ashford, WA:
East on Hwy. 512 (towards Puyallup)
Take 2nd exit (Mt. Rainier exit)
Turn right (this is Pacific Av./Hwy. 7)
Stay on Hwy. 7 to Elbe
At Elbe the road will curve and change to 706 E.
Follow 706 E. to Ashford
East on Hwy. 12 to Morton
North on Hwy. 7 to Elbe
Turn right on 706 E.
Follow 706 E. to Ashford
Upon reaching the small town of Ashford, drive through town and pass a brown sign on your right that says "Park Entrance 5". Another ¼ mile further, turn left at the blue and white International Mountain Guides sign onto a new asphalt driveway which will take you to our new Ashford Headquarters.
Q: How do I get from the airport to IMG Headquarters?
A: IMG does not provide shuttle service to/from airport. The Seattle airport is about a two hour drive from Ashford, and the Portland airport is about 2.5 or 3 hours from Ashford. We suggest renting a car at the airport. All major rental car agencies serve both airports. There is plenty of parking for your vehicle at IMG HQ if you need to leave your vehicle here during your climb. (Map and Directions to IMG HQ »)
Q: I am staying at a hotel up the road. Do I have to meet you at IMG Headquarters or can IMG just pick me up on the way up to the mountain for the climb?
A: We will need you to meet the group at 2 PM on your start date at IMG HQ. It is simplest for you to again meet us at 8 AM on the day we start the climb at IMG HQ, but if you have extenuating circumstances, please feel free to give us a call. If you are staying at the Paradise Inn, we can meet you up there on the day of the climb.
Q: Can I make a flight out of SeaTac on the same day that my trip finishes?
A: Maybe. Most expeditions that return to Ashford in EARLY SEASON (through June) will be back by 4 PM or so. You will need time to return rental gear, complete any paperwork and make your goodbyes (1 hour), then drive to SeaTac (2 hours), with enough time to check in for your flight. Inclement weather and other unplanned events can delay your return from the mountain as well as delay your travel to the airport, so it may be prudent to either stay an extra night or choose a flight late that evening. Later in the season (generally after July 1) it is common to return to Ashford after 5:00 PM. By August and September arrival time can be as late as 8:00 PM Generally, it is usually safest to either keep your return flight flexible or book it for the following morning.
Trips using the Emmons Glacier route should finish earlier on the last day of the climb, normally between noon and 1:00 pm. The drive back around to IMG Headquarters takes another 1½ hours. You should be ready to depart from IMG headquarters between 3 and 5:00 pm.
Q: Have you heard any reports of trouble with the airlines checking ice axe and crampons through as checked baggage?
A: As long as your ice axe, crampons and all other sharp and pointy objects are in your checked bags, it has not been a problem, on either domestic or international flights.
Q: Should I buy Travel and Trip and cancellation insurance for a climb on Mt Rainier?
A: Our fees are completely non-refundable and non-transferable. Your program fees will not be refunded if you need to cancel your program. For this reason, we strongly recommend you purchase Travel/Trip cancellation insurance.
The Travelex plans offered through the IMG website provide excellent pre-trip cancellation and interruption coverage as well as medical emergency and health-related benefits that might occur. If you enroll within 21 days of your registration for the IMG Program you'll be eligible for the best possible coverage, including a waiver for pre-existing medical conditions. Additionally, the trip delay, missed connections, baggage delay and lost baggage, 24-hour AD&D, common carrier AD&D and the other covered benefits offered by Travelex are all important services that you may find useful. Costs vary according to the options you select, but total cost for the trip insurance will often fall in the $75 to $200 range.
You should note that trip insurance does not cover the actual mountaineering aspect of a trip to Rainier. If you turn back, or if your climb is turned around on the way to the summit due to weather, route conditions, etc., then you are NOT covered for cancellation. This being said, keep in mind that 90%+ of the covered reasons for cancellation or trip interruption will likely not involve the actual mountaineering portion of the program, but rather other day-to-day travel related issues requiring a traveler to have to cancel, interrupt or inconvenience their normal travel schedule.
For more info, to see current coverage plans and rates or to get a quote, please visit our Travel Insurance page.
Q: I need a place to stay before/after my climb is there lodging nearby? Restaurants?
A: There are several lodging options in the area (including our onsite platform tents), some great restaurants as well as a small-town general store. Check out our page of resources on Rainier Area Lodging »
Q: Is there a place to store my personal belongings at IMG?
A:When you arrive at IMG headquarters, you'll have quite a bit of gear with you, both the equipment you plan to take on your summit climb and your travel clothes and extras that will remain behind. The best place to store your extra gear during the climb is in the trunk of your car. IMG has a dedicated parking area off the main road next to our buildings. We cannot guarantee the safety of your vehicle or personal belongings, but we have not had break-ins or theft from vehicles left on site to date. The area is well lit and supervised. If you are dropped off at IMG and don't have access to a vehicle, we can store a locked bag for you in our storage room. Again, IMG cannot take responsibility for the loss of your personal items, but we'll be glad to do our best to safely and responsibly store them for you.
One item we haven't overlooked is a safe place to store your car keys during the climb. We simplify storage of this crucial item by collecting everyone's keys prior to departure for the trailhead and saving them for your return in a marked bag in our shop. This saves the inevitable search through your pack to find the keys upon your return.
Preparing for the Climb
Q: What type of boots are sufficient for Rainier?
A: We are often asked if single boots are adequate for climbing Mt. Rainier. The answer is a qualified yes.
Here is IMG's thinking:
For a first time climb of Mt. Rainier, you want to be as well prepared as possible. That means warm, waterproof boots. Double plastic boots provide the best possible warmth for your feet, they are completely waterproof, and they don't constrict your toes or ankles when worn with crampons attached. First time climbers will do well to choose double plastic boots, and IMG makes this simple by offering them for rent. We also strongly recommend double plastic boots in early summer (May and June) for all participants and we REQUIRE them on winter programs.
There are some very warm, insulated, waterproof synthetic or leather single climbing boots on the market these days. If you own a pair of single climbing boots (generally less than ten years old) and have used them successfully in cold weather environments previously, then single boots will probably work for you on Mt. Rainier.
There are a number of manufacturers who make very good climbing boots these days.
Here are some of the requirements your boots must possess:
- Must be fully rigid or ¾ rigid shank soled.
- Must be factory treated waterproof leather or synthetic waterproof
- Must have synthetic insulation
- Must be crampon compatible
If you are thinking about purchasing any type of boot, remember, the BEST boot to buy is the one that fits your foot the best. Go to a good outfitter that has multiple models to try on. If you do not have a good climbing store nearby, shop online through a knowledgeable climbing store with a good exchange policy. Ask for the store expert. If they do not have a boot fitting specialist, then go to another store. You will want to describe your foot, perhaps send in a tracing of it, describe the climbs you intend to use the boot on and be ready to order and return a couple of pair of boots in order to confirm the best possible fit. If you end up buying a boot that gives you blisters, get rid of it! Sell it on eBay and try again.
Following is a list of some of the MANY single boot manufacturers:
Scarpa, La Sportiva, Asolo, Boreal, Garmont, Vasque, Technica, Millet and more. Remember, you want a rigid, insulated, waterproof, lug soled mountaineering boot suitable for cold weather glacier climbing.
Following is a list of some of the double plastic boot manufacturers:
Scarpa, Koflach (also owned by Scarpa), Asolo and La Sportiva.
Summary:When to use plastic boots:
- Early season (May and June) and winter
- If you are a First time climber, you should rent them
- If you are a person with compromised circulation or a history of cold feet
- If you own your own boots and have used them successfully in similar conditions to Mt. Rainier
- During the peak summer season (July through September)
- If you have fit issues (very small, large, narrow or wide feet)
If you are climbing in later season (after early August) it is often worth bringing a light pair of hiking or running shoes to wear on the first 2½ miles of the approach up to Pebble Creek. These are especially valuable on the way down if your feet are sore (or hot) in the double plastic boots.
Q: How should I train for an ascent of Mt. Rainier?
A: Mt. Rainier, at 14,410 feet, 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 climbs such as Denali, Aconcagua and the Himalayas. An attempt of Mt. Rainier is a serious endeavor and one that demands good physical fitness.
It is our goal to help you properly prepare for your upcoming Mt. Rainier climb. We realize that many of our customers have never climbed a large mountain before and are unsure about exactly how to train for a climb of such magnitude. We will try to help by explaining as clearly as possible what will be expected of you physically during your ascent. We have also done our best to outline how to achieve the necessary fitness level. You will be safer, increase your chance of success and enjoy the climb more if you show up in good physical condition.
Please take the time to read our detailed suggestions on the
Training for Mt. Rainier Page »
Q: What kind of weather can I expect for my climb?
A: Our motto is, be prepared for anything. Mt. Rainier creates its own weather, and it can change in an instant, any time of the year. Here are some links you can check on as you get closer to the date of your program:
Q: Is rental gear available for the climb?
A: Yes, several of the more specialized items (i.e. plastic double-boots, crampons, ice axe) and many outer layers of insulated jackets or shell jacket and pants can be rented from us at the IMG Headquarters in Ashford. Please consult our Rental Information for details. IMG provides avalanche beacons and tents for all participants. No need to reserve gear in advance.
Q: Can I pick up my rental gear the day before the climb?
A: Yes, we'll meet as a team at 2 PM on Day 1 of your program, and at that time we will issue and fit rental gear for you.
Q: How heavy will my pack be?
A: On the Disappointment Cleaver route your pack will weigh about 35 to 40 pounds, including a small amount of group food. On other routes your pack will probably weigh about 50 pounds, including group gear (tents, stoves, fuel, climbing gear) and food.
Q: Do I have to carry any of the group gear in addition to my own gear?
A: Depending on which trip you take, some of the group gear is cached on the mountain and you will pick it up during the trip. In general, though, yes, we will divide up the group gear (tents, stoves, ropes, cooking gear, food) among all the trip participants to help carry everything we need on the mountain.
Here's a rough estimate of how much group gear and food you might have to carry:
- 3-day climbs: less than 5 pounds per person; primarily group food
- 4-day climbs: 10 pounds each
- 5 and 6 day seminars: 15 pounds each
Q: What should I bring to eat for my Mt. Rainier program?
A: International Mountain Guides provides dinner, breakfast, and hot drinks while on the mountain for most programs (does not include MDS, AMDS or CRS). IMG is happy to accommodate diet restrictions, allergies and food intolerances to the best of our ability. With advanced notice we are usually able to adjust the meal plan. Individuals with carefully controlled or limited diets may need to provide their own food supplements or replacement diet. If you are Vegan, Kosher, Gluten intolerant or require a special diet, you may need to bring your own food. Please contact the IMG office to discuss your particular needs. We try to supply high quality, hearty food considering the mountain setting. Your guides will be melting snow for hot drinks and for cold drinking water.
It is your responsibility to bring lunch/trail food. You can click here to see what some of our guides bring to eat on the mountain. Make sure you bring enough calories to keep you going all day. We will be working hard while on the mountain so don't cut yourself short. This is no time to go on a diet, because if you don't keep fuel in the furnace you'll run out of energy. You will often hear the guides saying, "Lunch begins after breakfast, and ends at dinner," meaning that we eat at every rest break throughout the day and there will never be a set "lunch" break. Bring foods that you know you'll want to eat. Some mountain favorites for the first day are cold pizza, deli sandwiches, fried chicken, and potato chips. Things like G.O.R.P, granola bars, fruit, string cheese, crackers, dried meats like salami, candy bars, etc. are good any day. It never hurts to throw in some electrolyte powder or other drink mix for your water.
Powerbars, Cliff Bars, Luna Bars, etc. can be great energy but just make sure that you are going to want to eat them. They can be bland and un-palatable in the high altitude cold of a mountain and can also freeze and be impossible to eat. Make sure that whatever you bring can either be eaten while cold, or can fit in your pocket to stay warm. Finally, it is not a bad idea to bring a couple of gel packets (like Gu or Power Gel) for summit day. If you lose your appetite on the upper mountain, a Gu will keep you going and is easy on the stomach.
Q: What kind of meals can I expect while on the mountain?
A: No freeze-dried food here! We do our best to provide simple, tasty and nutritious breakfasts and dinners for you while on the mountain.
The dinner at Camp Muir is often something like burritos: rice, refried beans, sauteed vegetables and pre-cooked chicken or beef. At high camp on the Ingraham Glacier it will commonly be a one-pot rice or pasta meal with added fresh vegetables and a meat option. Breakfasts are simple and quick affairs. Pancakes and bacon are common at Camp Muir. We depart high camp on day three before dawn, so breakfast is either instant oatmeal or cold cereal. Normal hot drinks are provided at each of these meals coffee, cocoa, tea and hot cider.
For those with dietary restrictions we can usually accommodate you by leaving meat products or other ingredients out of your serving. We may request that you bring additional supplements to augment your meal. We can't always accommodate all individual needs, but we are happy to discuss options with you and review the planned menu during orientation on Day 1 of your program.
It is your responsibility to provide your own lunch/trail food for your climb (see what IMG guides like to eat on Rainier), as well as meals before and after your climb.
Q: How much drinking water will I need? Is the water on the mountain treated?
A: For all of our programs on Mt. Rainier, we recommend each person carry two wide mouthed Nalgene plastic bottles. Wide mouthed bottles are easier to fill, especially when melting snow, and resist freezing a bit longer than small necked bottles. In the early season (May-June) you may want to carry your bottles in insulated covers, like the Outdoor Research Water Bottle Parka to avoid freezing. In the later summer, we carry our bottles wrapped in our puffy jackets inside our packs on summit day. Two bottles should last you through the hiking day until you get to camp. Later in the summer, running streams may provide an additional source of water below 8,000 feet. If you drink stream water, we recommend treating it with either iodine tablets or chlorine dioxide tablets. Iodine is fast (30 minutes) but has a bad aftertaste unless used with the optional taste neutralizing tablets. Chlorine dioxide takes 4 hours but has little aftertaste.
At camps, the guides melt enough water for all to hydrate and fill their bottles. The guides also melt water for the morning and evening meals which both include a variety of hot drinks. At meals, all water consumed is brought to a boil and is safe to drink. For filling water bottles, we can't boil enough water to fill everyone's bottles. Instead, we recommend that each person decide for themselves whether to treat their water or not. If the water source is clean, untouched snow, we normally assume it will be relatively pure. Later in the season, when the last winter's snow is all melted, it might be a good idea to treat un-boiled water. Again, we leave it to the individual to make their own decision. IMG and our guides cannot guarantee the purity of any drinking water on the mountain.
A great way to mask the taste of boiled or treated water is with drink additives like Gatorade, Nuun, Cytomax and others. These electrolyte replacement mixes add flavor and some essential nutrients to your water. Just be sure to let the water treatment you use work completely before adding sugared drink mix or it will neutralize the effect.
Q: Can I wear my contact lenses while on the mountain?
A: Yes, and you can read more about that in the question below as well as in the IMG blog's Gear Q&A »
Q: I wear prescription glasses (or contact lenses). What combination of sunglasses and goggles will work best with them?
A: If you are going to be a safe and successful climber, you need to see well in many different conditions: darkness, extreme sun, snow, wind, dust. On a normal climb of Rainier you are likely to encounter all of these conditions. If it is windy, there is always some fine volcanic dust in the air which is horrible to get in your eyes. I have seen many people over the years completely incapacitated by dust... for example going up Cathedral Gap in the middle of the night when it is windy without goggles you are effectively blinded.
I have needed vision correction for near-sightedness since I was in 4th grade and have never been very excited about getting the Lasik eye surgery (no offense to my eye surgeon friends!) So, for 45+ years as a climber I have learned to adapt. Most of the time when I am "down low" I like to wear contact lenses, but I have found these don't work so well for me at higher altitude because my contacts cut the oxygen to the cornea causing foggy vision. Also, I am super sensitive to getting dust in my eyes while wearing my contacts. I often wear my contacts up to Camp Muir (with glacier glasses), but for the upper mountain I do not wear them. Instead I use my eyeglasses in the dark (with goggles if it is windy) and switch over to prescription glacier glasses during the day (I can put my goggles over the top of these, too, if it is windy).
Here are my suggestions:
If you wear contacts: bring good "glacier glasses" (very dark sunglasses with side protection) for super bright conditions (I like the Julbo Explorers with cat 5 lenses). Then, you must also have goggles available in case the winds kicks up (not real dark lenses) that you can use during the nighttime while climbing, and they need to fit with your helmet and headlamp. You should also bring your eyeglasses as a back-up.
If you wear eyeglasses (not contacts): the best option is to get prescription glacier glasses. Find a pair of frames that fits your face and then have your optometrist put dark lenses in them. Or, you can order them from Optics Planet or other companies. Make sure you also bring your eyeglasses and also bring goggles (that will fit over your eyeglasses) in case of a windy/dusty day.
If you wear eyeglasses and do not have prescription sunglasses, then you will need a very dark solution to modify your eyeglasses. For example, very dark clip-ons and also side shields (you can make side shields with tape), or you can try the sunglass shields that fit over the top of eyeglasses (if they are very dark). You should also have goggles in case of wind and dust. The problem with relying only on the goggles is on a hot day (going to Camp Muir, for example), you will sweat, and the goggles will fog up.
Bottom line, if you need glasses or contacts, do not rely on only one solution; always bring your eyeglasses, prescription sunglasses (preferred), back up sunglasses, and goggles for wind and dust.
Eric Simonson, IMG Partner
Q: Can I use my bladder and hose hydration system for a climb on Mt. Rainier?
A: CamelBak type systems work great for hydration, but aren't perfect in cold weather. On summit day, wind chill temperatures can be down below zero and a hose will likely freeze, even if it is an insulated one. If you choose to bring a bladder and hose hydration system, our advice is to use it as high as you can (at least to high camp) and then if the weather is cold, bring along one or two Nalgene bottles as a backup. If your hose starts to freeze, transfer your water from the hydration bladder to your Nalgene bottles.
Q: What can I do to help prevent altitude sickness? Are there any medications I can take?
A: Mild altitude illness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), is not uncommon among people climbing Mt. Rainier. Typical symptoms tend to include headache, loss of appetite, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, restless sleep, and an increased heart rate and increased respiratory rate.
There are many things you can do to help prevent altitude illness. Hydrating during the climb is the most important and effective, but other effective techniques also include "pressure breathing," using medications such as Diamox, and taking acclimatization hikes prior to your climb. Ibuprofen or aspirin can help with the headache and other symptoms of altitude illness.
Proper hydration while on an alpine climb can help you avoid cold injuries as well as prevent altitude illness. The more hydrated you are, the better you will feel at altitude and the faster you will acclimatize (adapt to higher altitude), because you will be able to assimilate more oxygen into your blood stream and deliver it throughout the body more efficiently. It is important to keep track of your fluid intake to make sure that you're getting enough. We generally recommend that a person drink between 4 and 6 liters per day while climbing or training on Mt. Rainier. The general rule of thumb is that if your urine is clear and copious, then you are drinking enough. Electrolyte drink mixes will help replenish electrolytes lost from sweating and exertion. It is important, however, to remember to eat as well as drink during the day, both to maintain your energy levels and prevent hyponatremia. Drinking too much water without replacing electrolytes can make you hyponatremic (the flushing away of important electrolytes in the bloodstream due to excess water), which can be a life-threatening illness.
In addition to staying well hydrated, consider avoiding substances that act as diuretics or depressants. Refrain from alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, antihistamines, sleeping pills and other depressant drugs for a few days prior to and during your climb.
Another means of preventing altitude illness is pressure breathing, or purposeful hyperventilation. The more you force yourself to breath deeply and force out the old stale air in your lungs, the more you will rid your body of carbon dioxide and allow your body to take on more oxygen. This, combined with proper hydration will allow your body to transport more oxygen molecules around the body. This breathing technique is very effective and is employed by most successful high altitude mountaineers. IMG guides will teach you about pressure breathing during your climb.
Generally, just being fit will help you feel better at altitude. Being fit will also help you manage any symptoms of altitude illness without simultaneously struggling with the journey up the mountain. When possible, go for acclimatization hikes prior to the climb. Hike a local peak with some altitude (8,000 feet or higher) or consider coming out to Ashford a day or two before your climb with IMG and do a day hike up to Camp Muir (10,000ft) to log some time at altitude and start your body on the process of acclimatization.
Some medications have been shown to help prevent altitude illness. IMG does not recommend any specific medications. People tend to do fine with the moderate altitude of Mt. Rainier without any medications, especially if they are on one of our longer (3, 4, 5, and 6 day) programs. If considering medications for altitude illness, you should consult with your physician. Diamox (acetazolamide) can help prevent altitude illness and many climbers use it on high altitude expeditions around the world. It is usually not necessary on Mt. Rainier and is reserved for more extreme altitudes such as those found in the Himalayas and in South America. You need a prescription from a doctor to obtain Diamox so a consultation with an MD is necessary, and that is a good time to ask questions regarding its benefits and drawbacks, as there are several side effects that can affect one's climb. If you do decide to take Diamox, we suggest starting with a small dose (125mg morning and evening) to minimize unpleasant symptoms (tingling, itching, excessive urination).
In the end, simply maintaining good hydration is the single most important thing you can do for yourself to avoid altitude illness.
For more information about AMS and altitude illnesses, please visit: www.princeton.edu/~oa/safety/altitude.html
Q: What are "Blue Bags"?
A:Mt. Rainier National Park requires climbers to use Blue Bags for their human waste. Blue Bags will be provided by IMG. They contain one clear bag, one blue bag, and twist ties. There are several ways to use the Blue Bags –- this will be covered during your half-day orientation.
We are required to deposit these blue bags in specific collection barrels at Camp Muir, Camp Schurman, the tunnel outside Paradise Comfort Station, or White River Campground. Do not drop used blue bags in trash cans or the toilets at Camp Muir or Camp Schurman.
For routes that don't go through Camp Schurman or Camp Muir you'll be required to carry your blue bags with you until your climb is complete and then deposit them in collection barrels at the end of your climb – likely at White River Campground or Paradise.
Each year approximately 10,000 people register to climb Mt. Rainier. Everybody poops.
Q: I am very comfortable hiking in cold temperatures below 0°F using layers of fleece and Gore-Tex. Do I still need an insulated parka with hood on Mt. Rainier?
A: We prefer that you bring an insulating parka on all Mt. Rainier programs. It doesn't get extremely cold in the Pacific Northwest, but it is frequently wet and windy. Combine that with altitude, and you can experience storms that produce snow, winds of 40 mph or more and temperatures on the upper mountain as cold as 10-20°F at any time during the summer months. 10°F at 40 mph is about -15°F with the wind chill factor. As a guide service, we worry about worst-case scenarios, like helping out on a rescue where we have to sit for hours on the upper mountain waiting for a helicopter or additional support. A synthetic bivouac parka or a down parka is very useful in this situation. More commonly, we put the parka on over our climbing layers at rest breaks on the summit day. This traps our body heat while we rest and keeps us warm. We take off the parka when we resume our ascent, carrying it in the top of our packs ready for the next break. Even in the best of conditions, an insulated parka with attached hood can't be beat for keeping you warm at camp during the evenings and early mornings. If you don't want to buy a parka for this one program, this is understandable. IMG offers a complete list of rental gear on the IMG website including synthetic insulated parkas.
Q: What kinds of tents do you use? How many people sleep in a tent?
A: We use Eureka K2 XT 3-person tents and Eureka High Camp 2-person tents. We try to accommodate two persons sleeping in each tent but will sometimes triple up in 3-person tents to save weight on longer or more advanced programs. Tents on the mountain are included in the cost of your trip.
Q: What kind of camera should I bring?
A: Check out Adam Angel's recommendations for cameras on Rainier!
Q: What is wind chill?
A: The National Weather Service offers this definition of wind chill: "Increased wind speeds accelerate heat loss from exposed skin." No specific rules exist for determining when wind chill becomes dangerous. As a general rule, the threshold for potentially dangerous wind chill conditions is about -20°F. Follow this link for an explanation of the wind chill factor: www.nws.noaa.gov/om/windchill/
Q: Can you tell me more about Mt Rainier, its history, geology and flora and fauna?
A: Check out the Rainier Natural History Brochure for some good natural history and background on Mt Rainier.
Q: What books would you recommend I read prior to my upcoming climb?
A: Here's a small bibliography as you prepare for your climb. Check out our entire Suggested Reading List with links:
The classic book on the history of climbing Mt. Rainier:
- The Challenge of Rainier, by Dee Molenaar, 1979
Guidebooks describing the routes on Mt. Rainier:
- Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide, by Mike Gauthier, Bruce Barcott, 1999
- Climbing Mt. Rainier: The Essential Guide, by Fred Beckey, Alex Van Steen, 1999
- The Big Fact Book About Mount Rainier: Fascinating Facts Records Lists Topics Characters & Stories, by Bette E. Filley, 1996
Personal Reflections on Mt. Rainier:
- The Measure of a Mountain: Beauty and Terror on Mount Rainier, Bruce Barcott, revised 2007
- A Year in Paradise: A Personal Experience of Living on Mount Rainier in the Early 1900's, Floyd Schmoe, reprint 1999
- Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills; 7th Edition, by The Mountaineers
- Glacier Travel & Crevasse Rescue: Reading Glaciers, Team Travel, Crevasse Rescue Techniques, Routefinding, Expedition Skills 2nd Edition, by Andy Selters
- Self-Rescue: How to Rock Climb Series by David Fasulo, 1996
After the Climb
Q: Should I tip our guides?
A: A show of appreciation for a job well done is always appropriate. We think you'll agree that the guides go above and beyond the call of duty to make your climb as safe, successful and enjoyable as possible. Our guides typically pool the tips and share them equally. Your contribution to the guides' tip pool can go directly to the lead guide on your program and will be appreciated by all of them! If you make out a check, please make it out to the lead guide by name. If you make it out to IMG, we are required to deduct taxes. The amount of tip is at your discretion, but tips for excellent service normally average 10-15% of the cost of the program.
Q: Can I get Internet access in Ashford?
A: IMG Headquarters has free WiFi available on site. Bring your laptop, sit on our deck and surf away.
Q: Are there showers/restrooms available at HQ to use after my climb?
A: There is a restroom facility and shower onsite at Ashford HQ, available to our customers. (There is a $5 fee for shower/towel use, or free of charge if you have onsite tent rental).
Q: What else is there to do in and around Ashford or Mt. Rainier?
A: There are a large variety of activities besides climbing in the Ashford and Mt. Rainier area. Hiking, biking, kayaking, skiing, wine tasting, festivals, art galleries, good restaurants and more are all nearby. View all the details at the Mt. Rainier Visitor Association (http://www.mt-rainier.com/), the Visit Rainier (http://www.visitrainier.com/) and the National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov/mora/) web sites.
Q: After I climb Rainier, what's the next mountain I should climb?
A: All of our Rainier climbs programs are basically snow and ice mountaineering instruction so it really depends on your goals and objectives. For additional skill training on Rainier, consider an intermediate level instruction climbs like the Fuhrer's Finger or Kautz Glacier climbs or the challenge of an advanced instructional climb like Liberty Ridge. You can also take one of the Expedition Seminars on Rainier or our Cascades School and Custom Climbs.
For additional experience on glaciated peaks that get you a few thousand feet higher than Rainier, consider the Mexican Volcanoes, the Ecuador Volcanoes, Mt. Elbrus (Russia), Mt. Whitney (CA), Classic Climbs in the Alps, and our Alaskan Ascents in Wrangell/St. Elias National Park, Alaska.
If you prefer to just walk up to higher altitude without dealing with crampons and ice axes, then any of our treks, like Kilimanjaro, Bhutan, Machu Picchu, Everest Base Camp or others will combine lots of walking with high mountains and great cultural opportunities. Check out all the treks on our Trips by Type Expeditions for more details and options.