Mount Rainier


Mount Rainier

The mountain was originally named Tahoma or "Great Snowy Peak" by the Yakima Indians. Captain George Vancouver renamed it after Admiral Peter Rainier of the British Navy during a scouting expedition on May 7, 1792. This name was hotly contested for over 100 years, because Americans felt it shouldn't be named after a British officer who had never even been to the U.S.

The first ascent is believed to be in 1852, but is undocumented. The first recorded ascent was on August 17, 1870 by General Hazard Stevens and Philemon Van Trump, via the Gibralter Ledges route. James Longmire introduced the climbing party to the Yakima Indian Sluiskin who provided the party with assistance in getting to the base of the mountain. They climbed in 1 day from their camp just below the Gibralter Ledges. Upon reaching the summit, they nearly collapsed due to exhaustion, but managed to find a steam vent to hide in.

On March 2, 1899 president William McKinley authorized the creation of Mount Rainier National Park protecting 235,625 acres, including over 35 square miles of glaciers blanketing the mountain. There are 25 large named glaciers on Mount Rainier, including the enormous Emmons, which flows down the east face.

It is the highest volcano of the Cascade Range and the fifth highest mountain of the continental USA. This is a huge mountain with multiple glaciers and routes of all technical levels. 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. More than 10,000 people a year try to scale this mountain and many expeditions for bigger mountains come to Rainier for their training runs.

The summit of this mountain is unique to mountains. There are actually 3 separately classified summits of this peak, Columbia Crest which is the highest point at 14,411 feet, Point Success at 14,158 feet to the southwest, and Liberty Cap at 14,112 feet to the northwest all separated by a large crater. The most standard routes actually bring you to the crater rim at 14,150 feet. A lot of climbers consider this as the summit, or close enough, but to attain the true summit, it is an hour walk round trip a quarter mile across the crater to Columbia Crest. Here you can find a summit log.

Getting There

Mount Rainier National Park has great road access from all directions in the summer, however many of the roads are closed in the winter. There is an entrance fee of $15 for a vehicle, and the pass is good for 7 days. A Mount Rainier pass is available for $20 and is good for one year.

From the Seattle Airport--Take I-5 south to I-405. Go 3-4 miles on I-405 and take State Route 167 south. Drive about 21 miles to State Route 512. In 3 miles, exit on the right onto State Route 161 south. Stay on 161 through Puyallup and Graham into Eatonville. Turn left at the stop sign in Eatonville. There is a sign to Mount Rainier there. Follow the narrow 2 lane road to the end. Turn left on SR 7 and continue to the town of Elbe. Stay left on SR 706 in Elbe and drive approximately 13 miles east through Ashford to the entrance of the park. Ashford in the base for RMI and the Summit House if you are renting equipment or using RMI for a guide service). Once you enter the park, it is about a 30 minute scenic drive to Paradise. From the East--Take I90 west and get off at exit 110 on I82 east. Head south for approximately 30 miles, then turn west unto route 12 just before Yakima. To get to Paradise, continue on route 12 for approx. 60 miles then make a right unto route 123 and follow the signs.

Recommended Route

Disappointment Cleaver is the "easiest" route to the summit.

Your first day is a climb from Paradise (5500ft) to Camp Muir (10000ft) along the Muir Snowfield. This route is quite popular just as a dayhike, and during the summer months the trail is fairly crowded. In nice weather route-finding is easy and you simply follow the beaten path that starts at the large parking lot at Paradise. In less-than-nice weather, the route-finding on the Muir Snowfield can be trickier. You don't want to get too far off the correct path, or you might find yourself in a crevasse on the SE side. A surprising number of hikers have died on this "easy" section of the route. You can get a set of compass headings or GPS coords from the ranger station in Paradise. They are posted outside so you can get them any time of day. Go early, and you can assure yourself a spot at the Muir hut, which can obviate the need for you to carry a tent. There are several alternatives if the permit quota is full for Camp Muir. You can go higher to Ingraham Flat, camp on the Muir Snow Field, or even at the base of Gibralter Rock Route. If you go during the week, you should have no trouble getting a permit. Be sure to get your permit at the ranger station - you have to stop here to pick one up even if you have advance reservations. The ranger station is on the north side of the large parking lot (not next to the visitor center).

Rainier Mountaineering Inc (RMI) grooms this route all season for the thousands of clients they take up Mt. Rainier each year. There are generally no technical sections, crevasses are well marked, and the steepest portion on the Disappoinment Cleaver (DC) has fixed ropes. The route is open from May to October, but late in the season significant crevasses open and the route necessarily meanders to find the easiest crossing. RMI fixes ladders late in the season to get over the nasty ones. Though most climbing is done before August because of the increased difficulties, speed ascents are often done at this time due to the lack of snow lower on the route. Chad Kellogg set the current record of just over 5hrs roundtrip from the Paradise Ranger Station during August. Most people leave Camp Muir anywhere from between 10p and 2a, depending on their fitness level and expectations on how long it will take to climb. It is only a few miles, but another 4,500ft of vertical. Leaving Camp Muir, the route contours across the Cowlitz Glacier to Cathedral Gap. A shorter, steeper alternative is to take Cadaver Gap, but that is more difficult (and avalanche prone - Willi Unsoeld died coming down here). As you climb Cathedral Gap, shorten your rope between partners some to ease the negotiation of the switchbacks (then go back to regular spacing on the other side). On the other side of Cathedral Gap, you climb onto the Ingraham Glacier and soon pass Ingraham Flat, an alternative overnight spot. The route contours around this glacier to the large rocky ridge to the north, the DC. Later in the season large gaps may open between the glacier and the cleaver, so be careful to watch your step, particularly if it is still dark. RMI fixes ropes at the base of the cleaver for the steepest section here that climbs up and to the right. Once on the ridge, the ropes end, and the climbing eases. Marvel at the sight of Little Tahoma Peak immediately behind you to the east. Follow the beaten path to the top of the DC where you will get a great view of the upper mountain. You now climb out onto the Emmons Glacier for the last, steep climb to the crater rim. The oxygen gets scarce up here, so you probably have to slow down and take your time. Let others pass you if you are going slow, be courteous when attempting to pass others. This is not a Wilderness experience with all these folks out here, so take it easy and relax. You still have a long way to go. There are usually wands marking the entire route, and it is pretty easy to follow these in good weather. In nastier weather they are lifesavers and will guide you back along the proper route. At the crater rim, the route goes left and enters the crater on the southeast side. The true summit is still 20 minutes away to the NW, though many parties call it quits at the crater. Go to the summit no matter how tired you are - that way you won't have any nagging regrets later. There are no crevasses in the crater so you can drop your ropes, packs, harnesses, and all the extra gear you carried but never used. Enjoy your moment on top of the world.

Red Tape

Each climber must present or purchase their Mount Rainier Climbing Pass and present a valid photo I.D. at the time they register for their climb.

Climbers must register to travel above 10,000 feet or onto glaciers. Primary registration locations are the Paradise Ranger Station, White River Wilderness Information Center, and the Wilkeson Wilderness Information Center. The climbing fee is $45 per person per calendar year. The fee is payable when registering. Climbing fees help recover costs for protecting the mountain's delicate and unique alpine environment, staffing the mountain's high camps and ranger stations with climbing rangers, managing upper mountain human waste and providing rangers who can rapidly respond to incidents on the mountain.

An in-park Wilderness Reservation System is available for climbers and backpackers planning trips during the May 1 to September 30 period. A reservations office is staffed at the Longmire Wilderness Information Center during the summer months. Beginning April 1st, reservations can be made by printing and completing a Reservation Request Form and faxing it to (360) 569-3131 or mailing it to Wilderness Reservations Office, Tahoma Woods Star Route, Ashford, WA 98304. Tel. (360) 569-HIKE. There is a $20 reservation fee for advance reservations. This fee is in addition to the climbing permit fee and does not guarantee a spot in the public shelter at Camp Muir. Reservations can be made for trips between May 1st and September 30th.

To speed your climbing registration process you may elect to purchase your Mount Rainier Climbing Pass in advance. Simply download a Climbing Pass Purchase Form, complete the form and fax or mail to the park.


Parties may camp for a maximum of 14 days in the backcountry. Maximum party size is 12 people, with any team larger than 5 considered a group. High camps on the standard routes are located at Camp Muir on the south side and Camp Schurman on the east side.

Camp Muir--Located at 10,080 ft., facilities include a Ranger Station, solar toilet, and the Muir Public Shelter which will accommodate approximately 25 people on a first-come, first-served basis. Tent camping on the glacier is another alternative. There is a hut at Camp Muir that is only for Rainier Mountaineering Inc. Unless you are climbing with them, you may not use it or the facilities associated with it.

Camp Schurman--Located at 9,440 ft., facilities include a Ranger Station and a solar toilet.

Climbers must melt snow for drinking water at both high camps. Treat or boil water.

Guide Services

One-day climbing instruction, two-day summit climbs, five-day climbing seminars, and private climbs, are available through 3 primary vendors.

Rainier Mountaineering, Inc.


Phone: +1 360-569-2227

Alpine Ascents International


Phone: +1 206-378-1927

International Mountain Guides


Phone: +1 360-569-2609

Fun Facts

  • Rainier is the deadliest volcano in the U.S.
  • Rainier is most heavily glaciated peak in the lower 48 states.

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