8 Day Rainier Mountaineering Course Itinerary
I had a great time. The course was as described and continuously exceeded my expectations. The educational components where both informative and enjoyable and I feel that my basic mountaineering skills have been established.
*This itinerary is subject to change due to weather conditions
Our 8 Day Rainier Mountaineering Course combines our 6 Day Baker Mountaineering Course curriculum with a summit bid on the Emmons Glacier on Mount Rainier, the icy colossus of the Pacific Northwest. With its heavy loads, intense training and arduous schedule, it makes a great preparation course for bigger mountains like Denali. Alpine Ascents believes the best training for mountaineering takes place in the field, so all eight days will be spent in the mountains.
We’ll meet at Alpine Ascents’ Seattle office for a 6:30 a.m. orientation and gear check. A big part of developing the necessary skills in mountaineering starts with having the proper equipment and food to ensure a safe and enjoyable wilderness experience. The guides will discuss each piece of equipment and ensure that everything is in good, properly fitting condition. Finally, the guides will discuss weather conditions and make any last-minute adjustments before we head to the trailhead. This is an invaluable part of the course and will often help eliminate many of the questions that students might have.
At the White River Trailhead (4,200′), we will discuss the route, weather and potential campsites. We’ll then move with heavy backpacks to a camp at Glacier Basin (6,000′), a beautiful sub-alpine camp at the base of the Inter Glacier. The hike is about 3.5 miles total with roughly 1,800′ of elevation gain.
An integral part of mountaineering is the ability to set up a safe and secure camp in an extreme environment. We’ll take the time to practice these skills. Guides will discuss the importance of personal maintenance, hygiene and sleeping in cold environs. We’ll also discuss Leave No Trace principles and address any student concerns. Finally, instruction of proper hydration, including efficient snow-melting protocols, nutrition, and backcountry cooking techniques will be addressed.
We’ll move up into the alpine and cross over St. Elmo Pass. Often, we’ll have our snow school along the way. We’ll start by working on a variety of basic walking techniques used to move safely and efficiently over a variety of snowy slopes. Good footwork, balance and rest techniques are invaluable skills that will be used throughout the course. Our guides will then introduce the use of the ice axe and students will practice a variety of self-arrest positions.
Once we’ve demonstrated the requisite skills, we’ll ascend St. Elmo’s Pass and descend briefly to a camp on the vast and remote Winthrop Glacier (7,500′). Here we’ll build another camp, again with emphasis on constructing a safe and secure snow camp. The hike is about 2 miles total with roughly 1,500′ of elevation gain.
We’ll explore some of the more technical skills of mountaineering. Instruction will be given on tying an assortment of knots useful in mountaineering, and we’ll construct our prussiks for use throughout the course. After this, we’ll develop rope work skills: coiling, storing and changing the length of the climbing rope.
We’ll start the day with rope team travel as it pertains to classical glaciated terrain. We’ll then go for a glacier tour on the massive and remote Winthrop Glacier, winding our way through seemingly bottomless crevasses in both classical and echelon formations. Here, emphasis will be placed on proper rope interval, shortening and lengthening the rope, communication, route-finding and hazard assessment.
After lunch, we’ll demonstrate a variety of snow and ice anchors useful for belaying, running protection and rescue scenarios. Once students get comfortable constructing a variety of different anchor types and styles, we’ll put it all to test. If you have ever wondered if you can rappel off a Snickers bar, then this is the day for you! We fully weight and test all of the student anchors to ensure they are constructed properly and are effective for our intended purpose.
Then we’ll put the anchors to test for real, and have people belay and rappel off the ones they construct. A variety of belaying and rappelling techniques, useful in both the mountaineering and vertical climbing realms, will be taught.
The rest of the day will be used to introduce a variety of hauling systems, with emphasis on understanding the mechanical advantage each system employs.
With the skills developed on the previous days – knots, prussiks, rope handling, anchor construction, belaying and mechanical advantage systems – students should now have the necessary skills and comfort to execute crevasse rescues. Guides usually have everyone do a dry run on the surface, but then it is expected that each climber will demonstrate proficiency in holding a real-life fall into a crevasse and preform an actual rescue. Our standard instruction is a 3:1 Z-Pulley rescue system on a three-person rope team. However, we try to always demonstrate, if not practice, the 2:1 Drop-C on a two-person rope team as well.
At this time, students also have the opportunity to practice ascending out of a crevasse, on their own, with the use of their prussiks. This more realistically conveys what self-rescue is all about.
Crevasses can be a hazardous environment and care must be taken to mitigate the risks properly. Guides always emphasize climber safety and well-being. Nevertheless, this will be an extremely memorable and rewarding day.
The morning is often used to scout a route up the often-untracked Winthrop Glacier, an exercise that offers an invaluable lesson in route-finding and rope-team leadership. We’ll then return to camp, assess the conditions, and create a movement plan for the morning. In the afternoon, we’ll practice advanced crampon techniques on hard ice and have some fun with vertical ice climbing, using two tools, if time permits.
By now, students should have made the transition to becoming valuable members of a rope team, and the group will be ready to push higher on the mountain. We’ll move up the Winthrop Glacier (7,500′) to Camp Schurman, a spectacular perch at 9,500 feet on a rocky promontory between the mighty Emmons and Winthrop glaciers. Once our camp is established, we’ll take the afternoon to prepare for the next morning’s summit bid. The climb is about 3 miles total with roughly 2,000′ of elevation gain.
The course changes dynamics at this point, and we’ll pick up two additional guides to ensure that we are climbing with a 2:1 ratio. One of the most important skills we’ll learn in the course is preparing, planning and executing the summit climb itself. This is what it is all about: developing a route plan, assessing the hazards, preparing one’s summit pack, climbing up to the top of Mount Rainier, and descending back down safely through massive glaciers and seracs to Camp Schurman. It’s a rewarding experience with breathtaking views in every direction. It’s also a demanding day, physically and mentally, and it provides great training for the more advanced challenges that students may encounter further along in their climbing careers.
We’ll break down camp in accordance with our Leave No Trace principles, and hike back down to the trailhead and return to Seattle in the evening. It’s our custom to have a group meal en route to Seattle, and celebrate eight great days spent in the mountains!
Topics such as navigation (GPS, map, compass, altimeter and whiteout navigation), route-finding, and glaciology will be incorporated into the curriculum throughout the entire course. Emphasis will continually be placed on checking and maintaining good self-awareness and well-being, in addition to ensuring that our camp is always clean and secure. Finally, due to the dynamic nature of mountains and weather, guides are constantly shifting the itinerary in order to best match the skills and interests of the group with mountain conditions.
This is an extremely rigorous eight days and being in strong physical condition is mandatory. Please note, the guide retains the right, at any point, to determine whether a climber is sufficiently fit to continue.
I was very pleased with the ability of our guides to effectively manage the people and individual skill sets of our team. They provided direction when necessary and also allowed the clients to create a good group dynamic and lead ourselves when appropriate.