Since moving to Washington State as a child, there is one landmark that stands out above all others and that is Mt. Rainier. It is an icon that is immortalized on our license plates. You can see the mountain from almost anywhere in western Washington on a clear day. Rainier is the highest prominence in the lower 48 states which means the height of a mountain or hill’s summit by the vertical distance between it and the lowest contour line encircling it.
I never really considered climbing Rainier until I watched a special about how the Seahawks coach at the time, Jim Mora and his staff summited it. That’s right, believe it or not, I followed the Seahawks before their super bowl year and am not a bandwagon fan, but I’ll save that tangent for another time. After watching that special on TV and seeing this ominous mountain for most of my life, I thought how cool it would be to climb some day. However years went by and I never got serious about setting the goal to summit the mountain.
Then a couple of years ago a friend of mine climbed Rainier and he seemed somewhat changed by the experience. He talked about how great it was and tried to convince our long-time group of friends to go, but only managed to get 3 of us to agree to climb it with him again. After we pulled the trigger and signed up through International Mountain Guides (IMG), it was time to get serious and make sure we were ready for the challenge. We were all in decent shape but climbing a mountain in the snow 14,411ft elevation takes more preparation than just working out in a gym.
After this experience I wanted to share how I physically and mentally prepared for the climb. Even if you work out in the 3-4 days a week you will still find this climb challenging. If you feel like you are out of shape and never exercise, there is no better motivation to change that than this goal.
Go on hikes
This is the most important step. Go on hikes with high elevation 3,000-4,000ft for at least every weekend rain or shine 2-3 months with weighted pack of 20-50lbs. Start with a little weight, even if it’s 10lbs and slowly move it up to 45-50lbs.
It will get you accustomed to wearing your frame-pack and helps strengthen your core. This will also help make sure your gear is working right for your needs. Try to go to a mountain that has snow but purchase some micro spikes for your waterproof hiking boots to give you some traction.
Focus on a healthy diet, no pizza, no donuts, cut back on alcohol. There are a lot of diets out there, choose one that works best for you. Paired with these weekend hikes, you are going to get in great shape. Do not drink the night before so you are ready to put in a strong effort on a challenging hike.
Be sure to have all the necessary equipment (especially the “must have” items) that you don’t plan on renting. After booking the trip, I slowly began to accumulate the recommended gear so it was not a large amount of money spent all at once. I would suggest buying your backpack first especially so you get used to it and filling it with weight for training. I ended up only renting the boots, crampons, ice axe, harness and helmet. A list of gear is linked below:
Almost anything goes when hiking. You dieted and trained for months so it’s time to treat yourself on the mountain. I packed 2 PB&Js, cold pizza for my lunches and trail mix, jerky, 3 snickers bars, 2 protein bars, peanut butter cups, gummies and I went through almost all of it. The guides will feed you breakfast and dinner on the mountain so you do not need to worry about those meals.
I wear contacts and carefully removed them every night to rest my eyes. If you have daily disposable contacts, that is even better. Make sure to pack backup lenses and glasses if you have them. I would also recommend wearing a night mask on your eyes at night for sleeping as the sun will most likely still be up when you are ready to go to sleep.
Bring plenty, but purchase smaller sized squeeze tubes. I brought zinc for my face and a 50spf squeeze bottle that was easy to grab to re-apply during breaks.
A Buff works best (light weight). The ‘Buff’ brand is easy to find and perfect to protect from the sun, wind, snow and easier to wear and remove. I brought a neck gaiter that I use for snowboarding but would have been too warm for hiking so I purchased a Buff at IMG.
If you are considering climbing Mt Rainier, I hope this inspires you to do so. It is very challenging but also a rewarding and humbling experience. With solid preparation you will feel confident to accomplish this goal.