7 Ways Climbing Mt. Rainier Can Kill You
Climbing Mount Rainier is an awesome mountaineering feat. Standing on its summit is something just about any outdoors-lover in the Pacific Northwest has dreamt about. It is the ultimate Northwest achievement.
Summiting Mount Rainier, an active volcano, requires navigating through massive amounts of rock, 25 major glaciers, falling ice, and hidden steam vents, caves and tunnels. Gaining the required 9,000 feet of elevation to stand atop the third-highest mountain in the continental U.S. (14,411 feet) presents a significant mountaineering challenge with very real risks. After all, the mountain features spots with names such as Disappointment Cleaver and Cadaver Gap. It claims several lives virtually every year.
Understand the Dangers of Climbing Mt. Rainier
Approximately 50% of all those that climb Mt. Rainier will reach the summit. Others will turn back due to fatigue, bad weather, accidents, or altitude sickness.
7 Hazards of Climbing Mount Rainier
While it is impossible to control all risks, understanding the inherent hazards of climbing Rainier is critical to a safe summiting.
Weather. Never climb into a developing storm. Conditions such as freezing temperatures, high wind,, humid conditions, blizzards, lightning, and intense sun can be disastrous on Rainier. Naturally, you should check the forecast before your climb, but understand that weather is virtually always worse on Rainier than its lowlands.
Altitude. The human body was not created to handle high altitude and low atmospheric pressure. Acute Mountain Sickness, High Altitude Cerebral Edema, and Pulmonary Edema are a few of the altitude-inducing conditions. These can be life threatening, so plan to acclimatize properly and recognize the symptoms.
Crevasse Falls. On a mountain covered in moving glaciers, crevasses are a serious hazard on Mt. Rainier. Crevasses come in a variety of sizes and shapes; some are gaping and formidable, while others are narrow but deep. The right gear, safe glacier travel techniques, and training in crevasse rescue can safe your life.
Falling off Steep Ice or Rock. Despite all caution or study of route conditions, the mountain route can be steep and slippery. Insist on belayed climbing in the right spots. Practice self-arrest enough so that if needed, you can stop your sliding on a snow field, ice field or glacier.
Serac Fall. A serac is a enormous chunk of glacial ice, sometimes the size of a building. Seracs often form at intersection of crevasses and are usually extremely unstable. If you must climb underneath, cross quickly through the area.
Falling Ice or Rock. Places like Ingraham Icefall feature blocks of ice the size of semi-trucks teetering precariously above climbers. Melting snow and ice combined with gravity causes shifts in the landscape, making falling rock inevitable. You just don’t want to be underneath when it happens. Always wear a helmet and keep away from walking under cliffs as much as possible. And oh yeah, don’t linger in ice fall areas. If you see rocks embedded in the snow around you, it’s probably best to keep moving.
Avalanche. Avalanche risk can change hour to hour in severe weather. Be able to make an informed decision as to whether slopes are safe to climb. Take avalanche safety gear and know how to use it. Winter storms can occur any time of year on the mountain. Be increasingly careful while traveling through steep terrain during and immediately following major storms or significant rises in temperature.