Climbers on Mt. Rainier
Photo: Barry Gregg
Mount Rainier is Sold Out
Guide Services Booked
Tuesday, August 18, 1998

There are plenty of great days left in the climbing season on Mt. Rainier. However, if you want the services of a guide to lead and assist your ascent up the 14,411 ft. high volcano, you're out of luck — unless you've already booked your spot.

Anyone thinking they may want to go on an impromptu guided climb up the popular mountain better think of reserving for next year instead, as all the guiding services have been booked all summer.

"It's like getting tickets to a concert," said Gordon Janow, Program Director of Alpine Ascents International. "We've got 36 spots and 1500 people interested."

And this also means that independent climbers don't have their pick of the routes either. Even though these climbers don't need a guide, the overnight permits for the popular routes have already been spoken for in many cases by the commercial entities.

Guided Routes on Rainier
[click to zoom]

Map created with TOPO! Interactive CD-ROM

"Lots of independent climbers are blocked out of different routes on the mountain," said Lou Whittaker, owner of Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI).

But Whittaker is also quick to point out that this doesn't mean that Rainier is becoming downtrodden. "Rainier is not overused now, or over-loved. I can still go up there and sometimes not see another soul, but some routes are really technical. Because independent climbers are bumped off the more popular easy routes, they may try a more technical route," he said. "And a few years ago, the Park Service reduced the number of climbers allowed at Camp Muir. So that's increased demand for the permits that are available."

There are five commercial guide services currently leading routes up Mt. Rainier. RMI lost its 30 year monopoly in the business of guiding clients up the mountain in 1997, when the National Park Service opened the concession to four other guide services. RMI though still has exclusive rights to the south-side Muir Corridor route and is the only service which guides all year-round on Rainier, taking groups of approximately 24 people per day during peak months.

The four additional guiding services: Alpine Ascents International, American Alpine Institute, Cascade Alpine Guides and Mt. Rainier Alpine Guides each are limited to 36 clients per season during spring and summer and can only guide on the Emmons Glacier route.

And, as its history indictates, use of the mountain will only continue to grow. So ultimately it is in the hands of the Park Service to determine the best way to allocate commercial guiding permits.

"We've had growth every year for 30 years," said Whittaker. "The mountain is becoming more commercial and the Park Service is trying to decide what to do. The point is, 'how commercial should we make a mountain that is for public use?'"

Whittaker attributes the ever-growing popularity of the sport to books like John Krakauer's "Into Thin Air," which have taken the myth out of climbing and have picqued the general population's interest. "The popularity is due to an increase in climbing in general," said Janow.

Mountains like Rainier and even those lesser known, pose inherent risks and challenges that must be taken seriously. If you want to hire a guide, make your call early. Most of the guiding services begin taking names on October 1 or January 1 for the following season. Peak season is April through September and the optimal months for weather are June, July and August.

Michelle Quigley, Mountain Zone Staff

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