1. Mount Rainier (Tacoma)

Mount Rainier needs little introduction. Rising from the continental shelf of the Pacific to an impressive 14,411ft, this volcano (yes, an active volcano) dominates everyone’s skyline from Everette to Olympia. It is so big, Mount Rainier creates its own weather, which should be top of mind for climbers once standing at its base. Weather determines how long you can be up there until the mountain’s mood changes. 

Mount Rainier is also the tallest mountain in the state of Washington as well as the tallest of the Cascade range. Originally known to the First People as Talol, Tacoma, or Tahoma, Captain George Vancouver of the British Royal Navy unceremoniously gave the mountain its current name. While sailing by the mountain in 1792, Vancouver named the peak after his friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier, a fellow officer who fought against the American Revolution. Non-native explorers first climbed Rainier in 1870 via the Gibraltar Ledges route. Ever since Mount Rainier is the lower 48’s premier mountaineering objective. 

rock climbing Washington
The iconic Mt. Rainier looms above the clouds in Mt. Rainier National Park, drawing in mountaineers who want to test their skills. Photo by Peter Stevens licensed under CC BY 2.0

Prepare for unexpected weather when rock climbing at Mount Rainier

The most popular routes include Muir Snowfield, specifically as a path to Disappointment Cleaver, and the Emmons Glacier. Rainier season is year-round for its many enthusiasts. May through August is peak season for first-time visitors doing some of the more common routes (of which there are many). Late June to late August sees the majority of ascents because the glaciers reach a point of equilibrium with snow bridges and exposed crevasse hazards. Depending on the year, some crevasse hazards are impassable without the aid of ladders. For this reason, it’s a good idea to check many sources for Mount Rainier’s weather conditions before venturing toward the summit.

High-alpine temperature swings will keep you on your toes 

In spring, it’s possible to see snow flurries and winter-like storms followed by glorious and hot sunshine. Either contingency can make progress a chore. That said, the weather can be equally agreeable at any time. Typical averages at Camp Muir and Schurman can see highs in the 60s with lows in the 20s. Keep in mind, summit temperatures can sink well below freezing, even in the summertime. 

Save your spot before you head to Mount Rainier

On your first visit to the mountain, be sure to acquaint yourself with the policies of the mountain regarding camping. Registration is required when going above 10,000 feet or onto any glaciers.  Registration is $45 per person per calendar year at Paradise Ranger Station, White River Wilderness Information Center, and the Wilkeson Wilderness Information Center. Advanced reservations can be made online with the National Park Service for $20. This is in addition to the $45 permit fee and does not guarantee space in the public shelter at Camp Muir. These reservations can be made between May 1 and September 30, but not before or after those specific dates. 

What to know before you go

As always, leave no trace and respect the rules of the mountain as put in place by the NPS. This emphasis on regulation may seem to detract from the experience, but remember, they are in place to protect this very popular mountain. It’s popular for a VERY good reason. After a climb, I really prefer Base Camp Grill in the town of Ashford for my post-summit goodies. If you can time it right, the Rainier Mountain Festival is hosted every Labor Day. 

About the author

Cody Bradford

Cody Bradford

AMGA Certified Rock Guide and 57hours Ambassador

Cody began his guiding career with the North Carolina Outward Bound School in 2012 where he received his AMGA Single Pitch Instructor certification in November 2012. Cody gained his AMGA Rock Guide Certification in April 2018. Follow him on Instagram @thecodybradford to see #TechTipTuesday where each week he demonstrates a skill or technique to make your climbing more efficient and fun.

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