Mount Rainier Climb (DC route)
Mount Rainier Climb (DC route)
14,410 feet tall! 9,000 feet gained in under 8 miles! High point of the Cascades! The most glaciated mountain in the contiguous US! Training ground for Everest and Denali! Yes indeed, Mount Rainier is everything you've ever wanted in a mountain and probably more. The various visitor centers attract hundreds of thousands each year; Camp Muir, tens of thousands; the summit, around five thousand. If you're one of those lucky ones that make it to the top, the most common route to the top is via the Disappointment Cleaver, or "DC" to those in the know.
From the north end of the Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise, follow the paved trail and signs towards Pebble Creek and Camp Muir. There are several paths to follow if the snow has melted out, but they'll all go in the right direction as long as you keep your boots pointed up the mountain. If snow still covers the trail, the Park Service will flag the route with small wands. Avoid stepping on exposed vegetation.
At 1.25 miles, reach Glacier Vista. After another quarter mile, you will reach a steep stone staircase and a signed fork in the trail with an option to join Skyline Trail. Head left up the stairs to Pebble Creek and Camp Muir. You'll reach Pebble Creek at 2.25 miles. At this point the trail ascends steeply on the Muir Snowfield up to the camp. While you've traveled about halfway in terms of distance, you're only a quarter of the way there in terms of time - bummer. Keep your boots pointed up and take it slow and steady.
As your legs and lungs burn, pause to take in the sights. On your left is the behemoth Nisqually Glacier, which moves a few dozen inches each day. Directly behind you (to the south) is a breathtaking view of Mt. Adams on a clear day. At 9,000', notice the Moon Rocks, crescent-shaped rocks, located to your right. This is a good rest stop before the last 1,000' push to Camp Muir, which looks deceptively close.
Camp Muir, at 4.25 miles in and 10,188' up, is located at the base of a giant flat-topped outcrop called Gibraltar Rock. There are a few buildings on your left (ranger and guide huts), toilets and a climber hut on your right, tent sites in the snow straight ahead, and some interspersed utility sheds. Feel free to check out the toilets and stone bunkhouse, but stay out of the other areas.
Depending on camp site availability and your own preferences for acclimating to the altitude, camp at Muir or continue on to Ingraham Flats after roping up. Cross Cowlitz Glacier via a snowfield saddle, passing Cowlitz Cleaver and the Beehive located at its base. Zigzag up the (potentially loose) rocks of Cathedral Gap. Hook a sharp left and, at 5.25 miles, arrive at Ingraham Flats, located on Ingraham Glacier. To the west is Little Tahoma Peak at 11,138', which is just about as tall as you are high.
Camp here or continue on to Disappointment Cleaver, a roman nose of exposed rock to your northwest. Earlier in the season, the DC is covered in snow and blissfully easy; later, it consists of loose volcanic debris, so watch your footing. After gaining 1,200' in elevation to the top of the DC, it's time for a steady diet of switchbacks that skirt major crevasses on the final 2,000' to the top. Look up at your own risk - there are numerous false summits.
At 7.2 miles you've reached the summit crater! Take in the accomplishment. Behind you, to the south, are Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Hood. Drop down into the crater, unclip from your rope, and walk a quarter-mile straight ahead to Columbia Crest, the highest point on the mountain. Enjoy views to the north of Mt. Baker and everything in between.
Permits & Tips
Climbing Mount Rainier requires technical climbing skills and equipment for glacier travel. Do not attempt unless you are an expert or are going with someone who is (like a guide service).
Fees and Permits:
Mount Rainier Entrance Fee required to enter the park. To make it past 10,000 feet (i.e., past Camp Muir or Camp Schurman), you'll also need a ranger-issued climbing pass (required year-round for anyone climbing above the high camps or on glaciers). To obtain a Mount Rainier Climbing Pass, visit the Paradise Climbing Information Center (aka Guide House) or the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center (and other ranger stations on the mountain - check the website); $44/person 25 years and older, $31/person 24 years and younger, payable by debit/credit card, check, or exact cash.
Please note that while climbing passes can be obtained at any time with photo ID (and are good for one calendar year), camping spots on the upper mountain are limited, which means you should plan your climb in advance and try to secure a camping spot with a reservation in the spring (see below).
Solo travel above high camps or anywhere on glaciers is not permitted except with prior written permission from the Superintendent.
Camping Reservations ($20 non-refundable fee) for camping spots on the upper mountain can be made beginning March 15. 30% of all camping slots are set aside for those without reservations. Reservations for these spots can be made day-of in person at the Paradise Climbing Information Center beginning Memorial Day Weekend. During the summer season (mid-May to mid-September), but especially on weekends and from mid-June to mid-August, arrive at the Paradise Climbing Information Center as soon as it opens at 6 AM to secure a camping spot at Camp Muir or Ingraham Flats.
Toilets are available at Paradise (open 24 hours), pit toilets at Camp Muir, use blue bags elsewhere on the mountain. Water is available in the bathroom sink at Paradise (we recommend bringing your own).
This route is extremely busy on summer weekends, especially during July and August. Consider climbing the mountain mid-week.
The Park Service recommends climbing in groups of at least four, and requires that all climbers possess both technical gear and route-finding skills. Teams rope up from Camp Muir and beyond. Helmets, ice axe, crampons, and a rope system are essential. Bring navigation. This checklist of recommended equipment is helpful.
Potential hazards to consider: rockfall while crossing the snow saddle below Cowlitz Cleaver, loose rock on Cathedral Gap and Disappointment Cleaver as temperatures warm, constantly changing snow conditions, and, of course, inclement weather. Check current weather conditions here (we recommend the first link). Helpful climbing information can be also be found at the Mount Rainier climbing blog.
Please remember to check out at the Paradise Climbing Information Center when you have returned from your climb.
As always, make good choices and keep safety first.
How to get there
From Highway 7, head east on State Route 706 past Ashford to the Nisqually Entrance of Mount Rainer on the southwest corner of the park. The road to Paradise is clearly signed. There is a day parking lot and an overnight lot. You can leave your car in the overnight lot (note your license plate on climbing pass). Overnight camping in your car is not allowed in the parking lot. Consider using campgrounds near Paradise.