Two-man roped team w/novice on Rainier: good idea?

11:59 a.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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Hi,

My husband wants to climb Rainier this summer with his friend. This is their plan (I’m not a climber, so my apologies in advance if I get technical stuff wrong):

• Two-man team on rope
• Start on a Friday night, hike straight through (i.e., without sleeping) to the summit weather and legs permitting. Only sleep if they need to. Hike down mountain on Saturday. He will begin around 10-11pm on Friday after a full work week and a 4-5 hour drive to the trailhead. 

He thinks this plan is reasonably safe. I fear that it is not. I would prefer that he:
1. Do Rainier next year after doing a lot of fitness training, skills training and training on practice mountains
2. Go this year with a guided team
3. Add a third, expert climber to their team

He says #1 and #2 of my preferences are out. #1 because we will move to New England in a few months and because we have a baby on the way.#2 because I think he’s keen on going unguided. 

That leaves us with either their plan or my Option #3: add a third, expert climber. Given these options, I’d like your thoughts on the following:
1. Is their option reasonably safe?
2. Is Option #3 reasonably safe?
3. If Option #3 is okay, what are some good ways to find good climbers?
4. What should the team be doing in the next few weeks to prepare? 

Here is some background on their expertise/skills/preparation:

My husband’s friend: He is apparently an experienced climber. I’m told that he has climbed a lot of mountains in Montana and WA (I don’t know how many or at what difficulty/altitude). I’m inclined to think that he has good skills and is comfortable in high-altitude situations. He has tried to summit Rainier twice but turned around both times because of bad weather. He’s also done a ton of backcountry skiing. He has some PTSD issues related to a near-fatal skiing accident from a few years ago. The PTSD came back as recently as this winter, when he got caught in a small avalanche during a ski trip with my husband. He was not harmed in this accident and was able to get up on his own, but he could not ski the rest of the season bc of the PTSD. He is feeling confident about the Rainier trip, though. 

My husband’s experience: I would consider him a novice climber because he (1) has never climbed up and down a mountain in boots and crampons, and (2) he began learning climbing and safety skills only recently. He has not put these skills to work in real situations. He would say that he is something more than novice at climbing because he did a good amount of backcountry skiing this winter- 5-10 times this season, one time as an overnight, on altitudes of 5-7000 ft. He used his ice ax a lot while skiing, in what capacity I don’t know.

Their fitness levels: My husband is 34 and his friend is 28. I don’t know his friend’s fitness level, but I’m inclined to think that it’s more than adequate for the climb. A few years ago, I would have had zero concerns about my husband’s fitness level: he qualified for his age-group national team in triathlon and duathlon and completed a very mountainous and difficult Ironman. He got very burned out on triathlon, though, and hasn’t been doing much training at all for the past year. He’ll go on a long run or bike every few weeks, but that’s about it. Now he could probably finish a local marathon race that is steep and hilly and place top-5 age group, but he’d be hurting. His endurance hill workouts were from the 5-10 times they went backcountry skiing this winter. He has almost no experience in altitudes above 10,000ft. Eight years ago he did some wind sprints up a 10,000+ mountain in CO and felt fine, but no experience doing endurance sports at that altitude. 

We keep going around in circles about this. I’ve asked him to ask around to see if their plan makes sense, but for whatever reason he hasn’t done it. I don’t know if I should back off or if I really should be as concerned as I am. 

I would appreciate any insight you can offer. In your response, it would be very helpful if you could mention your level of mountain climbing experience. Thanks!

12:29 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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Almost forgot: Question #5: if neither option makes sense, are there other options you can recommend for doing Rainier this summer safely?

12:32 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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 From Wikipedia:

"""Mountain climbing on Mount Rainier is difficult, involving traversing the largest glaciers in the U.S. south of Alaska. Most climbers require two to three days to reach the summit. Climbing teams demand experience in glacier travel, self-rescue, and wilderness travel. About 8,000 to 13,000 people attempt the climb each year,[60] about 90% via routes from Camp Muir on the southeast flank.[61] Most of the rest ascend Emmons Glacier via Camp Schurman on the northeast. About half of the attempts are successful, with weather and conditioning being the most common reasons for failure.

About two mountaineering deaths each year occur because of rock and ice fall, avalanche, falls, and hypothermia associated with severe weather (58 reported since and including the 1981 accident through 2010 per American Alpine Club Accidents in North American Mountaineering and the NPS)."""

I haven't climbed Mt. Ranier and I wouldn't consider myself a climber. However, I've done quite a few mountain summits, and I have done glacier travel - it is not for people who have learned 'climbing and safety skills just recently'. Option #3 sounds like the best case; three people on a rope would be considered minimal for safety in most cases.

This doesn't sound like a climb that someone should take on after a full work week and a long drive. If he's not going to allow the two to three days mentioned here to reach the summit (then come down again) I'd have to say he's seriously underestimating the danger and overestimating his own abilities. And since you ask about what people should be doing in 'the next few weeks to get ready', I'd comment that IMHO the preparation should have started many months ago.

And frankly, while his friend may be a wonderful person, he doesn't sound like the kind of person I'd trust not to panic in a dangerous situation, especially if my life depended on it.

1:53 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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Which Route is he climbing? It is a toughie physically. most people I know train hard to climb it. I ahve never climbed it. I am a hiker and rock climber who does easy stuff. But I grew up in Seattle and am quite familiar with the Mountains there. Does he plan to have something to camp in if he cannot get up and down all in one?  I would never advise anyone to work all week, drive 4 hours and then climb Mount Rainier straight up with no sleep. Rainier is 14k feet and makes it's own weather. 50 MPH winds at the top are not uncommon. People get caught in storms there all the time. Here is an exerpt from Summit Post:

           I  did a 4-day traverse of Rainier with bivy sacks in July. If the weather is
fine, you're okay. But let me tell you, we got hit with bad storm. We were
electrocuted repeatedly by lightning while coming down off the crater rim, and
finally pinned down in really bad weather descending Disappointment Cleaver.
Bivy sacks would not have saved us. We tried hunkering down in bivy sacks and
were almost blown off the mountain.

We pulled up camp and in a bad storm
made our way down the the hut, got there on the verge of hypothermia. The
surrounding area was clear, but Rainier was making it's own weather that day. It
was a fierce storm.

And that was in July.

2:06 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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I think they will have camping equipment on hand and food for several days in case they get in a tight situation. 

3:34 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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You need to go to http://cascadeclimbers.com/ and ask this question. 

There are a lot of guys there who know a ton about Cascade Volcanoes.  Most people here are hikers, not alpinists. 

Here are my 2 cents worth: Depending on the route (I will assume they will go on the DC route) they are not allowing enough time for their trip and will summit too late in the day and risk rock and ice fall. 

A crevasse rescue/glacier travel class will help them stay safer on the glaciers. 

5:30 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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Sage to snow is right. Most of us are hikers, not climbers, but it sure sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

You'll notice we all share the same concerns; insufficient time to get up to the summit (and unrealistic expectations?) and the lack of training/experience in that kind of terrain.

Could you convince your husband to go with a professional guide? At least that way real dangers could be managed or avoided and there would be someone with the proper training on hand if something goes wrong.

7:25 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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I'm a hiker, but also a climber. Your husband is asking for trouble. Why take "several days of food" with you if you are going for an alpine quick attack on a mountain. If anything you would stash that food in a cache part way up for emergencies and remove it on your way down (obviously taking some with you).

 

It sounds like we have several conditions here:

 

1. Someone who doesn't know crampon footwork, real ice axe technique, no self arrest technique known, no crevasse rescue technique.

2. 2 people who's conditioning is possibly questionable. I consider myself in pretty darn good shape, and I am nowhere NEAR the shape I'd need to be in for a climb like Rainier.

3. Their conditioning is questionable, yet their going to carry extra food and camping equipment for an alpine assault. So they're carrying heavy loads, and not in the best shape.

4. They may not be experienced in how to manage horrible weather, meaning in white out storms with hurricane force winds they could die from the exposure or fall of a cliff or into a crevasse because they can't navigate.

5. They are severely underestimating the time and effort it takes to get up this mountain. Ed Veisturs, a world class mountaineer, would ride his bike to the mountain from a nearby town, climb up and climb down, and ride his bike back, in a record speed of 18 hours if I remember correctly. And this was when he was in good enough shape, and technically sound enough to climb Mt Everest and other Himalayan peaks.

 6. If he has just recently become interested in climbing and learning the techniques, it is highly likely that he doesn't have all of the equipment he would need. He could rent some, or buy some before the trip, or even borrow his friends - but renting or borrowing, or buying right before the trip speaks volumes to the experience level and knowledge that the person has. If you don't own the equipment or just recently bought the equipment that you need to use, you probably don't know how to use it as well as you should. 

Is this situation made up? Are you trolling us? If not, your husband needs a wake up call so he doesn't end up dead. He is grossly over estimating his situation. I live in New England, and Mt Washington which has horrible weather and is only 6300 feet tall, takes 12+ hours to climb in the winter. tell him to train hard and prepare for Mt Washington when you move here. It presents some extreme challenges, kills people yearly, and he'll have plenty of companies to train him on the skills he needs.

7:30 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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not to mention that without the knowledge of an expert or of a guide, they will be climbing through areas of rock fall and ice fall in dangerous times of the day. As the sun warms these areas, the falling of ice and rock increases dramatically. The guides and experts generally manage this by timing it to climb through these areas at the coldest times of the day or night so the ice and snow is more solid. If they are climbing up and down all in one push, they are promised to meet some sketchy sections with ice fall and rock fall at SOME POINT during warmer sunlight hours. Not good.

 

But even managing these areas by going in the coldest part of the day is still not without risk. It actually creates risk sometimes. By climbing in the coldest part of the day, you are also dealing with colder snow and ice, meaning it will be a harder and more slick surface. Falling on these surfaces mean you'll fall until you stop by hitting something. You can't self arrest on ice.

9:29 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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Please be sure to let the husband know that nobody here is criticizing him. We just hate to see things go wrong for people. The likelihood of something going wrong is high enough in the best conditions.....in case you don't know who Ed Viesturs is, he has climbed all 8,000 meter peeks without supplemental oxygen to assist. The man is an animal alpinist. And Rainier is almost the highest mountain in the lower 48. Combine that with the realtively open air from there to the ocean west and it gets all its own weather systems. You cannot listen to the local news and depend that that is the same weather on Rainier. If I were him, I would go to Shasta ... but even then it takes prep, gear and training. My bro is doing that one next month and finally realized that he needs a guide for safety. (took his little sissy getting evacuated from a hike to Mount Everest to convince him that when things go wrong, they go really wrong).

10:00 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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Even though this sounds like a troll, I am going to assume you are serious. In some ways, this does sound like a put-on (especially since your profile is pretty sparse). But in case this is for real and not fiction -

First question is - your husband does realize that climbing is risky in any case, and that even the best of climbers can encounter conditions that result in serious injury, disability, and death, doesn't he? Second, he does realize that you are expecting a new addition to the family, and that he has a responsibility to ensure your newborn's and your welfare and financial security for the next 20 or so years (until the young one graduates college), doesn't he? That means a life insurance policy of at least $1 million (considering costs these days), along with accidental death and disability insurance (AD&D) of similar amount in case he is severely disabled in an accident (it could be someone else's stupidity, setting off an avalanche or falling with the other party's rope ensnaring them - this has happened on Rainier). You at least should talk to a good insurance agent and get at least a term policy - they are fairly cheap, though if the insurance company hears of his plans, they might well declare him "uninsurable" (hmmm, maybe that would send a message to him).

As a climber for about 6 decades now, including Rainier and several other peaks in the Cascades, Alaskan peaks, Andes, Antarctica, Swiss, French, and Italian Alps, plus a lot of other rock, alpine, and ice routes, going from your description of your husband's and buddy's plans and experience plus being adamant about going without a guide or expert climber, my advice, to put it bluntly, is NO WAY, PERIOD! Unless the two of them are hatching an elaborate plan for committing suicide.

There is this, though - you have to get a permit to climb Rainier, and that is done by talking to one of the rangers at the park entrance or at Paradise (assuming they plan on doing the normal route). The rangers are very good at spotting the inexperienced, unprepared, and poseurs. If they judge someone or a party as unqualified, they will forbid their going onto the mountain, including arresting someone more insistent.

Perhaps a more subtle way of not making an outright prohibition (which he might be adamant enough and in enough denial of the risks and his lack of experience to defy) would be to suggest the following training plan - the training should include climbs on the following peaks in the Cascades, all doable in a couple weeks - Mt Shasta by Avalanche Gulch (northern California, just a little south of the Oregon Border), South Sister (Oregon, not far from Bend), Adams (Washington), Baker (North Cascades in Washington). I left off Hood because the rangers there are pretty strong on experience qualifications, plus they will check your husband's ice ax and crampons. I suspect this list of mountains will convince them they need more experience. They are worthy mountains themselves, but enough of a challenge to give a wake-up call to someone with what appears from your description to be a total lack of relevant experience.

10:27 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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Bill I'm assuming a troll as well, there were too many weird contradictions like doing the mountain in one go, yet carrying camping equipment and food for several days. I answered anyway, but I think it's fake.

It's a long post for a fake one though, if someone did fake it, they wasted a lot of their own time too, which is so stupid.

10:43 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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Well, if it is fake, maybe someone not posting who entertains such a climb will learn from all of your great cautionary responses.

11:50 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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Hard to say what the story is here, but with my limited experience, I would say these guys are asking for trouble. I took a mountaineering class in NZ that included using crampons, rope skills, including belaying and crevasse rescue, self arrest and a few bunny hills climbs. That hardly qualifies me as an expert, but one thing I learned- no one without a suicide wish crosses a glacier without knowing what they are doing.

On one of my trips, rangers came by a hut I was staying at in the Mt. Cook NP looking for a solo hiker. Most of his gear was in the hut tucked under a bunk, but they never found him. Fell in a crevasse was the prevailing theory and they looked for him for weeks, if I recall correctly.

10:02 a.m. on June 8, 2012 (EDT)
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Sometimes living with folks that maintain tick lists is a real pain.

I have attempted to summit Rainier once and failed (wind), and went well up into the ice two other times.  I was in good shape back in those days, but would never consider attempt topping Rainier as a day trip.  It may be possible, but only under the best of conditions by a highly skilled, really fit, individual.  A day trip is probably out of the question for a rope team, no matter what skills and how fit; two tend to travel slower than one.  Even if they could complete this feat it would be way no fun. 

I would not attempt that trip with only a non-technical novice accompanying me.  I would only be bringing along a liability.  He will be incapable of assisting me should something happen to me where it is steep and slippery.  The friend sounds competent.  The fact he turned back twice speaks loudly of his wisdom but does not indicate anything about his technical expertise.  As long the friend has ice skills, knows how to do high aspect rescues and read the snow, he can keep the group from blundering into a bad situation.  But your husband doesn’t sound qualified for this trip, regardless of physical conditioning, without someone competent instructing him on the proper use of rope, axe and crampons.  These things are weapons in the wrong hands.  He sounds like he knows just enough to get in way over his head.  As far as conditioning goes, you hubby has the experience to know what effort this requires, but he may not realize or admit he is not fit for this climb, let alone attempting to do it in a single day.  Not everyone dies from biting off more than they can chew.  My hunch is he’ll burn out well before the top, and come home humbled, but unmarked.  But if he is super persistent and really headstrong he could over extend himself and that is when he risks getting hurt.  Telling him what he may do is not going to result in marital bliss.  Better to go behind his back, confide in his friend your concerns, and warn if your hubby comes back damaged there’ll be hell to pay for being an incompetent baby sitter.

I would not recommend they cache any of their food.  If the weather gets bad enough to need it, they most likely won’t be able to find it.  Everything looks the same in a white out.

The only white capped peak in the region I would suggest he may safely climb is Adams.  All the others have enough of the issues that make Rainiersuch a beast.  For example I made four summit attempts on Shasta, but succeeded only once, due to wind storms.  Got blown around on some of the other peaks as well.  I would be more comfortable suggesting he go camping, perhaps going high enough on the mountain where his friend can conduct an ice skill clinic, but low enough that he doesn’t have to negotiate any real hazards.

Trailspacers: FWIW, the thing that made me question this post was the OP sounded more savvy about climbing issues that the typical city bound person.

Ed

10:51 a.m. on June 8, 2012 (EDT)
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I think they could do the South Climb on Mt Adams with their experience but thats about it. 

They will never get a spot with a guide service this late in the year, they all get booked up around February. 

12:23 p.m. on June 8, 2012 (EDT)
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All good advice. I would second that Rainier is not to sneezed out. We've already had two presumed deaths on the upper mountain this year(lost climbers in winter). People see it, hear about it and decide they can do it.

2:09 p.m. on June 13, 2012 (EDT)
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Hi everyone,

Many thanks for your input. I can assure you that this is not a troll. I don't have a profile bc I'm not a climber. I only set up a profile on the various climbing or NW pages to ask my question of people who have experience climbing in the PNW and/or Rainier. My husband and his friend were planning on a day trip but planned to bring extra provisions in case weather provisions required a longer time on the mountain.

Also, I'm relieved to report that after a good talk my husband has cancelled the Rainier trip and is looking into hiking some of the more novice-friendly climbs this season. Many thanks for your help and input. It has been a great help to me and to other wives/sig others who worry about their climber newbies. 

2:56 p.m. on June 13, 2012 (EDT)
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Glad it worked out.

10:02 p.m. on June 24, 2012 (EDT)
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good choice.  other events up on Rainier this summer bring this issue into fairly stark relief.  

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