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Rainier in mid-August: Plastics or Leather Boots?

The subject sums it up. I'm doing a Rainier climb in mid-August and am debating between bringing my older plastics (Koflach Arctis Expe) or newer leather mountaineering boots (La Sportiva Nepal EVO GTX boots).

The general climb info says plastics are preferable for their warmth, and I admit to being a somewhat cold person when I stop moving. (My spouse keeps saying, just bring the Koflachs.) I figure the Koflachs are the safest choice and I've never complained about cold feet when wearing them.

However, I really want to bring the La Sportivas because they're lighter, a bit more comfortable for hiking, fit a tad better in the heel (thought the Koflachs are generally fine), and (honestly) I want to use them some more. I realize the last reason is not the best one for selecting gear, but I'm wondering if it's worth bringing both pairs with me to decide once I'm at the mountain.

So, if you've done Rainier in August and/or have some input, please share.

I'll also have a chance to ask my guides this question in a conference call next week.

Have climbed Rainer via Tahoma glacier and Liberty ridge.Though never in winter i have always used leather boots,high quality like yours.For my feet the plastic boots have never been enjoyable to wear on approaches and or snow slogs.On Rainier bad weather can happen in any month of the year but generally august is very stable weather wise.What route are you attempting?

Thanks, John. I appreciate the feedback.

I'm doing a Summit for Someone climb with Rainier Mountaineering, going up via Disappointment Cleaver. I'm excited for it.

I was on Ranier last year in Mid-september. Based on my experience on the mountain, I think the boot choice is driven by conditions. Earlier in the summer there is a lot of show to lower elevations, the Muir snowfield is well covered, and some rocky part of the route on the mountain (disappointment cleaver the the flats) are partially or well covered making for comfortable snow footing.

In August (from what the guide told me) through late September, the mountain is at max melt off - - last year was particularly bad since they had temps in the 90's at Paradise.

The first part of the climb to camp Muir, if you are taking the route, is a mile or so of paved/gravel trail. Then the snowfield is an easy bareboot walk up to muir - - some of the guide services make you put on crampons, but it's not necessary. If the route on the mountain is melted off (look at the Rainier web cam from Paradise and you can see a good part of the mountain) then there's a fair amount of rock scrambling or walking over loose pumice scree. Then the rest of the route is on fairly well tracked snow. You would wear crampons the whole way form Muir on up.

I took my Evo's rather than my Baruntse's for the hike because of the long approach walk and the rock scrambling. There wasn't a real need for a stiff boot on the glacier or the rest of the hike.

I was on the mountain for 5 days and the Evo's were fine on dampness as long as I left them outside in the sun for 1/2 hour each day to dry them.

I wouldn't take a plastic boot on the climb. I might take a hybrid with a removable liner if I sweated a lot or was going to be there for a while. My choice on a repeat visit would be to stick wit the Evo's.


Thanks a lot, Gary! I appreciate the input.

For my first encounter with Rainier, there were nothing but leather boots (the EVO aren't really the same thing at all). On my climb up the other side (much nicer than Paradise), my party were all in plastics. Until the newer boots (like the EVO) were introduced a couple years ago, I would have said unequivocally, plastic, no question. Plastics are much warmer and much drier (except for sweaty hot feet like mine, but then, just change socks). But I have been looking more closely at the newer mountaineering and ice climbing boots, like the EVO. These are a big improvement in many ways on the old plastics - just as warm, but much lighter. So I am getting tempted. But the boots like the EVO are just as stiff, though the EVO, if I recall, does have more rocker than the Koflach, so a bit better for the approach hike.

My best advice is this - you are getting to SLC a couple days before the OR. Stop by IME - it's right next to the REI. Talk to the folks there about their take on the EVO and other similar boots. And go with me to the La Sportiva, Koflach, Scarpa booths and let's talk to the folks there. Yeah, I know, you are headed for Rainier pretty much right after the OR. Bring both pair to SLC, and you will be able to make a really informed decision there. I think Brian in SLC and Matt have gone to one of the EVO-like boots in the past few years. Since we will likely have dinner with one or both of them, you can get their input as well. These are folks who use a variety of boots regularly in conditions like Rainier, so really good sources of advice.

I'm probably sticking with my old plastics for Antarctica, though.

From my experiences in the cascades this Summer, expect more than average snow and at lower elevations. Spring was a long time coming this year and much of it will likely never melt this Summer. Whichever boots you choose (I like leather but your plastics are one of the more highly regarded models) expect to see a lot of snow.

Thanks for all the feedback, everyone.

FromSagetoSnow, I have also heard that there is has been more snow on Rainier this season from checking the conditions (though who knows what that will mean three weeks from now).

I just wanted to update to say that I had a conference call last night with an RMI guide (who's done Rainier 300+ times) and asked him my boot question. He said go with the leathers, though he thought it was a safe idea to bring along both, just in case.

I'm packing both pairs, just to be safe, but plan to use the La Sportivas, which were my first choice from the beginning. Everyone I spoke with who had firsthand experience with Rainier voted for them too.

Thanks for all the input.

I'll update after the climb, in late August.

In case anyone's curious, here's the update, a month after the climb.

I brought both pairs and wore the La Sportiva leathers for our one-day mountaineering school/refresher course on the snowfields on Rainier. I was warm and dry, despite spending a full day sliding down and travelling through snow.

However, we had a front and some potential weather forecasted to come in the next two days (the days of the actual climb), and my guides repeatedly mentioned that they would be wearing their warmer boots due to that reason. Our lead guide also was emphatic that we likely would not be comfortable with leathers for portions of the climb and that could make a difference in our climb.

So, in the 11th hour of final packing the night before, I decided to bring the Koflachs for a few reasons:

1. The weather was going to be iffy.

2. My leathers were a tad damp, and I had no good way to dry them fast at the campground.

3. I was on a guided climb and would not be in control of how fast we traveled as a team (i.e. how warm I'd be).

4. And most important, I did not want to give my guides any preventable reason to not allow me to go to the summit.

So, I wore my trail runners up to Muir Snowfield, then donned the Koflachs for the rest of the climb, leaving the trail runners behind at Camp Muir.

I probably traded off a little agility, but felt great otherwise and never thought about it again.Most of the climbers had leathers. Some experienced some cold in the early morning hours, but it wasn't an issue otherwise.

I'm sure I could have climbed successfully with the leathers too, but with some uncertainty about the climb and weather, was glad to put the issue to rest once I settled on the Koflachs. I had no worries about their performance affecting my success.

That said, I'd use the La Sportivas on such a climb under slightly different circumstances. Both boots have their own advantages.

November 28, 2020
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