WA-List » “I Didn’t Mean to Climb It”: A Guide Picks Rainier’s Notable Climbs

“I Didn’t Mean to Climb It”: A Guide Picks Rainier’s Notable Climbs

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Sports & Recreation

Climbing Mount Rainier is literally a walk in the (national) park. But don’t fool yourself.  Its ever-changing conditions and variety of approaches can challenge even the most experienced climbers.  It’s little wonder that many Everest-bound mountaineers work out the kinks in their technical climbing skills on the upper slopes of Rainier.

But Washington’s tallest peak (14,411 feet) is more than a training ground.  It has a proud history of its own, filled with lengendary figures from John Muir to Fred Beckey to Jim and Lou Whittaker to Dee Molenaar.  Thousands of not-so-famous people attempt the summit every year, too.  Most of them consider it an experience (and hopefully a triumph) that they’ll never forget.  Their chances are always better following an experienced guide.  Guides know the routes, the sudden turns of weather, and the likely stability or instability of snow and ice.

So when WA-List wanted to publish a list of some of the most important or impressive climbs in Mt. Rainier’s long history, we asked the people who have climbed the peak more than anyone else and from just about every possible route: Rainier Mountaineering, Inc (RMI) in Ashford.  RMI Guide Alex Van Steen (pictured, right) took up the challenge, offering the 13 historic climbs listed below. Van Steen has over 25 years of experience climbing and guiding on the Mt. Rainier, has climbed the mountain more than 240 times and has guided 15 routes — more than any other guide in history.  He is author of one of Mt. Rainier’s first fully comprehensive guidebooks and is widely regarded as an authority on the mountain and its history.  We could not have found a better guide to identify the climbs in today’s list.  He chose men and women from 1857 to 2012 (last month!). And we’re still chuckling about John Muir’s quote.  Leave it to Muir to unintentionally climb Mt Rainier.

Note: Rainier Mountaineering, Inc (RMI Expeditions) is one of America’s most reputable and long-standing guide services with over 43 years of mountain guiding experience. An American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) accredited guide service specializing in mountaineering expeditions, alpine climbing, trekking and ski touring programs, RMI is committed to leading exceptional mountain adventures.


1.      In July 1857, a climbing party led by army Lt. August Valentine Kautz (right) nearly accomplishes the first ascent of Rainier by making it above 13,000 feet before turning back because of snow blindness and exhaustion.

2.      First documented summit climb of Rainier by Hazard Stevens and Philemon Beecher Van Trump, led by the Indian guide Sluiskin (to current day Sluiskin Falls) on August 17, 1870.

3.      Second successful ascent of Rainier by Samuel F. Emmons and A.D. Wilson in October 1870 via the Gibraltar route.

4.      In 1888, Naturalist John Muir (left) visits Mount Rainier and climbs to the summit with Maj. Edward S. Ingraham, writing in a letter to his wife, “Did not mean to climb it, but got excited and was soon on top.”

5.      Fay Fuller, a teacher from Yelm, becomes the first woman to summit Rainier on August 10, 1890.

6.      In 1891, a hound belonging to Dr. Warren Riley, and accompanied by P.B. Van Trump and Alfred Drewry, becomes the first canine to climb the route via the Tahoma Glacier.

7.      In February 1922, two French and one Swiss skier, along with motion picture cameraman, Charles Perryman, who broke trail for the Europeans, completed what had once been publicized as “impossible” – a winter ascent of Rainier.

8.      Wolf Bauer (left) and Jack Hossack made an ascent of the imposing Ptarmigan Ridge on the north side of the mountain on September 8, 1935.

9.      During a 21-hour effort in June 1963, Dave Mahre, Jim Wickwire, Fred Dunham and Don Anderson ascended the East Rib of the Willis Wall, a line, which for the first time, cut directly through the overhanging ice cliff at the top.

10.   In June 1972, Joe Horiskey leads the first RMI Expedition Seminar to summit via the Kautz route and camped on the summit.

11.   In August 1990, RMI guide Curtis Fawley photographed a black bear descending the Kautz ice chute. A few hours earlier, the bear had been observed ascending via the Emmons glacier.

12.   Renowned mountaineer Willie Benegas set the current speed record* of 4 hours 40 minutes 59 seconds via the Disappointment Cleaver route on September 17, 2008.

13.   On July 24, 2012, RMI Guide Katie Bono (right) enters the competitive, male-dominated arena of speed climbing* with an unofficial time of 4 hours, 58 minutes, 59 seconds, to become the fastest female.

*Speed climbing on Mt Rainier is the time elapsed ascending to the summit from the Paradise parking lot and returning.

SOURCE: Alex Van Steen, RMI guide, selected the 13 climbs here and wrote the descriptions of each.  Visit his guide page.

PHOTO of AlexVan Steen on Carstensz Pyramid in Papua New Guinea, the highest point of Oceania.  Courtesy of RMI.
PHOTO of August Kautz, sometime between 1855-1865, by Mathew Brady.
PHOTO of John Muir, 1907, by Francis M. Fritz.
PHOTO of Wolf Bauer, 2007 © Steve Campion.
PHOTO of Katie Bono, courtesy RMI.
PHOTO of Katie Bono’s stopwatch, 2012, courtesy RMI.


One Response to ““I Didn’t Mean to Climb It”: A Guide Picks Rainier’s Notable Climbs”

  1. ice climbing guide service Says:

    RMI guide Curtis Fawley photographed a black bear descending the Kautz ice chute. A few hours earlier, the bear had been observed ascending via the Emmons glacier.