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Mt. Rainier Guide Services

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Mt. Rainier Guide Services

Postby Trekker » Thu Oct 12, 2006 12:29 am

I thought this might be of interest to those who are thinking of doing Mt. Rainier in the future.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/288 ... ier11.html

Mount Rainier adds 2 climbing services
Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Ending one company's decades-long dominance of commercial guiding on Mount Rainier, the National Park Service has awarded mountaineering contracts to three climbing services, including one based in Seattle.

Alpine Ascents International of Seattle and International Mountain Guides of Tacoma for the first time will share the popular, 14,411-foot volcano with its longtime guide service, Rainier Mountaineering Inc.

The Park Service announced the three 10-year contracts late Monday to the winning bidders in what is considered a historic shift from its habit of awarding the entire lucrative climbing concession to a single company.

"It's a great, great opportunity," said Eric Simonson, an Everest guide and part owner of International Mountain. "We just had guide training last month. Everybody's totally psyched."

The announcement, after years of haggling with climbing guides and independent climbers who wanted to break RMI's near monopoly on the mountain, means that the approximately 9,500 climbers who try to reach the summit annually now have a choice among commercial companies or potentially a little more open space on unpaid expeditions.

The contract could mean hundreds of new climbing clients to Alpine and IMG but a potential reduction for RMI.

Peter Whittaker, part owner of RMI, said the competition will be good for the guide services and their clients. Though RMI initially resisted opening the concessions contract to other guides, Whittaker said he is happy that the company his father, Lou, co-founded 37 years ago near the base of the mountain can now plan for 2007.

"It's nice to have an announcement come in time to make adjustments for next season," he said, adding that RMI might be forced to reduce its payroll.

Last year, 8,972 registered climbers set out for the summit of one of North America's most popular and challenging peaks. Of those, 3,879 used a commercial guide service. Because the park historically gave an exclusive contract to RMI, nearly every paying climber used the Ashford-based company for summit attempts.

The one-contract arrangement, in place for more than three decades, allowed RMI to build a sizable client base and bunkhouses both on the mountain and in Ashford. For years, the Park Service renewed without competing bids.

But also for years, other climbing guides regularly groused about RMI's near monopoly. As Alpine Ascents' part owner Gordon Janow explained it, Rainier is the type of climb and mountain that builds a business.

"If you are running trips internationally, as we are, Rainier allows you to bring new clients into the fold," he said. "They start there and move on to other climbs. It's a big deal."

Under the contracts, Rainier Mountaineering retains the most permits, up to 24 climbers each night through Camp Muir, the mountain's most popular summit ascent; IMG and Alpine Ascents could take up to 12 climbers nightly on the Muir route.

Permits for the popular Emmons Glacier climb will be divided evenly among Alpine, IMG and RMI.

Nearly one-third of the more than 50 summit routes will be off-limits to paid guide services.

Additionally, commercial climbing will be restricted to Sunday night through Thursday night.

Only private, non-commercial ascents will be allowed on weekends as well as weekdays.

Whittaker said he likes and respects the mountain's new guide companies, and he is sure the groups can work out a fair, shared arrangement.

"Space is at a premium up there, but I'm sure something can be worked out."

Gauthier, the climbing ranger, said he expects that not only will outdoor enthusiasts benefit from the changes, but so will the mountain.

The plan will shift climbing away from the weekends and more evenly distribute it across the week.

"I think it's going to work out well for everyone," he said.

Mount Rainier was notable this past summer for what it lacked: rescues.

"In my 17 years here, I can't remember a single summer without a rescue," said longtime head climbing ranger Mike Gauthier. We didn't have a single sprained ankle. Not one."

Mount Rainier National Park rangers began noticing that something seemed odd at the end of July. Typically, the mountain with 2 million annual visitors has at least one major rescue and often a high-mountain fatality before August. When that month and the following passed without a climbing emergency call, Gauthier knew it was a rare year.

The park did experience a death when a young seasonal employee fell from a trail near the park's Longmire Ranger Station.

Additionally, an unusually high percentage of climbers, 64 percent, reached the summit.


P-I reporter Mike Lewis can be reached at 206-448-8140 or mikelewis@seattlepi.com.

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Postby ridgeline » Thu Oct 12, 2006 5:48 am

Thanks Trekker,
More competition will lead to lower prices, but one should really do their homework on the guide service they pick. No rescues this year has alot to do with the guides on this mountain, there are changes in the ice bridges and size and location of crevasse fields daily. I think ending the monopoly will benefit the guides, right now RMI has an elite list, wonder if guides will be enticed to move for bigger paychecks?
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Postby wingding » Sat Oct 14, 2006 8:05 pm

I liked my trip with RMI this past season eventhough they didn't pull me up to the top. At the same time, I think it's good that there's some competition now. I'm planning on trying Rainier again this summer - not sure if I'll go guided again but I will look at the trips all three guide services offer.

This past August the park service remodeled the public bunkhouse at Muir Camp and the park service is planning on taking down RMI's bunkhouse eventually, but they haven't decided what to replace it with. Although RMI built the bunkhouse and had exclusive rights to use it, but it does belong to the park service.

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