Mt Rainier Expedition Day 1 – Orientation

Our Mt Rainier Expedition  is finally here!

We arrived in Seattle Sea-Tac Airport Saturday August 30th around 11 AM. The first thing we wanted to do was buy all the food & snacks we needed for the expedition and after a 5 hr flight from Charlotte and no food service we were a bit famished! The only place we knew that had a couple of snacks we needed was REI so we decided to go to the REI flagship store in downtown Seattle…this place is awesome and it also has a restaurant on the top floor so it was perfect because I was about to pass out if I didn’t eat something soon!mt rainier expeditionREI Flag Ship Store picture by sonofabike

This store is pretty cool and it was packed! It was raining some so I guess everybody needed a new rain jacket.

After REI we went to Whole Foods also in downtown Seattle to buy some of the gluten free items we needed. We were done around 3 PM so we decided to head to our hotel in Kent, WA located 30 minutes south of downtown Seattle to relax a bit before heading to Ashford, WA the following morning to start our expedition!

We left Kent the following morning at 9:30 AM and arrived in Ashford around 11 AM where Rainier BaseCamp is located.

mt rainier expeditionOn our way to Ashford

Orientation started at 3 PM so we had time to pick up our rented equipment and make sure everything fit and was working properly, The rental store is also located at Rainier BaseCamp. Rainier BaseCamp has everything you need for the climb…..everything!  It is located on National Park Highway Route 706.  If you’re coming from Seattle it will be located on the left side of the road. When you drive in  to the BaseCamp you will be greeted by a couple of buildings:

  • On your left you will have Whittaker Mountaineering.  This is a gear shop with all the climbing equipment you may need for hiking or climbing ; it’s like a mini REI. Also on the top floor of  this building the RMI Expeditions offices are located.
  • In the back of the property you have the BaseCamp Bar & Grill.  They sell beer, wine, burgers, salads, subs and really good pizzas. They also have gluten free bread & pizza…this was a plus! Also attached  to the building the RMI guides lounge and rental equipment office are located.
  • In the center of the property the RMI Expeditions welcome center is located.
  • A couple of feet up the road (Route 706) the Whittaker’s Motel & Historic Bunkhouse & Whittaker Café are located.

Click on the picture below to get a bigger view of the areaRainier BaseCampRainier BaseCamp

So you pretty much you have everything you need—a store if you need to buy any additional equipment,  you can have lunch & dinner at the Bar & Grill, rent equipment for your climb, stay the night at the Motel and have breakfast in the Café… you’re set! We were unable to stay at the Whittaker Motel because it was full so we stayed at the Rainier Valley Inn in a beautiful cabin (no internet & no TV!) overlooking the mountain located 2 miles up the road from the Rainier BaseCamp, so we were close enough to the action!View from Rainier Valley InnView from Rainier Valley Inn

After we picked up our equipment, we went and checked into the Inn, hung out for a bit, and then we returned to Rainier BaseCamp to start our orientation.  We also had to bring all of our gear so that the guides could check  that we had all the necessary equipment.

We really didn’t know where do go when we got there so we just followed the crowd. We were greeted by the guides outside the RMI Expeditions welcome center. We were given a pamphlet with info about RMI and also our annual park pass .  After they “corralled” us together we were split into 2 teams, one team of 8 and another of 9 climbers. We then went into the RMI Expeditions welcome center to meet our guides and our fellow climbers and also to watch a video about RMI and our climb up Mt Rainier.

Our group was very diverse 7 guys & 2 girls ; some people from the West Coast area, others from the Midwest, Southwest , 2 Europeans and us from the South (well Catie from Maine & me from Honduras). Our main Guide was Casey Grom and we had 2 more guides in the team Billy Haas & Robby Young.

Once we were done with introductions and the video we stepped outside and had a detailed equipment discussion and gear check and introduction to safety practices, “No Trace” practices, and environmental considerations.Equipment CheckEquipment Check

This was fun! We did this for over an hour and a half and also Casey (main guide) explained in detail how to pack our backpacks effectively for our climb and actually used a backpack similar to the ones we have. Below is the video, its around 20 min but its really informative! ~ Highly recommended

I had to buy 2 things after the orientation.  They recommended I get a “Buff” (Multi-Functional Headwear) instead of the Balaclava I purchased before. All the guides have one of these and they love it! You can use it in so many ways it’s amazing. I had my Buff on for 2 straight days, I never took it off so I understand now why they recommended it. Also, for the first hour of our hike to Camp Miur the guides recommended that we hike with running/hiking shoes and also  use them while in Camp Muir. I didn’t bring any running/hiking shoes so I ended up buying a pair. I got the LA Sportiva Wildcat— these shoes are awesome!

RMI Expeditions was founded by Lou & Jim Whittaker in 1969 after extensively climbing Mt Rainier and other peaks in Washington state and the world. Jim Whittaker was also the first American to summit Mt Everest and both of them were the first 2 employees in REI…..this was a fun fact! And Jim Wittaker was also REI’s CEO in the 1960’s. So we were pleased to learn all of these fun facts and  they gave us a really good feeling about the expedition company we chose, and most importantly, our main guide Casey Grom is really experienced! He has summited Mt Rainier more than 100+ times and also has summited Mt Everest twice  among other mountains and overall he’s a really cool guy and is extremely passionate about what he does….and safety is his first priority. He really drilled this into us and as he mentioned on numerous occasions  “Don’t jump, don’t leap,don’t hop & don’t hope, use the skill you have learned, trust your equipment, take care of yourself, we will take care of everybody else”.

Next post I will detail Day 2 of our Mt Rainier Expedition!