One of the most common questions I get on the blog and Facebook Group is: When is the best time of year to climb Mt. Rainier?
My annoying answer: it really depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for.
To help you out, let’s walk through the Mt. Rainier climbing season and break things down month by month.
An important warning about mountain weather
While I’m going to talk about seasonal climate trends, keep in mind that weather is unpredictable on Mt. Rainier. No matter what month you climb, always come prepared (mentally, physically, and gear-wise) for extreme cold, rain, wind, hale, ice, and blowing snow. Sometimes you will see several of these — along with sunshine — in the same day!
To put things in perspective, we climbed Mt. Rainier on a relatively warm day in mid-July. One guy in our party had climbed it on the same day exactly one year before. On that day, the summit had been trapped in a lenticular cloud (which is pretty common if you watch the mountain from day to day). He said that inside the cloud was the coldest place he’d ever been!
That being said, here’s what you can generally expect on Mount Rainier month by month.
Early Season: Late May to Late June
This is one of the quietest, least crowded times on Mt. Rainier. It’s also when the mountain is at it’s most snowy, clean, and beautiful. The glaciers will still be covered with snowpack, and many crevasses will be covered over with snow. This often means you can take more direct route to the summit.
Mt. Rainier’s weather can be unpredictable any time of year, but this is especially true during the early season. Snowstorms still blow through every May and June, leaving huge dumps of snow on the mountain. After a storm, avalanche danger may be elevated, making a summit bid impossible for a couple of days. In June 2017, our mountaineering school classmates endured a storm that covered the mountain in a dangerous, icy crust.
Best time to climb Mt. Rainier for
Lovers of solitude and risk takers who have time to build a few “weather days” into their itineraries.
Peak Season: Late June to Late August
When it comes to the weather and snow conditions, this is probably the best time to climb Mt. Rainier. While clouds and precipitation can roll in all year long, July and August are the sunniest months on the mountain. Average temperatures are highest in July, and average wind speeds are lower than in the early season. Crevasses continue to open as the snow melts, but many remain passable on snow bridges.
In a word: crowds. July is historically the busiest month on the mountain. If you plan to climb in peak season, it’s wise to obtain a climbing reservation for the most popular camping spots: Camp Muir, Ingraham Flats, Camp Shurman, and Emmons Flats. You’ll also need to book up to year in advance for guided trips during peak season.
Best time to climb Mt. Rainier for:
Anyone who doesn’t mind camping and climbing with hundreds of your new best friends.
Late season: Mid August Through September
Temperatures and wind speeds remain relatively stable as the summer wears on, making for comfortable camping conditions on the mountain. The crowds begin to thin out — especially after Labor Day when family vacations wind down and kids head back to school.
Climbing later in the season also gives you more training time if you need it. This is great news for beginners, people who are starting with less fitness, and climbers over 50 who want to build more rest days into the training schedule.
As snow melts, and summer turns to fall, crevasses open and widen. On Disappointment Cleaver, guide services often string ladders across crevasses to provide a more direct route to the summit. (You will be on safety during the crossing, but it can still be a spooky experience.)
On other routes, you may spend a lot of time navigating around huge crevasses. At some unpredictable date late in the season, your planned route may become impassible.
Best time to climb for
People who need more training time and fans of dicey ladder crossings.
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There you have ’em. The best times to climb Mt. Rainier.
What’s your favorite time to climb Mt. Rainier? Comment to share.