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Thursday, June 24, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Ron C. Judd / Times staff columnist
Ron Judd: The Park Service's role with Rainier climbers

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NWsource: Outdoors

A few choice dollops of foam off the top of the constantly brewing Big Gore-Tex Northwest Mailbag.

Q: With all the tragic deaths on the Liberty Ridge route up Rainier this summer, shouldn't the National Park Service declare that route closed? Do they have that authority, and has it ever been done before?

A: No, no and no. Mountain vets will tell you that it's easy to leap to the conclusion that a climbing route that proves deadly should be declared off-limits. But it's neither within the park's mission — nor necessarily its best interest — to do so.

The reasoning: If the park closes a route for a time and deems it unsafe, what's the implication when it reopens? Exactly: That it is safe. Nobody wants to go there. The Park Service has never been in the business of deciding what's safe and what isn't, because that varies widely depending on climbers' skills and the timing of their climbs.

The park in this case is doing what's appropriate: providing information on conditions, issuing cautions and hoping people apply their own good judgment.

Q: Many people getting into trouble up there are out-of-staters. Any chance that they're more willing to take chances because they consider their time here to be their only shot?

A: Very possibly. Many experienced Rainier climbers who run into bad conditions on a route will call it quits and come back as soon as things improve. Fewer options are open to those who travel a long way to get here.

Some veteran Rainier climbers say snow conditions on the mountain this spring — especially on the north-side Liberty Ridge route — are worse than anytime in recent memory. Thus, they're staying away. As they like to say: The mountain will always be there.

Of course, that's what they used to say about Mount St. Helens, too.

And they were half right.
Q: Speaking of climbers: What became of Ed Viesturs' plan to try to knock off Annapurna after climbing Everest this spring?

A: By the time our man from Bainbridge got finished schlepping himself, other people and film gear up and down Everest (the team summitted May 17), it was deemed too late in the season to go to Annapurna.

Plans already are under way for another expedition to the mountain next spring.

It's the final unclimbed peak of 8,000 meters or more on Viesturs' to-do list.

Q: Is there still any way possible to climb Mount Rainier with Ed Viesturs?

A: Actually, yes. The legendary Ed will be back in his old stomping grounds this summer. He's teaming up with Peter Whittaker to guide a couple of special climbs for his old employer, Rainier Mountaineering Inc.

The treks are set for July 19-23 and Aug. 2-6.

The Viesturs/Whittaker RMI climbs are $3,000 per person. It's pretty steep compared with the normal three-day RMI group jaunt to the top, which will set you back only about $770.

But aside from climbing with a couple of legends, you also get a group limited to nine climbers, airport transfers, three nights lodging, dinners, gear rentals and one of Viesturs' notable slide shows. Space is still available; call RMI at 888-89-CLIMB.

Q: We heard that K2, which used to make skis on Vashon, is buying up half of the outdoor industry. What gives?

A: The company indeed has been on a buying binge of late.

A while back, K2 purchased clothing manufacturer Ex-Officio. More recently, it snapped up Volkl Sports and Marker Group, two major ski-gear makers, and Marmot Mountain Ltd., a high-end outdoor maker of technical gear, outerwear and down sleeping bags.

K2 already makes bikes, skates and other adrenaline-sport gear and yes, skis, although most of those, regrettably, are now made offshore — and by that we mean way offshore, as in, nowhere close to Vashon Island.

Don't be surprised to be reading this column online through your AOL/Time-Warner/K2 wi-fi connection sometime in the near future.

Q: Well-deserved praise in last week's column for Mike James, the ranger at Scenic Beach State Park. However, you should have mentioned that there are dozens of other dedicated people like him around the Northwest, making do with less to keep outdoor places open and enjoyable.

A: Excellent point. It's true: With the way state and local parks get funded in this state — they're traditionally somewhere below blackberry-vine abatement on the Urgent Priority List — it takes some extremely dedicated people to keep the gates open. We're lucky to have them. And we'll go out of our way to mention some of them in the future.

Ron C. Judd's Trail Mix column appears here every Thursday. To contact him: 206-464-8280 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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