We've all seen or heard of Mount Rainier. At 14,410ft, it's the highest peak in the Cascades. In addition to being an active volcano, its size and location demand attention. It is clearly seen from the Puget Sound region and is hardly avoidable from any peak within the Cascades. It's no wonder that it became one of the first National Parks in 1899. The park encompasses 235,625 acres, ranging in elevation from 1,610ft to 14,410ft.
Unlike many of the fourteeners in Colorado, climbing Rainier requires a rapid acclimation from near sea level at its base to nearly three miles above sea level at its summit. Glaciers and weather provide additional challenges. Rainier contains over 35 square miles of snow and ice, much of which is heavily crevassed. The weather is probably the most important factor for a successful climb. Storms develop from the Pacific in a matter of hours causing heavy precipitation, whiteouts and strong winds. Anyone attempting to climb Rainier must be prepared for the unexpected. Only 50% of those attempting to reach the summit succeed. Several die each year trying.
I've been avoiding Rainier for the last few years. I'll go there several times a year and climb it on occasion but the crowds and regulations don't interest me. A climbing fee of $15 is currently in place. The weather is often marginal and good snow is hard to come by. I often find myself climbing it for training rather than enjoyment. However, there are ways to combine the two.
I've found that one-day ascents make a lot of sense for those who are capable. There is no point in carrying overnight gear to a highcamp that takes 2-4 hours to reach with a day pack, especially when you have skis to get you down in less than an hour. I've made successful one-day ascents of both standard routes (Disappointment Cleaver and Emmons). The Emmons involved a solo ski descent off the top all the way to the base of the Inter Glacier, over 8,000 vertical feet of skiing. This remains one of my greatest accomplishments. Unfortunately, when you have nearly 10,000ft to climb and descend in less than 20 hours, you're forced to sacrifice a little weight. The rope is often the first item left behind (an easy decision when you're going solo). My SLR camera is often the last. I regret not having any photos to share.
Regardless, multi-day trips are normally the method of choice whether to acclimate or simply take more time to go further and enjoy. The mountain has a lot to offer away from the beaten paths. It's not uncommon to find yourself alone on the more distant, more challenging routes. Which of course, are more rewarding.
Wonderland Trail (consider this an exploratory ski)