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At Northwest Alpine Guides, we recommend that you weigh four key elements of the adventure experience as you decide which trip is right for you. You should also consider the climbing grades we assign to each of our itineraries. Each climb has its own distinct characteristics. For example, Mount Baker demands strong hiking skills, but at 10,781 feet, it is a relatively low-altitude climb. The mountain requires some technical skill, but our popular 3-day Intro Mountaineering School makes the summit attainable for everyone, regardless of previous mountaineering experience.

  1. Fitness – What is your overall fitness level? How much physical challenge are you seeking?
  2. Acclimatization – Do you want to experience the thin air at higher altitudes?
  3. Technical – Different terrain types demand different skills. Do you want to learn new techniques or refine your existing skills?
  4. Expedition – Do you want to practice caring for yourself and your teammates in the expedition environment, or would you prefer a shorter trip?

Need help choosing a trip?
Read our Four-Legged Stool blog post for tips on finding the right adventure for you. Each of our expeditions requires a different mix of fitness, technical climbing skill, altitude and expedition experience. We use a simple system to help you find an itinerary that fits your goals and your abilities. The trip you choose should offer you just the right mix of challenge and enjoyment.

If you’re still not sure where to begin, please contact us. We would be happy to help you plan your next adventure with Northwest Alpine Guides.

Climbing Grades

Northwest Alpine Guides uses a rating system to help our climbers identify programs best suited for their individual experience levels, climbing skills, and physical fitness. Mountain travel can be extremely challenging and profoundly rewarding. We offer a wide variety of programs at a range of difficulty levels. Regardless of which program you choose, we expect our climbers to be physically and mentally prepared for the demands of the journey.

Learn more about our climbing grades


What are the physical requirements for climbs in the Pacific Northwest?

Excellent physical conditioning is essential for most glaciated mountain climbs in the Cascade Range. You will benefit from prior hiking, backpacking or climbing experience. Previous mountaineering experience is not required for most Northwest climbs. Our guides will teach you the basic snow and glacier travel skills you need to make a safe, successful ascent.

Most climbs in the Pacific Northwest are strenuous. We cannot over-emphasize the importance of physical fitness. By starting the trip with your heart, lungs, and legs in top condition, you will allow yourself to focus on learning and maximize your ability to enjoy the high mountain environment. We recommended that you gain some hiking and camping experience prior to your trip. All participants must carry a share of the group food and equipment (tents, ropes, stoves, pickets, etc). Be prepared to carry a 40- to 60-pound backpack to high camp depending on the climb or course you choose.

Excellent physical fitness is required.

  • You should be able to hike/climb for 1 to 2 hours at a time, punctuated by 10 minute breaks, for up to 12 hours.
  • You should be able to ascend 6,000 feet per day while carrying 30 pounds on your back, and 3,000 feet per day while carrying 50 pounds or more on your back.
  • Do not underestimate the importance of physical conditioning. Mountaineering is a strenuous activity.


Mountains around the world are physically demanding. Your ability to enjoy this adventure depends on your overall health and fitness.

The best training regimens for mountain climbing generally consist of hiking, backpacking or climbing up considerable elevation gain (2,000 vertical feet or more). Few other fitness activities truly replicate the physical demands of climbing a steep mountain with a heavy backpack.

We suggest you begin your training program at least four months prior to departure, depending on your current conditioning. Walking up steep hills and climbing stairs are both excellent ways to begin to strengthen your lower body. Start slowly, without the weight of a pack. Then gradually add weight and increase your pace. To condition yourself to carry the necessary weight, you should take long hikes (4 to 6 hours) with a weighted pack at least once or twice per week. On these hikes, try to move uphill without a break for at least an hour at a time. Then rest for no more than 10 to 15 minutes. Then continue hiking uphill for at least another hour. Do this as long and as often as you can. This is not the only way to train, but it is certainly one of the best ways to prepare for climbing big mountains. Your pace will increase over time. If you are having trouble hiking for an hour at a time between each break, try slowing your pace. Try to maintain an even respiratory rate.

Unfortunately, many people do not live near suitable hills or mountains and must find other activities to build endurance. Running, cycling and swimming are all good ways to develop the aerobic fitness crucial for mountaineering. Cross-fit and weight training can also be beneficial for conditioning your heart, lungs and muscles, but are often not sufficient without aerobic training. Any time spent at altitude will also prove helpful. Remember that mountain climbing (unlike running) is an activity where you slowly climb uphill over long periods of time while carrying a heavy to moderate amount of weight. On a typical climbing day, we will move steadily uphill for about an hour at a time, then rest for 10 to 15 minutes, then move for another hour, and so on.

The Beginner’s Handbook Climbing Mount Rainier by Greg Yatman

Greg Yatman, one of our climbers provides helpful fitness and training insight in his eBook The Beginner’s Handbook Climbing Mount Rainier. Visit to purchase the full addition eBook.

“Challenging yourself while exploring your world is truly one of life’s greatest experiences.” ~ Dennis Broadwell

It has been asked – why climb mountains? One can recall the words of George Mallory exclaiming, “Because it’s there.”  Others may seek deeper philosophical explanations. Many pursue sports defined by a set of arbitrary rules with one team waging human powered struggle against another, success is quantified by time and score, the number of goals, shots, hits, runs, throws or hoops.

For me, as a young man in my early-twenties, Mount Rainier came to symbolize the ultimate expression of human powered adventure. Pursuing a physical and mental struggle against nature instead of man, climbing on a rope team with other fellow adventurers, with Mount Rainier’s icy summit at 14,411 feet being the culmination of the goal and defining success, but was it? Or was it the mid-point of the journey, as one must return safely to adventure again. Little did I know, in July of 1997, Mount Rainier would be the beginning of a life defined by human powered adventures. I became a mountain guide, laying aside my passion to explore my new world alone, choosing to help others discover this less traveled path of mountain climbing, all the while sharing in their joy of reaching these far and high destinations.

The Beginner’s Handbook Climbing Mount Rainier by Greg Yatman takes you step by step on what you need to know to climb Mount Rainier with a professional mountain guide. A mountain should not be embarked upon without knowledge. An essential part of the discovery is learning how, when and where to safely begin your adventure.

Dennis Broadwell
Founder & Lead Guide, Mountain Gurus

Training for Success

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” ~ Muhammad Ali

I am going to say something that may sound like common sense to most but for some reason many beginners still do not take it seriously. Training for a challenging trek or climb should be appropriately challenging as well. I can assure you that on your Mount Rainier climb the odds are that you are going to sweat profusely, you are going to push muscles to their limit, you are going to struggle to breathe, and if you are not physically prepared, you are going to be deep in the hurt zone where the body and mind beg you to stop punishing them. I have personally danced at the edge of this zone, I have made the mistake of assuming I was completely ready for the challenge and it nearly cost me a summit bid. I do not wish that feeling of exhaustion and helplessness on anyone dedicated to reaching the summit of Mount Rainier or any other peak. Instead of trying to come up with something clever to say here to make my point crystal clear, I will just use a quote from Vince Lombardi Jr., “The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Work is the key to success, and hard work can help you accomplish anything.”

Everyone has a different physical fitness level going into their climb, which requires some serious evaluation and honesty with yourself and possibly others about where you sit on the fitness spectrum – from a seriously deconditioned individual to an Olympic athlete or CrossFit Games ready athlete. For liability reasons I must state that depending on your health and physical condition, these suggestions may not work well or be safe for you, particularly if you have a medical condition. Before using any of these suggestions or any of those you find elsewhere, please be sure to consult with your doctor or a professional trainer. I assume no responsibility or liability for your use of the suggestions in this book and you must make your own assessments and decisions, preferably after consulting with your physician and/or professional trainer.

Depending on your location on the fitness spectrum around four to six months out from your Mount Rainier climb it is time to evaluate your training plan, possibly with the help of a certified strength and fitness coach. Although it may seem to you that the climb is still quite far away at four to six months out, I assure you that it is time to get serious about developing an action plan to physically prepare for your climb. When you are about four to six weeks out from your climb, you are nearly there and it is the ideal time for fine tuning, training with some of your intended climbing gear and also a good time to test some food and hydration combinations that make you feel best under heavy workloads. At this point, you should feel physically ready to run up Mount Rainier. OK, maybe not that fit, but you should feel very confident in your conditioning that you have done all you can to prepare. You want to enjoy this challenging adventure, not suffer through it!

Personally, although I have been a certified personal trainer, CrossFit coach and Olympic Weightlifting coach in the past, for my own alpine training I have used elements of various strength, endurance and sport-specific programs create by professionals much more qualified than myself such as Mark Twight (Gym Jones), Greg Glassman (CrossFit), Louie Simmons (Westside Barbell), Greg Everett (Catalyst Athletics), Andrew Cattermole (CrossFit Sydney) and Matty Clarke (CrossFit Eora). Based on my experience, whether you are employing a trainer, doing CrossFit, creating your own program from various resources or simply modifying your existing program, there are five areas of training that I would suggest focus on or a bias toward.

  • Aerobic Training
  • Strength Training
  • Metabolic Conditioning
  • Mobility
  • High Altitude Skills Preparation

It is important to note that some say that the only effective training for hiking and climbing, is to do more hiking and climbing. I disagree. Common sense tells us that hiking, and climbing is going to be two of the most effective training elements, as it is exactly what you are going to be doing on your climb, but lifestyle, environment, weather and time constraints on most people may require an alternative or blended approach. For me, when stuck in Australia without a wide variety of high altitude climbing options and a busy work/life schedule, I mixed it up a bit found the following helpful and think you may as well.

Aerobic Training

At least three to four times per week you should be engaging in at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity of some sort. There are plenty to choose from, such as: cycling, rowing, running, swimming, stair climbing, hiking, skiing, surfing, etc. As mentioned in the start of the chapter, it’s important that you are pushing the pace in these activities to get the results you want. As you get closer to the climb you’ll want to increase this activity to four to five times per week and try to engage in activities with hill work, such as: trail running, stair climbing, cycling or hiking. During your hill work sessions, it’s a good time to throw on your boots, pack and progressively load it up until you reach the load weight you plan to climb with, perhaps a bit over to plan for possibly adding addition camp gear. Some suggest carrying water containers, beginning with 10 lbs. (just under 5kg) and working up in weight to your target load. The beauty of this idea is that you can empty the containers at the top of a climb thereby decreasing the load downhill. If you do not have hills in close proximity you can work out on a treadmill by wearing a pack, increasing the incline and walking quickly. While living in Australia, I’ve done the treadmill work and assure you that you do look ridiculous. That being said, I’m OK looking a bit silly if it gets me summit-ready.

Strength Training

Strength training is my favorite type of training. I’ve often said that I was built for power, not for speed and when I ran my first (and only) 14K City to Surf in Sydney, I proved this to be true. This doesn’t mean that I avoid aerobic training or metabolic conditioning, but my bias is naturally toward strength. It should be noted that hypertrophy, or building huge muscles, does not really help you at high altitude as larger muscles require more blood and oxygen to keep the body moving, but strong muscles are important to get the body used to the increased forces that will be placed upon it. It’s important that you’re building strength training into your program at least three times per week to build increased stability and allowing for increased energy storage and power from your muscles when you need them most.

When developing your own training program, it’s important that you work to strengthen your upper body, lower body and provide focus on your core strength. Four to six months out from the climb you should aim for three sessions per week, four to five movements per session, three to five sets each movement with five to ten repetitions in each set. As you are within four to six week of the climb you can increase the sessions to four or five per week and add additional movements if you’re feeling comfortable (or bored) with the program, but be sure to taper down at least a week prior to give yourself some recovery time, reduce the chance of a training injury and simply allow yourself to focus on the climb.

Some basic strength training movements are as follows (but there are plenty of variations and others available):

Upper Body

  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Shoulder Press
  • Bench Press
  • Dips
  • Rope Climbs

Lower Body

  • Squat (split/front/back/overhead)
  • Deadlift (standard & Romanian)
  • Box step-ups (unweighted/weighted)
  • Pistols/Single leg squats
  • Lunges (walking/jumping/reverse/weighted)
  • Over-weighted pack hill climb


  • Plank (variations)
  • Russian Twist
  • Hanging Leg Lift
  • Cable Rows/Pendlay Rows
  • Back Extension
  • Ab Roller

As you focus on the core, we’re not trying to build washboard abs (but if you do build them or already have them, congratulations and I hate you) but we’re looking for increased stability around your spine for the increased loads you’ll be carrying and negotiation of the change in your center of gravity while climbing with a heavy pack on. Make sure that you don’t forget the focus on core strength, focusing on multiple movements for the core particularly in the final week leading up to your climb. If your core is weak on the climb, it’s going to be a long, slow painful slog to the top.

Metabolic Conditioning

I’m not going to lie. This part is going to hurt. About four weeks (or earlier if you’re a fan of this training) you will need to add some metabolic condition to your program. Now that you have read to this point and may be thinking, I’m OK with the other stuff but what is this Metabolic Conditioning you speak of? Men’s Fitness defines it as, “Structured patterns of work and rest periods to elicit a desired response from the body. This desired response is usually to maximize efficiency of a particular energy system. The body has several different methods of getting energy. Different ratios of work to rest periods call upon different energy systems and cause specific adaptations.” I define it as “Short bursts of extremely intense exertion, interrupted by brief moments of gasping for air and praying for just a few milliseconds more rest before starting again.” Don’t let my definition scare you away however – it must be done.

Metabolic conditioning for the climb can take the form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts. The premise of this training is simple but effective: intersperse bouts of high-intensity aerobic activity with lower intensity bouts, or rest. To be honest, my CrossFit roots are showing in the one, but I’m not alone in my belief that this type of training for climbing makes you hurt more now to hurt less later. The additional benefit of the intensity found in the HIIT program is the mental strength that is built out of physical and mental challenge present in this method. There are several different options for the metabolic conditioning training, but some common ones are multiple repetitions of sub-one-minute activity with sub-one-minute rest of hill sprints, cycling sprints (standing off saddle), rowing intervals, burpees, box jumps, or a wide variety of CrossFit workouts designed for metabolic conditioning. One tip that I do have on this section is to really push to the “red line” in these workouts, particularly on the lower body. Having suffered through a few steep routes with my quads, hamstrings, calf and tibialis muscles screaming at me to stop – do yourself a favor and get them over it. You can thank me with a photo from the summit.


I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be able to move efficiently and flexibly on the mountain. Often, when the focus increases on other areas of training, it is mobility that takes a backseat to the detriment of your health and wellness. As you continue to push your muscles along the cycle of being broken down by training and recovering again to build strength, they will bind, tighten and are more prone to injury. If you haven’t already planned to dedicate much time to stretching and flexibility, I encourage you to do so now. Whether just downloading a yoga app on your phone or tablet, building stretches into your program or participation in yoga, Pilates or other mobility courses, you’ll find it easier to continue training, avoid injury and feel better overall. No one is saying you have to go out and buy a hot pair of yoga pants but you do need to put in the mobility work. Yoga pants are an added bonus.

High Altitude Skills Preparation

Although there are many skills that your guide, your fellow climbers and your own research will provide to you over time, I’m going to give you two of the most important skills you need to know when climbing at high altitude – the Rest Step and Pressure Breathing.

Rest Step

The rest step is a method of walking/climbing that can help you to preserve both your legs and your lungs when in the mountains. You will find that your guides use the rest step naturally and it’s because they’ve been training as mountaineers to use this method to be more efficient with energy at high altitudes on very steep slopes.

As you step forward, you lock your rear knee and keep all your weight on that rear leg supporting your entire body momentarily on that locked out leg. The forward foot rests on the ground but carries no weight at all; you could pick it up off the ground without disturbing your position. As seen in the video, when you’re ready to take the next step, simply shift your weight to the front foot, step forward with the other and lock the rear knee again.

There are two primary reasons why it’s advised you train to effectively use the rest step on Mount Rainier:

  • As you ascend and naturally lose energy, your locked rear knee will provide support for your weight without requiring help from the leg muscles. This gives your leg a micro-moment of rest that over time makes a huge difference in your performance.
  • Stability is important. With weight on rear leg, rear knee locked, front leg forward for balance, the position is completely stable. You can stop in that position and rest for as long as you need to. I found this incredibly helpful for energy conservation as we climbed up the steep section of Emmons Glacier toward the crater.

As you walk higher toward the summit of the mountain it’s a given that there will be more steep sections to negotiate. You will find during your climb that as you reach these sections there are several different paces to your rest step to match the terrain:

  • Flat and Downhill — Walk normally, keeping a comfortable and steady cadence.
  • Increased Incline — Shorten your stride and maintain the same cadence as before.
  • Steep Incline — Continue to walk normally but begin to use your rest step as needed.
  • Very Steep Incline — Go into the full rest-step and follow the cadence of the team lead.
  • Might as well be a climbing wall — If too steep, you will continue using the full-rest step along switch backs or will opt for the French, German or American techniques to directly ascend the incline.

Pressure Breathing

For me, once we ventured onto the Muir Snowfield, I began to periodically use pressure breathing on my ascent. As the atmospheric pressure changes the higher you go, it becomes increasingly difficult to get the oxygen you need into your lungs, compounded by the need for more oxygen due to exertion that you’re placing on your cardiovascular system with the climb. I’d dive into a discussion on Boyle’s law and the effect of pressure on gases, but I’ll save the science discussion for another time. To keep it simple, by periodically pursing your lips and exhaling forcefully and fully as though you were blowing out candles on a birthday cake, you let the gasses in your lungs escape rapidly, allowing for a more efficient exchange with oxygen in the “thinner air” and back pressure to assist a deeper next breath.

Although some may debate the effectiveness of this technique, I can attest to the fact that it took my mind off some very difficult sections, seemed to give me more oxygen and made me feel a bit more energized, if only temporarily. Additionally, the guides are most likely going to remind you to pressure breathe from time to time on your climb, so better that you know what it’s all about now. So, make a wish for a good weather on your summit push and just like facing down a giant birthday cake full of candles be sure to blow your exhaustion (and carbon dioxide) away.