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Mount Rainier Guide Monopoly to End

By Peter Potterfield - October 10th, 2006

After more than 30 years of outright monopoly by a single guide service, and after two years of bureaucratic delays to implement, Mount Rainier National Park officials this week awarded two new guiding concession for the mountain.

Alpine Ascents International, the Seattle based guide company that offers climbing schools in the Cascades and in Alaska, and also guides the world's Seven Summits, including Everest, was notified it has been awarded one of the two new concessions. International Mountain Guides, based in Ashford, Washington, another guide service with both Pacific Northwest and global operations, including Everest, confirmed it also had been notified it has been awarded one of the new concessions.

"This has been a long time coming," said Eric Simonson, founder of International Mountain Guides. Simonson guided on Rainier for decades before starting his own operation. "We look forward to working with both Alpine Ascents and Rainier Mountaineering on the mountain. We're really proud and excited to have gotten the new concession, and we think the public will be the ultimate beneficiary of this new arrangement."

"We feel honored the park has selected Alpine Ascents to guide on Mount Rainier," said Gordon Janow, program director of Alpine Ascents International in Seattle. "This is something we've wanted to do for years, and we look forward to providing on Mount Rainier the same quality of guide operation we currently offer in the Cascades, in the Alaska Range, and around the world."

"I'm psyched," said Todd Burleson, founder and director of Alpine Ascents. "Rainier is a fantastic mountain to guide. It's such a great concession that you actually have the ability to influence the ethics of guided climbing, to create a new breed of self-reliant climbers as clients. Just as we do on Denali, we look forward to working hand in hand with these other outstanding guide services under the new arrangement."

The two new operations will offer those who opt to climb Rainier with a guide the first choice of guide companies in the recent history of the mountain. Rainier Mountaineering Inc, which has held a virtual monopoly on Rainier since the 1970s, will now share the mountain with Alpine Ascents and International Mountain Guides. The park service for the past three years has said it would open up the mountain to new operators, but unexpected delays have pushed the awarding of new concessions back at least two years.

The stakes are high. Washington's Mount Rainier is one of the premier climbing destinations in North America. At 14,411 feet high, and draped in some 35 square miles of glacial ice, the peak attracts each year more than 10,000 veteran and beginning climbers to its broad flanks. At issue is the most lucrative guiding concession in the country, a golden goose worth an estimated $3 million dollars per year in guided-climbing revenue, perhaps more.

Critics often contrast RMI's long-standing monopoly on Mount Rainier to the more progressive guiding-concession arrangement on Mount McKinley, in Alaska's Denali National Park. There, six guide services share equally in the guide concession, among them the Alaska Denali Guiding, American Alpine Institute, Alpine Ascents International, and RMI. Now, at least three established guide services will be allowed to work on Mount Rainier for the 10 year length of the concession contracts just awarded.

RMI, however, will still retain a slightly larger share of clients and revenue. Under the park's plan, three concessions for guiding will be awarded, the first of which would be allowed twice the number of clients and guides per night at Camp Muir as the two new concession. Each of the three guide services have equal shares for most of the routes on the mountain.

Each gets 10 climbs per summer on the Emmons, each gets approximately seven climbs per summer on the Kautz, each gets 8 trips on other routes--of which 3 of those can be on Liberty Ridge. Everything else is at Camp Muir on Disappointment Cleaver. Muir breaks down like this: RMI gets 24 people a day but they can only camp at Camp Muir, the other guide services get twelve people a day, but they can stay on the Muir Snowfield, at Camp Muir, or higher still, on Ingraham Flats.

While the park service admits it's Muir plan is still in process, the fact remains this sea change in guiding on Mount Rainier will benefit those who wish to climb the Cascades' highest peak with a guide. For the first time, these new guide operators on Rainier will offer clients a choice in the style in which they climb the mountain.


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