Seattleites simply call it "The Mountain," as if there weren’t any other peaks worthy of conversation. And with a greater base-to-summit elevation gain than 28,251-foot K2 and 26 glaciers pouring down its flanks, it’s hard to argue.
Disappointment Cleaver is the most popular summit route, but you can dodge bumper-to-bumper rope teams by climbing the Emmons Glacier, which gets just 10 percent of the peak’s traffic.
Begin with a mellow 3.1 miles through old-growth Sitka spruce, from the White River Campground trailhead to 6,500-foot Glacier Basin camp. Take an evening stroll around the camp’s clear ponds to see Rainier’s hulking mass, radiating pink with alpenglow.
On day two, the climb begins in earnest. After a short hike from camp, you’ll rope up to cross the sooty Interglacier, a small ice sheet. After a strenuous, two-hour snow climb, scramble up, over, and down a spine of rocks (called Camp Curtis) onto the colossal Emmons Glacier, where you’ll tiptoe across snow bridges until you reach Camp Schurman at 9,500 feet. The windy, barren moonscape hosts up to 48 climbers a night from May to August. Ice surrounds on three sides, and the summit, 5,000 feet above, lords over one-third of the sky. Get to bed early–you’ll need a 1 a.m. start to tackle day three’s eight-hour climb to the 14,411-foot summit. On top, cold winds will likely threaten to knock you over as you stare at the Pacific Northwest splayed out like a topo beneath you. Savor it: You just climbed more than 10,000 feet–an accomplishment near Himalayan in size. (Mount Rainier Climbing Pass, $30, nps.gov/mora)