Slight Boost In Climbing Fees Approved For Mount Rainier National Park

Slightly higher climbing fees have been approved at Mount Rainier National Park. NPS photo.

A slight increase -- the cost of about four cups of coffee at Starbucks -- has been approved for the annual climbing passes sold at Mount Rainier National Park.

Since May 2003 the annual passes have been sold for $30, but increasing costs in the park's mountaineering program prompted officials to move for a boost in the fee. After going through a series of public meetings park officials settled on a $43 fee for the passes, which are good for the calendar year in which they are purchased.

Mount Rainier National Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said Tuesday that the fee increase was just approved by Pacific West Regional Director Christine Lehnertz and is effective immediately.

In addition, the park is implementing a $30 “youth” climbing pass for climbers 24 years old and younger, in support of National Park Service and Department of Interior initiatives, and in response to comments made during public meetings the park held in November and December of 2010. It is estimated that 5-10 percent of the total climber volume is in this age group, the park said.

Climbing fees, in addition to other park funding sources are used to support climber services and management of climbing activities on Mount Rainier. These services and programs include: registering approximately 11,000 climbers each year; providing up-to-date climbing route and safety information; updating weather, climbing, route, and climbing-related information on web blog; staffing ranger stations at Paradise and White River; issuing climbing passes and providing updated information for climbers; staffing two high camps (Camp Muir & Camp Schurman); briefing hundreds of climbers during peak season; responding to numerous search and rescues and emergency medical situations on the upper mountain; operating and maintaining high camp facilities and communications systems; maintaining toilets at the high camps and managing the “blue bag” and “Leave No Trace programs; hauling several thousand pounds of human waste off the upper mountain to processing facilities.

In addition, the revenue from these fees allows the park to provide the climbing ranger staff training in core skills, including mountaineering, search and rescue, emergency medical services, incident management and aviation-related training, to be able to perform their jobs in the extreme environment in which they work. Part of their job responsibilities also involves monitoring the alpine wilderness areas for impacts related to visitor use and climate change.

While the fee increase went through relatively smoothly at Mount Rainier, Denali National Park officials have encountered firm resistance from representatives of The Access Fund, the American Alpine Club, and the American Mountain Guides Association. Those three climbing organizations say park officials want to take the current fee of $200 per climber all the way up to $500 per climber. The groups believe that's excessive and have suggested, among other things, that higher entrance fees be charged all park goers to offset the cost of Denali's mountaineering program.

Denali officials are expected to settle on a new climbing fee in time for the 2012 season.

As was the case with the Denali situation, the climbing groups contended that climbers were being unfairly burdened with the costs of maintaining the park's mountaineering program.

"We believe that mountaineers are unfairly targeted for this special use fee when other park users are not similarly asked to pay their fair share," the groups said in their formal comments to the Mount Rainier proposal. "For example, hikers, backpackers and other dispersed backcountry users are not charged fees for accessing Camp Muir, but climbers nonetheless foot the bill for their management. It is also important to note that a large percentage of search and rescue activities at MORA (Mount Rainier) occur below Camp Muir.

"Before the NPS looks to expand mountaineering fees at MORA, the NPS should look at other non-mountaineering related uses, activities, and programs to determine their appropriate costs and what percentage of these costs are unfairly paid by climbers."