A series of meetings seeking public input on a plan to increase climbing fees at Mount Rainier starts tonight in Tacoma.
Mount Rainier National Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga is proposing that the cost of one-year climbing permits increase from $30 to $43-$58. Uberuaga’s plan also calls for the fee to potentially increase annually based on changes in the Consumer Price Index.
Uberuaga says the increase is necessary to properly train climbing rangers and fund climbing programs.
The first of three meetings is tonight at 7 at the Tacoma Mountaineers Clubhouse, 2302 N. 30th St. Meetings also are scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Seattle Mountaineers Clubhouse, 7700 Sand Point Way N.E., and Dec. 8 at Ashford’s Mount Rainier Education Center, 55210 238th Ave. E.
About 11,000 people per year climb Mount Rainier, and the climbing fees, which have not changed for eight years, cover expenses ranging from climbing rangers’ salaries to human waste removal from the high-camp toilets.
In September, Uberuaga told The News Tribune that the current fee covers only about 80 percent of the climbing program and the remainder is “cobbled together from other programs.”
“A cost recovery fee in the $43 range would re-establish essential public safety, education, information, and resource protection services and programs,” read a statement released by the park earlier this month. “A cost recovery fee in the $58 range would support new or improved services for the climbing public.”
Rainier Mountaineering Inc., the largest of three guide services on the mountain, says it will have to adjust its prices if the park raises the permit fee. Permit fees are included in the prices of their expeditions.
“Our stance is that we’re glad that everybody has the chance to make public input and we encourage everybody to give their input,” said Alex Van Steen of Rainier Mountaineering.
On Sept. 7, three climbing activist groups sent a letter to Park Service Director Jon Jarvis protesting the increase as well as a 150 percent increase at Denali National Park in Alaska.
The letter from the Access Fund, the American Alpine Club and the American Alpine Guides Association called the increase “unnecessary and unfair” and said it could make mountaineering “too expensive for many Americans.”
Some in mountaineering circles also have suggested that the park could get by with a smaller climbing program now that there are three guide services on Rainier. The guides are contractually obligated to assist rangers in rescues.
“I don’t think you’d find a single (guide service) owner who would agree with that,” Uberuaga said.
Uberuaga says the need for more training for the climbing ranger staff was brought into the spotlight in 2009 when climbing ranger Sam Wick fell into a crevasse while patrolling the mountain on skis.
After the incident, the park started analyzing the climbing program, looking for potential improvements. In addition to increasing training, the park hired two permanent climbing rangers to work six months per year starting this year.
Uberuaga said all fees collected go only to the climbing program. Search and rescues missions are paid for from a different fund.