A family-owned mountaineering dynasty that for 35 years has held a virtual monopoly on guiding climbers to the summit of Mount Rainier would be forced to share the mountain under a proposal released Wednesday.
The preferred option in Mount Rainier's long-awaited Commercial Services Plan recommends for-profit guiding on the mountain be split among three companies instead of all going to one. If adopted, such competition would end the exclusive guiding concession held since 1968 by Rainier Mountaineering Inc.
Park officials say a third of the roughly 11,500 people who attempt to climb Mount Rainier in a typical year are RMI clients or RMI guides. RMI charges $771 for a two-day summit attempt and a one-day course in basic mountaineering, but it also offers advanced courses and climbs that cost up to $2,235 per person.
Mount Rainier National Park has let a single guide service control virtually all guide business for nearly eight decades. Lou Whittaker and attorney Jerry Lynch formed RMI after Whittaker won the guiding concession in 1968, and since then the company has had more than 60,000 paying clients.
RMI held a legal monopoly on Rainier until 1997, when park officials let a limited number of companies lead climbs on the Emmons Glacier. This year, four guide services will each lead 36 paying clients all this summer on the Emmons, while elsewhere on the peak RMI will guide at least 24 people a day.
Under the preferred alternative:
•Three concessionaires chosen by the park would share guiding duties on the Muir route, the Emmons Glacier, the Kautz Glacier and other climbing routes. No guided groups would be allowed Friday and Saturday nights on the Emmons and Kautz routes.
•Routes on Liberty Ridge, Sunset Ridge, Tahoma Glacier and South Mowich Glacier would be off-limits to commercially guided parties in summer and reserved for what the park calls "independent" climbers.
•The three guide companies would get equal shares of the guiding business. The total number of clients and guides in a season would be limited to 4,000 on the Muir route, 480 on the Emmons and Kautz, and 300 elsewhere on the peak.
Park officials expect to collect comments in November and adopt a final plan in 2004, Jones said. If a system of three guide services is ultimately endorsed, bids could be accepted in 2004 and the chosen outfitters operating by 2005, he said.
Longtime guide Eric Simonson, a former RMI guide who in 1997 formed Rainier Alpine Guides to lead trips on the Emmons route, said Mount Rainier is one of the few peaks that still has one primary guide service.