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Backpacking has become a hugely popular sport in the Cascade Range. One small example is the climb from Paradise to Camp Muir on Rainier. Decades ago it was mostly reserved for true climbers. Now it is not unusual to see hundreds of people there in a good week. The frightening part: a noticeable percentage makes the five mile climb and one mile elevation gain across Muir Snow Field in tennis shoes, tank tops and shorts. You want to invite death on Rainier? That is a good way to do it.

People get enthralled with the magnificence of a place like Muir. They get to the edge and decide to go just a little further. Once onto the snow field, the adrenaline rush is blinding and so the unprepared wander on.

One suggestion: Don’t. If you go to Paradise or any other place similar in the Cascades, Olympics or Rockies, take your time. Get a taste for what this is all about. If you have never backpacked or climbed, investigate the full potential of the sport and go into it knowing what you are doing so that you can come down to share your stories.

Climbs like Muir are too easy to get to for the novice and too difficult to know when to turn back. Take a year to learn about equipment. Boots, socks, tents, backpacks, food and every protection for the body are essential for a trip that could be the event of a lifetime. It is worth the effort to go to places like Muir, but only if you are prepared. Muir alone can make storms in a matter of minutes. Prepared with the right equipment, you can sit it out and learn what life outside of civilization really is. Get caught in the storm with a tank-top, shorts and tennis shoes and learning ends.

Begin with local ranger stations and climbing clubs. You will find some of the most wonderful people in both and they are fully willing to help you get started so you can so you can continue see the wonder . . . alive.