CLIMBER EXPERIENCE AND ENVIRONMENTAL INTERACTION ON MOUNT RAINIER, WA, USA
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The primary objective of this research on Mount Rainier is to develop new knowledge about the different demographic backgrounds, visitor experiences, and perception of inherent risks associated with a typical summit attempt of one of the icons of modern mountaineering. The goal of the project was to conduct a survey to measure the social and physical concerns of visitor use through a sample of Mount Rainier climbers. Data were collected during the high climbing season at each study site from climbers involved on the southeast (Muir basecamp) and northeast (Schurman basecamp) sides of the mountain for the two most frequented corridors to climbing routes on Rainier. The survey focused on identifying indicators that have a significant effect on the mountain climber’s perception and visitor experience for climbing Mount Rainier. The significance of the project is more applied than theoretical. Basic applied significance further examines the most important and lasting conceptual framework of the National Park Service, known as “visitor carrying capacity”. A clear understanding of the effects crowding has on the visitor experience and carrying capacity exists through past studies of backcountry encounter norms, and perceptions of visitors to the more popular areas of Mount Rainier National Park. According to this study, crowding does not appear to be a concern for Mount Rainier climbers, as three-fourths of climbers stated that the number of people they encountered was within an acceptable limit for them. Out of 340 respondents, 75% answered yes (n = 254), and 25% answered no (n = 86). By specifically isolating Mount Rainier climbers, and adopting the Visitor Experience Resource and Protection Framework (VERP), conclusions were made through relevant primary indicators as to how the visitor experience of Mount Rainier climbers is perceived. Primary indicators for ‘optimal’ experience on the mountain as reported by climbers were components of geophysical risks and hazards, reasons people climb, and concerns for the environment. Variables of concern, (i.e. high winds, cold temperatures, climbing with friends/family, climbing for a challenge, human waste issues, trash issues, trail erosion) were deemed as indicators to impact an ‘optimal’ experience for Mount Rainier climbers. Furthermore, results may assist the NPS as to how the high use climbing corridors of Camps Muir and Schurman can be continually managed for future climbing seasons.