Q:

What’s the best altimeter for a winter ascent of Mount Rainier?

Hello, I'm looking to make a winter ascent of Mount Rainier. I need an altimeter. I'm not sure if I should get an altimeter watch (like the Casio Pathfinder) or a GPS (Garmin Oregon 400T, Oregon 300, or Dakota 20). I don't have to worry about the battery problem with the watch. Then again, it's nice to have a GPS, but they only get 14 hours of battery life. The Dakota gets 20. In sub-zero temps, I would need to carry everything in my pockets. Any ideas? Brett Highland Lakes, NJ

The 400t     Photo: courtesy, Garmin

The 400t

A:Wow, all the way from Jersey for a winter climb on Rainier? Ambitious. But that also tells me that you’ll be buying a plane ticket in advance, then arriving at Sea-Tac Airport dead set to climb. So…be careful. Watch the weather. Rainier in the winter is a lot more of an Alaskan peak than a Lower 48 peak.

Anyway, an altimeter. In the summer, I hardly think one is needed except as a form of entertainment. Rainier is chock-a-block with prominent landmarks, they’re all well-marked and well-documented, and you can climb any number of routes and every hour hit an altitude-specific landmark (Top of Disappointment Cleaver? 11,500 feet!). But winter, well, you could be trying to descend in a whiteout, and something that really shows the way is helpful, seeing as the fall line at Muir Snowfield does not take you to Paradise Lodge, but rather drops you off a 500-foot cliff onto the Tahoma Glacier.

So, Garmin’s 400T is a bit pricey ($425) but excellent—color screen, touch screen, water-resistant, an on-board compass and altimeter. Just the ticket. Yeah, it burns through AAs on a fairly regular basis. So don’t use it that often, and carry a few extra sets. You’ll be fine.

But, crikey, be careful! Winter climbs on Rainier can be highly entertaining, but also wildly dangerous. Plus you’re apt to have only eight or nine hours of usable daylight.

Good luck!

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