At 2:02 p.m. Tuesday, one of Mount Rainier’s most exclusive clubs got its second member.
Climbing with a friend, Rainier Mountaineering Inc. guide Brent Okita reached the 14,411-foot summit for the 500th time. He’s the second person to reach the milestone. International Mountain Guide’s George Dunn was the first in 2010, and holds the record with 515 summits.
“I’m really happy for him,” Dunn, 62, said Tuesday afternoon. “He’s a good friend and I applaud him for his achievement.”
Dunn joked that the 500 Club could start having meetings now that there’s a second member.
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Okita, 55, lives in Enumclaw and didn’t plan to make his 500th summit until next week.
He was guiding for RMI on Denali in Alaska, where he reached the summit for the 24th year in a row. The Alaska expedition went so smoothly he found himself back home early, said Jeff Martin of RMI.
RMI officials planned a celebration in Okita’s honor for next week to coincide with the 500th summit. They learned Monday he was going to make his 500th on his day off with fellow RMI guide Christina Dale.
Summiting Mount Rainier 500 times is equivalent to about 9,000 miles and 4.5 million vertical feet of climbing. And that doesn’t include hundreds of other Rainier climbs on which Brent Okita didn’t reach the 14,411-foot summit.
Okita has guided on Rainier since 1986, when he made his first ascent with fellow guide Craig Van Hoy. Van Hoy is one of eight climbers to reach Rainier’s summit more than 300 times.
When Dunn became the first to climb Rainier 500 times in 2010, several in the mountaineering community predicted Okita would be the second and likely last to reach the milestone.
“Back when we started, it (guiding on Rainier) was the only option,” Dunn said. Today, many guides branch out to lead international trips, giving them fewer opportunities to climb Rainier.
Dunn and Okita worked internationally, but made a decision to spend more time closer to home.
“I just wanted to keep life simple,” Okita said in a May interview with The News Tribune. And he never got bored with Rainier.
None of the trips are the same. There is always a different challenge.
Brent Okita, second man to climb Mount Rainier 500 times
“None of the trips are the same,” he said. “There is always a different challenge.”
While he loves mountaineering, he said he especially loves helping others reach the summit.
“Brent is a mentor, leader and above all an inspiration to all mountaineers,” RMI owner Peter Whittaker said Tuesday in a prepared statement. “The fact that Brent has challenged himself on this mountain for 30 years and successfully summited Rainier 500 times is extraordinary.
“Even more amazing, Brent continues to climb at the pace of a 20-year-old guide and will likely climb Rainier another 20 times this summer. ... His endurance and fitness are unmatched.”
Dunn said it’s inevitable that his friend eventually will break his record. Dunn now climbs the mountain about twice per year. When that record-breaking day comes, Dunn said, he’ll buy Okita a nice bottle of Scotch to celebrate.
He’s definitely going to pass me. The writing is on the wall.
George Dunn, who’s climbed Rainier a record 515 times
RMI plans to revive an old tradition to honor Okita.
In the past, when guides reached the summit for 100th time, they received a plaque with 100 silver dollars. The tradition stopped because silver dollars became too hard to find. But RMI managed to collect 100 for a plaque honoring Okita’s 500th.
“We’ll give him the rest in cold, hard cash,” Martin said.
When Okita bagged his 400th summit in 2010, RMI bought him and his wife a trip to Hawaii. Martin said RMI is planning another gift for Okita when he breaks Dunn’s record.
“It could happen this year,” Martin said. “Who knows. ... I get tired just looking at his schedule.”