Friday, July 20, 2018

Disappointment Cleaver Route Update -- July 20th

The new route variation (blue) on the Emmons Shoulder.
As the freezing level continues to stay near or above 14,500 feet, the glaciers on Mount Rainier continue to change as well.  Guides recently put in a new variation that directs climbers up towards the "Emmons Shoulder" from the top of the Disappointment Cleaver.  All of the wands and pickets placed on the older variation of the route have been pulled.  If you choose to climb the older route be prepared to navigate with a GPS, and protect the steeper headwall terrain and major crevasse crossings. 

The new option avoids the major ice fall zone that occurred on the Ingraham Glacier a couple of weeks ago, but doesn't eliminate all of the overhead hazard.  There is still potential for ice fall onthe new variation.  Keep an eye out for looming ice cliffs above and don't linger or take breaks below these hazards.

Rockfall near Cathedral Gap has also been active at all hours (including in the middle of the night) due to the warmer temperatures.  As climbers finish crossing the Cowlitz Glacier and gain the rocks at Cathedral Gap, the transition from glacier-travel mode to rock-travel mode stalls them directly beneath the hazard.  Prepare your team ahead of time for this roped transition; make necessary rope adjustments out of the rockfall hazard zone and pass through quickly.  It's also worth taking a break, getting a snack and a sip of water, before crossing the hazardous area so that everyone can move their fastest if needed.

Overall, the Disappointment Cleaver route seems to be in late-July conditions. It will continue to break apart and become more circuitous as the summer goes on.  The high pressure and sunny skies that settled in a little over a week ago remains in place and has made for great weather conditions on everyone's summit day.  And, lastly, it's still the busiest time on the mountain; consider climbing during the weekdays through the rest of July and early-August to avoid the crowds.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Inter Glacier and Emmons Conditions - July 17th, 2018

Here are some pictures of current conditions.  The best route up the Emmons Glacier, and the one being used most frequently over the past few days, is still ascending up and climbers' left of the "Corridor" through the "Garbage Disposal" before traversing right at around 13,000 ft to tie-in with the older boot track.  More information on this route is here: 

While the "Garbage Disposal" avoids many crevasses, it is steeper and subject to icefall.  Be sure to ask if this overhead risk is worth it for your team and consider how long you will be exposed.  Additionally, there are many crevasses opening up right out of Camp Schurman and near Emmons Flats.  The Corridor is also quite crevassed and there was a report of at least one team member experiencing a roped crevasse fall on Monday morning.  If attempting this route in its current condition be prepared for route finding and crevasse rescue.  It is in late-season condition.

The Inter Glacier is also entering late-season condition and features crevasses along the bootpath which are difficult to see until you are right next to them.  Glissading is not advised and roping up is not a bad idea.

The Emmons-Winthrop from the top of the Prow.  

Crevasses on the Inter Glacier.  The boot pack goes right next to these with more on the other side.  
Looking up from Glacier Basin. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Emmons Update - July 15th: Warmer Temps Taking a Toll

First morning of wildfire smoke this season.
It seems that the high pressure of summer has finally arrived and with it so have the climbers and rapidly changing route conditions. Throughout the weekend, nearly all camps were booked with climbers: from Camp Schurman and the Emmons Flats, to Camp Curtis and the Inter Glacier bivies. As we continue to roll through July & August peak season here at Mt. Rainier, climbers should show up with some flexibility to their plan and perhaps a backup option or two. That being said, many groups were up on the mountain this weekend and a few teams had successful summit attempts despite heat and somewhat deteriorating conditions of the route.

Approach route onto the Emmons from Camp Curtis continue
to melt out rapidly with high temps this week.
With a rapidly depleting snowpack all over the mountain, the Inter Glacier and the approach route off the Camp Curtis ridge and onto the Emmons is melting out quickly. As of yesterday, climbers are now avoiding the obvious line in the photo and are dropping in/exiting the Emmons slightly downhill in order to avoid the steeper, slabby and exposed rock scramble. Rangers have been happy to see that nearly all parties are roped up as they come into camp. Perhaps it's only due to the more broken nature of the Emmons this year, but that section of glacier is heavily crevassed and certainly warrants the deployment of ropes, harnesses, helmets, axes and crampons (full glacial mode). Once in camp, climbers can expect to share space with many other eager climbers so camp etiquette and hygiene are paramount.

Full camps are a theme throughout July/August peak season.

 In terms of route conditions, the steadiness/reliability that we saw on the Emmons throughout much of the early season has finally begun to deteriorate. Arriving in camp on Friday, rangers received reports from both guides and climbers alike of a hollow route from top to bottom that was difficult to protect. Reports of large, sagging, "team eating" bridges, postholling into blackness and unnerving, soft snow conditions gave rangers enough reason to try to find an alternate route up the mountain.

Climbing rangers scouting a new re-route for the Emmons
between 11,400' and 12,600'.

 Although rangers were able to climb via a different route between 11,400' (top of the corridor) and 13,600', the steepness and exposure of the upper pitches didn't make it an ideal alternative to the current bootpack. That being said, a variation to traverse back into the main boot pack around 12,600' still cut out nearly 1,200' of the most hollow section of track. As of Sunday morning, there was a mixed-bag of attitudes in high camp. Many parties decided that the warm temperatures and objective hazard was simply too high-risk and stayed in camp. Some parties attempted the old boot pack today and all of them turned around due to the sketchiness of the crevasses all around. Finally, a few more experienced parties were willing to attempt the new re-route and some of them had success to the top. Most folks that have been able to summit have been topping out by sunrise and returning to camp by 9 or 10 am to beat the heat. 


Track log from the re-route on the Emmons. Green route is new,
red line is the old, most hollow section of the route.


Topo of the new re-route. Cutting out the old bootpack (in red) avoids a large section
of hollow terrain between 11,400' and 12,600'.

No matter what choice you make if deciding to climb the Emmons, rangers are stressing the importance of personal risk assessment and risk management amongst groups as they show up in camp. As of now, the route is no longer the "cruiser,"  stable route that we often expect earlier in the year. For parties with solid mountaineering experience, including excellent comprehension of crevasse rescue, running belay/anchor belay and glacial navigation techniques, the Emmons might be a great challange under the current conditions. For parties with minimal mountaineering experience and less confidence in unstable glacial conditions, the current Emmons route might offer too much hazard/risk. Even with a new re-route there is still a lot of uncertainty/risk from the first crevasses encountered out of camp all the way to the nearly 75' overhung bergschrund curtain that the route passes directly over at 13,600'. Successful and safe passage up the current route will require a full repertoire of skills from belay techniques, route finding (it will undoubtedly change daily as things continue to melt out this week), fitness and the ability to ascend and descend by early morning.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Disappointment Cleaver Update -- July 12

Looking down the icefall debris on the Disappointment Cleaver route. Note climbers for scale.

The path of the Disappointment Cleaver route remains largely unchanged over the past few weeks.  The route still climbs up and left from the cleaver to the top of Gibraltar Rock before continuing up to the crater rim. This may change as guides work to re-route the path in coming days and weeks to reduce exposure to serac hazards and as the crevasse crossings along the route widen.

Looking across the Ingraham Glacier toward Camp Comfort. Note icefall debris and leaning seracs.

Crossing the icefall debris.
The biggest concern this week has been objective danger from serac fall on the route coming from the upper Ingraham Glacier. There have been two very sizeable ice falls starting at around 13,000 feet, resulting in a debris field that is a few hundred feet wide and roughly 1000 feet long.  Many parties are choosing to not subject themselves to this hazard by stopping their climb atop the cleaver at 12,500 feet and deciding to come back another time.  If you choose to climb through this section, move quickly and DO NOT STOP until well away from any overhead hazard.

Rockfall below Cathedral Gap.
With warming temperatures, the large rockfall debris near Cathedral Gap is becoming increasingly dangerous as the snow pedestals holding boulders begin to melt out. Above freezing temperatures at night mean that these behemoths may fall at any time of day. Move swiftly through this area.

Ladder at High Crack.
 A pair of short ladders were installed on the route this week, across widening crevasses. If you feel the ‘need’ to jump across a crevasse, look for an alternate route. There is no reason to take flight during glacier travel, contrary to what many books and social media posts may portray. Ankles and knees rarely take the hard landing well and many injuries result from being airborne - especially when wearing crampons. 

Be sure to practice Leave No Trace while on the mountain. Blue bags can be obtained at the ranger station when you get your permit; use these any time you are not at a bathroom. The bags can be deposited in labeled barrels at Camp Muir and in Paradise (not in the toilets). Do not leave your human waste along the climbing route for others to see or clean up!

July crowds to the right and icefall debris to the left.
It’s shaping up to be another busy July weekend on the mountain. Plan ahead to obtain your climbing permit (even for single-push attempts), be courteous to other climbers, and make good decisions for yourself and your team.

Disappointment Cleaver Route Track Log taken on July 11.

Kautz Route Update

Rangers climbed the Kautz Glacier route this week and were pleased to find pleasant climbing conditions. The Kautz route is more technical than both the Emmons and DC, however, it remains a good stepping stone for those contemplating more challenging objectives on Rainier.  The route requires a higher level of technical skills in order to negotiate the rock step, technical ice chute, and glacier route finding. Rangers ascended from Paradise to Glacier Vista, then descended toward the Nisqually Glacier.  This approach was still mostly snow covered. 

The route taken on 7/10 to a bivy site near the Turtle Snowfield.

There are two common ways across the Nisqually; one heads toward the "Fan" and the other traverses a little higher towards the Wilson Glacier "Gully" just above. Rangers opted for the Gully approach as the Fan is quite melted out and the crevasses on the Nisqually Glacier crossing didn't prohibit access to the upper ridge. Remember to rope up for these glacier crossings, and take a GPS track once you leave the trail in case clouds roll in and visibility deteriorates during the climb.

The Wilson Gully approach from the Nisqually Glacier.

Above the Wilson Gully, rangers ascended the lower Wapowety Cleaver to The Castle at 9600 feet.  Many good campsites exist in this area between 9,400 and 9,800 feet, in the vicinity of The Castle. Other bivy sites can be found near the top of the Turtle Snowfield around 10,800 feet. Rangers found running water near both The Castle and the 10,800 bivy site.  

Shortly after departing camp the next morning, rangers arrived at the rock step.  Currently, a 25' rappel is necessary to negotiate the rock step and access the Kautz's ice chute.  Old, tattered fixed ropes mark the top of the rock step.  As with all fixed equipment, the fixed lines should be inspected for core shots or damage before use. Be prepared to back up any gear you encounter and use your own ropes/equipment if you doubt the quality of fixed gear. The ice chute is sun cupped from top to bottom.  The snow pinnacles offer good security, but don't hesitate to utilize running belays or pitch out the terrain. Decent alpine ice can be found near the top of the chute to the left or right of the gut.

Looking down the Kautz ice chute.

From the top of the chute, meandering glacier travel brings you to the Wapowety Cleaver at 13,000 feet. There are a couple small exposed bivy sites on the Wapowety Cleaver, but no running water.  From the Wapowety Cleaver, a few long switchbacks bring climbers across the upper Nisqually Glacier to the crater rim.  The upper glacier is in good condition and smooth. A few large crevasses in this section have thin snow bridges, and it may be a good idea to belay your partners across these crevasses.

The route taken to the top from high high camp on 7/11/18
If you're planning a climb on the Kautz, grab some blue bags from the ranger station at Paradise or Longmire when you get your climbing permit. Wherever you decide to bivy, be sure to keep camp clean and pack out any trash you find.

Monday, July 09, 2018

DC Update: Objective hazards become palpable

Ice fall debris with Gibraltar rock in the distance. Photo: Tyler Jones 

This morning guides reported seeing debris from a large ice fall on the upper mountain.  The large ice block tumbled in the middle of the night when no parties were on the route. The event occurred at approximately 12,600 feet on the Ingraham Glacier, just above the top of Disappointment Cleaver. Ice blocks tumbled over the climbing route and continued down the glacier at least another 1,000 vertical feet; simply put, this would have been an unsurvivable event.  The route through this area will be more difficult (and slower) to travel across with the new debris and uneven footing.

Ice fall debris over the route above the top of Disappointment Cleaver.  Photo:Tyler Jones

Events like this are a good reminder of why it is important to be aware of the objective hazards on the route, and to minimize your exposure to them. Move quickly through zones that are underneath seracs (and rockfall), and keep your senses tuned for the sound of tumbling ice blocks. More seracs in this same area could fall in the future as the glacier continues to move downhill.  It is impossible to predict when this might happen. Any serac that is tilted downhill and disconnected on the uphill side could tumble at any time. Have a discussion with your team members about your strategies for moving though areas subject to ice fall and don't linger in these areas.

More ice could fall from the same area on the Ingraham Glacier
 above Disappointment Cleaver. Photo: Tyler Jones

The rest of the DC route remains unchanged.  We have entered peak climbing season in the Muir corridor, and the route will tend to be crowded on weekends.  Remember to stay courteous and friendly with other climbers you encounter on route, and keep the mountain clean!