Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Camp Muir - Wait for it...

Climbing rangers made it to Camp Muir today as this was our second day back to work after the shutdown.  Except for a set of tracks we saw from one intrepid hiker who made it to Camp Muir (evidently all the way from Longmire), there was no sign of anyone having been at Camp Muir in the last 5 weeks.  After 30 years of working at Mount Rainier, I can't recall if there has ever been a five week period where so few people have been up there.

Photo from Camp Muir looking out and up towards the Disappointment Cleaver through Cadaver Gap - 2019-01-29 - Lofgren

Nevertheless, we were anxious to get there to assess if winter storms presented us with any damage.  We knew at least that the Camp Muir weather telemetry was not working and weren't sure where the trouble was.

The temps were cold and the wind cut a pretty stiff chill as we left Paradise.  The snow is very firm and we were glad that we brought our ski crampons.  As we approached Panorama Point, we observed a relatively rare system of soft slab avalanche crown features and debris off of the west side of Panorama Point.

Wide angle shot of Panorama Point, January 28, 2019.  Look closely in the center for the avalanche debris. - Lofgren

Close up photo of soft slab avalanche that probably occurred on January 23 during storm and subsequent rain-on-snow event. - Lofgren
The snow proved to be so hard that skinning was impossible.  We shouldered our skis, then transitioned to carrying them on our backpacks as we ended up chopping each step with our whippets.

Finally on the snowfield, the wind abated and the sun began to warm us.  Off came the outer layers.  No wind.  By the time we were at Muir, we were in our base layers.

Photo of Camp Muir ranger station and Gibraltar Rock (and the summit) in the background, January 28, 2019 - Lofgren
Facilities looked to be in working order.  There is one toilet open and the public shelter was accessible through the main (albeit) half door.

We did get a chance to check out some problems with the telemetry.  We are working with other park employees, folks at the NWAC, and at NoHowInc to get things working again as fast as we can.

Climbing ranger Brian Hasebe discovers a broken antenna on the telemetry tower at Camp Muir, January 28, 2019. - Lofgren

Skiing down was another story - at least for the first 1000'.  The sastrugi was terrifying, even as the sun and lack of wind softened the top inch.  We traversed from windpad to windpad through a ski-torquing labyrinth of surface features.

We're excited to get the park open and there was much progress made on clearing the parking lot at Paradise today.  There is still work to be done widening the road as it had only been plowed to one lane during the shutdown.  Please stay tuned to NPS media sources (Facebook and Twitter) to learn when public access to Paradise is restored.

Remember your winter preparedness skills if you attempt winter trip to Camp Muir.

  1. Have a GPS with maps on it that locates you automatically on the screen as well as a map, compass, and altimeter.
  2. Bring extra batteries for your GPS, cell phone, and head lamp.
  3. Get an excellent mountain weather forecast and avalanche forecast from the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.
  4. Bring enough gear to thrive a night out if you get stuck, lost, or penned down with bad weather.  It isn't enough to merely 'survive' a night out.  Many don't with that level of preparedness.
  5. You need to 'float' in the snow.  Often you can walk on the snow with just boots, however, depending on the extent of daily warming or new snow, what was easy going up or down can be impossible on the return trip.  Skis, snowshoes, or a split board are necessary.
  6. Perhaps most crucial piece of gear is a shovel.  This is effectively your 'tent' that you left at home!  When you get penned down in bad weather or to thrive a night out, you'll need to build a snow cave.  Pretty much impossible with your hands.
  7. Take into account what would happen if you fell on a steep slope.  Many a hiker in recent years have fell down Panorama Point and required a lengthy night time evacuation.  Bring crampons and know how to use them.  Bring an ice axe or a pole with a whippet end.
  8. Bring an insulite pad, small rocket stove, as extra survivability insurance.
Have a great day and we look forward to seeing everyone out on the mountain again.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Patience for Powder

There's an excitement in the air as the new snow falls on the mountain and things begin to feel like winter.  Skiers and boarders have been seen hiking their new planks up 2000 feet searching for small snow patches to link a couple of turns.  And though there is some fresh snow around the mountain, it's barely filled in the old icy sun-cupped base layer.  Please use caution if choosing to ski in these difficult and often dangerous conditions.  We've already had a couple of skiing accidents on the mountain and the culprit has not been lack of skill, but poor conditions. 

It's best to wait out poor conditions and likely injury to shred real pow in the heart of winter.  Going for a trail run, foraging for huckleberries, and maybe even a late-season swim in an alpine lake with a thin wet suit are all more seasonally appropriate activities.

As summer turns to winter our seasonal staff starts to migrate away from the mountain.  High camps will only be staffed very occasionally, search and rescue response to on-mountain incidents will be delayed, and the park's exclusive-use helicopter has also departed the area.  This time of year requires an extra amount of caution and experience to recreate up at higher altitudes.  Remember that there's no official that will be helping you judge when the conditions are too poor to be out and about on the mountain.  You and your party members must be responsible for your own safety.  Make safe decisions so that you can enjoy many winters to come!

DC: Final update for 2018

September 20th is the last day for full-time Ranger Station operations at Camp Muir.  There will be intermittent staffing, but don't rely on a ranger presence on the upper mountain.  The Paradise Wilderness Information Center is also closed for the season.  Climbers can still self-register at Paradise or any of the open ranger stations in Longmire or White River. 

Guide operations will continue though September.  The current route seams to be holding together with minimal change over the past few weeks.  It's still crossing the Cowlitz, ascending through Cathedral Gap, traversing over from Ingraham Flats to the Disappointment Cleaver, ascending the spine of the cleaver, traversing back to the west to the top of Gibraltar Rock, and then zig-zagging from the top of Gib to the summit crater.  Icy steep serac walls, skiffs of new snow hiding deep crevasses, and newly formed wind slabs are all hazards that climbers will encounter this time of year, along with the usual rockfall, icefall, and altitude hazards that occur year-round. 
If you're planning a climbing trip to Mount Rainier next season and are doing some pre-trip planning follow these links to view our in-depth route briefs on the Disappointment Cleaver Route, the Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route, the Kautz Glacier Route, and Liberty Ridge.  

Thanks for a great summer season!  Happy Autumnal Equinox and see you next year!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Camp Muir / DC Update

September 16th, 2018

This is the last day for registration at the Paradise Wilderness Information Center, formerly called the Climbing Information Center. Self-registration is now in effect only at Paradise until spring of 2019. Don’t forget to purchase your annual climbing pass at Pay.Gov.

Climbers can still register in-person (which we recommend) in Longmire and White River.  Check the park's operating hours and pay special attention to the date at which the operating hours change as we move into winter.

Flurries over the past few days have helped create a nice new layer of snow up high on the mountain. Old tracks on the Muir Snowfield and the DC are getting covered up. Guided groups are still at high camp, along with a few independent parties, but - like last night - the stormy weather and lack of kicked-in boot pack prevented all climbers from making the summit. The low pressure weather system and precipitation is forecast to continue throughout today with winds and precipitation tapering off into Monday. Tuesday is forecast to be the beginning of some better weather with high pressure moving into the region.

Muir Snowfield on 9/14/2018
Periods of pleasant fall weather will continue into October, but encountering winter conditions should be part of your planning when visiting the park for the rest of the season.  Be aware that there are periods lasting multiple days this time of year where the mountain conditions are too dangerous for climbing.  Realize that there is no gate at Camp Muir, or even at Paradise, "closing" the mountain when it's this dangerous.  You and your climbing party are responsible for your own safety and must properly assess the hazards to know when to be out on the mountain.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Muir Snowfield Conditions

A lone hiker descends the Muir Snowfield
At this point in the season there's typically a steady drop-off in climbing numbers, but the number of folks making day trips up the Muir Snowfield remains fairly steady.

For those who choose to make the trek: late summer/early fall can present hikers with mountaineering-type challenges. It is not uncommon for people to bring crampons and an ice axe to Camp Muir as icy conditions may exist anywhere above Pebble Creek. Walking down tends to be more difficult than up.

There are also glide cracks opening on the snowfield. While not technically crevasses, like those found on glaciers, these fissures can still injure you (or worse) if you fall into one. 
A glide crack on the Muir Snowfield ~9000'
Lastly, winter is on the way and this week looks like a stormy one. Any significant snow fall will obscure the path to Camp Muir making navigation harder and possibly cover up the glide cracks, turning them into trap doors. Use extreme caution when attempting to go to Camp Muir in poor conditions.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Emmons: Final Update for 2018

Emmons-Winthrop from Camp Schurman. Sept 08, 2018
As summer winds down, so does the climbing season on Mount Rainier. Very few parties have attempted the Emmons Glacier route recently--all have reported broken, wandering, and difficult glacier travel on the climbing route. Climbing Rangers have finished doing patrols of the route for the year, and all guided climbs have ceased. Although it is probably still possible to forge a route above Camp Schurman, all parties attempting such a late-season attempt should expect a very long day and circuitous, complex navigation requiring honed glacier travel and ice climbing skills.

Beware that autumn storms often deposit enough snow to obscure any remnant of this summer's climbing route and can thinly cover open crevasses. Serac fall has also been observed recently, including one that swept the route from roughly 13,000' to 11,500' this week. Be prepared to do all of your own navigation, route-finding, and decision-making if you choose to attempt the mountain this late in the season.

This will be the final update for the Emmons Glacier route for the 2018 climbing season.