Tuesday, August 15, 2017

DC Is Back In!

It's not a groomed trail all the way yet and it's a little longer than it was a week ago, but after several days of hard work, the guides have the route going to the crater rim again. Be sure to thank them for all they've done when you come up.

It's important to note, it still passes over a number of large plugs and descends after reaching the top of the DC, and with the warm weather returning again we will see how long this version lasts, along with climbers' morale. The climbing rangers will go up on Wednesday to get a better update on the route, but for now, here at least is the kmz for those who are up to the challenge.

* Map: Google Earth representation of the tracklog of the route taken by the guides from Camp Muir to the summit today (8/15/2017).  Download the Google Earth KML file.

Climbing Ranger Updates on 8/16/17: The route still goes to the top and matches the above map. Be ready for it to feel exceptionally long with a number of switchbacks and small descents while trying to ascend. Guided groups are leaving around 11 PM to give themselves a little extra time.

Also, things are really starting to hollow out, so watchout for less than obvious holes, especially on the tight switchback after you descended 300ft from the top of the cleaver. Below are a couple of pictures of cruxes on the route. Watch out for the large crevasse near 13900 ft-there is a fixed line with a falling apart step to the left and an easier, thicker ramp up and over a wave on the right-climbing rangers chose the right option.

Always assess bridges before crossing them, especially as things soften up on your way down.

In Depth Route Descriptions

Hey, everyone!

We wanted to take a moment and orient everyone to two documents we worked on this winter.  These two 20-30 page documents detail what we want you to know about climbing the Disappointment Cleaver and the Emmons-Winthrop Glacier.

Each route guide contains details on:

  • Route History
  • Route Use and Statistics
  • Case Studies in Rescues
  • SAR Occurrences and Statistics
  • Weather Statistics, Forecasting and Resources
  • Guiding
  • Assessing and Managing Risk
  • How to Train
  • What to Bring
  • Search and Rescue Program
  • Explanation of Climbing Fees
  • Leave No Trace and Wilderness Protection
  • Navigation & Bearing Sheet
  • Permitting and Reservations
  • Ski Mountaineering
  • PreClimb Briefing
  • Physical Route Descriptions
  • Checking Out
  • Further Reading

Please use these route briefs.  They are in PDF format and meant to be used digitally.  However, there are useful pieces here and there to print.


Leave No Trace In The Alpine

LNT is a term almost all backpackers and climbers are familiar with (if you have yet to hear of it, you have now and I recommend doing some further research to dial your systems to meet its principles). It is a set of seven principles that people follow in the backcountry to leave where they go looking as untouched as possible for future generations to enjoy the same wilderness experience. A number of the principles relate to your personal safety as well and will help you enjoy your experience in the wilderness.

From the impacts we have been seeing on Rainier lately however, it seems as though many are not familiar with how to adapt their LNT practices to the alpine environment, or they don't know LNT principles at all. Here's a run down of how to apply the seven principles on Rainier and other alpine areas.

1. Plan and Prepare
  • Do your research on the route, climbing permits, and climbing fees a head of time.
  • Know and practice your skills before you get on the mountain (from your layering system to navigating in whiteouts to crevasse rescue). Skills are perishable.
  • Bring a GPS unit or have it on your smartphone with the maps of the area already downloaded. Have extra batteries.
2. Hike and Camp On Durable Surfaces
  • Please don't hike on our beautiful alpine meadows, or camp on them. The flowers are beautiful and easily destroyed. Stick to dirt, rocks (though watch out for the lichen too), or better yet, snow (the least impactful surface).
  • Please don't camp next to water sources or go the bathroom near them! How would you feel if someone peed in your water source?
3. Dispose of Your Waste Appropriately
  • Pack it in and then Pack it out. This includes your food scraps, gum, and dental floss. We've been picking up piles of rice, granola, noodles, and chewed gum at Camp Muir and Camp Schurman. We have thousands of people passing through both camps every summer. How gross do you think camping there would be if even half the people left a small pile of food? Would you ever want to come back here if you saw that? It does NOT biodegrade up that high and in the snow. It just melts out and rots. We rangers work hard to keep that mountain clean, but we need your help.
  • Human waste: If you are not going in our toilets at the high camps, then you should be packing it out. You can't dig a cat-hole and bury it in a glacier and expect it to disappear forever. Guess what, it just melts out for others to see and accidently step on, and the rangers have to clean iit up. Again, thousands of people climb the routes on Rainier every year. Do you want to dodge piles of poop as well as crevasses? I doubt it. Rainier would become a biohazard in no time if people didn't carry their waste out.  Bring your blue bag or wag-bag and aim for the bag or pick it up after like you would your dogs' poop.  Bring extra blue bags so that you have enough.  There's no excuse not to pack out your waste. 
4. Take Nothing But Pictures
  • Millions of people pass through our National Parks every summer. It's so awesome to have people coming out and showing their support of our wilderness areas by enjoying them. But if even a quarter of those people took a souveigner from the mountains, meadows, or woods we would have less flowers, awesome small rocks/fossils, or pinecones for future generations to enjoy (and wildlife to eat!!). Snap a photo of those awesome things you see so that you can remember them later.
5. Minimize your campfire impacts
  • This one is simple in the alpine. No fires are allowed in the alpine. And good luck finding something to burn while you are up there.
  • That being said people sometimes do find things to burn in the subalpine and that is no good either. It destroys nutrients deep in the soil and it takes a long time to replenish for vegetation to grow there.
  • Do we also need to mention the fire hazard in many areas this year? Do you want to be the one responsible for starting a forest fire? Have fires only in officially designated areas and check if there is a fireban first.
6. Respect Wildlife
  • We want wildlife to live as they should in the wild and to be dependent on themselves. If they habituate to people, they become dependent on us, eat what they should not (get sick), and then starve in the winter months when no people are around and they didn't build their own stashes of food or forgot how to forage for themselves. Bears become agressive when they are habituated to people. They are then considered a "problem bear" and are sometimes killed because of it, even though it was really the fault of "problem people."
  • Moral of the story? Don't feed wildlife, whether it is directly from the nuts in your hand or the food scraps you left at camp.
7. Respect Other Visitors
Super important, especially when climbing in the alpine and here's some tips to make your climb (and others') more enjoyable.
  • Watch out for bottle necks on routes-try to space yourself out from other parties when leaving camp on busy nights.
  • Be careful when traveling on loose rock (keep your rope short) so you don't knock rocks off onto other people or knock rocks onto yourselves.
  • Be self-sufficient and prepared when you come on Rainier so you can prevent an incident. If things do go south, have the skills and equipment to care for yourself and teammates so you don't pull other people into your incident and endanger them.
  • Parties late into the night at the high camps? This is inconsiderate to those who need to get up early for their climb.
Please, help us keep our mountains looking pristine to provide an awesome climbing experience for all to have.

Monday, August 14, 2017

DC Update

The Disappointment Cleaver route has been living up to its name the last few days.  The good news is that by mid-afternoon several climbing guides were able to use an older route (used in early summer) to reach the top.  The less then good news is that it is still questionable how 'good' this route is- in other words will it be useable for the next several weeks, is it a short term fix, or a flash in the pan?  If judged suitable for public use this route will probably need several days of work by the guides before it is considered 'open'.   Like always- stay tuned for more updates.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

DC Route Update

This morning, Saturday, August 12th, a major plug in a crevasse at 13,600 ft fell in, making the current Disappointment Cleaver route impassable.  Climbers will be looking for alternate routes aournd the crevasse in the coming days, but nothing obvious has presented itself.  Changes to the standard routes (both the Disappointment Cleaver and Emmons-Winthrop) occur daily late in the season and become much more challenging.  Crevasses widen, snow plugs fall, and snow bridges collapse.  Note that these changes can occur AFTER you've passed through thus making a descent on the same route impossible.  Be sure to keep your head up and look for alternatives while you're ascending and don't climb above something that once collapsed, would prevent your descent.

With both the rapid changes on the routes and the approaching storm front, this weekend has especially hazardous conditions in store.  Please be conservative in your decision making - these next couple of days isn't the time to push your limits. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Training for Rainier

The season is not over, but the end is approaching fast. As I am sure you've read from previous blog posts, the Emmons/Winthrop and DC are much more challenging than they were earlier in the season, with massive crevasses opening wider and the bridges getting thinner. Bummed that you didn't make it to Rainier this summer? Life just got in the way, but next summer is the one?

Here's some tips to help set you up for success for next summer.

1. Physical training. It's rather obvious it's not just a walk in the park going up Rainier, but you would be amazed at how many come up ill prepared for 10,000 ft of vertical gain with a heavy pack. Running is good for your cardio, but that alone doesn't cut it. Mountain/road biking, hiking with a heavy pack, and getting up to altitude to exercise are excellent training. Stefan, a Climbing Ranger at Rainier for many years, swears by skate skiing. He says it made those early season hikes to Muir and Schurman so much easier than running every did. A less adventurous training method, but time efficient, would be the occasional squat routine with weights to strengthen your legs and core.
If you live in smaller mountain ranges like the Appalachians, link a couple peaks up in a day. If there's barely a foothill near you, get on that stair master (or skate skis) or better yet, tell your boss you need some more vacation time to travel to other mountain ranges to train. Get in some 10 to 12 hour days climbing, hiking, biking or skiing. Think longer slower workouts, not intense short ones.

2. Practice your rope skills. You would be amazed how much you can forget in a winter, let alone a couple of years without using them. They are perishable skills and it's good to be dialed before you come up the mountain.  Make sure your whole team knows these skills.  It might be the person with the least experience who needs to save you. By all means when you come, have a layover day to practice the skills with your team while you acclimatize, but you shouldn't need to completely learn them from scratch while you are up there. The gear you carry does you no good if you don't know how to use it.

3. Get out in the cold and snow. Dial your layering systems, test your equipment. It's a red flag when you see someone taking their gear out of the packaging at the high camps. Practice walking in varying conditions/slopes of snow and ice with crampons on. Lots of injuries are caused by people with little experience walking with crampons. Practice navigating on snow in white-outs in the alpine (using some sort of GPS system).

4. Take a Wilderness First Aid/Responder course. If you haven't already taken a first aid course, you definitely should jump on board if you want to know how to care for yourself or peers in the wilderness. Good risk management is first and foremost, but sometimes things happen despite your best preparations and decision making-you need to be ready to deal when the hospital is hours away.  Self-rescue is the best form of rescue.

5. Take an avalanche awareness course like an AIARE 1. Especially if you are looking to travel to Rainier early season (March, April, May, and even June), you need to be able to assess the snow stability (or lack there of) yourself. Avalanches are real up there. Know how to rescue your partners if they get buried.  There's no avalanche forecast for the top zones of Mount Rainier.

6. Give yourself and your team more than two days to summit. Weather can be unreliable in the PNW. Don't force yourself to try and summit when the conditions aren't right, just because you have to catch a flight.

These are tips that will help make your attempt at the summit of Rainier a successful, safe, and enjoyable one, that wasn't just a suffer-fest where you simply ticked something off your bucket list.