To NPS climbing rangers, the snowfall means we have come full circle since the spring and it is time for most of us to leave until next season. We've wrapped up our upper mountain operations, which might play into your risk-management decisions, as search and rescue on the mountain will be much more limited than in the summer. The guide services are done for the season as well, and have removed their ladders and fixed lines, so there have been very few climbers on the upper mountain.
Climbers and skiers need to be aware that conditions change extremely rapidly, and increased snowfall and increased wind transport above high camps will make for variable avalanche conditions. We highly advise anyone contemplating climbing to be well prepared for these conditions (transceiver, probe, and shovel). Also keep in mind that due to late season conditions, most glaciers are heavily featured with very thin snow bridges and complex terrain. With the recent snow, many of these poorly-bridged crevasses may now be less obvious.
Considering coming up for a climb or ski? Please check out some of the helpful links below:
First, access can be tricky - here's the latest alert from the park website.
The road from the Nisqually entrance to Paradise is the only road that will remain plowed during the winter months. All other park roads will be closed after the first major snows and remain closed until spring. The Paradise area receives huge amounts of snow each winter and the road up to it is the highest elevation road kept opened in the Cascades during winter. The parks plow operators work hard in a tough area. Please be aware that during big storms the road crews will need additional time to get the roads clear for travel. Check out the park page for specific information on road status and winter operations. All vehicles are required to carry chains during the winter.
Second, check the weather! Not just the day of your adventure, but check out the trends too.
The weather over the next six months or so will be mostly inhospitable on the upper mountain, but there will also be stretches of good weather that will allow for summit bids. Even in relatively good weather do not underestimate the intensity of a winter ascent on Rainier and plan ahead accordingly. Consult weather forecasts, avalanche forecasts and warnings, and be very sure of your mountaineering skills. Look at the conditions page on this blog for winter-specific information on the places you want to visit or routes you want to climb. Please note that while it is possible this blog will be updated during the winter, updates will be few and far between.
And, finally, when you come up to visit, make sure to stop by and give us a shout. If you do come up for a winter climb, we still need you to register and get a permit and a climbing pass. This is important because it will help rangers immensely if for some reason you require outside assistance during your climb.
The Ranger station in Longmire is open daily. On weekends and holidays the Jackson Visitor Center (JVC) is open. Climbers and overnight hikers must register in person with a ranger or at the self-registration kiosk at the Paradise Old Station. Click here for hours and locations.
We hope you had an excellent summer and look forward to skiing with you this winter!
Remember a few things:
-Get a forcast from the Northwest Avalanche Center before you go.
-Permits are required if overnighting or climbing, and to park in the overnight area at Paradise.
-Pack for contingencies, such as getting stuck out for an unplanned overnight.
As we transition into winter, please be aware that weather conditions change extremely rapidly on the mountain, and that a quick hike to Muir in the sun can quickly change into an epic attempt to find the trail due to high winds, blowing snow, and VERY limited visibility. So come prepared! At a minimum, the appropriate equipment would include a map, compass, or a GPS, and the knowledge to use it. Currently, the Muir Snowfield is in late season condition, and there are open crevasses (large enough to fall into) in addition to icy surfaces and lots of running water. Traction devices (crampons or yak trax) and trekking poles are strongly advised. Beware of thinning bridges and icy surfaces. Ideally, skin up the line you intend to ski and make note of any hidden hazards. There are currently no wands to help delineate the route, so keep your party close together and avoid getting separated, and please consider laying a GPS track on your way up, even if conditions are nice!
For those headed to Camp Muir, the public shelter is open, but it may be snowed in when you get there. You may have to shovel out the entrance, and we've left a shovel hanging by the door. Please return it when done, and please don't leave it inside the shelter. A toilet is open near the public shelter, which may need to be dug out, too.
Have a good ski and remember to think about visibility / route-finding issues on your descent!