Monday, May 22, 2017

Kautz Glacier (May 22, 2017)

Kautz glacier is still looking very filled in with minimal exposed ice.
Kautz glacier ice pitches

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Disappointment Cleaver 5/20/2017

Here are some of the latest pictures and a track of the most recent path to the summit just received from the rangers, Sam Siemens-Luthy, Joseph Anderson, and Kurt Hicks at Camp Muir.

The route is still going up Ingraham Direct.  Enjoy it while you can!



Emmons-Winthrop 5/17/2017

The White River Road is now open to the campground and climbers are beginning to make forays on the upper Emmons and Winthrop glaciers. As of yet it doesn't appear that anyone other than rangers has made it to the summit by this route.
* Photo: Climbing rangers Seth Waterfall, Kathryn Vollinger, and Tim Hardin ascend the Emmons Winthrop Glacier route on 5/20/2017
We have had two ranger patrols climb the route. The first team summitted 5/14 and the most recent was today 5/20.
The current route is the classic Emmons and follows the basic descriptions in most guide books and the Emmons Winthrop Route Brief published by the climbing rangers.
The climbing is very straight forward from Camp Schurman to the top of the Corridor and today's surface conditions were firm Neve. From the top of the Corridor to 13,500' we were breaking trail in calf to thigh deep, wind deposited snow. There are some large crevasses in this area that must be end run as well. From 13,500' to the crater rim we encountered firm snow and large sastrugi but we were able to climb directly up and over the bergschrund without any shenanigans what so ever.
* Photo: Climbing Rangerr Tim Hardin contemplates the Emmons-Winthrop route from the roof of the ranger station at Camp Schurman.
On our descent we had to re-break the trail from 13,500' back soon to 11,600' as the wind had filled it all back in. I expect tomorrow we will have to break the trail in for a third time since we're experiencing a cold North wind currently.
* Map: Google Earth representation of the tracklog of the route taken by the rangers from Camp Schurman to the summit today (5/20/2017).  Download the Google Earth KML file.

A note for skiers, the wind has kept things cool and insulated from any freeze/thaw cycles above 11000'. It has been pretty winter-like here very recently and the upper mountain has yet to experience a big warm up here in the East side.

Avalanche Special Advisory

Posted on the NWAC page:

Avalanche Special Advisory
Issued: Thu, May 18, 2017 at 4:07 PM PST
Expires: Mon, May 22, 2017 at 6:00 PM PST

Snowpack Analysis:

Say goodbye to winter and hello to warmer weather and a spring avalanche cycle.

Recent Weather

A strong front, and then an upper low pressure system and cold unstable air mass crossed the Northwest on Monday night and Tuesday. The strongest winds and thunderstorms, and heaviest snow were generally in the south Cascades especially Mt Hood.

Snow for the 2 days ending Wednesday morning was about 4-6 inches at Hurricane, 6-24 inches along the west slopes of the Washington Cascades with the most on the volcanoes and generally above the pass levels, 20-30 inches at Mt Hood, and 5-10 inches along the Cascade east slopes at higher elevations. This is a lot of snow for this time of year!

Recent Avalanche Observations

As of Thursday there isn't much for observations, here is what we've got.
Communications to the base weather station are out at Mt Baker due to lightning on May 4th. But the ski area crew there reported about 15 in of storm snow there on Tuesday with limited visibility but with natural loose wet avalanches seen in the vicinity of the base of the area.

Via the NWAC Observations page, backcountry skiers at Washington Pass on Tuesday reported 5-8 inches of storm snow that was not well bonded to the previous frozen sun affected snow. On south slopes they triggered several storm slab avalanches that gave debris piles 4 feet deep x 150 feet wide.
The WSDOT crew at Chinook Pass on Wednesday reported that skis and explosives triggered 6-12 inches loose wet and storm slab avalanches on specific solar slopes that were large relative to the paths.

NWAC observer Laura Green took a lower elevation trip up to 5800 feet on Mt Hood on Tuesday. Stormy weather with strong winds, graupel and thunder made for an exciting tour. She found about 12 inches of storm snow without signs of instability on lower angle NE to SE slopes in trees on her below treeline tour.

Detailed Forecast for Friday:

Weather Forecast

The weather has finally shifted from the recent winter-like pattern to an overall sunnier warmer weather pattern. An upper ridge will gradually build over the US coastal waters through the weekend and early next week.

Mostly sunny weather with gradually warmer temperatures should be seen Friday. Freezing levels should rise to the 7-9000 foot range from the north to the south Cascades Friday.

A weak system should move over the building ridge and over the Northwest on Friday night and Saturday morning. This should cause a push of clouds into the western Washington lowlands and along the west slopes of the north to central Cascades. Some light showers are indicated in convergence mainly between Puget Sound and the central Cascades Friday night and Saturday morning. But sunnier weather is likely by Saturday afternoon. Freezing levels should rise to the 8,000-11,000 foot range from the north to the south Cascades Saturday.

Sunny weather and stronger warming should be seen on Sunday and early next week. Freezing levels should rise to the 11,000-12,000 foot range from the north to the south Cascades Sunday and even higher early next week.

Avalanche Forecast and Travel Advice

There will be competing factors of stabilizing and warming this weekend and early next week. But due to the recent snow and lack of warm weather so far this spring we expect a cycle of loose wet snow avalanches.

Loose wet snow avalanches may occur sooner on more direct solar slopes and later on less direct, non-solar slopes this weekend and early next week. These avalanches should be most likely during the warmer, sunny daytime hours. Large or very large loose wet snow avalanches are likely on the volcanoes where there has been the most recent snow. But remember that even small, loose wet snow avalanches are powerful and dangerous.

Watch for the lack of an overnight refreeze of surface snow, wet snow deeper than boot top and initial pinwheels and initial small loose wet snow avalanches that indicate an increasing loose wet avalanche danger. It is always a good plan to be away from avalanche terrain by the warmest midday and afternoon hours. Careful snowpack evaluation and cautious routefinding will be essential this weekend this weekend and early next week.

Many people are likely to be out this weekend due to the good snow cover and the delay of good weather this spring. Don't head out expecting normal spring conditions and passively follow others and forget to evaluate conditions for yourself. Avoid situations where an avalanche can be triggered onto you by others from above. This has been the cause of fatal accidents in the Northwest in past seasons.

Other Types of Avalanche Problems:

Nearby glide cracks and extensive loose wet avalanches can indicate that wet slab avalanches are possible.

Wind slab may still be possible on previous lee slopes at higher elevations.

Cornices should be starting to melt back but may remain unstable during prolonged warmer weather. Avoid potential cornices which can break well back from the edge along ridges and avoid traveling in areas underneath cornices on ridges above. See our blog post about cornices here.

Don't linger and move one a time if you decide to travel under rock slabs holding snow where sudden glide avalanches can release.

NWAC forecasts and statements do not apply to where conditions are likely to be more dangerous above the crest level on the volcanoes.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Helicopter Search and Rescue - Short Haul

Since 2012, Mount Rainier National Park has adopted shorthaul as its aviation rescue method.

* Photo: NPS Ranger, Van Roberts, 1000 above ground, on the end of the shorthaul rope with a patient in the "Baumann Bag"

Shorthaul is a particular method of helicopter rescue where a single rope, typically 100-300 feet, is suspended beneath the helicopter.  A rescuer clips in to a ring on the end of the rope.  The rescuer is lifted and transported to the rescue scene.  An injured subject can be transported with this method, along with the rescuer, by employing a few different adjuncts such as a 'Screamer Suit' in a sitting position or in a "Baumann Bag" in a horizontal position.

This method of rescue obviates the complexities of hoist, where the patient and/or rescuer is lifted up to the helicopter and transported inside.  Shorthaul also has a national, inter-agency working team that has developed standards for managing program components such as pilot qualification, rescuer qualification, communication standards, and risk assessment protocols.

* Photo: Climbing Ranger Stefan Lofgren transports a patient injured in a skiing accident from Lane Peak near Paradise.

The park has an exclusive use contract with Helicopter Express.  Our helicopter is a Eurocopter Astar A350B3.  It is a high performance helicopter able to perform at the high elevations required by our mountain.

To make the use of this helicopter cost-effective, the helicopter and its crew are a regional resource.  It is commonly used on wildland fires, search and rescue missions, and project flights such as to supply remote stations or transport crew for science missions.  This helps defray the costs.  Even though the helicopter may be out on a fire or on a project, the helicopter's priority is search and rescue.  This means that when the rescue occurs, it will take a moment before the helicopter gets the call, lands, reconfigures, and flies back to the park.

* Photo: Climbing rangers practice a tandom pickoff from a training area near Ashford.

The timeline for a rescue is more lengthy than if the helicopter was just sitting there at Mount Rainier's helibase waiting for a SAR.  However, we have found that it is yet faster than our previous method of calling various helicopter companies to see if they have a helicopter and pilot available.  Thus our response times have improved.

In 2016, climbing rangers are the primary (but not the only) performers of shorthaul rescue at Mount Rainier.  Climbing rangers are in various stages (over a couple of years) of completing training in these courses that are related to performing rescue on the high parts of Mount Rainier:
  • S-130 / S-190 Basic Wildland Fire Behavior and Suppression (~40 hours)
  • Incident Command System (I-100 /  I-200 / I-300 / IS-700)
  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT ~100 hours))
  • Technical rope rescue ( ~ 80 hours)
  • Basic Avation Safety and Helicopter Crewmember (50 hours + 1 year trainee)
  • AMGA Alpine Skills course (~40 hours)
  • AMGA Alpine Guide course (~100 hours)
  • AMGA Ski Guide course (~100 hours)
  • US Level II-III (or professional) Avalanche (40 hours)
  • Short-Haul training (~40 hours)
  • STEP (Hover and One-Skid Landing) training (8-16 hours)
* Photo: A climbing ranger brings in the shorthaul rope at the staging area during a training exercise near the Tahoma Glacier.

The rangers have finished their spring training and are being deployed this week out to high camps and ranger stations.

It is important to remember that although this is a great tool, it will never be the only tool.  Weather, terrain, conditions, complexity, team selection, and other factors weigh heavily into using this method of helicopter rescue.

It is also important to point out that it takes a rather large team of people to make this happen.  The pilot, helicopter and aviation staff, rangers, mechanics, and support crews all play an important role in effecting rescues.  A big shout out to the hard work everyone puts into this.

Hello Disappointment Cleaver!

Greetings from a sunny Camp Muir!

After a winter storm last week, we are seeing warming temperatures and clearer skies on the mountain today. Heavy snowfall--in excess of two feet--kept teams from summitting for most of the last week. Parties have reported knee-deep trailbreaking above Ingraham Flats today, but that the route remains well-wanded and in decent early season conditions. There is still a tremendous amount of snow on the ground, with no exposed rocks on the route at this time.

From Ingraham Flats, the route ascends the Ingraham Glacier Direct directly before traversing right to the top of Disappointment Cleaver around 12,200'. There is one ladder in this section and some fixed pickets. Evaluate this equipment before using it for your climbing team.

Above the Cleaver, the route does a rising traverse towards the Emmons Shoulder and then traverses back west around 13,000'. There is some overhead serac hazard in this section and it is not an ideal place to take breaks.

The last thousand feet to the crater rim is sporting numerous thinly bridges crevasses and multiple parties have reported poking into holes here. Just because the surface snow looks smooth does not mean that there isn't crevasse hazard. Keep appropriate rope spacing throughout this section.

With warming temperatures on the way, it is expected that the route will change rapidly. Be aware of changing conditions and leave high camp early to beat the heat and softening snow conditions.