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.

DC Photo Update

The Disappointment Cleaver route was significant rerouted recently to reduce the number of ladder crossings and widening crevasses (read the recent update here). The new trail is poorly defined due to a combination of fewer climbers and large snow penitentes. These massive penitentes and complex route-finding are contributing to long days on summit attempts with many groups taking 12-16 hours round-trip from high camp. In particular, many climbing parties are having difficulties finding the new route where it trends left from the top of the Cleaver toward Camp Comfort above Gibraltar Rock. Eventually, around 13,300', the new route regains the old track and a better defined bootpack (until it becomes obscured by new snowfall with incoming autumn storms).

Speaking of snowfall, this weekend is bringing the first significant chance of snow on the upper mountain in many months. Forecast snow levels are as low as 8,500 feet this weekend, meaning that the route to Camp Muir (and above) may become hidden by new snow. It is easy to become disoriented and lost in these conditions; if you are planning a late season attempt, be equipped and skilled with navigation tools (GPS, map, compass, altimeter). Talk to the Climbing Rangers at Camp Muir to obtain the most up-to-date details about how to find this new route and weather conditions.

Climbing teams descending the DC around 13,000'

Climber traversing the edge of a crevasse on the DC

The route climbs along this snow fin at approx. 13,300'

Climber descending along the DC route

Climber navigating the large snow penitentes

Typical terrain you will encounter along the climb ascending from the top of the Cleaver.