Friday, May 25, 2018

Fuhrer Finger Update

There's a crevasse opening up at 12,700 feet above the 'hourglass' on the Fuhrer Finger route that has added great difficulty the climb and made the ski down impassable.  An IMG Guide climbed up through the Fuhrer Finger yesterday (May 25th) and noted that he had to down-climb onto a block in a crevasse and then pitched out the climb to get up the upper wall of the crevasse.  Skiers who've skied the Finger previously also attempted the ski yesterday and were turned around at 12,700' due to this crevasse and ended up ascending back to the Ingraham Direct route to ski down.

The couloir and hourglass section of the route remains passable on foot and skis.

The upper mountain has not been softening at all with the cooler temperatures this week. Parties have reported firm conditions even in the late afternoon above high camps. Skiing the upper mountain is rarely in 'good' condition, and is quite often categorized as 'survival skiing.' This week is no exception.

Please make good decisions about snow conditions, ski conditions, group fitness, roped vs. unroped skiing, and overall suitability of your objective for your group.  Realize that any fall on the upper mountain, even a small tumble, will likely result in an uncontrollable slide with severe consequences. 

Emmons-Winthrop Conditions - May 25

Emmons-Winthrop Glacier from Steamboat Prow. May 24, 2018.
With the White River Road open, the east side of Mount Rainier is starting to see increasing climber and skier traffic. The Emmons-Winthrop has seen some ascents this week and parties are reporting generally favorable travel. There are numerous crevasses opening to wander past, especially above 12,000'. The route is not wanded and has an intermittent bootpack which will quickly become obscured with any new snowfall. Expect to do all of your own navigation; come prepared with a GPS, map/compass/altimeter, and knowledge of how to use them.

Snowy travel in Glacier Basin
The Glacier Basin Trail is a mix of snow and dirt, but is all-snow about 2.5 miles from White River Campground. The Inter Glacier is pretty filled-in and is currently quite smooth. Be cautious and conservative when crossing streams and moats -- give any visible holes a very large berth since the snow is likely to be very thin in the vicinity. Keep your teammates in sight when crossing these hazards and be prepared to extricate a person if they plunge through thinly covered areas. As always, be sure to rope up on the glaciated terrain below Camp Schurman.

Approach from Camp Curtis to Camp Schurman on Emmons Glacier.

Climbing team crossing Emmons Flats.

Sunset Ridge Conditions

Looking up the South Mowich Glacier towards St. Andrews Rock. 
Sunset Ridge is the rimed skyline in the middle of the photo.
Sunset Ridge is currently in good condition.  Overall, the Puyallup & South Mowich Glaciers were navigable and the bergshrund crossings were passable without too much effort to find a suitable bridge, although with the warm weather in the forecast, the lower 'shrund may collapse soon and impede travel to the upper ridge.

Crossing the South Mowich Glacier is straightforward and no major crevasse crossings were required (Photo 1).  From there, we encountered mellow climbing around the bottom buttress of Sunset Ridge up to the bergschrund (Photo 2). We found firm conditions up the 1800' lower "pyramid-face" before gaining the Sunset Ridge proper at 11650'  There is a short section of easier, but technical climbing on the ridge before bumping out climber's left onto the upper Mowich Face (Photo 6).  Once on the face, we found firm 55-60 degree snow with glacier ice a few inches below the surface that accepted ice screws.  This sectioned involved roughly 1300' of front-pointing (Photo 8)  From the top of the face, easy navigation led up to Liberty Cap, and from there, across the saddle to Columbia Crest.

This route involves a fair amount of elevation gain and mileage from the base of the route.  The route itself clocks in around 6400' of gain over 5 miles plus the approach and descent.  It's a big push, but well worth the effort for the views of the western side of the mountain.  That said, the location of Sunset Ridge is one of the more remote locations inside Mount Rainier National Park, so it see's very little traffic.  Expect conditions to be different from this description and come prepared for technical climbing, long days, rock and icefall and the possibility of impassable crevasses or bergshrunds.

The following photos are listed in order starting from the lowest elevation.

Looking up the lower portion of the "Pyramid" on the lower portion of the Sunset Ridge route.  The bergshrund was crossable far climber's right, below the saddle.

Looking downhill from the top of the "lower pyramid" around ~11,500'

Looking down Sunset Ridge. Puyallup Glacier is the large glacier seen below.

Navigating steep snow and rock along Sunset Ridge.

Looking towards the upper Mowich Face.  Minimal snow on the ridge forces the route
onto the face, opposed to following the ridge all the way up to Liberty Cap

Looking down the Upper Mowich Face toward Sunset Ridge
Steep 55-60 degree snow on the upper Mowich Face

Overview of route taken from camp at 8500' on the S. Mowich Glacier to Columbia Crest

Ingraham Direct Route Conditions - May 23

Looking down the Ingraham Glacier towards Camp Comfort and Gibraltar Rock
The Ingraham Direct is remains the preferred climbing route on the south side of the mountain; it is holding in there even with the recent summer-like temperatures we've been experiencing at Mount Rainier National Park.  Currently, the route is roughly 2.9 miles and is still fairly direct.  Lots of recent rockfall was noticed, especially around Cathedral Gap (see photo).  Once past Ingraham Flats, the route ascends the Ingraham Glacier towards Camp Comfort atop Gibraltar Rock.  From this point, the route switchbacks to Columbia Crest with only one notable crevasse crossing around 13,200'.

With warm weather forecast for Memorial Day Weekend, expect both rock and ice fall on the route.  Crevasse bridges that seem stable on the way up will likely soften throughout the day, increasing chances of crevasse falls on the descent.  Keep a heads up, especially while on your descent.

With the busy weekend right around the corner, please have patience with fellow climbers and know that there will be multiple groups ascending and descending at different speeds.  Please be courteous, communicative, and pass other parties in safe locations.  Also DO NOT split up your team on the upper mountain -- keep everyone roped together while climbing above Camp Muir.  If one person in the group feels like they need to turn around, don't send them down alone.

13,200' crevasse bridge

Recent large rockfall below Cathedral Gap

Cowlitz Glacier and Camp Muir.  Notice the extent of the rockfall crossing the existing track.  We recommend moving through this area quickly and keeping an eye out for falling rock.

Current Ingraham Direct route in orange.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

General Mountain Update

With the busy Memorial Day Weekend approaching, here is a general update of conditions for parts of the mountain.  Climbing rangers are finished with their extensive early season training and will be staffing both Camp Muir and Camp Schurman through this weekend and for most of the remainder of the summer.  If your party is overnighting at either of these high camps expect a briefing from a climbing ranger sometime in the early evening and have your permit information handy.  With the amount of climbers anticipated to be on the mountain this weekend, especially at Camp Muir, count on a busy camp and climbing route and plan accordingly.  Please be patient and courteous with other climbers and NPS employees and hopefully we can all experience a safe and enjoyable weekend on the mountain.


That being said, here are some details on route conditions.  On Tuesday, 5/22, a team of climbing rangers ascended Sunset Ridge and carried over the summit and down the Ingraham Direct route to Camp Muir.  Rangers found excellent climbing conditions along the way (a detailed blog post on Sunset Ridge coming soon).   Conditions on the upper Mowich Face included 4-6 inches of snow over hard ice.  This allowed for efficient climbing and the option of placing running protection using both pickets and ice screws.  As for skiing on the upper Mowich and Edmunds: this probably isn't the season to do so.  In addition to the blue ice underlying the thin snow-cover, the bergschrund appears to run the full width of the lower Edmunds Headwall and most of the way across the lower Central Mowich Face.  

A view of the Edmunds Headwall from the air - 5/21/2018. 

The main route from Camp Muir is still ascending the Ingraham Direct (ID) route, which is mostly unchanged from the last post, although things are starting to melt out more rapidly with the higher temperatures.  The ID currently has a well-defined boot path and is marked by wands.  Keep in mind that during this time of year the routes see rapid change.  It is certainly possible that in the time of your climb snow bridges could collapse and leave you searching for an alternate route on your descent.  This occurred on Tuesday as a large party of skiers attempting to ski the Fuhrer Finger route were turned around by a collapse of a bridge somewhere near the upper Nisqually Glacier.  They were forced to climb back up and descend the ID instead.  So, at this point, it appears the Fuhrer Finger route may be unskiable from the summit and difficult or impossible to navigate on foot as well.  Your mileage may vary, but these were the reports that rangers received on Tuesday.  First-hand beta from the Kautz Glacier is limited, but upon observation from lower on the mountain it appears that the lower ice pitch on the Kautz is exposed ice while the upper ice pitch is still snow covered.

Upper Nisqually Glacier - 5/23/2018.

The Muir Snowfield, however, is looking very skiable.  Rangers descending on foot on Wednesday, 5/23, were wishing they had skis as they were plunge stepping through smooth corn snow from Muir to about 8,000ft.  This was at approximately 1:00 p.m.  Below 8,000 there hasn't been a consistent overnight freeze so the snow is still a little gloppy.  Most people are now using the approximate summer route to get to the snowfield.  Panorama Point is quickly melting out.  Remember, as the snow melts and exposes ground, it is important to stay on the trail or snow to avoid trampling over the sensitive alpine vegetation.  Also, please remember to watch out for dangerous and thinning snow bridges and holes over creeks and moats throughout the park, especially at and above treeline.  These can be very hazardous and have contributed to fatalities and close-calls in the past. Slow, controlled descents and having a clear visual of the slope help reduce the likelihood of these hazards.

Hazardous snow around Glacier Vista.  

The upper mountain has been seeing a significant amount of skier traffic recently.  While this can be a very rewarding method of travel on Mt. Rainier, it does come with an increased risk.  Lately, rangers have observed some disturbing tactics involving skiers, including parties unroping and separating while some members ski and some walk down with skis on their back, opening them up to an unroped crevasse fall that might not be witnessed by the rest of their party members.  Keep these points in mind if you will be attempting to ski on the upper mountain:  (1) You MUST be a strong skier in all conditions and you MUST NOT fall.  (2) Who is going to carry the rope and how many ropes will you bring?  Will each member of the party carry a rope on the descent, or just the rear skier?  How long is your rope?  Will it reach the bottom of a crevasse if your buddy falls in while skiing?  (3) If one of your party members decides that skiing is above their ability level, it is a good idea that the whole team join them in putting the rope back on and walking down together.  (4) You CAN walk back down, roped-up, if conditions are not favorable to skiing.  That is the safer option.

Lastly, the Paradise Wilderness Information Center (formerly the Climbing Information Center) is now open daily for the summer.  You must register for your climb in person - there is no more self-registration for the season.  The PWIC is open from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Enjoy the sunshine and be safe out there!

Friday, May 18, 2018

White River Road is Open

Liberty Ridge on May 7, 2018
As of May 17, 2018 the White River Road is now open to the campground and trailhead! The road remains closed beyond this point and is snow-covered to Sunrise.

Climbers attempting the Emmons Glacier or other routes on this side of the mountain should come prepared for difficult travel conditions getting to Glacier Basin. There are no established routes on the upper mountain. Be equipped and proficient with a GPS and a map & compass for off-trail navigation.

The weather is looking quite unsettled for the next few days. This will lead to challenging conditions on the upper mountain with cloud cover, snowfall, and cooler temperatures than have been experienced recently. Spring conditions have returned to the upper mountain.