Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sunshine before the Storm

The sun finally broke through the clouds and Paradise felt almost like a beach today!  The upper parking lot filled up during the day with skiers, snowshoers,  photographers, and even some people just up for a picnic in a winter wonderland.  There were views aplenty of the upper mountain.  Calm winds and a warming air temperature trend made it hard to believe Thanksgiving is next week. 

Snow conditions varied with both aspect and time of day.  Wind from the last storm cycle came primarily from the southwest leaving wind packed and firmer conditions and about 3 inches of ski penetration.  The leeward northeast aspects had softer drifts and more variable, but deeper ski penetration.  Solar radiation started making noticeable changes midday, changing the fluffy drifts into mashed potatoes.

The forecast doesn't look good for skiers, the Mount Rainier Recreational Forecast says:

WINTER STORM WATCH IN EFFECT FROM SUNDAY AFTERNOON THROUGH
LATE SUNDAY NIGHT: 
Weak high pressure will give way to a vigorous front on Sunday 
afternoon and evening. 
SUNDAY...Windy. Mostly cloudy in the morning, then rain and snow
in the afternoon. Snow accumulation near Paradise up to 3 inches.
Snow level near 4000 feet. 
SUNDAY NIGHT...Windy. Rain and snow. Snow accumulation near 
Paradise of 4 to 8 inches. Snow level near 5000 feet. 
 
Extra caution should be used when recreating in the backcountry as a storm front like this approaches the mountain.  Simple equipment failures, navigation errors, and small injuries can lead to serious consequences when the weather turns for the worse.  Please remember that there's no ski patrol on Mount Rainier.  Rangers and Search & Rescue Volunteers are at least hours, and possibly days(!), away from reaching injured and lost parties and storms can prevent any search or rescue attempt.

Almost five feet of snow has accumulated in the Paradise area.  This is a great start for our base snowpack.  There's still some small trees and rocks sticking out, and creek drainages shouldn't be entered, but many of the smaller hazards are buried until spring.   

Check the Park's Twitter Feed for the latest on the road condition and closures and come on up for a visit!  Be safe out there and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Chinook and Cayuse Closed for Winter

Chinook Pass and Cayuse Pass on the east side of Mount Rainier have been closed for the winter season.  WADOT and the NPS consider the snowpack, the avalanche danger, and the weather forecast when making the decision to close the highways for the season, and it typically happens in mid-November.

Check out the park's road status webpage for more details. 

It's also getting to be the time of year when the road to Paradise is closed at night for snow removal operations.  The park's twitter feed is the best way to track when the Paradise Road will be open on a daily basis. 

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Winter is Back!



On November 3 Longmire received it's first recorded snow for the 2017/2018 winter season and it looks like there's a lot more on the way. The UW GFS model shows anothher good hit of snow coming our way with significant accumulation.
Of course Paradise received considerably more snow than Longmire did and this is welcome news for skiers and boarders. We want to make sure that folks are taking precautions with all of the new snow we are expecting. The Northwest Avalanche Center has not yet begun issuing a daily forecast yet but it has issued a statement for the weekend. The one that pertains to the Paradise area can be found here.
Reading through it will give you an idea of what to expect if you're planning to travel above treeline, especially this:
Given the recent heavy snowfall in parts of our forecast zones, expect the potential for avalanches at higher elevations as conditions for storm slab and loose dry avalanches (primarily) will be present this weekend where anchoring is insufficient.

For more reading about early season avalanche hazard check out this short paper by Avalanche Canada.

Have fun out there but please be safe!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Muir Snowfield and Summer Conditions in October

Low snow conditions still exist on Mount Rainier.

After a few good punches of cold precipitation skiers have begun spooling up for winter. The parking lot at Paradise has been filling up earlier and there's a lot more cars with ski racks and cargo boxes. Tales of skiing from Camp Muir all the way to Paradise have also been popping up online.

At the tail end of the big snow dumps we experienced a pretty good atmospheric river event with lots of wind as well as a lot of really warm precipitation. That event looks like it triggered a decent avalanche cycle from approximately 7,500' to 8,500'. The evidence that there was instability in the snowpack should serve to caution the early season go-getter's. It's not the worst idea to start your season out nice and slow and keep the terrain choices conservative.


A large crown and avalanche debris on Wapowety Cleaver.


The cycle has subsided now and in the past few days the sun has come out and temps have turned unseasonably warm. This has resulted in some nice corn skiing conditions on the Muir Snowfield. Today (Saturday, October 28) a ranger counted 72 skiers on the snowfield along with several hikers and snowshoers all taking advantage of the nice weather.

There is patchy snow from just above Paradise but the continuous snow does not start until above Pebble Creek (7,200') and so walking up and down from there is pretty much mandatory. This makes your footwear strategy hard to figure out. Running shoes or light hikers would be great to carry up but the trail is muddy, full of puddles and the snow patches are slushy. Low top shoes will get soaked. Hiking or climbing boots will keep your feet drier, of course they're heavy. The last option is to just walk in your ski boots but that is really tough on the feet and can put a lot of wear and tear on the gear. All three techniques were in full display on Saturday.

Above Pebble Creek the snowfield is fairly smooth with just a little wind effect here and there. The best skiing is between 10,000' and 8,000' with the lower stuff not freezing well overnight and staying slushy. The road will be open 24 hours a day until the next round of storms forces us to shut it down so take advantage of the ability to get an early start. It's probably best to start your descent before 1:00 PM to get good snow conditions. The late afternoon snow could be pretty tough to ski/board on.

Ski tracks in soft snow lead to the toe of the Muir Snowfield.

Just a note on climbing and skiing on the glaciers. With a light coating of snow and freezing levels at 14,500' this might be the most dangerous time of year to attempt to go for the summit or even get out on the lower glaciers. The crevasses that were wide open and obvious in September are now thinly veiled with a cover of slush and anyone choosing to climb or ski out on them is taking on a high degree of risk. It's a better idea to get your ski legs in shape on the mellower, non-glaciated slopes and let the mountain recharge with lots more new snow.

A snowboarder on the Muir Snowfield with the Nisqually Glacier in the background.

Have fun and be safe!

The Mount Rainier Climbing Rangers

Monday, October 02, 2017

Crisp Air and Fall Colors


The colors of fall have arrived at Mount Rainier.  With the change in color on the lower slopes comes change up high.  All of the climbing guide services on Mount Rainier have finished their summer operations and high camps are closed for the season with only occasional visits by the rangers.  Winter storms have blanketed the mountain with a thin layer of snow covering large crevasses and drifts forming hazardous cornices.  Climbers can expect very challenging, if not impossible, route conditions on the standard routes with the potential for dangerously cold and stormy weather.  Even day hikers and backcountry riders need to use extra caution.  Endeavors into the Mount Rainier Wilderness this time of year are much more serious adventures.  Always carry extra warm clothes, technology to navigate in a storm, and have a contingency plan.  

Check the Mount Rainier Recreational Forecast before leaving for your trip.  Remember that there's no gate that closes when the weather gets too rowdy - you have to make that decision for yourself and your team.  

Both the Longmire and White River Ranger Stations are open through October 9th.  Check out the park's Operating Hours Page for more info on seasonal closures.  Also, as the snow line continues to fall, the passes in the park will begin to close for the winter.  The park's twitter feed announces all the latest news regarding roads in the park and there's a Road Status Page that catalogues all of the changes throughout the year.  

Thursday, September 28, 2017

End of September Update, Caution for Skiers

 The season is rapidly changing here at Mount Rainier National Park. The guide services are winding down their season on the DC with operations running until about October 2nd. The guides have been able to re-establish the route to the summit but the forecast for the weekend is looking rather stormy.

UW MM5 model showing significant precip for the October 1st weekend.


A couple of the Rangers went up to Camp Schurman this past week to check on the hut and to check conditions. The first coating of snow seems to be sticking to the upper mountain but not below 10,000'.



Traces of new snow on the Emmons Glacier.

With the recent snowfall skiers have been chomping at the bit to get their turns in but we'd like to caution folks from striking out unroped on the glaciers when a fresh skin of snow has covered the crevasses. This summer was remarkably free of precipitation and that means lot's of open crevasses. Add a couple feet of fresh snow to hide them and a person travelling rapidly on skis or snowboard and you have a good recipe for a crevasse fall.

Tracks around thinly covered crevasses on the Inter Glacer.
We did have a near miss last week when a snowboarder fell unroped into a crevasse. That person was able to self extracate and evacuate, fortunately. The best bet for skiing this time of year on Rainier is to stick to the Muir snowfield but even that can have hidden hazards. Look forward to a long ski season by easing into it and wait for a few more storms to roll throuugh.