Monday, February 27, 2006

Sunset Amphitheater

The Headwall Couloir...

A team of five climbers made a strong attempt on this remote and difficult route a few weeks ago. Here are a few images from one member's website; I'll attempt to sumarize the trip. They decided not to post a report, but did share a few details with me.

The team first noticed that a major section of the Tahoma Creek Trail was destroyed below the suspension bridge/Wonderland Trail. Last fall, glacier outbursts from a heavy rain storm took out some of the westside road and Tahoma Creek Trail. The trail washout, in particular, was rather amazing. The original trail abruptly disappears into a creek bed of gravel, rock and boulders. What was once an old growth forest, moss, downed trees, dense vegatation, is now a creek bed with gigantic trees. The forest floor is buried. In all, about 1/2 mile of the trail is wiped out.

As for the climbing route... The team reported a few problem, the first significant one being a dropped set of tent poles. This would make things difficult later on. Also, and maybe more importantly, they selected a route up St. Andrews Rock that cost them a day of travel... This exposure left them more vulnerable to the changing weather. And that's what happened, wind, snow, /12 a tent, and a snow shelter... It made for an interesting night.

After losing the effectiveness of one tent, and a day of travel, the team reluctantly retreated with plans of returning. Despite not summiting, they felt the route was a go! Here is a closer picture of the Amphitheater and upper Puyallup Glacier.

For more information, see:
a listing of climbs here. These photos are courtesy of Alexandre Mineev

Monday Image

A classic Mount Rainier image to start the week, taken last Friday after the last major snow. More soon...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Snow, Snow, Snow

Over 25 inches of fresh, powdery snow fell at Paradise in the last 24 hours. This should make for some nice skiing/boarding. Keep in mind that this new snow is falling on a hardened, icy-firm snowpack... which could mean increased avalanche danger.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ice Worms

By Sandy Doughton at the Seattle Times

Ben Lee is stalking a creature most people think is a myth —
if they've heard of it at all.

"I don't know what we'll see," he warned,
loading an ice ax and snow shovel into his backpack. "Nobody knows what ice
worms do in winter."

Thriving in conditions that would turn most living
things to Popsicles, these inch-long earthworm cousins inhabit glaciers and
snowfields in the coastal ranges of Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and
Oregon. They move through seemingly solid ice with ease and are at their
liveliest near the freezing point of water. Warm them up slightly and they
dissolve into goo.

Learn more about Ice Worms here in the Seattle Times.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Cold Snap and Frozen Waterfalls

The mountain sustained several days of sub-freezing temperatures between Feb 16th-20th and the trend is expected to continue for the next six days.

During that time numerous frozen waterfalls formed along the Nisqually-Paradise Road. Here are a few images... The approach is rather short, and the ice seems to be getting thicker each day.

It was cold and blustery Friday and Saturday, particularly on the Muir Snowfield. I ran into a number of parties that turned back from their Camp Muir and/or summit plans because of the winds and temperatures. A few hardy groups did make it to Camp Muir on Saturday night, but those east winds and cold temps intensified with elevation and in the end, most parties lost their summit steam. And rightfully so, I recorded -7° F and a steady 20-25 MPH wind at Camp Muir.

Feb 10/11th, Ted cleared a mountain of snow at Camp Muir. Thankfully, his handy work was still intact, as access to the Public Shelter, restroom, and emergeny radio remained easy.

Friday, February 17, 2006


It dropped to -1°F with 50+ MPH gusts at Paradise last night. The icicles on my house are growing, and I suspect the waterfalls are freezing. If this cold snap keeps up, there will be some ice climbing in the park. Probably in the usual spots above the Nisqually Bridge.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More Nisqually Icecliff

Here is another image of the upper Nisqually Glacier, with the route lines drawn. The BLUE represents the line Hannah climbed on the Nisqually Icecliff. The PURPLE is a variation on the Nisqually Cleaver, and the GREEN is the standard Nisqually Cleaver Route.

Photo by Gauthier, Feb 12th, 2006.

Cold temps, good forecast

The weather report for the weekend looks pretty good, if you don't mind cold temps. It doesn't appear as though there's going to be any storms in the near future.
  • Friday night: Mostly clear. Breezy. Freezing level below 500 feet. East wind in the passes 20 to 25 mph.
  • Saturday and Saturday night: Mostly clear. Breezy. Freezing level below 500 feet. Afternoon pass temperatures around 15.
  • Sunday: Mostly sunny. Freezing level below 500 feet. Afternoon pass temperatures 19 to 24.Sunday night: Mostly cloudy. Freezing level below 500 feet.
  • Presidents day: Mostly sunny. Freezing level below 500 feet.

At this time, there is a reasonable boot/ski path up the Muir Snowfield, but there have been no new reported ascents.

One team did attempt the Sunset Amphitheater last weekend. I'll post more details when I can get them.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Nisqually Icecliff

The weather was pretty much perfect on the upper mountain last Thrusday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Clear, cold, and calm. As the attached images will show, the Nisqually Basin routes (Icefall, Cleaver, Icecliff and Chute) all looked pretty good.

Nisqually Icecliff, on Saturday a solo climber successfully climbed the route. This marked the first summit for Mount Rainier in 2006, and a rather significant achievement for the climber, Hannah Carrigan.

Carrigan, headed out towards the Nisqually Basin around dawn, considering both the Icecliff or the Cleaver route. The Cleaver was tempting, but looked thin and icy (particularly near the high traverse up on the Cleaver itself.) The Icecliff also looked hard and thin in places, but doable considering the winter snowload. In the end, she opted for the Icecliff.

Carrigan reported firm snow and ice for much of the route. There were a number of difficult problems to negotiate. One section of the icecliff required commitment to both ice tools while traversing and climbing. Getting across the Bergshrund at the base of the cliff also required technical climbing. One notable comment was that slots, crevasses, and steep sections viewed from below, grew substantially in size once on scene.

After passing the technical secions in the Icecliff, Carrigan then ascended the upper Nisqually Glaciers to the crater rim and Columbia Crest. She reported a number of open crevasses on the upper Nisqually and Ingraham glaciers. Despite the deep snowpack below 10K, there still seems to be some gapping crevasses up high.

Carrigan descended the Gibraltar Ledges back to Camp Muir. An excellent solo journey on a big mountain in the winter, Good Job Hannah!

Gibraltar Ledges, a few climbers have reported STELLAR conditions on this classic Rainier winter route. They stated that the route has more snow and ice than normal. The traverse along the ledge, and chute were particular hard and icy. This makes for excellent climbing, but also increases the difficulty. Climbers should bring pickets AND a few ice screws.

Ingraham Direct, there is some ice going through Cathedral Gap, but nothing too daunting. Once past the Flats, climbers have been ascending the right side of the glacier up to the top the Disappointment Cleaver. Though no teams have summited this route, it looks as though the route does go.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Summit Success

The weather was so good that I had a hard time coming down from Camp Muir. What was supposed to be an overnighter turned into a five-day excursion.

We arrived at Camp Muir on Wednesday despite unexpected rain, whiteout, snow and high winds. Making matters more interesting, the Muir Snowfield was a complete ice rink. That made skinning very difficult; crampons were, by far, the footwear of choice.

Like the snowfield, Camp Muir was all ice, which covered deep snow. There were three climbers camped in the public shelter waiting for the weather to break. They had attempted the ledges the night before, but left too late and had to turn back. The team reported firm/Styrofoam snow and ice all the way up the Cowlitz Glacier.

The weather improved that night, so we considered climbing the Nisqually Icefall the next day (Thursday). Like the other team, we too left late (1 PM) and due to the very warm temperatures prudently turned back upon spying a large avalanche tumble down the Nisqually Cleaver.

The three climbers in the Public Shelter decided to attempt the summit again, however this time via the Ingraham Direct. They climbed the right side of the Ingraham Glacier, and ran out of steam around 12,600 feet. Once again, they reported firm snow and ice, excellent cramponing.

I spent the better part of Thursday afternoon and Friday (with Ted, famous sledder of the Muir Snowfield) digging buildings out around camp. As of Sunday the 12th, there was excellent access to the public shelter, pit toilet, emergency radio and NPS facilities.

During the trip to Muir, I did take a jaunt to 12K on the Ingraham Glacier. We found firm snow and some ice (particularly near Cathedral Gap.) The most "crevasse free" path was on climbers right of the Ingraham Glacier. The center looked tempting, but had a HUGE crevasse around 11,700 feet. Though there has been a lot of snow this winter, I was impressed by the number of big crevasses still open on the Ingraham. And yes, the Ingraham Direct is in.

The high point of the weekend was that a climber reached the summit! That climber was a female soloist and she ascended the Nisqually Icecliff. Some consider this a major mountaineering feat on Mount Rainier. I’ll post more details on that trip soon!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Great Weather

The weather report is fabulous for the week and weekend. Climbers are sending me questions about routes up the Westside road, and through Camp Muir. It seems that some teams are headed for Gib Ledges, but I bet the Ingraham Direct is in good shape too! One popular plan is to climb the ledges and descend the Ingraham.

At this time, I don’t have any new upper mountain condition reports. I suspect that things are stabilizing in most areas (with regard to avalanche,) but that will be hard to really address accurately given the diverse terrain of Rainier.

I hope to spend the next three days on the mountain attempting the summit. If possible, I’ll put something up on Thursday night. Please check back.

I also welcome and encourage climbers to send me your route and condition reports.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Feb 2nd conditions

General Information:

There is over 180 inches of snow on the ground at Paradise (5,420 feet.) Since December 21st, it has rained or snow almost every day and Paradise has received over 500 inches of snow for the year (which begins on July 1st.) A series of winter storms has dominated the region and is still depositing a great deal of precipitation on the mountain.

There have no reported successful ascents on the upper mountain. All backcountry travelers should expect, and prepare for, fierce and adverse weather and climbing conditions. Conditions may include high winds, heavy precipitation, low visibility, avalanche, difficult route finding and sub freezing temperatures.

General Climbing Conditions:

At this time, we have no new or current information about the climbing routes or the Muir Snowfield. One team attempted to reach Camp Muir on 1-9-05, but snow caved instead on the Muir Snowfield. The weather was so fierce, the team abandoned their gear and navigated through whiteout and heavy snowfall back to Paradise. Another four person team had a similar experience on Jan 15th and 16th; they too were forced to make an emergency sno
wcave (but were able to retrieve their gear.) There was brief clearing on January 23rd and 24th. During that time, a team did stay at Camp Muir and reported that the public shelter was quite accessible.

Muir Snowfield: The trail is 100% snow covered and there is no established boot path due to a significant of snow and rain.

Gibraltar Chute: A team summited via this route on December 17th. A significant amount of ice-debris from the Nisqually Ice Cliff had to be crossed in order to reach the Chute; otherwise, the approach was straightforward. Excellent climbing conditions were found in the Chute itself - firm/icy snow with good crampon-ing allowed for quick progress. Ice coverage in the hourglass near 11,800 feet was thin. The ascent was direct from top of the Gibraltar Rock to the summit was direct. The team descended Gibraltar Ledges and found them to be mostly melted.

On Dec 11th, teams of climbers attempted both the Gibraltar Ledges and Ingraham Direct. Neither summited; both were turned back due to late morning starts, icy conditions, and broken mountaineering terrain that slowed the ascent. At that time, there was a fair amount of snow below 7,000 feet however the upper mountain looked surprisingly thin. As an example, many of the rocks along the Cowlitz Cleaver, Cadaver and Cathedral Gaps are still exposed (this is not the case now.) Both teams reported a fall into thinly veiled crevasses and each party felt they could have made the summit if they had left earlier and allowed more time for circuitous route finding.

At this time, we have no reports for the Disappointment Cleaver route.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Muir Snowfield and Camp Muir

Muir Snowfield and Camp Muir on May 21 2006

There is great coverage all the way up. Most people are still using the winter trail up to Pan Point. Beyond that the trail is very well wanded all the way to muir. There has been a lot of traffic on it and there is a great boot pack all the way to Muir. Even though it is pretty soft if people stay in the boot track they only end up post-holing in a few places. The skiing on the snowfield is excellent right now. Yesterday we got a dusting of snow and had perfect corn underneath that above 8500'. Today all of that froze and the snow was rock hard down to about 8500', but below that it was a wonderful 3" of soft wet snow on top of a frozen base so it was fun fast skiing. The chute down onto the Nisqually was stellar and fairly easy to traverse back up to the main trails at the glacier vista overlook (we did not have to put our skins back on). There are also two really fun kickers just below glacier vista :)

All in all its in pretty darn good shape for skiing. I would say folks don't need crampons unless they plan to travel really early or really late in the day. Skis or a board will make it lots of fun and I don't think snowshoes are that helpful since the boot pack is so well traveled.

The Camp Muir Public Shelter was significantly refurbished in 2005. The new interior design increases the usable space markedly. The bunks are organized to accommodate more people, as is the storage and cooking space. So far, the comments have been very positive; in particular, many expressed appreciation of the increased lighting.

If you plan to stay in the public shelter, please keep it clean! Always secure the door when leaving, as a small crack will fill the hut with snow during storms. Never leave anything (food, gas, and gear.) Also, overnight travelers should consider brining own shelter in case they’re unable to make it to Camp Muir. At this time, the public shelter and toilet are accessible.

Please do your part to keep the mountain clean. Petrified feces and toilet paper flags strewn along the climbing routes and crusted on rocks near bivi sites are unsightly and unsanitary. Remember that everyone on the mountain melts snow for drinking water. All parties are required to pack their solid human waste off the mountain when not using the toilets at Camp Muir and Camp Schurman. Blue bags are available with climbing permits. Blue bags may be deposited in the large black barrels at Camp Muir or at Paradise. The barrel at Paradise is located in the restroom tunnel next to the men’s room.