In the 05/06 winter, three separate climbing teams reported being caught in significant storms. Two were below Camp Muir, and one was higher on the Ingraham Glacier.
While getting lost or pinned down in a storm on Mount Rainier isn't that unusual given the time of year, it was interesting to note that all three teams retreated to snowcaves. Pure and simple, shovels are mandatory. And that means one for each person. One team said that they broke three of their shovels while digging. Thankfully, there were four of them!
These teams were helped by their size; two were 4-person, one was 5. It’s a lot easier to pull through a storm with extra people around. And as the storms relented, each team made their way back to Paradise without assistance, but not without some cost.
Two of the teams abandoned a significant amount of equipment; gear such as tents, bags, stoves and pads. Each stated that they could not retrieve all of the equipment because of the intensity of the storm and snow accumulation. Tents, for example, were nearly impossible to dig out. To them, it seemed safer to retreat; this is a tough decision to make.
It can’t be overstated, winter AND spring storms can be particularly fierce on Mount Rainier. If you’re pinned down and must abandon camp (high winds, snowfall, avalanche/icefall exposure), do all you can to retrieve at least your stove, pad, clothing and bag. One tip is to pack your pack before exiting the tent.
Though a rapid exodus to Paradise or Camp Muir may seem appealing given the current circumstances, it has also led to many notable accidents and fatalities. Caught on the mountain with only a shovel and few odds and ends is a downright brutal experience to live through.
Photo by Mike Gauthier