Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Charlie Borgh

If everyone will please pardon my digression from the immediate issues of Mount Rainier, so that I can talk about my friend Charlie Borgh.

I met Charlie on a trip to Mount Rainier’s summit. During the ascent, and subsequent overnight on the summit, it became clear to me that Charlie had a vision of his life. As a young man about to finish college, Charlie was amassing the skills and experiences to lead the life of an accomplished climber. I recognized the love and passion, and from that time on the summit, knew that mountains were going to be a big part of Charlie.

For the next four years, I witnessed Charlie develop as both a mountain climber and a park ranger. When it came to climbing, I can confidently say that few pursued the sport with as much diligence. He simply loved rock climbing and mountaineering, AND he was quite good at it. Physical and strong, Charlie moved through the mountains, over the rock, or up the ice with grace and confidence. He chose climbing routes that were beautiful, technical and challenging. He recently commented that in the last year he had done more climbing than most people in do in a lifetime… And if you spent much time with Charlie, you knew this was true.

Charlie served as a National Park Service Climbing Ranger. He started as a volunteer at Camp Schurman, but quickly climbed the ranks to become a lead climbing ranger on Mount Rainier. Charlie’s assignments as a climbing ranger required him to delicately mix intense physical ability with sound judgment and excellent decision making. The job was adventurous and dynamic and that seemed to suit Charlie well. So well in fact, that he took assignments at Yosemite on the prestigous search and rescue team in Camp 4.

On Mount Rainier, he led climbing patrols and rescues. On more than one occasion, Charlie risked his life to save another. He didn’t do this carelessly, but purposefully and with confidence. He was an important part of our team, and I trusted him implicitly. Which was something he seemed to enjoy, trust. In fact, I say that Charlie blossomed when trusted, and the responsibility that came with it.

Maybe most impressively, was the simplicity at which Charlie enabled himself. He pursued a challenging path for his life and it was inspiring to watch. Charlie succeeded at most anything he set his mind to, and in succeeding, he led and motivated others to do the same. He made choices that reflected his soul and passion; he was living his life with purpose and direction, things that we all can look up to.

Here are few links to stories about Charlie. Charlie Borgh loved climbing, despite danger. These two require free registration but tell the story of a dramatic rescue in 2004 that Charlie took part in. In the Seattle PI, Injured climber dies after rescue and in the Seattle Times, Injured mountain climber dies after daring rescue.

Information about the accident was posted here. In the next few days, I'll put more up about Gabe Coler, Mount Deltaform and a Pacific NW memorial for Charlie.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Gibraltar Ledges and Ingraham Glacier Direct Route Conditions April 23

Four climbers reached the summit of Mount Rainier last weekend. I've posted their reports and photos in the Updated Climbing Conditions... This image is courtesy Mizuki Takahashi.

We are really feeling the loss of our friend and colleague Charlie Borgh. The Seattle Times did a story today; we'll post more about Charlie in the days to come.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Charlie Borgh

In Mount Rainier related news, we sadly report about an accident that involved one of our climbing rangers. Last Thursday, lead climbing ranger Charlie Borgh was swept to his death in an avalanche near Banff. Charlie, and his climbing partner Gabe Coler, had just completed an ascent of Super Couloir on Mount Deltaform. Super Couloir is a Grade IV, 5.8 rock and ice route up the north face of the peak.

Charlie and Gabe began the ascent on Thursday and were reported overdue to Park Wardens on Sunday morning. Wardens began an aerial search and soon picked up tracks and other clues. They followed those clues, which led to a ledge on the SE face near 10,500 feet. From that ledge, the wardens noted evidence of a slab avalanche (a fracture line can be seen in the image). They followed the path of that avalanche and found the two near 7,500 on top of the snow. Charlie did not survive the fall but miraculously Gabe did. He is now recovering with a broken femur and a variety of other injuries. It should be noted that Gabe spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night exposed with little gear before being rescued.

Charlie was an important part of our team at Mount Rainier and we will miss him immensely. Our thoughts are with Charlie's fiancé and family.

We are also thinking about Gabe, and wish him a full and swift recovery.

Photos courtesy of Parks Canada, Brad White.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Gibraltar Ledges and Ingraham Glacier Direct Route Conditions

Two teams attempted these routes this week.

Tuesday at Camp Muir, two climbers departed in the morning hoping to climb the Ingraham Direct. The pair made it to 13K before turning around. They reported knee deep snow the entire way up the Ingraham Glacier. They also reported several crevasse crossings, most of which went smoothly. They stated that the bridges were in good shape and most were easy to cross. That said, one of the pair did take a crevasse fall at 13K... After a day of kicking steps in deep snow, the pair decided to descend after the crevasse fall.

Gibraltar Ledges was attempted on Wednesday by a soloist (carrying skis). He reported knee deep snow on the Cowlitz Glacier up to the beginning of the ledges. The snow on the Cowlitz was described as powdery, underneath a crust of varying thickness, but "thin" overall.

On the ledges, the climber experienced a lot of soft, sugary snow... Sometimes even waist deep. It took over 2.5 hours to traverse and climb the ledges. After pushing through what you get when you "open a bag of cane sugar," upward progress seemed futile. He turned around at 12,500 feet (about 3/4 of the way up the chute). It took over an hour to descend the ledges, as the footing was still quite challenging.

There is a boot path up the Muir Snowfield. The weather is supposed to be excellent this weekend.

Photo by Mike Gauthier, climber ascending Gib Ledges before the traverse and chute.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Mid April round-up

First and foremost, no one has reported reaching the summit over the past week. That means we have little to say about the upper mountain... Personally, I've had little time to get up there myself. We do know, however, that a boot path has been established to Camp Muir. We also know that the weather is excellent today and the forecast looks good for the entire week. A large team headed to Camp Muir yesterday in hopes reaching of the summit sometime this week. Maybe they will? We'll see...

The Wilderness Office has been working diligently on pre-season reservations for backpackers, particularly those along the Wonderland Trail. WOW did they have a gigantic stack of Wonderland Trail permits! At this time, they have not been able to process any climbing reservations. What does that mean? It means that no permits have been taken for the upper mountain... and that the reservation folks hope to complete all of the climbing reservations by May 5th. The Wilderness Office appreciates your patience as they make their way through the work pile.

Visitation Totals for Mount Rainier Park

The last graph got me wondering, what was the general visitation totals for Mount Rainier during the same period, 1991 to 2005. As you can see, there has been a decline overall. I gathered these stats from here.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Annual totals for registration

If you look at the past 5 years of registration on Mount Rainier, you'll notice that the numbers are declining, from 13,114 in 2000 to 8,927 in 2005. However, when you look at the trend over the past 15 years, 1998-2002 appear more as a spike. Certainly, the sport gained a lot of momentum during the 90's. Here are the numbers.

On a another note, Washington State D.O.T. have their hands full on highway 123 (that's the road between Cayuse Pass/hwy 410 and US 12 and the Packwood area). Access along the east side of the park may be delayed this spring if there is a lot of road damage; stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Liberty Ridge - Spring Ascent

A team of 3 Midwest climbers set their sites on Liberty Ridge last week... and for the second reported time in 2006, climbers made it again to the summit of Rainier. Erik Beeler, Neal Mueller and Isaac Will pushed through deep snow, high winds, whiteouts, steep ice, 5th class rock and even a moonlit night so that they could top out of Mount Rainier's classic of line.

The wintry conditions took more out of the team than expected. In particular, areas of really deep snow became troubling and time consuming. They had intended to spend three nights on route, but needed FIVE and were forced to bivy near 13,000 feet.

In this close up image of the upper route, green dots represent the high camps and bivies and the blue sections represent areas of difficulty or belays. It's interesting to note that the team took the far right variation out of Thumb Rock.

Neal made it clear that "some deep snow" was not going to thwart their summit efforts. A mix of Midwest pride and fortitude pushed the men through the exhausting conditions. And yes, they did wonder about avalanches...

They started late the 1st day and spent the night along the trail in the snow. The 2nd night found them near the access to the Carbon, 7,200 feet. It was up to Thumb Rock for the 3rd and 4th night. Isaac stated that the extra night was needed because,
"As soon as we started to set up camp, my body started to let me know exactly what I had done to it... I threw up before I got in the tent, and... three more times before I could get some Power Gels and water to stay down. I didn't have a headache and I was not concerned it was AMS. The weather was not perfect and when we woke up at 0500. I said I could use another day to recover. They all agreed a rest day was in order so we stayed in the tent all day long."
After a recovery, the team climbed a major porition of the upper route. The 5th night was pitched at a bivy site above 13,000 feet. At that camp, Issac described setting anchors into the rock for fear of either being blown or avalanched off the mountain. Thankfully, neither happened.

They belayed two pitches of alpine ice (one was described as 15 fee of WI 4) to reach Liberty Cap. After finding a few crevasses the hard way between Liberty Cap and the summit, the team cautiously descended to Camp Schurman. They spent a final night in the hut, but only after digging it out. Somehow, the door had blown open during the winter and for the most part, the hut was filed with snow...

The team intends to post a trip report on summitpost and cascadeclimbers. You can also find information on Neal Mueller's website.

Successfully climbing Liberty Ridge is quite an achievement this time of year, congratulations and thanks for your help digging out the Camp Schurman hut! Also, thanks to Pandora for sharing her image here.

Liberty Ridge Climb in April

Three climbers from MN climbed Liberty Ridge this week. I spoke with the team and have the initial report.

More details later today.

This photo of Liberty Ridge was taken a few years ago during the month of May. Photo by Mike Gauthier

Monday, April 03, 2006

Summer Predictions

Many climbers are seeking information about "summer conditions." These are hard (if not impossible) questions to answer at this time. At this point in the season, it's better to discuss strategy, as it's difficult to pin down what the weather, routes, glaciers and other conditions will be like in May, June and July. If we said that things looked good now (and they do), it could all change.

What happens in the preceding two weeks of your climb could strongly influence the trip. During the summer, a climbing ranger can be reached at the Paradise Climbing Information Center from 7 am to noon. For 24/7 information, check back here.

We recognize that some climbers are eager and excited to make summer plans. Most of our spring advice is focused on:
  • Fitness - Start training now. Being fit can't be stressed enough; it will greatly help with your overall enjoyment of the climb.
  • Teammates - Choose your partners well, as they will greatly affect the success and enjoyment of your trip.
  • Duration - It helps to give yourself at least three days on any Rainier trip, particularly if you're traveling a long distance and this trip is really important. Extra days can be used to rest, or may provide a needed weather window.
  • Permits - see the previous post on reservations.