Visiting Mount Rainier this winter?

The snow has finally started to fall in Longmire, triggering a serious tilt towards winter-related activities and operations. During a normal season, 200-300 climbers attempt Rainier's summit between Dec. 21 and Mar. 21. Though the success rate is quite low (sometimes 10%), many climbers use this mountain as a training ground for other peaks, particularly Denali. And after last year's flood closure, many folks are already making upper mountain plans for this winter. If you're one those people, HEADS UP because things have changed.

If you plan to be in the Paradise area between now and next April, the NPS has changed a few winter regulations that will likely affect you. The changes are because of the ongoing construction project in the upper parking lot. The primary difference is that self registration has been eliminated and that ALL overnight parking will require a parking pass.

Permits: All climbers, backpackers, skiers and any other overnight visitors must obtain a wilderness permit from either the Longmire Museum (9-4 daily) or the Jackson Visitor Center (open 10-5 on Sat/Sun). SELF REGISTRATION (out of Paradise) is NO LONGER available during the winter 2007/2008 season.

Parking: There are only 18-20 OVERNIGHT parking spots available at Paradise. Nine of those spots are designated for campers who are staying in the immediate Paradise area (think Boy Scouts, large groups, etc). The remaining 9-11 are available for other overnight visitors (think skiers, climbers and those who venture beyond the immediate Paradise area). ALL vehicles MUST have a parking pass or risk being ticketed and "booted" ("boots" are designed to lock your wheel requiring you to talk with a ranger before you can get the "boot" removed). Parking passes are free and issued when registering for a permit. Visitors will not be able to get an overnight permit unless there is a parking spot available! Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you carpool AND arrive early for your permit, particularly on busy/nice weekends and holidays.

If you're a "mid-week" type person, it is unlikely that these new regulations will adversely affect you as there is more than enough parking available. Generally speaking, visitation to to Paradise between Sunday evening and Saturday morning is low (i.e. dead). Also, keep in mind that the gate at Longmire is locked nightly. So if you're stuck in Longmire waiting for the snowplows to clear the road in the morning, get your permit at the Longmire Museum.

Weather, Roads, Parking

A storm pummels the mountain as winter finally plays a more serious hand. High winds were measured at Camp Muir today. For 12 hours, the weather telemetry station recorded 100+ MPH wind gusts; 10 of those hours had sustained averages above 90 MPH! Currently, it's snowing at Paradise. Until Sunday (Nov 11th) the weather over the last few weeks has been rather mild with very little precipitation and long stretches of clear skies. The early October snow storms that resulted in great skiing largely disappeared, until today. The current forecast for the week calls for cold temps and more precipitation.

The normal procedure for "climber" self registration will likely be suspended this winter with the recent report that overnight parking at Paradise is likely to be limited. The current plan calls for 18-20 overnight parking spots - TOTAL... Nine of those spots will be set aside for "campers." Those are folks who "dig in" around the immediate Paradise area - i.e. 1/4 mile from the parking lot. Stay tuned if you intend to climb on weekends, it's likely to be tight.

Detailed road updates - Nisqually to Paradise: closed nightly at Longmire, the uphill gate locks at 4:30 pm. HWY 410: (Chinook and Cayuse Pass) open, however the road to White River and Sunrise is closed at Mather Wye. HWY 123: (Cayuse Pass to Ohanapecosh) closed. The Carbon River Road remains closed from the flood damage; HWY 165 to Mowich Lake is closed at Paul Peak Trailhead.

Pickles: The sadly fated Cascade Fox is gaining internet attention judging by the number of hits, links and web traffic. I wonder if there should be a Mount Rainier Animal Stories blog? (See HWO, NWH, and Backpacker)? It reminds me of our Ingraham Flats bear, which everyone seemed to love.

Terminated

This is a macabre post, so avert your eyes (or check out this site) if you don't like to think about anything really, really, really cute being injured, shot or killed!

As you can see, we have "Pickles." Pickles is a Cascade Fox. And unless you're an insensitive brute, most people would consider him a very adorable little guy. The problem is, Pickles was so charming, that he attracted a lot of friends, and with those friends came problems. This week, Pickles had to be euthanized (i.e. shot) because he was seriously injured. The general feeling is that he was injured because he was fed by humans.

So the story goes, Pickles was injured (or ensnared) a few weeks ago. Since then, he's been seen pathetically limping around the park near the road between Longmire and Paradise (let me say that this was not a very pleasant sight to witness). No one is sure what it was that exactly injured him, but something did destroy his right front leg. The general thought is that it was probably a vehicle, but maybe a trap. We really don't know. What IS known is that Pickles loved human food and became habituated to humans behavior. With that habituation came problems. The NPS biologist had this to say on the matter,

"After consultation with two wildlife veterinarians, we decided that this animal did not have reasonable prospects for survival in the wild. The leg injury was severe and there was some indication that there was head injury as well. This Cascade fox was fed by people well prior to the injury (even after the injury). Fed animals like this one quickly found that hanging around the frontcountry and roads between Longmire and Paradise was really rewarding. What the feeding public does not understand is that what they do has consequences - some very serious consequences.

This was the third Cascade fox/vehicle collision recorded since 2005. All were fed animals or cubs of fed animals. Vehicle occupants and wildlife are at risk when aimals are fed. Like the old adage with bears - fed wildlife most often result in dead wildlife.

Addressing the park's wildlife feeding problem is a big task that is going to take a while. We've been working to increase awareness of the issue with park staff and visitors but have a long way to go. We're seeking help from social scientists, trying different ways of getting information to the public, and are seeking funding to help reduce the problem. Please help me get the word out.

So here's the word. Don't feed the wildlife! Or...

Cell Phones, Survival, Halo 3 and Parking

Cell phones remain a useful tool for backcountry travelers. Many upper mountain rescues, and a few false alarms, have been phoned in via the devices. And as the NY Times points out, new technology can sometimes let Big Brother (or your parents, spouse, or significant-other) get a fix on your location too... But climbers and backcountry users should not rely on such devices around Mount Rainier, as triangulation and pin-pointing is challenging in remote places, and often there is no cell service.

Not everyone carries a cell phone, or more importantly, other key components of the 10 essentials. Case in point: a 20-something couple took off for Camp Muir during good weather last September. They packed light and enjoyed a night in the public shelter. The plan was to descend to Paradise the next day but the weather intervened and turned for the worse. Complicating the heavy fog and light rain was the fact that the boot track they had followed the day before was gone amidst the sea of hard, dirty ice that we call the Muir Snowfield. The result: the pair ended up lost and hypothermic near the chutes that descend to the Nisqually Glacier...

Thankfully, Canada came to the rescue in the person of Canadian climber Phill Michael. Phill was also descending from Camp Muir that day. He had separated from his climbing buddies near Moon Rocks and while making his way through the fog, heard distressed voices and wandered in their direction. Good thing too, because he found our lost couple cold, wet, and very confused as to what they should do to survive. What ensued were 2 nights and 3 days of Muir Snowfield camping and survival: camping for Phill, survival for the couple. Why? The couple didn't bring shelter and didn't have the navigation skills to get themselves out of the predicament. Thankfully Phill entered their soggy cold world with the equipment and abilities to pull them through the storm. You can learn more about this incident (and his summit climb) through Phill's podcast EPISODE 4: Mount Rainier (sounds like another edition to the Star Wars series).

And while we're geeking out on tech devices and Star Wars connections, maybe you'll decide to get lost in the video game universe of Halo 3. While there myself, I stumbled upon Mount Rainier! If you're a gamer (of the X-Box 360 persuasion) you may notice some familiar NW landmarks as you pummel, destroy, and generally kick alien butt around the galaxy. May the force be with you.

Of course no amount of "The Force," shield regenerators and futuristic space weapons will help against the ensuing parking lot pressures at Paradise this winter. With the ongoing construction project, there will be a pinch in the overnight parking situation. The current plan calls for a limit of 20 vehicles per night at Paradise. Between Sunday night and Saturday morning of most weeks, this limit won't be too big of a deal. However, on 3 day weekends or when the weather forecast is good, everyone should plan to carpool and STILL risk not getting a spot! This is a hot issue so stay tuned as the information evolves.

John Simac, Lee Tegner and Camp Schurman

Ed Hrivnak is a pilot and a writer (New Yorker and Operation Homecoming) and last September he took a special trip to Mount Rainier for two friends. Normally, this sort of activity wouldn't be too big of a deal (Ed flew many of the maneuvers behind the photos in my book), but his two friends have a special connection to Rainier and this trip could be their last chance to get up close and personal with "The Mountain." Here is an edited version of that flight and those men.

“I can not begin to express what an honor it was to fly John Simac and Lee Tegner around the mountain in September, 2007. As a climber and rescuer, the stories I heard from them during the flight were truly amazing. John talked about his first Rainier climb in 1932 and the body recovery of Delmar Fadden in 1936; Lee talked about being strapped into the open door of a plane while making cargo drops to the Camp Schurman hut in the early 1960's. Both reminisced about camping on the summit for a week, playing football and eating watermelon while teaching young Explorer Scouts the skills of mountaineering.

John had mentioned a flight to see the mountain six months ago realizing that at age 93, he may never see “the hut” and Mount Rainier up close again. After months of scheduling conflicts, we finally had a day that worked for all three of us.

The weather that day was absolutely perfect. There was a light wind and clear skies which made for stable air on the NE side of the mountain. This would be great for viewing Camp Schurman and the Emmons Glacier. You see, John and Lee both volunteered to build the Camp Schurman hut. Both spent many years on Mount Rainier's slopes. Both volunteered with Mountain Rescue for over 50 years. Both had given so much and I wanted to honor that.


We took four laps around the north and east face of Mount Rainier, Little Tahoma, and in particular Camp Schurman. No one was around that day; it was just us, the mountain, and the hut. After all I'd heard, I decided to pull a maneuver that would give them a clear view. I took the plane to 11 K and then dropped the flaps, pulled the engine to idle, and gently rolled in for closer inspection. We quietly glided over the glacier with the hut to our right. Then John spoke with a tear in his eye, "Seeing that hut again brought back a flood of memories that I can't sort out at once." Lee, with a smile, said, "we had a hell of a time on this mountain."

As the plane descended over the Winthrop Glacier, we watched large open crevasses pass beneath us. I looked over at Lee and John and noted that they were both lost in memories that I could only imagine. I wonder if there is anyone alive today who has volunteered more time on the upper mountain of Rainier as John and Lee. It was a privilege to pilot them for what might be a final view of a place so special. For me, I hope someone will do the same when I am 93."
-Ed Hrivnak

Summer Time...

A few weeks of cool weather and reliable snowfall duped many of us into believing winter-like conditions might be here to stay. After reviewing the past week's weather trends and upcoming forecast, perhaps it's time to recommend tee shirts and shorts at Paradise? WOW, what a great weekend on the mountain. Everyone enjoyed fantastic weather: warm temps, sunny skies and nice snow to carve.

But for you downhill-oriented people, the snow is melting rapidly. It's "sort of" possible to ski most of the terrain between Camp Muir and Paradise... But you'd better be a good skier and have your rock boards on if you want to get much action below Pebble Creek (7K). That is mainly because there are numerous areas where the cold white stuff is thin and the rocks are threatening. For hikers/climbers, the hut access at Camp Muir is easy and you won't need snowshoes to get there. Given the current forecast, everyone should consider sunscreen, sunglasses and lots of water along with a reliable navigation device. For more info...

I ran into a team of four mountaineers who tried to reach Ingraham Flats last Saturday (10-27) but were turned back. They found numerous crevasses and unfavorable climbing conditions (crevasses on the Ingraham, thin snow bridges, ice, etc). Another set of folks took a stab at the Kautz Glacier, but instead relied upon the ski conditions for fun.

Overall, I suspect that it's possible to get higher on the mountain, but the crevasse and ice situation remains quite dubious considering the terms. The primary problem is that many crevasses are lightly covered with snow and the chance of snow bridge collapse is real. The warm weather and sun have also brought a melt-freeze cycle to the upper snow slopes that has made the mountain icy and slick. What I'm saying is that there is little room for error/mistake, and the days are short and nights are getting long.

There are lots of questions about the road to Paradise. As of now, the road remains open 24/7 and the gate is not closed. If the weather changes dramatically, they may close the gate at Longmire for the night.

Snow time...

Quite a bit of snow has fallen over the past week leaving plenty at Paradise (a solid 2 feet). As you can see in this John Piastuck image, skiers and boarders (32 ants by my count) are "chomping at the bit" to climb Panorama Point for early season turns... This is looking to be a very promising ski season folks. The question is, will it hold; will it continue?

The Washington State Climatologists have something to say about our weather. They just published an
interesting report about our 2007 summer temperatures. It points to data that says we're still experiencing a warmer than normal trend (0.01 to be exact for Aug). I also found that they are willing to post an "Outlook" for the fall and winter. Check it out, but don't look for any clarity as it doesn't really predict anything substantial or exciting: "The Climate Prediction Center's 3-month outlook for November-December-January is for equal chances of above, below, or normal temperatures for Washington..."

Whatever the case, we're off to good start and the ants on Pan Point are seemingly stoked. With them are a few climbers who are hoping to find the summit this week. Perhaps they'll successfully weave through the upper mountain crevasses and visit Columbia Crest during this weather window.

If you are planning to climb this fall, here are few safety, registration and camping tips:
  • Expect crevasses: Though it's been snowing quite a bit this Sept/Oct, be prepared for lightly covered crevasses on the mountain.
  • Avalanche: Yes, slides have killed climbers in the fall on Mount Rainier and it could easily happen again. It doesn't take much to knock a team into a terrain trap (crevasse, cliff, hole) or bury someone. This is especially the case if the wind is blowing which could contribute to large snow deposits.
  • Poor weather: Ok, this is a constant on Rainier, but fall is definitely the time when storms linger longer than expected and climbers regret their "fast and light" plans. Be prepared to sit out inclement weather and expect heavy wet snow.
You can register in Longmire at the museum, or self register (i.e. honor system) at Paradise on the front porch of the Jackson Visitor Center. Most teams will select the Camp Muir Public Shelter for high camp accommodations. Over the past few years, that hut has been very accessible... But you should still bring a shovel to dig out the door and always clean up after you leave. On nice/busy weekends, bring your ear plugs (snoring, running stoves, chatter) and expect to breath stove exhaust in the hut.

Whoa... A cabin had to be built

As I understand it, the mountain has often been shrouded in clouds, rain and snow over the past few weeks. But how would you know unless you came here for yourself? Certainly I've done little to keep you informed through this blog... But what can I say? This ranger/blogger needed a vacation and along the way, I caught a batch of writer's block.

Thankfully an ultra-reliable IBM oriented PC is at my finger tips with MSFT software gliding me happily towards another post. I know - Mac's are cool and all, but I needed some sort of flimsy excuse to avoid another post while building a cabin in Alaska for Ted (the Camp Muir guru). BTW, I really appreciated all of the nice Mac folks who took the time to defend their product and offer help. I hope you'll still read this blog knowing that's it's driven from a virus prone, often crashing, operating system. ;)

So what's shaking on the mountain? Well, a few roads have re-opened, and a few ranger stations have closed. September turned out to be a very quiet month for independent climbers. Many (I suspect) gave up on the super-dooper extra long DC climbing route. Thankfully the guide services successfully kept it afloat when most of us would have gone home empty handed. But the past 2 weeks of inclement weather really shut things down on the upper mountain. As the snow settled in, the DC and other "kicked in" routes finally disappeared for 2007.

If you're a downhill oriented person, this sort of news has you jumping for joy as ski season is descending upon us rapidily. And after reviewing the current weather forecast for this upcoming week, Mount Rainier is going to see a lot of snowfall! Sharpen your edges, wax those boards, pack your backcountry avalanche gear and check out the Paradise and Camp Muir telemetry sites for updates on how much snow you could be playing in this weekend.

The first post back might be the hardest, but now that I've broken the bubble I intend to publish more information this fall. There has certainly been a number of neat events that should be shared... And hey, I mostly want to follow up on Maria Cantwell's visit! That's largely because we climbing rangers were star struck by the Senator, as she turned out to be quite hip and very down to earth. Who would have imagined such coolness in DC? Maria Cantwell with Jeremy Shank and me, photo by Mike Heavey


In the meantime, send me your thoughts and comments, and I'll try my best to kick this blog back into action. Photo above: Jeremy Shank cabin building on Bald Mountain near Talkeetna AK, image by Mike Gauthier.

Macs... Media... Maria...

What is your preferred operating system and browser? I've been using PC products (i.e. MSFT) for most of this blog, but have recently been forced to rely on Apple... and as the faithful to this blog will note, my updates have been few and far between. What does this all mean? I can't seem to adjust the color/fonts/links etc. anymore. I'm sure there is a way to figure this out, but I've been too busy wrapping up the primary climbing season and getting ready for the fall/autumn to figure out these details. Therefore, this post temporarily lacked (fixed 10-15-07) such friendly features as links, photos, etc. A chinook helicopter practices a summit crater landing, photo by Mike Gauthier.

Labor Day weekend traditionally marks the end of the summer, and for climbers on Mt. Rainier, it means fewer attempts and quiet nights at the high camps. Ranger Tom "House of" Payne reported only four independent climbers at Camp Muir one night this weekend. Sure, the guide services are still moving up the hill in full force, but many independent climbers have moved onto other projects now that the glaciers are heavily crevassed and icy.

During the last week of August, there was an intense amount of helicopter activity over two days. Most of this action was centered upon cleaning up Camp Muir (i.e. construction debris) and flying down the human waste barrels collected over the season. There was also a training/media event that included a mock rescue mission and flight/landing patterns on the summit crater and Observation Rock. You can find more information about that event on KPLU (NPR radio), KOMO 4 (ABC), and KING 5 (NBC). Right: TV crews are dropped off on the mountain to video a chinook helicopter practicing hoist manuveurs in the distance. Photo by Andy Anderson

Also in Mount Rainier climbing news, the Puget Sound Business Journal was slipped word about Maria Cantwell's time at Camp Muir with me and other climbing rangers a few weeks ago. For those not familiar with national politics, Ms. Cantwell is one of Washington State's two U.S. Senators. You may recall, I reported on her day hike to Camp Muir last July. As things often turn out in the mountains, that hike and that experience tempted Maria to find out more about the upper mountain and climbing. What a treat for the climbing community: a U.S. Senator personally interested in what we treasure and enjoy.

I could share a lot of cool things about the trip (and I probably will someday when I get back to a PC), but the important point to take home is that our senator was truly impressed with the beauty and challenge of mountaineering, and in preserving Mount Rainier as the world-class climbing destination it has long been. And though our team was unable to make the summit, I suspect that we'll see her again on the high slopes of the mountain. So folks, if you were hanging out at Camp Muir in late August, you may have noticed a shy woman kicking around the ranger hut. Next time you stop by for climbing information, water, or just to be social, note that you may have the audience of a true power broker.

It's about time

Slush Cup did pass, but things became very busy (administratively) for me...

The Perseid meteor shower slipped by, signaling a season shift. For those above 8K, this means that fall is in the air and one should be prepared for ice on the mountain. Of course, that shouldn't indicate that the climbing is over... However, NPS stats indicate that climbing registration drops off once mid-August comes around. That trend seems true this year too. This is especially the case on the Emmons Route where there have already been nights without any climbers at Camp Schurman. If you're curious, check out the route condition updates on the DC, Emmons and Muir Snowfield. Things still seem OK.

Other NPS news includes the re-opening of HWY 123 to the public, possibly as early as Sept. 14th. Stay tuned.

Otherwise, the weather turned for the worse today... That is, rain, lower freezing levels, more cold weather. What happened to summer? It seems that we've had a rough one in 2007.

Slush Cup

Well, it seems that "Slush Cup" went big time this year. While we climbers were trudging up the Emmons variation of the DC, the folks from TAY were skimming across a pond on skis and snowboards, courting NPR radio reporter Tom Banse. Was it perhaps the slick video that attracted the attention of the rangers and media? Somehow, they turned a damp gray day below Pinnacle Peak into radio propaganda for those who pursue "turns all year." That is, turns all year, year after year after year after year...

Which begs the questions, what constitutes "turns"? It seems that strapping on your boards for "sand dune" turns in eastern Washington could actually qualify you for the honor; however carving Mt. Hood's salty slush in August may not. There are rules and qualifiers for everything. Go figure! Photo provided by Ron Jarvis, who frequently haunts Rainier's slopes in pursuit of skiable snow (what a surprise.)

And regarding mountain climbing... there is little "new" news to share. Climbers are successfully ascending the primary routes, so things must be holding together. There are ranger patrols on the Kautz and Emmons glaciers. Look for those reports later this week.

Super Summit

Recent news begins with Dave Uberauga's and Randy King's successful ascent of the mountain last Saturday. If you don't know, Dave is Superintendent and Randy is the Deputy Superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park. Perhaps you haven't seen them much on the mountain because they have been rather busy with the flood recovery, Paradise construction projects, new guide services and routine "day to day" business of the park since their last attempt in 2006.

We're all smiles in this summit photo, taken after a 6 - 1/2 hour ascent from Camp Muir up the DC-Emmons variation. On Saturday, we found excellent conditions: firm snow, light winds, great boot-track (though LONG). Somehow, a rather sizable rock wedged into Dave's crampons (he's on the left in the photo) at Cathedral Gap and he carried it to 12,300ft before discovering the handicap! Randy (right in photo) wasn't interested in extra weight, and stayed focused on technique since his last 3 summit attempts were thwarted by rescues and/or bad weather.

Aside from climbing, they spent the better part of Thursday and Friday talking to the public, guides, climbing rangers and Ted (guru of all things "essential" at Camp Muir) to get a sense of the mountain action. The main points of attention were the Camp Muir plan (which addresses facility and toilet deficiencies) and the new guide service operations.

CLIMBING AND ROUTES: This is that time of year when some of Mt Rainier's climbing routes begin to really loose their fancy with climbers and skiers. It's not that they are "closed" or "unclimbable," it's just that experienced climbers generally get nervous when too much of the route is threatened by rockfall or blocked by gaping crevasses. As an example, a few teams attempted Liberty and Ptarmigan last week; neither were able to get "on route" due to the hazards/obstacles.

SAFETY: And speaking of crevasses - go to the Muir Snowfield. Look for a thin gash in the ice near 9,200 feet (top of Moon Rocks). I'm sure it will grow, and I'm sure there will be more. And how about another safety reminder? Wear your helmet when climbing to the summit! Also, the weather has been quite warm. When it is, expect soft snow by late morning and early afternoon. This could be welcome news to some (b/c it's easier on the knees) however others may find it difficult to descend when the snow and slush "ball up" in their crampons. Crampons "balling up" can sometimes lead to a serious fall (esp. when left unchecked)...

Excitement at Camp Muir

Camp Muir was a popular place this weekend, perhaps because the weather was so good and all of the extra promotion on this blog. On Saturday, there was a steady cadence of day hikers, climbers and skiers/boarders ascending the snowfield to give mountain-type praise to Rainier. Most, it seemed, left the park quite satisfied.

I spent the weekend at Camp Muir and checked out Rainier's primary climbing route. It had been a month since last I was there, and I kept hearing these crazy rumors about gnarly crevasse crossings involving sketchy ladders. Well, those rumors were indeed true. As you can see above, my friend Bob Murphy works his way across a downward leaning, left angling ladder that BARELY touched both sides of the crevasse. Our team ended up turning back at the next "laddered" crevasse crossing because the uphill end of the ladder didn't reach the snow on the other side - whoa... It was suspended mid-air, by tauntly-pulled cordage attached to snow pickets!

The important take-home news is that climbing the Disappointment Cleaver is over, for now... Most teams are reaching the summit from Camp Muir via the Emmons Glacier. This involves dropping climbers right from Ingraham Flats and traversing below the Cleaver onto the Emmons Glacier. There are some pros and cons to this "new" and longer route, but my thoughts are that this variation will come as welcome news to most of you. First off, the the route is quite scenic. Moreover, it doesn't include the DC rock scramble and avoids that wild crevasse network above the cleaver that appeared to me to be an accident waiting to happen.

Regarding accidents: there was another rescue this weekend and again the incident was minor and quickly resolved. While descending from the summit, an RMI client took a spill and dislocated his shoulder. Thankfully, he did not lose control or pull anyone into a crevasse. The accident led to a speedy lowering from the guides to roughy 11K, where a helicopter could evacuate the injured man.

I watched with unique interest as almost every climber in base camp paused and stared as the CH 47 Chinook Helicopter lumbered by enroute for the Ingraham Glacier. The pick-off went smoothly, largely due to the U.S. Army and the response from the RMI guides. That said, the sight of the Chinook was an interesting "shot across the bow" for many hopeful summiteers planning the next day's adventure.

Thank you Paul Charlton for stepping in yesterday... Photos by Mike Gauthier. 1. Bob Murphy crossing a crevasse near 12,400 feet above the DC; 2. Climbers approaching Ingraham Flats; 3. Gapping crevasses above the sea of clouds, as viewed from new Emmons variation of the DC route.

A busy weekend indeed

Rapidly changing route dynamics, crazy ladders spanning crevasses, one helicopter, and battalions of happy visitors—-it was an exciting weekend at Mt. Rainier! Mike spent the last few days on the mountain at Camp Muir and surveyed the situation on both of the major DC route variations climbing above Muir. He will return from Muir tomorrow with some excellent photos from the weekend’s activities. Check back on the blog tomorrow night to get the scoop!

~Paul Charlton...

Great weather, busy weekend and Slush Cup...

Traditionally, the last week of July and the first week of August are the busiest times to climb Mount Rainier. This is probably due to the fact that the success rates are also high during this period and that stable weather tends to be relatively reliable. This upcoming weekend promises similar attributes. As it stands now, the primary high camps are largely booked and the weather looks quite good. This could be your chance to reach the summit.

Our ski buddies over at Turns All Year are promoting the annual Slush Cup (make sure you watch the video). Personally, I'm hurt that they did not invite the climbing ranger staff and me (we love to ski and snowboard too) to join them... Oh well, perhaps we'll crash (I mean monitor) the party (I mean event) to make sure that everything is safe and in order...

No mountain news can be good mountain news this time of year. For your climbing interests, I found that the U.S. airlines have taken up climber spray. Delta's Sky Magazine ran a story about one team's ascent of Liberty Ridge (not sure what year). If you're flying the friendly skies (or is that United?) look for the hard copy in your forward pocket next to the barf-bag. Make sure that your tray table and seatback are upright and in the locked position, and that your carry-on luggage is securely stowed in the overhead bin for take off's and landings.

Naturally speaking and more about the Colorado climbers

It's been rather quiet on the mountain lately... and there really isn't a lot of Rainier gossip to share. On the naturalist front, the alpine flowers are blooming and those pesky insects (mosquitoes, flies, no-see-ums) are out in full force.

Bureaucratically speaking, some climbers are arriving "after hours" and think it's OK to start a trip without getting a permit first. Unless you'd like to be turned around mid-trip, ensure that you have a permit in hand. If you think you're going to show up when the ranger stations are closed, give a call beforehand (and not the day before either) so they can help you out. The climbing ranger phone number is: 360-569-2211 ext 6009.

My last post about the Colorado climbers drew a few comments from the team leader. In an effort to keep this blog fun and balanced (with preference towards fun), I'm going to share his truncated version of the events (with minor edits to protect the guilty and innocent.)


"To set the record straight, it was the ranger's choice to proceed down the mountain with the hot water. I spoke to him shortly after reaching Muir myself and informed him that we had radio and GPS contact with the other two climbers. They were in communication with me and informed me that things were under control and the[y] were proceeding up the hill towards Muir safe and warm. I told the ranger this and he still made the choice to go down the mountain. Furthermore, I was prepared to dump my pack and proceed down the mountain with another member of our party if necessary."

Well the ranger did describe things differently, but the Coloradoans have another Rainier trip planned this summer so we'll see what happens when they return (perhaps we'll get a great trip report with summit photos?!) In the meantime, take note that the weather has improved remarkably since last week and climbers are once again reaching the summit.

Camp Muir - Trash, Construction Debris and Poor Weather

Watch out for rockfall between Camp Muir and Ingraham Flats! Lately, the weather has been less than ideal... I.e. rain, wind, clouds, rain, wind, clouds, rain, wind, clouds... Yuck, and more is expected for the next few days...

Things are bumping along without a lot of fanfare. We made it through the past weekend without any major incidents, though some Colorado climbers did find themselves quite cold on the Muir Snowfield. The team of 6 split up while hiking to Muir, leaving 2 behind for a ranger to meet them with hot water and words of encouragement. In the end, the NPS helped them make it to Muir, but I'm still not sure why the other 4 in the party couldn't do the same?

Camp Muir is drawing more attention lately. Like Glacier Basin, rangers have been finding trash and garbage in the public shelter (left by climbers/day hikers) which (of course) is not cool. On the flip-side, climbers and day hikers have been regularly noting the pile of debris outside the public bathroom. That pile is part of the ongoing construction/restoration project from 2005. We hope to see the contractor complete the project and remove the debris later this summer. In the meantime, watch where you step because some folks have been picking up nails in their boots and shoes.

As a reminder, you can fill-out your climbing registration card before you come to the park. Save time by doing this.

Tips, updates and another Rescue/Assist

It's mid-July which means quite a bit of action on "the hill." Most climbers seem to be having a good time during this continued pattern of good/clear/warm weather. The success rates also remain high during this period, provided the team is in good shape and prepared for the oddities Rainier randomly serves up.

Another climber requested help from the NPS this past weekend. Again, this was a minor incident, but the response required guides from AAI, RMI and NPS climbing rangers to assist a 34 year-old man off the Disappointment Cleaver and back to Paradise. The climber became quite sick, and was experiencing severe abdominal pain when he crumpled over midway through the ascent. Thankfully, he was eventually able to walk off the mountain without the use of a helicopter or rescue litter.

On the advice front, we've noticed a few troubling trends worth noting. These thoughts may help you enjoy your visit and have a better summit climb:
  • A number of teams have been descending from the summit via the wrong (unintended) route. We suggest that you bring a few wands to mark the crater rim for your descent. This has primarily been happening to those climbing the Kautz and Emmons. If you can imagine, it's no fun to realize you're headed to Camp Muir when you really want to return to Camp Hazard or Camp Schurman.
  • Those climbing the Emmons Glacier need to be mindful of the food, gear, and trash that is being left behind on the approach. The Glacier Basin ranger has been finding quite a bit of discarded equipment, shoes, food, etc, which isn't so great for those families camping in the basin who aren't into climbing or the extra clutter/junk left behind. Also, the food usually gets ravaged and then becomes an attractant for the resident bear, who is starting to make people nervous.
  • If you're on the Disappointment Cleaver, "heads up" to missing fixed lines and protection on the descent. For safety reasons, the guide services have been pulling all of their fixed gear from the route. The heat is RAPIDLY melting things out. As a reminder, all independent climbers need to be prepared to handle the descent (and ascent) without the aid of others.
I posted updated trip reports on: Gibralter Ledges, Tahoma Glacier and Success Couloirs. There is another quality Ptarmigan Ridge update (that route is seeing a bit of action) and of course there is more on the Emmons and DC. If you're a skier, you should check out Paul Russell's excellent report with photos on Turns All Year. All great stuff...

Heat wave continues, and finally, a rescue!

This heat wave we're experiencing has "almost" become an oppressive barrier. Mount Rainier is cooking by northwest standards, with temperatures in the mid-70's and upwards of 80+ this week at Paradise. The "LOW" at Camp Muir on July 10th was 47 (holy smokes), while Paradise only dipped to a BALMLY 66 degrees! Folks, it's hot, it's sunny, and the snow is melting fast. The National Weather Service said the freezing level was 14-15K, but we don't believe them as some climbers have been summitting in tee-shirts and shorts!

Heat wave aside, many of the cool climbing routes remain in great shape. Despite the warm temps, climbers have been successfully summitting without much of a hitch. Conditions are so great in fact, that RMI guided an Army Captain, who in 2005 was blinded in action in Iraq, to the summit on Monday, July 9th.

The only troubling news - and fortunately relatively minor - is that we must sadly confess to an "assist/rescue" of a climber. To refresh your memory, the NPS escaped 2006 without one major rescue/incident on the upper mountain (something of a miracle.) And until this last Saturday, that record held true this year too. But things are different now, as a climber practicing self arrest broke his ankle at Camp Muir, thus ending the magical spell. That said, let's see if we can finish the year without any more mishaps! BTW, we have climbers, JUST LIKE YOU, to thank for this long standing safety record. If you can think of ways to make climbing safer on Mount Rainier, I hope that you will send me your thoughts and images along.

And with that said, check out our latest route reports in the updated route conditions folder. Liberty Ridge, Success Cleaver, Disappointment Cleaver, and more to come in the next few days... Go get 'em!

Heat wave and route condition updates

The temperatures at Paradise hovered in the high 70's all day today while Camp Muir fixated in the mid-50's. For the past couple of days it's been VERY warm, and those trends are going to continue. This sort of news is great for sunbathing but not so great for the snowpack.

There has been quite a bit of upper-mountain action over the past week. Dan McCann of UT recently ripped the Disappointment Cleaver on tele-boards (see that line in the lower center of this photo? It's his!). And rumor has it, some gnarly NW skiers are headed for the Mowich Face this weekend!

More climbing updates can be found on the Emmons, DC and Ptarmigan Ridge routes. As for the Emmons, there was some interesting action on the Inter Glacier approach, proving that you could be killed while hiking to high camp! In other words, be "heads up" for the possibility of massive rockfall and snowslides. [Ed.: stratovolcanoes are "geologic junkpiles]

In other photographic news, Eric Simonson, with Paul Baugher piloting the airplane, provided the aerial image of the upper DC , Ingraham and Emmons. Climbing ranger Stoney Richards took a number of GREAT route images on the following lines: Gib Ledges and Gib Chute, Ptarmigan Ridge, Mowich Face and South Tahoma Headwall. Check them out in the updated route reports!

Maria Cantwell, Bill Painter, and more route updates

Guess who dropped in at Camp Muir this weekend? One of Washington State's very own United States senators, Maria Cantwell. Maria wasn't there to climb, she came to check things out and "train" with other friends (word was, she's in great shape)! Well, we certainly felt privileged to see her, staff members, and friends (connected friends that is) make the trip (on foot, no helicopters) just to get their own perception of the park and high camps. Perhaps Maria will send us her own personal route update for the Muir Snowfield.

If you didn't realize, Maria sits on the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources committee... In layman's talk, that committee is a big deal for the National Park Service as it oversees funding, etc. Though her day job is in DC, Ms. Cantwell was up to speed on some of our difficulties at Mount Rainier. What was most interesting is that she seemed particularly concerned about high camp and mountaineering-related issues!! Now, perhaps, is the time to drop her a note with your thoughts.

And when it comes to dropping notes... I finally received a route condition update on the Tahoma Glacier from independent climber Jordan Lipp. Pete Fox also sent an update with lots of photos of the Fuhrer Finger. Climbing reports continue to trickle in and I know that readers just like you appreciate them. If you've a unique report, especially anything from the west or south side of the mountain, send it along!

Other "tres-cool" Mt. Rainier news includes yet ANOTHER successful ascent by our long-time and esteemed friend Bill Painter. Bill, once again, climbed the Emmons Glacier route today, pushing up the record for the oldest person to summit the mountain (he's 84). Congrats Bill Painter! You did a great job on your independent ascent without outside support!

First image: Maria Cantwell and Climbing Ranger Paul Charlton at Camp Muir, photo by Arlington Ashby. Second image by Paul Charlton: Climbers atop the Disappointment Cleaver with Little Tahoma in the background.

July is here... and Bill Painter is back

The mountain is being coy these days. Though the weather has been great (warm, clear, and calm), the avalanche conditions have been notable and threatening after last week's storm. Saturday (6/30) and Sunday (7/1), the guide services checked the conditions and decided that it was best to turn back, even though the weather was perfect. That was a great call, because there was definitely a threatening slab above the DC and also on the Kautz. See the updated reports for the DC and Kautz for more information on the route and snow conditions.

BTW, climbers and skiers should note that Mount Rainier has a history of "off season" avalanches (particularly in May and June) that have killed climbers... Keep in mind, however, that those slides could happen during any month. I recall being hit by a slide high on the Emmons Glacier with Joe Puryear in August one year after a snowstorm. That slide wouldn't have "buried" us, but it nearly swept us into a crevasse.

The weather forecast calls for extended hot temperatures and no precip. More than likely, the snowpack will settle out soon, which would be a good thing for everyone interested. But it's an especially good thing for our old (84) friend Bill Painter who is back on the mountain... Details on his adventures later this week... Good luck Bill, we're rooting for you!

July is near...

Paradise saw fresh snow this week. Yup, it's late June and 4-6 inches of "freshie" fell to the ground. Most of it has already melted, but it's fun to celebrate the dead of winter in summer.

There are new reports on the DC, Fuhrer Finger and Muir Snowfield. Sky Sjue fueled his speed ski obsession with a one day jaunt to 11k (and down) on the South Tahoma Headwall. So Sky, what about a few photos for the masses??? Oh yes, the Mowich Lake road (HWY 165) is scheduled to reopen on June 28th. That greatly enhances your access to Ptarmigan Ridge and the Mowich Face routes...

So what's with the bad habit of leaving slow moving sick partners behind in hopes of reaching the car sooner? It happened again this weekend. If it's not obvious, the NPS is not impressed when you show up at the front desk asking them to find your buddy that you ditched. If your partner isn't doing well, stay with them folks. Otherwise, be prepared to look for them once you've taken off your boots and started to relax.
Climbers crossing a loose network of crevasses above the Disappointment Cleaver (roughly 12.400 feet), photo by Mike Gauthier.

Guiding, recent weather, and the 4th of July

We haven't discussed guiding operations on Mt Rainier in a while, but the local paper interviewed the guide service owners and operators last week. They (the TNT) shared their thoughts on the 2007 operation to date. But little of this information should come as any big surprise to readers of this blog... and I would note that there are a few errors (minor) and omissions (political) in the article. But hey, this blog is about climbing conditions, current Rainier related gossip, access, and things you can do to avoid climbing accidents!

Speaking of which, climbing rangers recently spent more time on the Kautz Route. They would have done something on another route, but the weather has been quite tough lately. And while we're talking about the weather, hasn't it been reliably terrible over the past few weekends? Rain, snow, high winds and cold temps have been dominating the upper mountain with regularity everytime Saturday night rolls around. Even Ted (our ever faithful high camp maintenance guy who cleans the outhouses) finally broke down and complained that the weather has been rotten! I (and many climbers) agree.

Are you into fireworks? The city of Tacoma isn't, and I suppose you should know that the National Park's aren't either (no big surprise there). Therefore, you'll have to celebrate the liberation of the USA on county property if you want to light a few sparklers or ignite things that go "boom." That said, some of the best firework displays are to be enjoyed from the summit (or high camps) of Mt Rainier. One year, I hung out at Liberty Cap (appropriately named) for the 4th of July festivities. The firework displays across the Puget Sound were totally, totally awesome. Bring your bivy gear, (and cell phone, nudge, wink) sit back and enjoy the awesome view (if the weather cooperates).

Updated Route Condtions for Mount Rainier

I added some thorough updates to our route condition page. Dan Aylward, Chad Kellogg and Tim Matsui climbed Ptarmigan Ridge last week. Meanwhile, climbing rangers Paul Charlton and Tom "house of" Payne climbed Liberty Ridge, Kautz Glacier and Little Tahoma (all in in one week!!) It seems that the upper mountain is holding together nicely for some of the more technical routes.

Photo by Tim Matsui, Dan Aylward leads into some rock bands low on Ptarmigan Ridge.

Missing hiker found (sad) and climbing stats

There is sad news in the park this week. The lost hiker, Jeff Graves, wasn't found alive after three days of intensive searching. A helicopter crew located him (TNT 6/21) at the base of a cliffband north (climbers left) of the main Eagle Peak trail (TNT 6/20). This comes as a setback to the NPS staff, as Jeff's mother was (and remains) a dedicated volunteer with the park.

It seems that Jeff probably lost his way while descending (TNT 6/21) the trail on Saturday and ended up falling off a cliff during cold, wet and cloudy conditions. Getting lost in such conditions (i.e. lost on the snow in the forest) isn't that uncommon either. It's very easy to lose the foot path when there is still snow covering the trail and that snow is old and dirty. This generally occurs when there is a tree canopy with lots of debris, dirt, moss and other things to cover up footprints and make things hard to follow while descending...

As for climbing specific information, the 2007 climbing season has an interesting start. There were 2,017 climbers between Jan 1 and June 20th in 2006. This year, we've had 2,033 climbers during the same period AND a higher success rate. Both facts are worth noting, because the park was virtually closed for four months.

The solstice is around the corner and summer is near. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to contribute to my cell phone question. I would definitely welcome more comments, as I know there is a lot of interest, as there are in your summit trip reports. Send them along if you've got 'em.

Route updates and more incidents

There are a number of climbing conditions updates now that the mountaineering rangers are regularly patrolling the standard routes. The Gibraltar Ledges, Emmons, DC, and Kautz were all climbed last week and we still welcome your reports if you're out and about...

This weekend went by without a mountaineering "accident," but their were "incidents." The first one involved three climbers who separated while descending from high camp on the Kautz Glacier. Two climbers (the faster pair) took off hoping to wait (relax) in the parking lot for their buddy. Can you guess what happened next? After spending much of the day wondering where their "teammate" was, the climbers finally contacted the NPS hoping to initiate a search. Sparing you the details, the third climber eventually showed up on his own many hours later. During which, his buddies were sent out to retrace their descent. Free advice: if you set out as a team, stick together. This is especially the case on descents that involve glacier crossings and cloudy/whiteout type weather.

And once again, we had another team use a cell phone to call their emergency contact and 911 for information and directions. Thankfully, the climbers worked out the issue before the NPS had to dispatch a climbing ranger team. Really, be prepared to sit out bad weather (which is common) on Mount Rainier, or become fodder for this blog. ;)

And speaking of cell phones, I've been getting a few questions about the "preferred" cell phone provider on the mountain. Truth is, I don't know. I think that each service does better in some places and elevations than others. That said, I'd be curious to get your comments on where your cell phone has worked and where it didn't (we know they work well on Liberty Ridge BTW). If you've used one while climbing (it can
be fun to call a friend while on the mountain) send me your comments so that they can be shared with other climbers.

The last and most significant mountain "related" news involves a search for a missing day-hiker on Eagle Peak. A 47 year old man didn't return from his hike last Saturday. I suspect that there will be more information released on this issue if things don't get resolved soon, stay tuned.

And if you're wondering, the opening photo is from the now famous Camp Schurman toilet seat. Dmitry Shapovalov's wanted to share the view with all of you. But if you head up there today, don't expect to see this unless you leave the NEW door open! Let's hope that this one makes it through the summer.

Kautz Glacier, Muir Snowfield, and Access

One of the neat things about this site is that climbers (just like you) send me their route reports and photos. Thankfully, Nick Bratton sent some information on the Kautz Glacier route. At the same time, Brent McGregor also contributed a few great photos (including this nice one of Mount St. Helens). Also worth noting is Ian Litmans' update on the Disappointment Cleaver. If you're up on the hill and want to share your stories or photos, definitely drop me a note with your thoughts.

Those visiting Camp Schurman will find one of the most scenic high camp toilets on the continent (seriously)! Why? The toilet door has blown away (3 times this year) leaving the user an unobstructed view of the Winthrop Glacier, Seattle and Puget Sound. Be prepared, however, the spacious decor potentially comes with blowing snow and wind as you take that personal break. We hope to get this problem resolved this weekend, but in the meantime, enjoy the view.

For those more concerned with access issues, here is the round up:

The Sunrise Road will open this Friday, June 15th. Paradise shuttles will resume this Friday (June 15th) too. If you can't get a parking spot near the Jackson Visitor Center, you may want to consider this free shuttle service. And over on HWY 123, a contract to repair the road has been awarded. The state highway should re-open by mid-October. There is even a chance that it will open to "one lane of traffic" sometime this summer, so stay tuned.

Southside aerial by Mike Gauthier (6-13), centered on the Nisqually Glacier and Fuhrer Finger route.

Crevasse Falls

The past weekend went by without a hitch (no 911 calls) However, no one made the summit either. The recent climbing trend has involved crevasse falls. In the past two weeks, clients, guides, and rangers have all taken spills somewhere along the Ingraham Glacier Direct or upper Disappointment Cleaver route. No one was seriously injured, but the word on the glacier is that there a number of hidden or sketchy crevasses to cross high on the mountain. The latest report says that the wands have been removed from the Ingraham Glacier Direct, and the guided climbing teams are putting a route up the DC.

The other interesting trend that is being noticed is the number of skiers vs. the number of climbers. Over the past couple of years, I've seen an increase in the number of ski mountaineers on the hill in May and June. There have been quite a few weekends where we've actually seen more skiers than climbers at the high camps! It's no surprise that skiers and boarders flock to Rainier when the conditions are good (April/May/June) but to actually observe fewer climbers is interesting.

And with that said, ski demon Sky has been at it again. On the one day of really good weather last week (Friday), he and Dave Brown stormed the Success Couloirs and made short work of the route on skies. Not to be out done, Jason Hummel posted a sweet Fuhrer Finger trip report (a bit dated, but nice images). Photo by Dave Brown

911

The Liberty Ridge climbing teams have worked their way off the mountain today (actually, one team is still at Thumb Rock, but OK). As it turns out, two separate teams called 911 this week requesting help and/or information. One team became lost between Liberty Cap and Columbia Crest; the other team was pinned down below Liberty Cap at 13,700 feet (soooo close). FYI, these locations have claimed and threatened the lives of other climbers before, always during bad weather.

In both cases, whiteout and snowfall impeded the teams' progress. This event shouldn't pass without comment. It's very consuming to address emergency 911 and personal calls from family members on issues that, in all respects, could have been avoided or dealt with differently.

Incidents like this occur (particularly on Liberty Ridge) when climbers plan for 2/3/4 day ascents (i.e. light/fast) and then get caught in unsettled weather. It's not as though the climbers weren't technically skilled enough to ascend the route. It was obvious, however, that they became concerned when climbing wasn't the issue and sitting out a prolonged weather event was. Logistics, skills and weather are a hard equation to balance when planning trips. One simple way to provide backup is to carry extra fuel. Extra fuel can ensure water and warmth. As I told one man's wife this week, no one has died of starvation on Mount Rainier, yet plenty have been stressed out by running out of water/fuel. As a good example to follow, one team weathered 9 days of stormy conditions a few years ago. Could you?

Another important point is to NOT MOVE when you're lost or uncertain of your location. If you haven't been caught in a whiteout before, trust me when I say that movement is nearly impossible during such weather. And BTW, finding you is even more challenging. Therefore, calling rescue personnel with GPS coordinates isn't going to work unless you want to make sure we find your tent/equipment/etc after it's all said and done (hint, hint). Also, asking for "directions" isn't really possible either; if you don't know where you are, neither do we. GPS's are a great invention, but they can't guide you on a mountain in a whiteout. The terrain and crevasses are just too much to safely negotiate.

I realize that this information may seem obvious, but it's amazing how many smart and capable people get caught in this situation and then call for help. Also remember that when you call 911, you are really calling for help. When you're climbing Mt. Rainier, or Mt. Baker, or Denali or any other big mountain, do everything you can to be prepared for bad weather that will totally limit your progress. That's part of the climbing game. Climbing isn't always about gear, fitness, skill, aesthetic, it's also about fortitude and your ability to deal when the weather really sets in, which is what happened this week on Rainier. These teams didn't have an emergency, they were just STUCK. Furthermore, rescuers and helicopters are not going to pluck you off in such an event.

OK, enough soap box. The Washington Trails Association is doing more than their fair share to help the Glacier Basin Trail. And the Steven's Canyon Road will reopen much earlier than anticipated (June 22) barring any major catastrophes. Did I just say "major catastrophes"???...