Sunday, March 25, 2007

Centennial Initiative

The rain fell pretty hard below 7K over the past few days. So hard, in fact, that Kautz Creek jumped its banks again and flowed over the Nisqually to Longmire Road. When it comes to the road repairs, the push is on to complete the Kautz Creek section. Installing the new culverts, which involve a serious amount of digging and creek diversion, will undoubtedly take the largest amount of time. The erosion and sluffing threats at mileposts #5 and #9 seem to be largely repaired by comparison.

If you're in Seattle on March 26th, stop by the Seattle Town Hall to meet the Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne. Mr. Kempthorne (and a number of other high level NPS officials including the Regional Director Jon Jarvis) will address an open forum of ideas and questions about the National Park Service's 100th birthday (in 2016). Called the Centennial Initiative, the Secretary will discuss a 3 billion dollar proposal to improve and expand National Parks over the next 10 years. If you're interested, there is more information on this NPS web page.

There is a photo exhibit (also in Seattle near Pioneer Square) about the damage to North Cascades, Olympic, and Mount Rainier National Parks. Lani Doely and Don Geyer share their photographic interpretation of the dramatic change and damage caused by the November storms, check it out. The event is hosted by the National Parks and Conservation Association Northwest Regional Office.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Rough Start to 2007 - 3 fatalities

2007 has become a dangerous year at Mount Rainier, even with the roads closed. Since mid-February, there have been three fatalities within the park boundary, a terrible trend as the park prepares to reopen this spring.

The first incident involved a skier who ducked a ropeline at Crystal Mountain Resort for backcountry turns. The intent was to catch fresh tracks down the White River drainage (and into the park). That skier was caught and killed in an avalanche and the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol recovered the body.

The most recent accident involved a married couple who drowned in Ipsut Creek. The pair were crossing a footlog when Annette Blakely slipped, fell, and was quickly swept downstream in the frigid current. Her husband, Robert, immediately shed his backpack and leaped into the stream in an attempt to save her life. Sadly, both were caught in a log jam and drowned.

The News Tribune, Seattle Times, and Seattle PI have been covering the accident and recovery in detail, but a few details have emerged in the stories that are inaccurate. Some are minor, for example, a helicopter did not spot the body from the air. Another, however, is misleading. That is that the footlog to get across the washout was clearly established and marked. Here in this photo, you can see the two foot logs in question. The lower log was the one where the accident occurred, the upper is the preferred log to cross...

An accurate point about all of this is that the park, the roads, and the trail system are in very rough condition. With so much damage, climbers, backpackers, skiers and hikers will need to take extra precautions when visiting this spring and summer. Normally minor incidents in places like Ipsut Creek will be more difficult to respond to and manage.

As for the latest recovery, my thoughts are with the family and friends of the Blakely's. I would also like to thank the Pierce County Swiftwater Rescue team (and the bomb team, the dive team, and the SAR team too) for the outstanding assistance in this incident. In the image above, the field operations leader views the screen of an underwater camera.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


It's permit reservation season! If you need to ensure that your high camp and route are reserved, now is your time. The wilderness reservation office won't start working on reservations until April 1st, however, if you'd like to avoid the April 1st phone/fax rush, send in your request now (after March 15th). Those sent before April 1 are randomly mixed together, so what matters most is getting your permit in by April 1st! Here are some FAQ about climbing reservations. Last year I also offered these tips. Reservations aren't mandatory, and they aren't for everyone, so check it out.

Road Repair: The repairs at milepost #9, where the Nisqually River eroded the embankment next to the road during the flood, are going well. It looks as though the road surface and embankment have been repaired. If I had to guess, it's getting close to being repaved... Which is good news, because MP #9 was the most significantly compromised section of road between Longmire and Paradise. The primary obstacles to opening the south side of the park remain below Longmire; they are at MP #5 and Kautz Creek.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Culverts, Press, and Poetry

Isn't this cool? Check out these very, very, large metal culverts right next to the road at Kautz Creek. Now try to imagine the road going OVER these culverts (they're supposed to handle future Kautz floods). BTW, this photo partially explains why the official word on the road to Longmire states, "probably [open] in early May." If you are wondering, there are less specific dates for Paradise. Also, news about the park reopening is gaining attention from the New York Times; they discussed strategies to fix the mess (but the story hasn't changed).

Recently, the Seattle Times waxed eloquently about the exclusivity of sleeping in the National Park Inn (NPI) at Longmire this winter. According to the author, visitors with highly coveted reservations at the lodge will be staying at

"one of the most exclusive hotels in the world, the 25-room National Park Inn... this is the only place for a traveler to sleep and enjoy indoor plumbing in the park's largely unpeopled wilderness."
The article goes on to slightly glorify the privilege, but this is not quite as exclusive as the paper might have you believe. As it turns out, climbers have been on the mountain too, a subtle revelation that is slowly spreading across the Puget Sound area. It all started when a few local pilots noted larger teams on the Muir Snowfield and at Camp Muir while zooming by the peak! Then there were rumors of guided clients who made it to Ingraham Flats... (Seattle IS a small town you know). So the word is out: those who booked trips with a concessioned guide service for this spring will be shuttled into the park like the visitors to the NPI at Longmire.

Post climbing ranger "employment:" On the creative writing front, our very good friend and poet, Mimi Allin, was buzzed by the Seattle Times and KIRO Radio. Mimi (former Camp Schurman climbing ranger) has been implicated as the Poetess at Green Lake! Those who walk, run, skip and/or bike around Green Lake may have laid eyes upon her little desk labeled P O E T (look for the red umbrella when it's raining). The desk (and Mimi) can be found every Sunday (since last July) on the NW corner of the lake from 9 to 5. At this very desk, Mimi channels artistic discussion around creative poet vortices (or something like that). Unlicensed and unpermitted, the Poetess at Green Lake has a poem for you.
Techncial Sidebar: Mimi walks 4 miles each way to her post. She has only left early once, due to a snowstorm. If you're in Seattle, achieve a creative boost to your life by visiting with Ms. Mimi Allin.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Snowpack Only Gets Better and Better

The past few weeks of winter storm snow have added several more feet to the mountain snowpack making the outlook for the 2007 climbing season better and better. The last two weeks of snow have practically doubled the size of our snowpack according to the full-depth snow profiles that we dug today and yesterday on the upper and lower Muir Snowfield respectively.

The snowpack at 8,900 feet on the Snowfield consists mainly of several feet of new snow bonded to the sturdy early February melt-freeze crust. Below the crust are several layers of older, somewhat facetted grains which are well on their way to rounding. At the base of the snowpack is a layer of more highly-developed facets which has also begun the process of rounding. Other melt-freeze and rain crusts are also present below the main mid-pack crust. Were it not for these crusts bridging the snowpack, we might be seeing a bit more avalanche activity.

Steady work continues on the road to Paradise with huge loads of rock being transported into the park every day. We are still shooting for May 1st as the optimistic forecast for the road opening. More on Access