Historically speaking, 2006 was good to climbers on Mount Rainier. There were many changes in way the National Park Service (NPS) did business with those who are spending time on the upper mountain. A primary example is a new Mount Rainier climbing blog. What started out as a NPS website problem turned into a significantly improved way of delivering climber specific information over the internet. Now, the climbing program manages most of its web related content and information on this blog. It’s easier than ever to find updated route and climbing information about Mount Rainier posted by climbing rangers.
In 2005, we celebrated the grand re-opening of the newly remodeled Climbing Information Center at Paradise. In 2006, we sadly saw those doors close because of the Paradise construction projects. Rangers anticipate using the building again once the construction is completed. In the meantime, climbers at Paradise should get their climbing permits at the front desk of the Jackson Visitor Center.
More climbers attempted the summit in 2006 than in 2005. This is a notable reverse of the decreasing trend in registered climbers observed between 2000 and 2005. And of those, a higher percentage also made the summit.
More exciting than summit attempts and success is the fact that we had no major rescues on the upper mountain in 2006! That’s right, no fatalities or serious accidents above 10,000 feet. This is somewhat of a remarkable accomplishment, and the NPS would like to thank all the climbers for making safe decisions that contributed to this amazing statistic. No serious accidents are a trend we would like to see continued in 2007.
The construction projects at Camp Muir continue to bump along. The latest improvement is a newly installed weather telemetry station at 10,080 feet. With just a click of the mouse, climbers, skiers, day hikers and anyone else can see the current temps, winds, and other weather data at the high camp. This new weather station has proved very popular with web-savvy fans of the mountain.
After many years of public planning and participation, the NPS awarded the new guiding concession contracts in October 2006. Alpine Ascents International, International Mountain Guides and Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. all received 10 year contracts to lead mountaineering trips to the summit. This begins a new phase of guiding on Mount Rainier and will likely affect the standard of guiding around the region. Look for the new guide services on the mountain in 2007.
The fall of 2006 also brought massive flooding to Mount Rainier. On November 5th and 6th, over 18 inches of rain fell at Paradise causing extensive damage to park roads and trails systems. The park was closed immediately, and remained so well into Spring 2007. Damages were estimated at nearly $36 million, and it is presumed that some repairs will take years to complete.
With great sorrow, we regretfully report the loss of our fellow climbing ranger Charlie Borgh. Charlie started volunteering on Mount Rainier in 2002 and quickly ascended the ranks to become a lead climbing ranger in 2005. When not working on Rainier, he volunteered as a rescue ranger at Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley. Always in pursuit of the climbing lifestyle, Charlie was climbing Mount Deltaform when he died on April 20th. After ascending the North Face, Charlie was swept to his death in a 3,100 foot avalanche. His friendship, warmth and smile are sorely missed by those who knew and worked with him.
The overall success rate in 2006 was 63%.
Registered Climbers - Annual Total for 2006
Total Climbers Registered - 9,154
Independent Climbers - 5,022
Guides and Clients - 4,132
Total Summits - 5,787
The Disappointment Cleaver and Ingraham Glacier direct are the most popular routes on Mount Rainier. Together, they saw over 6,500 attempts in 2006. The registration statistics for the most popular routes are as follows:
2006 Registered Climbers, Popular Routes
Routes Attempted or Climbed:
Disappointment Cleaver and/or Ingraham Glacier Direct - 6,534
Emmons – Winthrop - 1,477
Kautz Glacier and Fuhrer Finger - 447
Liberty Ridge - 164
Gibraltar Ledges - 139
Little Tahoma - 120
Tahoma Glacier - 51
Mountaineering Patrols, High Camps, and Ranger Stations
The 2006 Climbing Ranger Program consisted of ten seasonal rangers that worked between Camp Schurman and Camp Muir. In addition, five full time volunteers, numerous part-time volunteers and one high camp laborer supported the program. Two lead climbing rangers guided the team and one supervisor managed the program.
Together, rangers worked a total of 449 field days. Field days included 314 days at high camp and 135 days on non-standard routes or climbing patrols.
Climbing rangers patrolled over 13 routes this year maintaining a strong NPS presence around the park. During these trips, rangers monitor the climbing routes for conditions, activity, and compliance, while also being prepared and positioned in the event of an incident. The average patrol includes tasks such as: resource and impact monitoring; restroom maintenance; dismantling rock walls, cairns, and camps; climber contacts, concession monitoring, and responding to emergencies as needed.
With few exceptions, Camp Muir and Camp Schurman were staffed daily with at least one ranger throughout June, July, and August. Rangers at high camps provided updated route, weather, and safety information to the public and the guide services. Climbing rangers traditionally provide this information during “evening rounds.” Evening rounds allow rangers to note the plans of individual teams, which can prove invaluable should the party encounter problems during the climb.
Climbing rangers regularly cleaned and maintained the pit and solar dehydrating toilets. Of particular benefit is the dedicated maintenance manager (Ted Cox) at Camp Muir. That position provides an NPS backstop to the camp from Thursday to Sunday.
Climbing rangers also routinely maintain and repair facilities at the high camps. They also assist with projects such as rebuilding retaining walls, painting, minor structure repair (like reattaching doors that continually blow off) fixing leaky roofs, and other amendments to the high camp toilets.
Improvements and renovations at Camp Muir continue on the public hut and historic men’s pit toilet. There is still some work to complete in 2007. Most of that involves a few finishing touches on the public shelter and a clean up of construction debris.
Climbing rangers worked over 210 “person-days” between the White River Wilderness Information Center and Jackson Visitor Center. They are generally available during the mornings until noon and are an excellent resource for route conditions and the latest safety information. Climbing rangers also post updated route reports and other climber related information at: www.mountrainierclimbing.blogspot.com. For pre-recorded information in the summer, call 360 569 2211 ext. 6009.
Annual climbing passes are $30 and are required for all climbing trips. In the summer, climbing passes may be purchased in person at the Jackson Visitor Center, White River Wilderness Information Center, Longmire Wilderness Information Center, and at Carbon River Ranger Station. For most of the year, climbing passes are purchased by mail. Monies collected fund the climbing ranger program, the human waste program, and support preventative rescue measures.
We are very happy to report that we had no major rescues on the upper mountain in 2006. What an extraordinary year for everyone involved! Unlike 2005, (when we had an exhausting spate of 20 plus incidents) the 2006 summer slipped by much more easily without the steady cadence of rescue response.
Why no rescues? It’s difficult to credit any one particular cause, such as excellent weather, good conditions, or luck. We believe that current information about route conditions, safe climbing practices and current weather greatly assists climbers in making better-informed decisions. That sort of information also improves a climber’s likelihood of success. Perhaps this contributed to an increased success rate in 2006?
Though we had no upper-mountain rescues, it is worth noting that there were many other incidents in the park. Climbing rangers assisted on a number of carry outs, medicals, cliff rescues and searches in 2006. They also responded to out-of-park incidents such as wildland forest fires and large scale searches in other parks.
Easy access to glaciers and alpine terrain make Mount Rainier one of North America’s most popular mountaineering destinations. An important part of the climbing program is to ensure the preservation of the mountain. Minimizing human impacts in fragile alpine areas is achieved by:
• Properly disposing of human waste
• Camping on snow or durable surfaces
• Avoiding creation of new rock walls or tent platforms
• Traveling on established trails
• Packing out all trash
• Leave no trace
Visitors dispose of solid human waste by one of two methods: using the established toilets, or by using "blue bags." Toilets are available at Camp Schurman and Camp Muir. Well-maintained toilets keep these locations sanitary and leave snow cleaner for drinking water. Camp Schurman has one solar toilet and Camp Muir has three solar units and two pit toilets. The solar dehydrating toilets are only open during the summer months. Pit toilets are predominately used during the colder seasons of the year.
When toilets are not available, climbers collect their waste in “blue bags”. Mount Rainier’s “blue bags” are a light-weight system for safely packing out human waste. Blue bags are distributed during registration. Visitors can deposit used blue bags into 55-gallon barrels located at high camps or at select trailheads.
In 2006, over 22 barrels of human waste (four and a half tons) were collected from high camps and Panorama Point. We regretfully report an increased number of displaced blue bags and piles of human waste; a total of 122 were noted by us! Climbing rangers also carried down more trash from high camps than ever before, almost 700 lbs. Along the way, they also dismantled 71 rock walls and newly-established campsites.
We anticipate a very busy summer in 2007. On the mountain, Alpine Ascents International and International Mountain Guides will be leading trips through Camp Muir and up the Kautz Glacier. In addition, Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. can now guide the Emmons/Winthrop Glaciers. No commercial guiding, however, is allowed from the Success Cleaver to Ptarmigan Ridge (clockwise and inclusive) and along the Kautz and Emmons Glaciers on Friday and Saturday nights.
In the “front country” climbers should prepare for traffic during the day and an increased demand for parking spots. Paradise will surely be a busy place in June, July and August. As a reminder, the construction of the new visitor center and the remodel of the Paradise Inn will continue. Moreover, the park has been closed for over six months because of the massive flood damage in November 2006. More people than ever will likely be eager to visit Mount Rainier again and see the changes.
If you are coming to climb in 2007, we strongly recommend that you arrive at your intended trailhead early (before 10 AM). We also suggest that climbers check in on this blog for the latest information.