Thursday, June 28, 2007

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.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

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).

Friday, June 22, 2007

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.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

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.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

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.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

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.

Monday, June 11, 2007

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

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


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"???...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Climbing and skiing, and advice on cell phone use

If you haven't noticed, few posts means lots of work and activity here at Mount Rainier. The weather has remained stellar over much of the past week and things have been busy. During this period, climbers and skiers have been tackling the mountain from all directions. Of particular interest are new and extensive reports for Liberty Ridge, Ptarmigan Ridge and the Fuhrer Finger (photos included).

It seems that a few people are just itching to be rescued or call 911. We've had a number of "alarms" or "callouts" over the past few weeks, thankfully nothing has been serious! That said, one callout is in progress and involves a 2 person team pinned down in a whiteout on Liberty Ridge near 13,700 feet. We suspect that they will be fine, as they are well prepared for 2 more days on the mountain. As a reminder, if you carry a cell phone, make SURE you call 911 during an incident or emergency, not your family members.

On the other hand, two separate teams had somewhat serious accidents but self-rescued. Neither of those teams used a cell phone to alert friends. One incident involved the skier who fell 300 feet on the Emmons Glacier last weekend. A more recent event involved a 2 person team on the Kautz Glacier. One member dislocated his shoulder while descending (balled up crampons). As a reminder, we're still working on that streak of NO NEW MAJOR RESCUES since 2005. We hope to continue this trend...

First photo is by Josh Farris near 12k on Ptarmigan Ridge; the second is of a climber on Liberty Ridge by Dmitry Shapvalov.