Monday, July 30, 2007

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.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

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...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

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.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

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.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

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.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

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...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

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!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

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!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

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.

Monday, July 02, 2007

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!