Monday, October 29, 2007

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

Sunday, October 28, 2007

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.

Monday, October 22, 2007

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.

Monday, October 15, 2007

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.