Monday, November 19, 2007

Visiting Mount Rainier this winter?

The snow has finally started to fall in Longmire, triggering a serious tilt towards winter-related activities and operations. During a normal season, 200-300 climbers attempt Rainier's summit between Dec. 21 and Mar. 21. Though the success rate is quite low (sometimes 10%), many climbers use this mountain as a training ground for other peaks, particularly Denali. And after last year's flood closure, many folks are already making upper mountain plans for this winter. If you're one those people, HEADS UP because things have changed.

If you plan to be in the Paradise area between now and next April, the NPS has changed a few winter regulations that will likely affect you. The changes are because of the ongoing construction project in the upper parking lot. The primary difference is that self registration has been eliminated and that ALL overnight parking will require a parking pass.

Permits: All climbers, backpackers, skiers and any other overnight visitors must obtain a wilderness permit from either the Longmire Museum (9-4 daily) or the Jackson Visitor Center (open 10-5 on Sat/Sun). SELF REGISTRATION (out of Paradise) is NO LONGER available during the winter 2007/2008 season.

Parking: There are only 18-20 OVERNIGHT parking spots available at Paradise. Nine of those spots are designated for campers who are staying in the immediate Paradise area (think Boy Scouts, large groups, etc). The remaining 9-11 are available for other overnight visitors (think skiers, climbers and those who venture beyond the immediate Paradise area). ALL vehicles MUST have a parking pass or risk being ticketed and "booted" ("boots" are designed to lock your wheel requiring you to talk with a ranger before you can get the "boot" removed). Parking passes are free and issued when registering for a permit. Visitors will not be able to get an overnight permit unless there is a parking spot available! Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you carpool AND arrive early for your permit, particularly on busy/nice weekends and holidays.

If you're a "mid-week" type person, it is unlikely that these new regulations will adversely affect you as there is more than enough parking available. Generally speaking, visitation to to Paradise between Sunday evening and Saturday morning is low (i.e. dead). Also, keep in mind that the gate at Longmire is locked nightly. So if you're stuck in Longmire waiting for the snowplows to clear the road in the morning, get your permit at the Longmire Museum.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Weather, Roads, Parking

A storm pummels the mountain as winter finally plays a more serious hand. High winds were measured at Camp Muir today. For 12 hours, the weather telemetry station recorded 100+ MPH wind gusts; 10 of those hours had sustained averages above 90 MPH! Currently, it's snowing at Paradise. Until Sunday (Nov 11th) the weather over the last few weeks has been rather mild with very little precipitation and long stretches of clear skies. The early October snow storms that resulted in great skiing largely disappeared, until today. The current forecast for the week calls for cold temps and more precipitation.

The normal procedure for "climber" self registration will likely be suspended this winter with the recent report that overnight parking at Paradise is likely to be limited. The current plan calls for 18-20 overnight parking spots - TOTAL... Nine of those spots will be set aside for "campers." Those are folks who "dig in" around the immediate Paradise area - i.e. 1/4 mile from the parking lot. Stay tuned if you intend to climb on weekends, it's likely to be tight.

Detailed road updates - Nisqually to Paradise: closed nightly at Longmire, the uphill gate locks at 4:30 pm. HWY 410: (Chinook and Cayuse Pass) open, however the road to White River and Sunrise is closed at Mather Wye. HWY 123: (Cayuse Pass to Ohanapecosh) closed. The Carbon River Road remains closed from the flood damage; HWY 165 to Mowich Lake is closed at Paul Peak Trailhead.

Pickles: The sadly fated Cascade Fox is gaining internet attention judging by the number of hits, links and web traffic. I wonder if there should be a Mount Rainier Animal Stories blog? (See HWO, NWH, and Backpacker)? It reminds me of our Ingraham Flats bear, which everyone seemed to love.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


This is a macabre post, so avert your eyes (or check out this site) if you don't like to think about anything really, really, really cute being injured, shot or killed!

As you can see, we have "Pickles." Pickles is a Cascade Fox. And unless you're an insensitive brute, most people would consider him a very adorable little guy. The problem is, Pickles was so charming, that he attracted a lot of friends, and with those friends came problems. This week, Pickles had to be euthanized (i.e. shot) because he was seriously injured. The general feeling is that he was injured because he was fed by humans.

So the story goes, Pickles was injured (or ensnared) a few weeks ago. Since then, he's been seen pathetically limping around the park near the road between Longmire and Paradise (let me say that this was not a very pleasant sight to witness). No one is sure what it was that exactly injured him, but something did destroy his right front leg. The general thought is that it was probably a vehicle, but maybe a trap. We really don't know. What IS known is that Pickles loved human food and became habituated to humans behavior. With that habituation came problems. The NPS biologist had this to say on the matter,

"After consultation with two wildlife veterinarians, we decided that this animal did not have reasonable prospects for survival in the wild. The leg injury was severe and there was some indication that there was head injury as well. This Cascade fox was fed by people well prior to the injury (even after the injury). Fed animals like this one quickly found that hanging around the frontcountry and roads between Longmire and Paradise was really rewarding. What the feeding public does not understand is that what they do has consequences - some very serious consequences.

This was the third Cascade fox/vehicle collision recorded since 2005. All were fed animals or cubs of fed animals. Vehicle occupants and wildlife are at risk when aimals are fed. Like the old adage with bears - fed wildlife most often result in dead wildlife.

Addressing the park's wildlife feeding problem is a big task that is going to take a while. We've been working to increase awareness of the issue with park staff and visitors but have a long way to go. We're seeking help from social scientists, trying different ways of getting information to the public, and are seeking funding to help reduce the problem. Please help me get the word out.

So here's the word. Don't feed the wildlife! Or...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Cell Phones, Survival, Halo 3 and Parking

Cell phones remain a useful tool for backcountry travelers. Many upper mountain rescues, and a few false alarms, have been phoned in via the devices. And as the NY Times points out, new technology can sometimes let Big Brother (or your parents, spouse, or significant-other) get a fix on your location too... But climbers and backcountry users should not rely on such devices around Mount Rainier, as triangulation and pin-pointing is challenging in remote places, and often there is no cell service.

Not everyone carries a cell phone, or more importantly, other key components of the 10 essentials. Case in point: a 20-something couple took off for Camp Muir during good weather last September. They packed light and enjoyed a night in the public shelter. The plan was to descend to Paradise the next day but the weather intervened and turned for the worse. Complicating the heavy fog and light rain was the fact that the boot track they had followed the day before was gone amidst the sea of hard, dirty ice that we call the Muir Snowfield. The result: the pair ended up lost and hypothermic near the chutes that descend to the Nisqually Glacier...

Thankfully, Canada came to the rescue in the person of Canadian climber Phill Michael. Phill was also descending from Camp Muir that day. He had separated from his climbing buddies near Moon Rocks and while making his way through the fog, heard distressed voices and wandered in their direction. Good thing too, because he found our lost couple cold, wet, and very confused as to what they should do to survive. What ensued were 2 nights and 3 days of Muir Snowfield camping and survival: camping for Phill, survival for the couple. Why? The couple didn't bring shelter and didn't have the navigation skills to get themselves out of the predicament. Thankfully Phill entered their soggy cold world with the equipment and abilities to pull them through the storm. You can learn more about this incident (and his summit climb) through Phill's podcast EPISODE 4: Mount Rainier (sounds like another edition to the Star Wars series).

And while we're geeking out on tech devices and Star Wars connections, maybe you'll decide to get lost in the video game universe of Halo 3. While there myself, I stumbled upon Mount Rainier! If you're a gamer (of the X-Box 360 persuasion) you may notice some familiar NW landmarks as you pummel, destroy, and generally kick alien butt around the galaxy. May the force be with you.

Of course no amount of "The Force," shield regenerators and futuristic space weapons will help against the ensuing parking lot pressures at Paradise this winter. With the ongoing construction project, there will be a pinch in the overnight parking situation. The current plan calls for a limit of 20 vehicles per night at Paradise. Between Sunday night and Saturday morning of most weeks, this limit won't be too big of a deal. However, on 3 day weekends or when the weather forecast is good, everyone should plan to carpool and STILL risk not getting a spot! This is a hot issue so stay tuned as the information evolves.