Yes, Mount Rainier is opening

Mount Rainier is going to open this weekend, so get ready everyone! There is a lot of internal moving and shaking in response to the May 5th opening. The park is preparing for crowds, media, and general hoopla. I'm envisioning a rock concert: ardent fans pushed against a barricade eager for the band...

Emailers: I have no advice on how to get into the park earlier than Saturday 10 a.m. Anyway, I hear there is going to be a ribbon cutting ceremony and you wouldn't want to miss that. I realize that it may mess with your alpine start, your day of good skiing, your available day light; but hey, it is Cinco de Mayo. Oh, and if you're climbing the mountain: register at the Jackson Visitor Center, and park overnight in the picnic area (just below the Paradise lower lot). Also,save time by filling out your climbing permit early. Print it out from this website, fill it out, and bring it with you.

It's a challenge trying to compose Mt. Rainier-specific prose given the recent terrible news about Lara Kellogg... Steve Hyde is sharing an incredible photo gallery of Lara over here. I recommend checking it out. This image of Lara Kellogg at Camp Schurman on Mt. Rainier was contributed by Mark Westman, 1996.

Lara-Karena Kellogg (Bitenieks)

Lara-Karena Kellogg (formerly Lara-Karena Bitenieks) died Monday evening while climbing Mt. Wake in the Alaska Range. Some of you may have known Lara from her years as a climbing ranger and member of our Mt. Rainier search and rescue team. But when it came to friends and social networks, Lara was indeed a power-broker in Seattle. Her loss is greatly affecting many people. Her friends are coming together to sort through the sadness and remember her life.

The NPS released Lara's name after her husband, Chad Kellogg, was notified in China where he was climbing (he is now returning to Seattle). There is a lot more to say about Lara. She was a very close friend and influential force in the way the Mount Rainier climbing program runs today. Lara possessed an amazing amount of style, confidence, independence, and strength.

The Fairbanks Daily Newsminer spoke with her climbing partner Jed Brown for details of the accident, Jed has a detailed narrative about the climb and accident on his website. They were climbing the N.E. Ridge of Mt. Wake. The green dot indicates the high point and the red dot is where the accident occurred. This route has some history. In 1994, two Alaskan climbers fell at nearly the same location during a rappelling accident. We will post a lot more on Lara in the days to come.

Jed Brown provided this picture of Lara from their climb. The Mt. Wake photo was taken by Eamonn Walsh and provided to us by Mark Westman.

Sadness

On an incredibly somber note, the Seattle climbing community and Mount Rainier climbing program were rocked this week with the loss of a very close friend. While warming up for larger climbs in the Alaska Range, our friend fell to her death descending Mount Wake. At this time, we're withholding many of details until her husband can be notified. The press has picked up on the accident, as have many of the chat rooms (ST, CC); all are honoring the request for privacy until proper notification can be made. I'll post more information about the incident and this incredible person when the time is right. Here is picture of Mt. Wake provided by Mark Westman.

Opening and climbing rainier press

May 5th is rapidly approaching, and plans to reopen the park on the anniversary of Napoleon's death continue. The proposed theme involves a grand ceremony at 10 am (think dignitaries, ribbons, etc)... From 10 am to 12, the park entrance fee will be waived, so if you're a budget minded traveler, arrive early. It is anticipated that there will be a lot of action and people in the park that weekend, especially if the weather is nice.

Enthusiasm and excitement to be on the mountain continue to steadily brew in the region. Greg Johnston (Seattle PI) wrote a compelling article about his experiences ascending Mt Rainier. The story covers what it's like getting up and down this mountain and includes a photo gallery. In a separate piece, Greg talks with the three Rainier guide services about their new operations this summer and about the implications of competition on the mountain.

Summit, Camp Muir, Guiding, Bureaucracy

Two separate teams reached the summit of Mount Rainier last week! Such a feat wouldn't normally make blog headlines but with the park closed, it's fun to hear about anyone who gets anywhere near Columbia Crest. The details? Two men ascended the Emmons Glacier, and a RMI guided team climbed the Disappointment Cleaver. There are more photos and descriptions of the Glacier Basin Trail too (and it's not "that" bad).

Helicopters ferried loads to and from Camp Muir last Friday. The primary push is to support the new mountaineering guided concessions as they prepare for the summer. Those familiar with Camp Muir will note a change in who operates out of what buildings. The client shelter (eastern 2/3 of the big rectangle building in the lower right photo) will house RMI. The Gombu (west 1/3 of the same building, different entrance) will be shared by AAI and IMG on alternating nights. The NPS will move out of the Butler Shelter and into the Cook Shack (rock hut in the lower left). RMI will gain use of the Butler Shelter as a storage and cooking facility. All three of the guide services will have access to an independent weatherport on the Cowlitz Glacier.

There are a lot of changes with regard to guided operations on the mountain. Here are a few key elements:
  • Along the Camp Muir corridor, RMI can lead 24 clients and guides per night. AAI and IMG are allowed 12. This is an overall reduction of 11 "guided related climbers" per night when compared to previous years.
  • On the Emmons Glacier, each guide service can lead one trip per week, for a total of 120 clients and guides per year. There is no commercial guiding allowed on Friday and Saturday night.
  • The same is true for the Kautz Glacier route, only each guide service is limited to 80 clients and guides total per year.
  • There is NO commercial guiding from Success Cleaver west and north to Ptarmigan Ridge.
  • Independent climbers will note a reduced number of guides and clients on the Muir routes during the summer. They will note a mid week increase of clients and guides on the Emmons Glacier route. Almost all of the western half of the mountain is closed to commercial activity, so there's plenty of room to stretch out.

On a completely unrelated note, you can download an electronic version of the Climbing Registration Card. If you want to save a little time in the ranger station, fill the Climbing Registration Card out completely ahead of time and bring it with you when you come to register.

Mountaineering Report – 2006

Highlights

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.

Climbing Statistics

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

Patrols

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.

High Camps

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.

Ranger Stations

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.

Rescues

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.

Resource Protection

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.

Looking Ahead

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.

Cinco de Mayo - Projected Opening

In celebration of Mexico's victory over French forces in 1862, the proposed reopening of the park has been pushed back to May 5th. OK, maybe that's just a coincidence, but I suspect that there will be some amount of celebration on May 5th if the road to Paradise does open. More in The News Tribune, Seattle PI, and Seattle Times.

Based on recent email, there is increased interest in the status of the Glacier Basin trail. Earlier this week, I relayed the news about significant damage to the trail. As a point of optimism, remember that a handful of people have successfully made it to Glacier Basin already this year. Yes, early season snow helped these folks out, but determined teams will probably find a bypass around the significant areas of destruction. In fact, I heard a rumor that two climbers/skiers made it to 11k a few days ago!

Speaking of the east side and access to the White River area, the road crew has cleared a path up to the campground wye. It's unclear when they will clear the campground road, but anyone accessing that area can bike in from the north boundary. As a reminder, self-registration is still in effect at the White River Ranger Station and watch for NPS/DOT vehicles.

Here are a few snippets from the 2006 Mountaineering Report. I'll get the rest of it up on the next week.

Climbing Statistics

9,154 climbers registered in 2006. Of those, 4,132 were part of a guided trip, while the other 5,022 climbed independently. 5,787 summited, the overall success rate in 2006 was 63%, a rather high rate.

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

Resource Protection

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, 122. 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.

All things Rainier...

More information about the climbing routes and access to them is starting to pour in from our vast network of contributors (you could be one too)... And from the latest reports, getting up and down the Glacier Basin trail won't be so easy this year. Today, the NPS trail-crew leader said, "My initial impressions, given the several feet of snow, is that the route will be impassable to most people and will likely require the full replacement of about one mile of trail." There's more on the Glacier Basin trail in the Updated Route Conditions.

The Seattle PI (in the Getaway Section) did a nice feature on spring access to Mt Rainier. The story covers what's happening, safety, and what visitors may expect once the park reopens. But the best part of the story is that they managed to tag this blog as "all things Rainier." Nice!

Last week, I revisited Camp Muir for the first time in three months. Things there seemed as normal as ever when it comes to spring access... However, things will be different this summer with the new guide services on the mountain. The most notable change will be that the NPS ranger station is moving to the Cook Shack (which is much more centrally located in camp). Also worth noting are the changes to what guide service will be operating out of what facility... AND that there will be a few new weatherports at Camp Muir... When the dust settles on the plan, I'll post more information. In the meantime, the reservation office has been quite busy churning out permits. If you've submitted a climbing reservation, there is a good chance that your confirmation is already in the mail. Pictured right is Seattle Times photogragher Erika Shultz, image by Mike Gauthier.

In other mountaineering news, Phil Ershler (longtime guide for International Mountain Guides) and his wife Susan recently released a book about their quest for the seven summits. In 2002, they became the first known couple to complete the circuit. The Seattle PI did a really nice piece about them, and some of the trials and tribulations, that went on behind the scenes.

Summit Trips and Road Access

Winter-like snowfall continues on Mt. Rainier, but you can feel the presence of spring and the coming summer in the air. Many climbers are planning summer trips; reservations are in full swing, and the guide services are working again on the mountain.

The best Mt. Rainier climbing news, of late, is the recent summit by two independent climbers. Tim Ryan (photo credit) and his partner (Erik) hiked in from the Nisqually Entrance (i.e. park boundary) up the Tahoma Creek drainage and to the summit via the Tahoma Glacier. Their trip report is here (almost verbatim).

Of interest to many is the updated list of road openings; there are no major surprises. Along those lines, the Nisqually to Paradise road is nearing completion. Park crews have reconstructed the embankments at Milespost's #5 and #9. In the next few weeks, the road crew hopes to complete the installation of two massive 12-foot culverts at Kautz Creek. They're still calling for a May 1 opening (barring unanticipated delays) and plan a "media day" once the major repairs are completed (just in case there wasn't enough press already).

A quick word on campgrounds... Cougar Rock Campground will be open May 18th, one week earlier, to help offset the loss of Sunshine Point. Otherwise, it's business as usual at the other locations (except for Ipsut Creek).

The hard way - first reported summit of 2007

Two climbers reported reaching the summit of Mount Rainier last week! Considering the access difficulties (flood damage, closures, unpredictable weather, mountain conditions) making the summit was quite an achievement. What happened? The pair started at the Nisqually entrance, hiked the main road to the Westside Road, climbed the Tahoma Creek drainage, and summitted via the Tahoma Glacier. Despite the accesss afforded to others, these independent climbers proved that no amount of flood damage was going to deter them. This duo is rewarded with the first reported summit of 2007! Hats off to them; I hope they share their report and photos.

A May 1st opening is being tossed around as a rather definitive opening date these days. At least the NPS Director Mary Bomar thinks so. Only in hushed whispers do people talk about potential delays. Those threats revolve around unexpected floods during the interim. Let's hope for a mellow and cold April.