Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Perfect Weather for climbing and skiing

Breaking with tradition, as oddly happened also in 2005, there was reasonable weather on the upper mountain over Memorial Day weekend. The normal Pacific NW tradition calls for drippy rain and snowfall. So with the good weather came a whole bunch of skiers and climbers.

At Camp Schurman, the skiers took over. After all was said and done, there were more successful skiers than climbers! Here is an all women's team that ripped down from the summit on Monday afternoon. They reported excellent climbing conditions, and relatively icy ski conditions... But that wasn't a problem for them. On the other hand, I witnessed another skier tumble and fall roughly 200-300 vertical feet near 12,600 feet. It took his teammates a few hours to collect his equipment and get him back to Camp Schurman. He wasn't hurt too badly, but it was awful to watch it play out through the telescope. YIKES!

On an important administrative note, here is a heads up to those who don't think they need to register. There are intensity patrols happening in the backcountry and they are checking to make sure that all teams have permits. This weekend, a few parties were turned around and some were cited for failure to register for a climb. Make sure you get your permit and climbing pass before taking off. If you need help, give us a call 360-569-2211 ext 6009.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Chinooks, aerial images, Brian Massey & Mizuki Takahashi

The U.S. Army has been spending time with the Mt. Rainier climbing rangers over the past few weeks. On May 22nd, we flew to the mountain and performed hoist and other training missions near Echo Rock, Camp Muir and Camp Schurman. While participating, I was able to shoot some aerial images of the climbing routes. Check out the updated route conditions for new information and photos. Chinook cockpit image taken by David Gottlieb.

The New York Times gave their opinion of Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the Interior, and they liked him! The budget outlook for the NPS also sounds good. Of course, time will tell, but it was refreshing to see some positive press.

On a very, very sad and all-too-familiar note, two friends of this blog died climbing on Mt. McKinley last week. Mizuki Takahashi and Brian Massey (both frequented Rainier) fell while traversing high on Denali near the Messner Couloir. The exact details of what caused the accident are unknown; what we do know is that both climbers were well loved in the Pacific Northwest. Mizuki had even contributed reports to our blog last year. I knew her through the solo climbing registration program. Mizuki loved to solo climb the mountain in the winter.

It's been a very rough six months for female alpinists from the Seattle area: Christine Boskoff (owner of Mountain Madness PI), Lara Kellogg (former climbing ranger), and now Mizuki. The loss of these three unique, independent, and amazing women is an emotional setback to many climbers in the region. Our thoughts are with their friends and family. Here is an image that Mizuki contributed to the blog last year.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Seach and Rescue (SAR) callouts

So the park has been open for 15 days and the problems are already starting to roll in for hikers and climbers. I've my fingers crossed that there will be NO serious accidents this summer (like last year), but the callout trend remains alarming. Over the past week, we've had 3 missions launched because of overdue parties. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

One instance involved two reportedly overdue climbers (i.e. example of what not to do) and it required park rangers to respond last Tuesday. It all started as a miscommunication between family members (i.e. parent and climber). The parents thought that the climbers would be home on Sunday night, the climbers planned for Wednesday. This discrepancy led to a 911 call late Monday night and a search that involved two helicopters (one military Chinook) and numerous NPS personnel...

The primary issue was that the two climbers did not register. If they had, there would have been no search, but since the team was reported overdue by 24 hours, something needed to be done. As it turns out, the climbers were prepared to spend the extra time and they did summit too, but one father didn't know those plans and neither did we. The moral of the story, register, OR face the US magistrate to explain why you didn't.

On the brighter side of the things, our friend and former climbing ranger Mimi Allin (goes by AKA Allin too) is getting gobs and gobs of media attention again. Being the POET of Green Lake obviously carries a fair amount of clout in Seattle. KING 5 Evening Magazine visited her recently, and if you live in Seattle, maybe you should too. Hint hint, nudge, nudge...

In other good news, the Glacier Basin Trail is looking better now that the rangers flagged it extensively. Recent rangerly type activities also included helicopter training. In these David Gottlieb images, a Chinook is inserting personnel at Camp Schurman. Every year, the pilots and rangers need to be recertified in hoist operations. Over at Camp Muir, the guide services are setting up weatherports on the Cowlitz Glacier while most climbing teams are ascending the Ingraham Glacier. Everyone is looking forward to Memorial Day weekend. Now the big question, what will the weather bring??

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Way too long, lots of climbing

All is good on Mount Rainier these days (despite my inability to update this blog!) Climbers have been scaling up and down the mountain by a variety of different routes over the past two weeks. One of the most impressive ascents was by a team of climbers who pushed their way up Ptarmigan Ridge after a long march.

The May 5th opening went by without issue. Yeah, the parking lot filled and U.S. Rep Norm Dicks and U.S Rep Dave Reichart showed up to help swing the gate (TNT). But most folks seemed more focused on getting to the mountain... which brings us to the important topic at hand, what's been going on above 6K on Mt Rainier?

Recently, there has been a lot of skiing, boarding and climbing. Here is a pretty awesome shot by Rainier ski-fan Sky Sjue... These images are from his recent descent down the Fuhrer Thumb with climbing/ski partner Christophe. I think, btw, that this is a first ski descent of the Fuhrer Thumb. I bet Lowell Skoog will be interested. Anyway, the Fuhrer's Thumb is the "climber's left" variation on the Fuhrer Finger route, OR "climber's right" of the Wilson Headwall, i.e. STEEP!

There is quite a bit of snow to carve between 5K-10K for the skier/boarder. Keep in mind that the recent weather has been great which means that the snow is melting fast! More than snowmelt, however, make sure you consider the avalanche conditions if you're headed out into the backcountry. You should personally check the snow conditions and snowpack before jumping into anything hairy. There have been numerous reports of slide activity between 5K-11K on 30-45 degree slopes. Of course, bring your avalanche equipment (beacon, shovel, probe, etc) and reliable partners.

Not to be outdone, the climbers have been having a great time on Mt. Rainier too. Our Updated Route Conditions page is getting filled with all sorts of cool reports... So far, folks have successfully ascended Liberty Ridge, the Ingraham Glacier, Gibralter Ledges, Emmons Glacier, the Tahoma Glacier (more on those two later) and a few other lines to boot. As stated, we have a FANTASTIC report about Ptarmigan Ridge!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Lahars, 9:15 Opening and Paradise Parking

If you live near Mt. Rainier, take note that there is a problem with the lahar emergency warning system (TNT). Speaking of early warnings, check out the forecasted weather for "re-opening" weekend (NOAA):

Saturday Through Monday: Variable high clouds otherwise mostly sunny days and mostly clear at night. Freezing level rising to 9000 feet...then falling to 7500 feet Monday.

They've pushed forward the opening time 45 minutes; now the gates will swing at 9:15 a.m.! U.S. Congressman Norm Dicks and Superintendent Dave Uberuaga will be there to cut ribbons and welcome visitors. If you're headed to Paradise, be forewarned that there is a limited amount of parking (I suspect that the parking lots will fill really fast). Why?
  • The park is expecting a lot of visitors this weekend.
  • The Paradise construction project continues, and most of the upper lot is fenced off.
  • The overflow parking (i.e., the one way road out of Paradise) remains closed.

Therefore, get up there and grab a spot early. If you're parking overnight, use the Paradise picnic area just below the Jackson Visitor Center. There is a good chance for that parking lot filling up too, so park first and then get your permits at the Jackson Visitor Center. As mentioned in the previous post, save yourself time by printing the climbing permit from this website, filling it out, and bringing it with you.