Monday, April 28, 2008

2007 Year in Review

We thought you devoted readers of the Mount Rainier Climbing blog would enjoy reading a 2007 Year in Review. We know, this should have been posted in December, but I was busy. Anyway, better late than never, right?

So, without further ado, my talented assistant Rebecca Agiewich and I present: Mount Rainier 2007: a blogosphere perspective of climbing on Mount Rainier.

January and February

CLOSED! Basically, every major road in the park was wiped out (to some degree) by the epic rainfall (18 inches in 36 hours) and subsequent flooding of November 2006. Fixing that sort of damage completely was too much for a meager NPS budget to handle, which created quite the buzz about how it was all going to get cleaned up. So much so that acclaimed cartoon satirist, David Horsey, poked fun at the park’s desperate financial situation. Despite Horsey’s pointed jab at government priorities and politics, Congressman Norm Dicks came to the rescue by reallocating 36 million dollars for flood repairs from the Department of Transportation and the Department of the Interior. NICE eh?

As for mountain climbing? Very little happened early in the year because of the difficult access.

The Tacoma News Tribune reported extensively on the damage. They even took time to poke a little lighthearted fun at me. The fact, however, remained: little changed in February and climbers weren’t scaling the peak. Therefore, this blog devoted more time to the flood recovery (i.e. a specific “Flood Blog” and photo gallery) than to climbing. Things were so slow around here that I took a trip to South America for an ascent of Aconcagua. Recommendations? Visit Mendoza, it’s wonderful.


This month started off sadly. A devoted married couple drowned in Ipsut creek while on a backpacking trip. Frances "Annette" Blakeley slipped while crossing a log over Ipsut Creek. Her husband Robert tried to rescue her by immediately diving in. Tragically, both were swept up in the torrent and caught in a “strainer” (log-jam).

On the lighthearted side of things, former Mount Rainier climbing ranger Mimi Allin was noticed by the Seattle Times for her work as the Poetess of Green Lake. See what sort of career opportunities exist post-climbing-ranger employment?

The Seattle Times judged the National Park Inn in Longmire “one of the most exclusive hotels in the world”. Such distinction!… Well that was the case for a little while, but that was because the inn stayed open even as park roads remained closed. Those visitors were shuttled into Longmire via a back Forest Service road and were allowed to "enjoy indoor plumbing in the park's largely unpeopled wilderness."


Road re-construction continued at a feverish pace as preparations commenced for the park to “re-open.” During that time, the Mount Rainier community mourned the loss of former climbing ranger Lara Kellogg. She fell while descending Mt. Wake in Ruth Gorge of the Alaska Range. Her death was a significant loss for the local climbing community as she was a wonderful person and significant social hub.

Meanwhile, outdoor writer extraordinaire Greg Johnston wrote about his experiences climbing Mount Rainier for the Seattle PI, which included witnessing a rescue at Camp Muir. He also wrote an article about changes at the park from due to the flooding.

Most notable of Greg’s articles, however, was the piece about the historic change in the guiding concessions on Mount Rainier. This, perhaps, was some of the biggest mountaineering news on Rainier in the past decade. For the first time in over 30 years, RMI would be sharing their exclusive guiding concession privileges. Into the scene entered Alpine Ascents and International Mountain Guides. Now prospective climbers have three guide services to choose from for mountaineering services. All routinely offer summit climbs and other expedition experiences on the mountain and beyond, truly connecting Mount Rainier to the international mountaineering circuit.

We also posted the 2006 "Mountaineering Report" in April. It includes a variety of interesting statistics such as the overall success rate for 2006 (63%) and the amount of human waste carried down from the mountain (four and a half tons). As an aside, we’re working on the 2007 report, so hang tight!


And with great fanfare, the primary road into the park re-opened on May 5th. More interesting for you upper mountain lovers, ski sicko Sky Sjue and partner Christophe Martine made what is probably the first ski descent of the Fuhrer Thumb. Thanks Sky for your continued cool reports from the upper glaciers. Everyone loves them.

Meanwhile, more sad news came out of Alaska when mountain climber Mizuki Takahashi and Brian Massey -- well-known climbers in the Seattle area who both loved to climb Rainier-- died while on Mount McKinley. They fell on the upper reaches of the West Rib route.


911 is not a climbing information service. Amid a flurry of climbing activity, a number of climbers dialed those sacred three digits when they probably shouldn't have. Because of it, they received a lecture about when and how to use the “emergency service.” We also used the blog to remind some climbers about the importance of not leaving sick or slow-moving partners behind.

While on the topic of emergencies, an actual tragedy struck off of the mountain yet in the park. Hiker Jeff Graves fell to his death when he became disoriented on Eagle Peak. Clouds and heavy snowpack were contributing factors to his getting off route.

Less dramatic, the door to the outhouse blew away over at Camp Schurman (three times). This made for a cold – yet scenic -- potty experience.


Bill Painter strikes again! Washington State’s famed 84-year old climber made yet another successful ascent via the Emmons Glacier route, resetting his own record as the oldest person to climb Mount Rainier.

Speaking of fame, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell visited Camp Muir and chatted up some of the climbing rangers. Imagine a sitting U.S. Senator getting the inside scoop on the park from a group of mountain climbers (I’m glad she didn’t call 911 for such questions!). Anyway, this wasn’t the last of Senator Cantwell, as she reappears in August for a summit climb.

The "no-rescue" streak (for the upper mountain) that began in 2006 ended in July when a climber broke his ankle practicing self-arrest at Camp Muir. Afterward, there were a few other minor incidents later in the summer, but it is worth noting that no significant accidents or injuries occurred in 2007. There were a number of great trip reports in June and July, so check out the archives.

August and September

Park superintendent Dave Uberauga and Deputy Superintendent Randy King made a successful summit attempt. Along the way, they caught up on the progress of hut repairs at Camp Muir and checked up on the new guiding operations. In this busy climbing month, lots of folks went up the Emmons/Winthrop Glacier route.

There was a flurry of helicopter activity around the upper mountain during a mock-rescue operation in late August. KOMO TV and other media types went along for the ride. Senator Maria Cantwell returned to the mountain for a summit climb -- a trip that was reported on by the Puget Sound Business Journal. She would have likely made the summit, but a longer route and team dynamics thwarted the attempt. Perhaps she’ll try again in 2008?

October, November and the end of 2007

There was a touching story about two “old-time” mountain rescuers who revisited the mountain. In September, they were flown around Camp Schurman on a special flight. Back in the early 60’s, they helped to build the Camp Schurman hut (read about it yourself.) Some climber/skiers did a trip on the Kautz Glacier and although they didn't meet their objective they posted a funny trip report with lots of photos.

As a video-game devotee, I was thrilled to discover Mount Rainier featured in the new X-Box 360 version of Halo 3. And then there were those two lost hikers on the Muir Snowfield, whose butts were saved by a Canadian climbing guide Phil Michael. Go Canada! Not so lucky was Pickles, the famed fox of Mount Rainier. Poor Pickles had to be euthanized after being hit by a car. Other November news can be found here.

December kicked the winter off with intense snowfall (198 inches) which then created long periods of exceptionally high avalanche hazard. That hazard caught hiker Kirk Reiser. Kirk and his best friend Troy Metcalf were descending to Paradise from when Kirk was caught and buried in an avalanche in Edith Creek. It was a terribly sad way to close out 2007.