Saturday, May 24, 2008

Into the weekend

Memorial Day weekend is here and so far, there hasn't been any chaos on the mountain. Surprisingly, the weather was quite pleasant today (Saturday) so getting to a high camp was actually reasonable. There is an update on the Muir Snowfield conditions, a new post on the Emmons Route, as well as a few recent aerial images that have been added to the Kautz, Mowich and Success routes. Photos by Stefan Lofgren.

We are also doing our part to keep you up to date about the changes to the road conditions, access and road openings.

If you've climbed this weekend, send us a report.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Getting ready for Memorial Day weekend

The weather this week was ugly. What was supposed to be a chance of rain, turned into 20 plus inches of new snow at Paradise! That's doing little to help with the road opening operations. We've updated the road access information, but please be forewarned, it's a moving target, particularly with regard to avalanche issues and other obstacles that continually arise.

Climbing rangers will be lurking on the Emmons and Muir routes this weekend. If you're bored, stop in and visit them at high camp. Otherwise, those on the Emmons should prepare for a longer march into White River Campground. It doesn't look as though that road will open by Memorial Day weekend. Therefore, be prepared to park your vehicle at the "Mather Wye" on HWY 410 (extra 6 miles each way, unless you get lucky enough to hitch a ride with a passing NPS rig). Things are relatively normal on the Camp Muir/Paradise side. Though it is worth noting that the Ingraham Direct is already out of shape and most climbers are hitting the Disappointment Cleaver. Remember, the Jackson Visitor Center opens at 6 a.m. on Saturday.

There was a substantial increase in the number of climbers and skiers visiting the upper mountain this past weekend. To keep you up to speed, we've added a number of new reports in the Updated Route Conditions. If you've some images or narratives about your climbing experience, we want them (and so does everyone else!). Photo by Jason Hummel.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Heatwave Climbing

Longmire may still be a snowy icebox (3-4 feet of snow in some places and cool down-valley...katabatic... winds) but the upper mountain hasn't been. On Thursday and Friday nights, the low at Camp Muir "dipped" (!) to a balmy 50 degrees. Former climbing ranger and famed speed climber Chad Kellogg found a sea of slush on his way to Camp Muir. Chad left Paradise around midnight (60 degrees) using (needing) snowshoes to plow through snow on the Muir Snowfield. I've posted a photo and an upated description of the Disappointment Cleaver on the Updated Route Conditions page.

Under bright sunny skies, the newly remodeled Paradise Inn reopened without a hitch (TNT) last Friday. The only complaint that I heard was that somehow, they forgot to reinstall the historically significant "Glacier Lounge". What, no bar?! Other than that, the new floors look pretty darn good and everyone was happy.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Weather and Avalanche Advisory

Here's a SPECIAL weather and avalanche advisory for the next few days:

A major change in the weather pattern is underway in the Northwest Thursday and should persist through this weekend. Bluebird skies and high temperatures will significantly raise avalanche hazard Friday through the weekend on Mt Rainier.

If you are considering any climbing or skiing at or around Mt. Rainier, exercise extreme caution in avalanche terrain. Weather reports indicate that the current freezing level will rise above 14,000 feet, resulting in unstable conditions through the next few days.

Quick lesson: moisture from the snow surface will seep and lubricate layers further down in the snowpack, creating weakness as it percolates to the ground. Slopes 30 degrees or steeper on east through south through west aspects are of special concern. Do not assume that because the concern is wet-slab release that these avalanches will run slow or short.

If you are considering climbing the upper mountain, be advised that areas of the mountain have a full winter snowpack with significant wind-loaded slopes that are seeing their first transition cycle of the season. Areas such as the top of Disappointment Cleaver and Gibraltar Ledges are of special concern. Further down the mountain, the steep slope up to Panorama Point is also suspect due to its steep pitch and south-facing aspect.

Backcountry travelers should also avoid slopes below cornices or gullies and flat areas below avalanche run-out zones. Remember that boot or ski penetration of more than a few inches can indicate that snow is becoming significantly unstable on steep slopes. Finally, if you do plan on skiing or riding in the backcountry snow, please wax your skis to make your descent easier to reduce drag in sloppy conditions, and falls that may result in injury.*
*Portions of this advisory comes from the Point Forecast for Mt Rainier/NOAA and the Northwest Avalanche Center.

Party at the Paradise Inn

The Paradise Inn is reopening on May 16 after a two-year $22 million dollar renovation. Whoohoo! The renovation--completed by Watts Korsmo Joint Venture--stabilized the 92-year-old building and corrected structural issues while preserving its historic ambiance. One example is that the inn is now wheelchair-accessible, but there are many improvements like the main dining area and lobby, which have new hardwood floors and are "leveled."

There will be all sorts of festivities on the 16th, including a ribbon-cutting ceremony (3 p.m.), tours (1 and 4 p.m.), and speeches by Washington State Congressmen Dave Reichert and Norm Dicks as well as NPS Pacific West Regional Director, Jon Jarvis (who has summited Mount Rainier twice as a Superintendent). Coffee and cake will be served after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Mmmm, cake.) So head on up to Paradise and join the fun. (Photo: Paradise Inn, 1920s-30s)

For an inside scoop on the construction (complete with skeletons),
check out our post from March.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Avalanches and Prestigious Awards

Before we get to the fun stuff, I need to mention that the temperatures are going to really heat up later this week and possibly into the weekend. If you’re coming to Mount Rainier, be very careful around (or avoid altogether) steep snow slopes and glacial icefalls. As the freezing level climbs above 10K, the avalanche hazard is likely to SOAR. We’ve had over 900 inches of snowfall this winter and spring and you don’t want to be caught under it as summer returns for a few days.

So do you remember Phill Michael? He was the Canadian climber who helped those lost hikers on the Muir Snowfield last fall. Well, his actions earned recognition from the Secretary of the Interior. Here is the press release about his actions, the award and a picture from today’s ceremony. Great job, Phill! You can find more about Phill, this story and his other adventures at! He also discusses the incident in a radio interview.

Skills, Experience and Compassion earn Canadian Citizen the Department of Interior’s Award for Bravery

Mount Rainier is recognized for its inclement and hazardous weather. The Muir Snowfield on Mount Rainier is noted for its hidden crevasses and cliffs; hazards that have claimed the lives of many day hikers, skiers and climbers. A night without shelter while lost on the snowfield often ends tragically.

Preparedness, skills and experience are critical prerequisites for any climber venturing onto the mountain’s often treacherous upper slopes. At any time of the year the weather can change suddenly creating dangerous conditions. It is imperative that climbers begin their climb prepared to wait out the weather if it becomes necessary. Being prepared can mean the difference between life and death on the upper mountain and can help save the lives of others. Phill Michael came prepared to climb the mountain and ended up saving the lives of two backpackers who were not prepared to overnight in the challenging environment typical of the upper mountain.

If not for the skill, preparedness and efforts of Phill Michael, it is likely that the two backpackers would have perished. All too often, the story of lost hikers on Mount Rainier ends sadly. Phill Michael’s actions and preparedness directly resulted in the saving of two visitors on Mount Rainier. For these efforts, the National Park Service awarded Mr. Michael its Citizen’s Award for Bravery.

On September 16th 2007, climber Phill Michael was descending from Camp Muir during a storm when he came upon two visitors who were lost and ill prepared. That couple was also descending from Camp Muir, but found themselves disoriented and without shelter in one of Mount Rainier’s most notoriously dangerous locations. While descending, Mr. Michael heard distressed voices and moved in their direction. The path back to Paradise was completely obscured and it was quite foggy, rainy and windy. After following the voices, Mr. Michael soon located the two backpackers. At that time, the couple was in despair as they had no way to reorient themselves, navigate off the mountain or provide shelter. Mr. Michael used his equipment, skills and abilities as an experienced guide to erect a shelter out of his tarp and care for the two lost backpackers. Over the following 48 hours, Michael attended to the couple while the snow, wind, and rain continually threatened. During a brief respite from the storm on day three, Mr. Michael was able to reorient the team and descend safely back to the Paradise.

Friday, May 09, 2008

First Week in Review

It has been busy this last week at the park. Skiers and snowboarders of all sorts headed up to Camp Muir to enjoy some great backcountry turns. There is still plenty of snow to be had for this upcoming weekend. See the report on the snowfield for current conditions.

Use caution if you plan on skiing on or near crevasses. A lucky skier walked away from a face first 120 foot crevasse fall on Sunday, April 27th. He was skiing with a group of two others when he plunged through the surface. He ended up wedged upside down between the icy walls of the crevasse. After he was pulled out of the crevasse he was flown off the mountain for further evaluation.

On Tuesday, April 29th, rangers flew a reconnaissance mission near the summit after a report of a missing climber. Two ski mountaineers were headed toward the summit when clouds caught them. They were separated in the whiteout and one returned safely that night while the other made an emergency bivy on the summit. The emergency bivy worked out and he skied out the following afternoon under his own power.

It is important to have a partner and to stick with that partner while ski mountaineering. Both of these instances are examples of how a partner can really help the outcome of a rescue when things go wrong.

On another note... Gib ledges was climbed on May 5th by one of our local guides. The ledges are still in great shape. You can read about the trip report here. Also, many climbers are calling about route scheduling and reservation changes. You can read a little about both here.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Climbing Season Starts at Mount Rainier

Get ready, get set...the climbing ranger season has begun!

Climbing rangers are now staffing Camp Muir and the information desk at the Jackson Visitor Center (which is now open daily) to issue climbing permits.

Here's the current schedule for the JVC and for climbing information:

JVC Schedule May 3 -- June 6
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Saturdays, when it opens at 6 a.m.

Climbing rangers staff the JVC on weekends in May from 6 a.m to noon Saturday

Note that you can get a climbing permit at the JVC when it is open, even if the climbing rangers aren't there to issue it. Also, while the NPS transitions from winter to spring weather (there is still 5 feet snow in Longmire), be sure to call ahead for weather and road conditions.

To get you pumped about the upcoming good weather, we've posted a few new trip reports, featuring the Fuhrer Finger and Gib Ledges, and one about the ever-popular Muir Snowfield.

Elsewhere you can read about David Brown and Hannah Carrigan's trip up Gib Ledges and ski descent down the Kautz Glacier, as well as a trip report from Kyle Miller and Scott Stuglemyer about their splitboard expedition to Fay Peak - during which they dug out the Mowich Lake ranger station along the way (thanks guys!)
(Photo of Fay Peak ascent by Kyle Miller)