Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Winter Registration Information

Fall is officially here and winter is not far on its tail. Mother nature has already brought rain, snow and high winds to the Mountain -Paradise received about 4 inches of snow over the past 24 hours and we're expecting both significant rain and snow over the next few days. The National Weather System has put out a winter weather advisory for the next few days; we're expecting 6" - 10" of snow from this evening through Wednesday and then the freezing level is rising to between 8000' - 9000' and we could receive potentially 6" - 14" of rain. Sound eeriely familiar...? Check out some of the photos from blogs on the flood of 2006 to refresh your memory. Let's hope no such catastraphe befalls us this year.

Currently, the road to Paradise closes at Longmire only when the freezing level drops to below 4000 ft and precipitation is expected. The gate at Longmire will begin closing nightly at 5:00 pm once the weather turns toward consistent freezing and snow (usually around Thanksgiving or shortly thereafter). The road re-opens in the morning only after our road crew has come through and cleared the road of snow and then deemed it safe enough to drive. There is a sign on the gate, which states the estimated time of opening that day. During the winter, traction tires are needed for travel in the Park at all times and drivers should always carry tire chains in case of road restrictions during inclement weather. For weather forecasts and/or road updates call the Park's information line at (360) 569-2211 and select #1.

Climbing registration processes also change in the winter. While you wait for the gate to open to Paradise, climbers can register and get updated weather and avalanche forecasts at the Longmire Museum - open daily from 9 am until 4 pm. On weekends and holidays, climbers can go to the JVC II, which is open from 10 am until 5 pm. Self-registration is also available up at Paradise (NOT Longmire), located outside on the porch of the old ranger station. However, it is still preferable that climbers register in person to ensure the park has all necessary information about a climbing party and their itinerary, which allows park staff to respond more effectively in the case of an emergency.

Overnight parking this winter up at Paradise is not yet solidified, but most likely there will two locations - one in the upper lot across from the Paradise Inn by the old station and the second overflow lot will likely be in the lower part of the lower parking lot, facing the center island snowbank (same location as last winter). Check back to the Overnight Parking blog in the Access and Roads section for winter parking updates; and if you still have questions, feel free to ask a friendly ranger at the Entrance Station or Longmire Museum for details on where to park at the time of your visit.

Rangers staffing the Museum at Longmire and the JVC are helpful, informative and eager to assist with your needs, but they may not be a climber. Unfortunately, climbing rangers are not on staff regularly this time of year either, so before you come to the park, be sure to check this blog for updated climbing information and route conditions. For questions and/or issues regarding this blog or related to climbing at Mount Rainier, call the Climbing Program at (360) 569-6009 or contact Mike Gauthier at the email provided at the bottom of this page. Any general inquiries or questions specifically related to park policy or procedures can be directed to the Longmire Museum at (360) 569-2211, extension 3314 or by email at MORAinfo@nps.gov.

Enjoy the Fall while it lasts and since sunset is now MUCH sooner, be sure to start those hikes and climbs earlier to take advantage our limited daylight. See you on the Mountain!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center II

On Friday, October 10th, the second reincarnation of the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center was opened to the public and dedicated to the highly regarded and revered Washington State Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson. Funding for the original saucer-shaped visitor center (check out the image to the right - a distinct likeness of the old JVC and a flying saucer taking off into space) was guaranteed much to his hard-work and dedication, so it was only fitting that the new visitor center also carry his name. Peter Jackson (the son of Henry Jackson, not the director) spoke at the ceremony, highlighting his father's love of wilderness, his desire to protect our country's most precious spaces, and to create enjoyable ways for people to learn from and enjoy these amazing places throughout our country and this state. The ceremony drew big-wigs from Washington (D.C. that is), including the Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Representative Norm Dicks of Washington's Sixth Congressional District, and the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks. Other distinguished guests included local Nisqually tribal elder Zelma McCloud, National Park Service Pacific West Regional Director Jon Jarvis, the aforementioned Peter Jackson of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, Mount Rainier National Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga, an elder representative from the Consolidated tribes and bands of the Yakama Nation; yours truly of course and another famed NPS persona, Mike (Gator) Gauthier, dressed to the nine's in his class "A" uniform, and several hundred other attendees at the ceremony.

The new 'green', energy efficient JVC II is architecturally designed to match its surroundings and the historical park style, referred to as 'Park Service Rustic'. The feeling of the building when you first enter is dictated mostly by the space, due to the height of the ceiling and massive windows that line the entirety of the wall, naturally lighting the surroundings. However, it could also have something to do with the weird climber want-to-be mannequin placed high atop the climbing display. A feeling of comfort is there too. Above you are post and beam rafters, held together with cast iron fixtures and signs made from a menagerie of dark metal and wood. Overall, I was impressed and I think the sentiment was shared by most.

If you missed the grand opening, fret not, as you will have ample opportunity to view the building on weekends and most holidays, including the winter/holiday break from December 20th through January 4th. And as has been the tradition up at Paradise for many years, Ranger-led snowshoe walks will begin at the new JVC (snow permitting) on December 20th. The two public walks (12:30, 2:30) are approximately 1.5 miles in duration and last less than two hours and are moderate to strenuous. The walks are an amazing opportunity to experience the Park and Mountain in the wintertime. The adjacent photo was taken this past winter as I was returning from one of my group snowshoe walks - a beautiful view of the old JVC at sunset.

The opening of the JVC II means one more VERY important thing....re-opening our beloved Climbing Information Center (CIC) up at Paradise next summer. The CIC will function as it did before; climbing rangers staffing the desk will issue climbing permits and sell climbing passes, provide up-to-date route and snow conditions, weather forecasts, advice and as can only be expected from climbers (and NO ONE else) when they are awake and moving at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday - perhaps some witty banter as well. See you all on the Mountain!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Autumn in Paradise

I'm going to reveal a little about myself to you all in this here blogpost. . . . I Love Fall!

There are so many things about this season that I cherish. I love the changing colors of leaves, the smell of cinnamon baking together with apples in a pie, the smooth, creaminess of butternut squash soup (one of my favorite fall dishes).... and what better time to go for a hike then on a chilly day in October - wrapped in a fleece, wool hat and gloves, with few people around, it's hard to not enjoy these types of days. The latter is how I spent last Sunday, walking among fall foliage, listening to the birds overhead retreating south for the winter (they don't know what they're missing!) and the occasional rustle of branches as the deer grazed the final savory green bits before they too head down hill into the depths of the forests, protected for a while from the incoming nordic weather. My goal was simple - scout out the first half of the hike to Muir for the blog and report back to all our adoring fans (that's you) and be done. But my hike offered so many beautiful views and such a dynamic experience I couldn't leave it at a simple "Snowfield & Camp Muir Update".

So much is happening this Autumn at Paradise, it's hard to keep up -- every week is something new. Last week the old Jackson Visitor Center was closed, after almost 40 years in service to the public. Now this Friday is the "Grand Opening" of the NEW Visitor Center, also dedicated to Henry M. Jackson, the famed Washington state Senator. The dedication ceremony is open to the public and begins at 3:00 pm. Everyone is welcome to join us, along with some distinguished guests that include the Secretary of the Interior, our Regional Director and representatives from several local tribes, in celebrating this momentous occasion. The doors of the visitor center open to the public at 10 am on Friday. Building tours will be held at noon, 1:00 and 2:00 pm, leading up to the dedication ceremony, which starts off with the cutting of ribbon and finishes with the cutting of cake. If you have to miss the festivities, no worries, the new JVC will be operational on weekends from 10 am until 5 pm. Check the Park's most up to date Tahoma News for events and additional operational hours during the holiday season.

On Sunday, though, I cared little for the built infrastructure, being more interested in my natural surroundings. I have been away for several weeks and am amazed at the dramatic changes on the Mountain. I found it difficult to put my camera away; clicking away at the flora adorned in yellow, gold and fire-engine reds; the lush green of grasses and fluorescent moss sticking to small snow-melt falls; and surprisingly, an active amount of fauna foraging for food, also enjoying the beautiful day. Bears have been a common sight up at Paradise, but they usually are easy to scare and often flee once spotted. However, on my way down I noticed a group of visitors and several rangers eyeing a young cub that was fearlessly gorging himself within view of the Paradise Inn (And many spectators!). The cub's multi-colored hair was fitting, giving off a retro look, as though this capricious young cub had purposely highlighted his hair blond and spiked it up in defiance. The presence of law enforcement was a sign that the National Park takes their policy on NOT feeding wildlife very seriously, which is a ticketable offense at Mount Rainier and carries a fine of up to $100. View animals from a distance and please DO NOT feed them.
~ Keep Wildlife Wild! ~

Not only was I able to enjoy the splendors of Autumn, but I also received a glimpse of Winter - not far away it seems. Recent precipitation brought snow above tree line, creating a stark contrast on the hillsides; a white band above and green below. Within a mile or so of Paradise you can walk from Fall into Winter, it's quite an amazing experience really. Snow coated the ground from well below Panorama Point and then up, covering the recently turned red leaves of shrubs and lingering flowers that managed to keep their petals this long.

On my descent, several folks inquired as to the 'views'. Hikers may not have seen Mount Rainier on Sunday, but there was plenty more out there to enjoy, you just need to take the time and look. I only wish I had been going further along up the trail to Camp Muir. Conditions there this weekend were snowy and windy, but many times the clouds parted above, exposing a starlit sky and tranquil surroundings. With few climbers going up this time of year, anyone in search of some peace and quiet and a way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, will enjoy the solace at 10,000 feet. Just be prepared for some cooler weather and snow. Check out recent conditions posted about the Disappointment Cleaver route.

Enjoy the photos posted in the blog, better yet, come on out to see it all for yourself.