Here are some thoughts on the weather and Forecast Resources.
To most people, weather is something you look up at from ground level. To climbers, pilots, and other people who get outdoors, the weather can be above you AND below you. You're often IN those clouds that others are looking up at in the city. What to the sea level viewer is a cloud is fog to you!
It's VERY important to have a good weather forecast when you climb Mt. Rainier. The weather rules the day and will rule your climb, especially this time of year. The weather has proven itself to be one of the biggest contributing factors to situations requiring rescues.
Here are some of the websites that I religiously check before my climb, and before I register climbers. In general, you should be particularly concerned about clouds, precip., temperature, and winds.
Mt. Rainier Recreational Forecast
For a good and quick weather briefing, start off with the Mt. Rainier Recreational Forecast. It's specific to Mt. Rainier and put out by the forecasters at the National Weather Service forecast office in Seattle. This usually gives the freezing levels, too.
UW Atmospheric Sciences GFS Forecast Models
Instead of portraying atmospheric information on a horizontal plane, the following site loops at 3 hour intervals and shows a vertical slice of the atmosphere from the Mt. Rainier area in a southwest direction. On the left are pressure-altitudes. Although the altitude at which a specific pressure is encountered will vary depending on current atmospheric conditions, at "standard" pressure, 1013 mb is sea level, and 1000 mb is roughly 360', 900 mb is about 3,240', 800 mb about 6,400', 700 mb about 9,500', and 600 mb is about 13,800'. Consider that Paradise is at about 5,500', Muir at 10,000' and the summit at 14,411' and you will be able to see at what elevations the clouds are forecast to be! Pay particular attention to humidities, as Mt. Rainier tends to intensify already high humidities and produce clouds.
Temperature-Winds Aloft Forecast
Next up is the temperature-winds aloft forecast from the FAA interpreted by usairnet. This is usually for pilots, but climbers would be wise to pay attention to it. Remember, these are theoretical forecasted wind speeds and directions. You can adjust the forecast period at the top of the page. I have found from personal experience that the winds are often greater than forecast and temperatures are warmer.
Another good site to assess regional winds aloft is the wind profiler showing wind speed and direction at Sand Point (Seattle).
Here is a primer in reading this data: Wind is shown in the vertical from sea level to 3,500 meters (about 11,500') given on the Y axis. Data is posted each hour on the X axis with the most recent readings on the left side of the diagram. Time is UTC which is 8 hours later than PST, so 02/18 isn't February 18 but rather February 2 at 1800 hours, or 1200 PST. North is represented by the top of the diagram, south by the bottom, etc. For example, if a line is coming from the left and ending at the vertical time line, that is a west wind (270 degrees). Each full barb on the shaft of a vector represents ten knots, each half barb is 5 knots, and a solid triangle is 50 knots, so a "barb and a half" is about 15knots. Ten knots is about 11.5 mph. Of course local winds may vary, but wind at 10,000' is going to be quite consistent with simultaneous wind elsewhere at that altitude in the region, whether measured at Sand Point or on Mt. Rainier.]
NWAC Mountain Weather Forecast Page
In the winter, the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center produces the best weather forecast discussion because it is specifically geared toward recreational purposes in the mountains! You can also, of course, read the avalanche forecast here, too.
Camp Muir Live Weather Telemetry
Paradise Live Weather Telemetry
Also, with love from the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center, I help maintain a weather station at Camp Muir. This is always fun to check. Although the wind instruments often rime up and cease to function, the temps. are usually pretty accurate.
Paradise Experimental Weather Forecast
And finally, here's a page I find extremely useful. It's an "experimental" forecast interpretation based on Paradise.
Get a weather radio, if you can, for getting updates up on the mountain. NOAA weather radio broadcasts decent mountain weather forecasts on 162.425MHz, 162.45MHz, 162.475MHz, and 162.55MHz.
Hope that helps!
November 10, 2009
Left Longmire around 8am with two friends on the Wonderland trail to Paradise.
Best weather possible- mostly clear, no rain until we got off the trail. Twice I stood in the sun.
The trail is snowless up to the Nisqually river. Here's our first unintentional departure from the trail. We meandered north to find a good crossing, as we didn't see any trail on the other side.
After 20 minutes with all three of us across, we took out a map and compass and decided we had gone too far north. 5 minutes of bushwacking brought us onto the trail.
When you cross the river, cross right where the Wonderland trail ends on the east side. The trail continues just up the rise, I promise.
Some bear tracks and a fair amount of deer. No wildlife seen, if you don't count the elk near Ashford on the way up.
After another mile or so and some postholing we decided it was snowshoe time. My first time using them.
I now love snowshoes.
The next 2 or 3 miles were quite pleasant up to Narada falls.
we then departed the trail again. We discovered that there are waist, nay, armpit height drifts behind the comfort station and the road to Ohanapecosh.
We traded off breaking trail, hoping to spot the 'real' trail any moment.
We did trade off leader for a while. Breaking trail where you go in knee dip at minimum is rough going.
We finally saw a road to our right. Steep, but we knew that would lead us to Paradise eventually.
This was where we found the armpit high snow. I shudder to think how we would have gotten up sans snowshoes. Swimming through snow, perhaps?
Trekking poles were helpful for the river crossing, but essential here.
Once on the (unplowed) Ohanepecosh road, we followed a cross country ski route back to the road to Paradise. After searching near the bridge for the trail without luck, we looked at the time (nearly 2pm), and decided prudence dictated we start back.
We all agreed we would try hitchhiking to our car at Longmire.
The first person we asked drove me down, I gathered the rest, and off to Elbe for food.
About 6 miles total. Excellent weather, until we got to Elbe, when it started to pour.
A great snowshoe route. Not advisable with just boots.
Next: Longmire to Muir, return the next day to Paradise. Contingent on weather, of course...
For general park info and road conditions call 360-569-2211.
If you would like to talk to a climbing ranger during the off season we can be found at places like Indian Creek, Zion, and Joshua Tree.
Have fun. Be safe. Wax your skis and pray for snow!
The conditions are still okay for late September. Approaches to the standard routes (Disappointment Cleaver and Emmons/Winthrop) are icy and have crevasses, but are definitely passable. Wintry weather can change climbing conditions quickly. The National Weather Service forecast read "The first storm of Autumn will begin to affect the region late Monday with cool and damp weather lingering through most of the week." Hopefully a week of stormy weather will bring decent skiing conditions.
Sunday, September 27th is the last day the Climbing Information Center will be open for the 2009 season. Self-Registration in Paradise will be open through the winter.
A helicopter was up on the mountain Wednesday afternoon for what was thought to be a climber with a broken leg. The injury occurred at 12,800' on the Emmons Glacier and the patient was flown from a flat spot just below. All rescuers and the patient made it down safe and sound.
Check out the recent updates on both the DC and Muir Snowfield. While skiing conditions have gotten worse, climbing conditions have improved.
End of season operations are underway. Helicopter flights for refilling propane tanks and human waste removal occurred last week over the mountain. Stairs to the half-doors on the public shelter are being put in place and the solar dehydrating toilets at Camp Muir will be closed. The larger ADA compliant vault toilet with a half-door will be opened at Camp Muir for use during the winter.
Be sure to double check registration requirements for the dates of your climb. The transition from summer registration regulations to winter registration regulations has begun. See the regs. link to the right for more info.
Seven days of stormy weather and complex conditions have shut down both independent climbers and guided parties from reaching the summit. Check out updates to the DC and Muir Snowfield for photos and current conditions. Photo taken from Camp Muir during a stormy sunrise.
End of season operations are beginning next week. Climber self-registration will start on weekdays beginning Tuesday. See the climbing permit/regulation page for further information.
See you on the mountain.
Message from park superintendent
As we look ahead to the fall season, we are excited about the PBS debut of the Ken Burns’ film The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. The 12-hour series starts on Sunday, September 27 and runs for six consecutive nights. I think this will be a powerful series and is going to be a great showcase of the National Park Service, its purpose, its places and its people - I hope all of you will have an opportunity to see it. Check out pbs.org/nationalparks for film clips about the series, e-postcards that can be sent to friends to tell them about it, and other information.
With the freezing/snow levels of the past week, the upper mountain has a 6-12 inch bed of fresh snow. Conversely, melting on the lower sections (i.e., Muir Snowfield, Inter Glacier) is exposing crevasses and bare ice in some spots. Please use caution travelling through these sections of the mountain - we recommend crampons, ice axe, and a rope above Moon Rocks (~9000 feet).
Phu Nuru, a resident of Phortse, Nepal, has an extensive climbing and guiding resume that includes four summits of Mt. Everest (29,028'), eleven summits of the sixth highest mountain in the world, Cho Oyu (26,864'), and climbs of twelve different 6000 meter peaks in the Himalaya. He is also a senior instructor at the Khumbu Climbing School which is held every winter in Phortse to train local guides in technical mountaineering, rescue, wilderness medicine and English language skills.
While on patrol at Camp Muir with climbing ranger David Weber, Phu Nuru enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the summit of Mount Rainier via the Disappointment Cleaver route. A majority of his time on patrol was spent practicing technical rescue, avalanche rescue and wilderness medicine skills with Weber. During his stay at Camp Schurman, Phu Nuru not only climbed the Emmons-Winthrop route but he also participated in an impromptu day of mountaineering rescue training (see photo) taught by lead climbing ranger and veteran rope rescue instructor, David Gottlieb.
Phunuru will spend the month of August enrolled on a mountaineering course in the North Cascades of Washington State to compliment his mountain rescue apprenticeship. Upon his return to Nepal later this fall, Phunuru plans to continue collaborating with Weber, the ALCF and Dr. Luanne Freer (http://www.everester.org/) to develop a similar rescue program on Mount Everest to respond to accidents during the spring climbing season.
Mountaineering aside, the cultural and social exchange between the climbing rangers and Phu Nuru benefitted everyone involved and we hope to host many more Nepalese rescuers like him in the years to come!
Lately, a lot of climbers have been having success on the Emmons-Winthrop route (see photo). It's in great form right now and a nice option to consider when planning your trip. Come out and see us on the mountain!
There are many opportunities to enjoy Mount Rainier this summer. Get involved in one of the many climb for causes, invasive plant pulls, or just come up for a hike with your family.
Around Paradise the snow has been melting at an exponential rate. Alpine fauna and flora have been returning as fast as the snow is melting. Late July can be the most photogenic time of the year in the park. Come on up and enjoy the views. Don't forget your sunglasses and sunscreen; winter parkas are also a must, even in July.
On Wednesday, July 1st, our co-worker and friend Sam was hurt while skiing on the Emmons Glacier. His surgery on Saturday went smoothly and he was discharged from the hospital Monday. Our thoughts are with Sam and his long road through rehabilitation.
Saturday an independent climbing team was traversing onto the Disappointment Cleaver when one of the team members was struck by falling rock. His party was able to walk him back to Camp Muir. He was treated and then flown off by helicopter on Saturday morning.
Saturday night a different independent climbing team ascended the Kautz Glacier route to the summit. They decided to bivy around 13,000' on their descent when one of their party members began showing signs of HAPE. His condition worsened overnight and the party decided to traverse over to the DC route and descend to Camp Muir for help. High winds prevented transport via helicopter. Rangers and guides assisted in helping the party and injured climber down to Paradise where he was transferred to the hospital by ambulance. [ed.: HAPE is a life-threatening condition for which the immediate action is descent as rapidly and efficiently as possible].
With all of the injuries this last week we're stressing safety. Please be careful on the mountain. Use conservative judgment when putting yourself into a committed situation. Historically mid-July has held the best chance of success for climbers attempting to summit, but the possibility of rapid storm development and the changing physical conditions on the route, compounded by altitude, should always be paramount in a climber's mind.
However, with both the Emmons and DC still in great shape it's a good time to climb. Come on up and enjoy the best season on the mountain!
Climbing rangers have been out again this last week on patrol. Look for new route reports on both Sunset Ridge and Little Tahoma as well as updates on the more standard routes.
June is coming to a close with weather more reminiscent of last year's June. Wind-accumulated snow drifts have been shin deep in spots. The new snow has skiers and snowboarders out again trying to get in a couple more turns.
Historically July holds some of the best weather and conditions for climbing. Hopefully this July will follow suit. See you up on the mountain...
Approaches are becoming easier, as the consolidation of the above average snowpack in the sub-alpine areas is taking place. White River is up and running, and Paradise is melting down to the point that you can find the buildings more easily!
Check out the Route Conditions for updated trip reports and conditions on routes all over the mountain.
Many of you may have seen the white schedule-40 PVC pipes in various locations on the mountain. These stakes are installed using a steam drill and a big frothing wand to put an 8-9 meter long stake into the snow down past the layer of glacier ice.
When we put the stakes in, the snow depth is measured from last year's late fall layer. This year, all of the way up the Nisqually and even at 11,100' on the Ingraham, we have measured an amount of snow comparable to most years at this time.
This is good news for climbers. Many of the non-standard routes rely on Mt. Rainier's typical snowfall to make the route endure long enough into the summer for climbers to take advantage of the better weather.
The project's aim is to analyze the mass-balance of the Nisqually Glacier. One of the things that we have learned from this project is that the Muir Snowfield at about 9,700 feet has lost about 1 meter of ice each year for the past six years. Many of you may have noticed the rock rib that has been exposed just down from Camp Muir at about 9,700 feet!
The Glacier Monitoring Program is coordinated by the geologist at North Cascades National Park. Many of the Pacific Northwest's glaciers are incorporated into this study. Field crews from North Cascades National Park and Mount Rainier National Park are involved in the project.
In 2002, Nick Giguere and I had been lowered in on a jungle penetrator from a Chinook helicopter to a serac just below Liberty Wall. We hiked up to just below Thumb Rock where the injured climber and their party were waiting for us.
The second helicopter brought in RMI guide Dave Hahn and Chris Olson, an NPS climbing ranger, to assist us with the lowering from Thumb Rock. As the helicopter was trying to land, it slid back on the snow, lifted off the ground for a short period while it spun around 540 degrees and crashed into the snow. It was one of the scariest things I've ever seen in 20 years of working for the park service.
The helicopter nosed in and lurched foreward. From 1500 feet above, the snow looked like it was spraying in all directions in slow motion. The main rotor bent down, touched the snow at mach speed, then broke with pieces flying off at 300 miles per hour in opposite directions. Finally the tail rotor broke off and swung around crashing into the main cabin of the helicopter.
Within two minutes, drenched in jet-A, and almost crushed by the transmission that came through the roof of the cabin, out jumped Chris, Dave, and eventually the pilot, unhurt.
There were no other helicopters available for a long time. Chris and Dave gave themselves a once over, and hiked up to our location. Since Dave was a guide, he took care of getting the rest of the party down the mountain. Chris's specialty is high angle rescue, so he took the position of litter attendant. Nick and I lowered Chris and the injured person in one long 1000 foot lowering.
Not often does someone crash in a helicopter, get out un-injured, and then take on a crucial role in a technically demanding high-angle rescue situation. It was truly amazing.
Chris and Dave will be honored in Washington, D.C. this week. Finally.
Activity-wise, it's been relatively quiet because of all the stormy weather. Only a couple of guided climbing groups were able to enjoy the sunshine from above the storm clouds this week. Lots of reservations are pouring into the information center. Make sure to send them in soon - they're processed in the order they're received. Check out a couple of new route condition updates here. See you in April!
I just went up to Camp Muir on Thursday, the 12th of March. What a beautiful day! There's an obvious inversion in place right now. Longmire was a bit of an ice-box, but up at Paradise it was warm and sunny.
There's a good 10-15 inches new that is settling with the sun each day. South facing slopes are balling up and pin-wheeling down. There were people who were just booting it up without snowshoes or skis, but it didn't look as pleasant.
Once atop Pan Point, there was much less snow. The current bootpath up the snowfield is a little left of where it usually is, but there's a little less fresh snow over there, so it's more firm and windswept.
On the way up, I saw one of the largest ice-avalanches from Nisqually Ice Fall that I have ever seen. It went clear from about 11,200 feet to about 6,300 on the Nisqually. Amazing white powder cloud. It's an obvious good thing to remember that we're not "safe" from ice fall hazard on the lower Nisqually.
The rest of the trip up to Muir was good with no wind. There was less and less snow the farther you went up. Sastrugi was predominent from 9,400 feet up to Muir. The upper mountain appeared to be in IDEAL shape for a summit. I'd really like to hear from anyone who made it up this weekend!
The washout approximately 6 miles above Longmire at mile 12.4 on the road to Paradise (just above the Nisqually Bridge) has been rated to be acceptable for 1-way traffic by the Federal Highways Administration inspectors.
Mount Rainier National Park has arranged for weekend and holiday access to Paradise. There will be one-way-at-a-time traffic operation with a flagger at milepost 11.3 (Glacier Bridge chain-up area) and another flagger up above at milepost 13.3 (Canyon Rim Overlook). Expect about a 5 to 10-minute wait for cars to pass each way before the opposite direction traffic is allowed.
Overnight use, climbing, and backcountry camping are allowed, but your trip itineraries need to be limited to these periods that the road is open to the public (weekend and holiday periods).
On Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays the road will close each evening at 5:30 p.m. No traffic is allowed down or up the road after the road is closed. The road crew typically is able to re-open the road sometime between 7:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. each day, depending on the amount of new snow received during the night.
Listed below are good guidelines to follow regarding estimating when the road may open. Please bear in mind that these estimated times are by no means a promise, so your patience is requested. Many variables exist that determine when the road is ready to open. Snow density affects plowing operation, with lighter snow being easier to move. Wind is another factor, since drifts and wind-packed snow take longer to remove. A large front-end loader or extended times with a blower are often needed to remove avalanche debris. How many plow drivers are on duty is a yet another factor. But generally, at Paradise:
0-3 inches of new snow: 7:00 - 8:00 a.m. opening
3-6 inches of new snow: 8:00 - 10:00 a.m. opening
6-10 inches of new snow: 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. opening (avalanche danger may be an issue with this much new snow)
10-15 inches of new snow: 11:00 a.m. -1:00 p.m. opening (avalanche danger may prohibit the road from opening at all)!
15 inches or more: The road may remain closed either due to snow removal problems or due to avalanche danger!
It is very important for visitors to realize that during or for an unspecified time after heavy snow periods, the road may not open at all. Be flexible! To make the best use of time at Rainier during these periods plan an alternate trip itinerary, perhaps to a backcountry destination such as Eagle Peak, Indian Henry’s, or even up into Van Trump Park and onto the upper mountain via the Kautz Glacier Route!
Don't forget to pick up a climbing or backcountry permit and a climbing pass at the Longmire Museum, open 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.Have fun, stay out of avalanches, and be safe!
Here’s the rundown on the park’s visitation over the weekend…
Cars Entering the Park Through Nisqually Entrance
1/17 (Saturday) 532 cars
1/18 (Sunday) 586 cars
1/19 (Monday) 400 cars (approx)
This is around 3500 people, many of whom skied, snowshoed, and climbed. People just day skiing reported various conditions, largely dependent on aspect, elevation, and time of day. But reports of nice spring corn were often the case. However, the road is open right now, but when I got here at 10:30, there entire parking lot was empty!
On the upper mountain, there a slight inconsistency with what people register to climb, and what they actually end up climbing, but here’s how it shakes down from the computer’s perspective:
1/17/09 to 1/19/09
Route------# Climbers------# Summits------%Success
A 60 percent summit rate for this time of year is absolutely fabulous. I was psyched to see so many safe climbs.
And thanks to you who sent in route conditions reports!
First the hype.
Rarely during the winter does the weather turn so nice for so long! I made a run from just above Ingraham Flats (11,500') to Longmire (2,700'), and that's almost 9,000 feet in one run. As you'll read later in this post, I wouldn't particularly recommend skiing the lower 1,500 feet, but 7,500' isn't too bad, is it? With this intense temperature inversion in effect, it may be warmer at 5,500' than at 2,700'. In fact, at Camp Muir on Thursday morning, the temperature was 46 degrees! I could almost smell this coming weekend's barbeques in the Paradise lot, the sun tan oil, and the kids having a great time in the newly groomed snowplay area.
Now the beta.
The snow is setting up and developing into good corn. On the way up from Paradise this morning for a patrol to Camp Muir, the snow was set up enough to walk on with just boots (around 10:00 a.m.). The skinning was great, until I got to just below Pan Point. It was set up enough that it took two tries to get up a particular pitch I was trying to ascend. If you're going up early, I'd recommend a pair of crampons and an ice axe.
Just about everything was skiable in the Paradise area today. The snow is nice and smooth, but BEWARE! This afternoon's heat was bringing down small wet loose avalanches in steeper gulleys. Read the latest avalanche report from the NWAC: http://www.nwac.us/
Edith Creek Basin looked awesome and smooth. Mazama Ridge really looked nice. Once through the gauntlet at Pan Point, the rest was just a beautiful skin up to Camp Muir! The ski penetration eventually got to around 1-2 inches. That's nothing compared to slogging up in waist deep snow.
Once up to around 9,000 feet, the snowfield becomes badly pocked with sastrugi, and we're talking BIG sastrugi features. Not fun to ski through. If you're up on the Muir Snowfield, remember, it's always a good idea to have the "bearing sheet" for the compass bearing, if the weather should turn bad.
Camp Muir is open and ready for business. The toilets are shoveled out. The public shelter is accessible. Would someone please shovel the snow out that's drifted inside? Be aware that I tested the public radio, and it seems to be dead. I shoveled snow off of the solar panels on the roof. This may solve the problem. Bring a Verizon cell phone just in case of an emergency. Remember you need a backcountry permit (free) if you are just staying at Camp Muir and not going above.
I made it up to Ingraham Flats in a turtleneck T-shirt. Now that's rare for January! I was able to skin right up to the top of Cathedral Gap, but on the traverse past the Gap, just to be safe, I took the skis off and put the crampons on. But I could've walked with my crampons all the way from Paradise. Once I was back out on the glacier, the skis went back on and I was able to skin up to about 11,500' before it was time to turn around. The snow was nice styrofoam. If you're interested in heading up above Camp Muir, remember you need a climbing permit and a climbing pass whether your purposes are just skiing or climbing.
The ski down was great through Cathedral Gap. In 10 minutes I was back at Camp Muir. I left Muir at about 3:00 p.m. I skied through this terrible sastrugi that I described above, but then I dove off down the Nisqually Glacier. It goes! For those of you interested in skiing down the glacier, remember to bring along a friend and some extrication gear. The snow was getting soft in the afternoon making crevasse falls more likely. Since you're on a glacier, technically you need a climbing permit and a climbing pass.
I hit it at about 3:30, when it was a little on the soft side. Who knows how things will be this weekend, but I would try to stick it a little earlier. The slopes above on the Nisqually Cliffs were getting some warm sun. Be weary of avalanches coming down, and especially rockfall! Beware of a lot of little rocks and pebbles in the snow.
Once down on the flat part of the Nisqually (around 6,400 feet), I was surprised at how fast I was able to cruise. I crossed over to the west side of the glacier, and skied down the nose of the glacier to the terminus. It was very soft, a little too soft. I had my first biff. From there it was a cruise to the bridge. Bring a friend with another car for the ride back up to Paradise!
I continued skiing the Nisqually River bed down to Cougar Rock Campground where I caught the Wonderland Trail for the rest of the push to Longmire. All in all, I skied just about 9,000 feet of vert. But I wouldn't recommend this last bit from the bridge on down. With a few creek crossings and some wet feet, it was a bit of a jungle boogie.
In a nutshell, the skiing, the climbing, the sledding and/or just suntanning at Paradise looks great this weekend and if you're from Washington, you'll know that we need to take advantage of this!