Friday, January 30, 2009

Paradise Road Damaged!

Updated Winter Access to Paradise

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).

Updated: January 31st, 2009 The NPS is trying remain flexible about road closures during the mid-week. If the weather forecast for the day looks good (clear and sunny, or at least no snow forecast), we are currently making a strong effort for the road to be opened to the public. This means that if the forecast looks good, you should be able to plan a climb!

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!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Results from MLK Weekend

What a weekend! Although the wind blew a little more than I was hoping, I think a good time was had by everyone.

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!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Grab Your Ice Axe and Head for the Hills!

All right folks, this is it! You can ski 7,500 feet of vertical this weekend at Paradise!

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:

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!