Thursday, July 29, 2010

Changing Seasons

So if you haven't already heard, summer is fully upon us here on the Mountain. Since the beginning of this month we have had thousands of climbers and skiers coming out to play on Rainier. Looking around the mountain last week from the side window of a Chinook helicopter we saw evidence of people climbing and skiing almost everything around. There were ski tracks down all the standard routes, plus a good many down some more technical non-standard routes. This was pretty amazing considering all of it was happening in mid to late July, a time of year people usually put away their skis and stop attempting routes like Mowich Face and Liberty Ridge.

With all of the beautiful weather we have been blessed with over the past few weeks our large snowpack is starting to morph into its usual mid-summer condition. This means that while most routes on the mountain are still in very good shape and holding lots of snow, climbers may start to encounter some ice poking through the snow in steeper areas, and some crevasses opening up forcing climbers to do a little more routefinding and endrunning of large cracks.

Over the past week Climbing Rangers have been out climbing Mowich Face and Ptarmigan Ridge along with all the standards like the Emmons and DC. Reports have been of excellent conditions in all places. Want to get an early August ascent of some steeper west side routes? Now is the time! With great snow-free trail conditions making for fast approaches and snow still clinging to most everything above 10,000' the stage is set for some great climbing. Just be aware that with warm days rockfall and icefall hazard increases, so climb at night when it's cool and be aware of what and who is above you at all times. Ya know, like when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em, when to climb and when to run. Speaking of running check out the fracture on Lib ridge below Thumb Rock! Although not normal at all for this time of year it is a testament to how much snow we have received and how warm the days have been.

Check out the new route updates and photos from the past week of climbing, training (always), and flying. Come on up and enjoy this seasonal transition with us here on Rainier!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Almost Ready!

Anyone remember that flood that happened way back in 2006? There was a little damage to some areas of the park, with roads, trails and even whole campgrounds being damaged or disappearing entirely. The lower part of the Glacier Basin trail was one area that was heavily affected by the flooding, and for the last few years NPS trail crews along with hundreds of volunteers have been working almost nonstop on the new re-route of the trail.

Now to the fun part...

The first mile of the new trail is almost ready to be opened! Trail crews are working on the finishing touches like some beautiful bridges to keep your feet dry crossing creeks, and rock walls that not only look cool but actually add to the stability of the trail. They should have the trail open soon, although the actual opening date has not been set, so until they actually open it please respect the closed area so crews can work uninterrupted to get projects finished. For now enjoy some of these photos that rangers were able to take during our sneak preview the other day. Stop by the White River ranger station for the all the latest information on the Glacier Basin trail, or any other trail for that matter.

If you happen to come across a trail crew out working be sure to thank them for all the hard work they do on our many miles of trails here at Mount Rainier.
As for conditions on the upper mountain these days everything is in spectacular condition. Many groups have been out climbing and skiing all over the mountain from Ptarmigan and Liberty Ridges to the standards such as the DC and Emmons. All reports have been of excellent conditions. The sun has been out, winds have been mild, and fun is being had all over, so check out some of the new route updates get your gear together and come climb with us!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

This Summer's Trends

This has been an interesting season so far. The weather has been a challenge, which has made avalanche conditions a challenge, etc...

Well, it finally looks like summer is here and the climbing is in really good shape for this time of year.

This spring was much cooler than normal.  That caused the snow to not melt as fast.  At the end of February, we were hovering at about 75% of normal snowpack at Paradise.  Then the cool weather hit.  By 4th of July weekend, we were at 200% of normal snowpack!

Indeed, the glacier monitoring program found almost 1.5 meters more snow at the upper stake locations than normal for this time of year (7.5 meters instead of 6.0).

Everyone can remember the cycles of snow and avalanche conditions we were getting in June!  Crazy, but not entirely unprecedented.

Summer has arrived.  Temperatures are up.  The snow is consolidating.  The climbing has been great.

But wait, there's more!

There's still a lot more snow than normal for this time of year on the upper mountain.  Typically, each route "peaks" in its usage at a particular time.  The non-standard routes like Liberty Ridge peak mid-June,  while the DC and Emmons peak later in July and even early August. 

The added snow and cooler conditions this spring and early summer has allowed snow to linger on the non-standard routes longer than normal.  This has pushed the good snow/ice conditions we need to climb these routes into a time of year when there's better weather.

Take a look at this graph of this year's Lib Ridge usage:

The one consistent report from last week was that although there has been plenty of snow on the upper mountain, it has been loose and unconsolidated.  This is often the case early season during high freezing levels / temperatures.  Always evaluate your own avalanche conditions.  Many a party has been hit by early summer, loose-snow, sun/heat affected avalanches in Fuhrer Finger, the Turtle, Disappointment Cleaver, etc..

Also, just a few interesting trends.  Here's a graph of the last 3 seasons of climbing use up to mid-July.  You can see that during the snow/avalanche cycle in June that usage this year wavered in mid-June.  However, climbing is strong and we are on track to have one of the biggest years ever.

One other point to remember is that even though it may be cloudy down in the Puget Sound, it often may be clear up at high camp with beautiful climbing conditions.  Look at the NWS forecast discussions for Paradise ( and type in Paradise, WA).  At the bottom, you'll find the link to the forecast discussions.  If they are mentioning things like on-shore flow and marine layer / push, then it is likely that the cloud tops are 7-10 thousand feet.  These are usually stable conditions that indicate great climbing.

Don't let those clouds keep you from climbing!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Going International

Looks like summertime is finally going to be with us for awhile. With nothing but sunny days in the forecast, now is the time to come out and crush the mountain! Conditions on the upper mountain are as good as they get for early July. Routes such as Liberty Ridge and the Fuhrer Finger that normally get a little thin this time of year are still holding lots of snow and should really be climbed a lot in the coming weeks.

Climbing rangers have been fairly busy over the past weeks with a number of tasks including climbing the mountain, training with the military, doing a couple of searches and rescues, and in our spare time trying to keep the toilets clean. One of the most special things that has happened in our world lately is that we have been able to host Ang Tshering Lama, a Nepalese climber, who was here as a guest ranger for three weeks in June. Ang spent time at both Camp Muir and Camp Schurman, patrolling climbing routes with rangers, taking part in our various trainings, and assisting in multiple rescues. If you were at Camp Muir or Schurman in the past few weeks you might have even caught a smell of the delicious food he cooked up for us during his stay. This is the third year in a row we have hosted Nepalese climbers in our program and we are very proud of our close relationship with their climbing community. Later this summer we will be hosting the Korean Alpine Rescue Team, so stay tuned...

Be sure to come by the Guide House up at Paradise, or one of the other ranger stations around the park, and say "hello."