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 (http://www.weather.gov/ 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!