Saturday, January 25, 2014

What's with the weather? We'll take it!

I made a program that calculates the freezing level each hour and saves it.  If I average all the values where this indirect method of determining freezing level seems to be working acurately, I get 6000 feet! Here's just the last two weeks.

dateAVG ( frelev )

But anyone who has been out in the mountains doesn't need a program to tell them that this isn't a normal year.  We've had a few weeks worth of days where the freezing level has been around 10,000 feet.  Quite a few climbers have taken advantage of this as these high freezing levels have come with sunny days and reasonable winds.

There have been an unusual number north and east wind events.  Although this isn't uncommon, the normal low pressure system that sits off the coast of Vancouver Island which sends our prevailing winter westerlies has been absent.  Instead, for much the winter, there has been a high pressure system off the coast of Northern California.

Climbers have been taking good advantage of the good weather that has accompanied the drier weather and warmer temperatures.  On Friday, January 24, rangers (3 volunteer + 1 full-time) Peter Ellis, Danny Johnson, Matt Sommerville, and Stefan Lofgren went up to Camp Muir to look into a report (from a former 90's climbing ranger, Ross Freeman) of the roof on one of the toilets hanging on by a thread.

Although the freezing level was forecast to be at 10,000, the snow at Paradise was solid.  At Panorama Point (6800') the snow was very hard.  This has proved to be a hazardous spot this winter because of the steep, very icy snow conditions and produced a number of rescues for us.  A very experienced skier took a fall and slid down towards the Nisqually.  He was eventually rescued and carried out to Paradise at mid-night by mountain rescue.  Another hiker was injured and was airlifted from Glacier Vista.  Many more hikers have been injured, but have made it down under their own power.

The message here is to be care.  TAKE AN ICE AXE or at least a whippet.  Know when to take your skis off (up and down).  Shoe chains can help, but crampons could be a big boon.  Pay attention and select your route carefully.  I found myself surrounded by ice a few times.

Above Pan Point, the snow got a little softer but my full-width, pretty new Dynafit skins certainly slipped out several times on the way.  Reliable sources like Amar Adalker have told me that he has frequently been using ski crampons recently.

We arrived at Muir around 11:30 and immediately found a small section of the middle toilet's roof missing.  We fired up the generator and screwed down more firmly the roof that was remaining.  This was not the end of the damage we found, unfortunately.

A routine check of the voltage on the public shelter radio system hinted at something not right.  We checked the solar panels on the roof of the public shelter.  They had ripped from their mounts and were lying upside down and at ninety degrees.  Even amidst the twisted aluminum and steel, the panels were salvagable.  We disassembled them and put them inside a enclosed storage area.

For the time being until we're able to fix this, please don't rely on the emergency radio in the public shelter.  We'll need to mount a temporary panel on the roof, but may not be able to do this for a few weeks.

We have been experimenting with a system to keep the liquid waste from the toilets unfrozen so it more easily drains into the leachfield.  The solar-thermal panel that provides the heat for this system was completely crushed.

The ski down was pretty good.  The high freezing level and calm winds melted the surface of the snow to provide great turns for most of the trip down.

The moral of the story of this trip is that we should not expect the same conditions as we have come to expect as normal.  There has been a lot of snow transport from east to west slopes.  This is unusual.  There could be more avalanche danger on slopes we have come to learn as being relatively safe.

As always, make good evaluations, and keep it real!