Thursday, July 03, 2014

July 4th and Near Misses

Happy Independence Day! We sure will be celebrating America's 238th birthday up on Rainier tomorrow, having a good time but most definitely not shooting off fireworks since they are not allowed in the National Parks! If you get high enough on the mountain though and the lowland clouds stay out of the way the chances of being able to see some fireworks from your camp are very good. Some items that are definitely allowed in the park that might be useful this holiday are charcoal and grills (front-country camping only unfortunately), spare ribs, BBQ sauce, cole slaw, farm fresh produce, and fresh cherries (rainier variety of course). Got to stay well fed this holiday! Please note that all wildlife here are already well fed and do not need any of your delicious food. Rangers, on the other hand could possibly be talked into helping if you don't want any leftovers.

It looks to be great weather throughout the park this weekend. Get an early start to avoid scorching daytime temps and full parking lots. Expect crowds in ranger stations and be prepared with a backup plan if the spot you most want to camp is full. Help us out by knowing things like your license plate number, emergency contacts for everyone in your group, and having your climbing passes in hand or payment ready. It helps dramatically if your entire group comes in together and ready to go.

Ranger Patrol, Ingraham Flats
On a more climbing specific note, this past week there have been a few incidents that did not become full blown rescues but easily could have. Both the events happened on Liberty Ridge, which has been the site of many successful climbs this season but also a spot where there is a long history of climbers needing rescue, getting injured and even killed. While Liberty Ridge is a great climb, and is within reach of many intermediate climbers it is a very serious undertaking and a real wilderness alpine climb. Rangers over the years have seen far too may groups come unprepared for such a difficult climb (f.y.i. - rangers have seen climbers on all routes come grossly unprepared). The lessons here apply to every climber and every route on Rainier. Do not underestimate this mountain, be on your game. Climb smart, we would rather not rescue you.

In one incident a climbing team was caught in a avalanche around 13,500' and swept over 800' according to them, and luckily were able to stop short of disaster. One of the most significant aspects of this event is that the team had climbed into a forecasted strong storm. This forecast included high winds on the upper mountain along with a significant amount of precip (which of course is still snow at 13,500'). New snow, plus wind, plus steep slopes, equal avalanches. The safest option is to not go into that situation or to turn around if bad weather sneaks up on you. Conditions such as this usually stabilize rapidly after a storm and can be avoided. Also remember even small avalanches that might not bury a person can still do serious damage if they push you off a cliff.

Another close call came when a team of climbers from Colorado got lost after a successful ascent on Liberty Ridge but failed to properly plan for their descent down the Emmons. As a result they started descending into some very serious terrain (Curtis Ridge) before they realized they had it wrong. Eventually they found their way down the Emmons but spent a lot of time and energy doing so. The route isn't over until you are down to your car. Get the proper information and make good plans before any climb. In the end these climbers also ditched a pair of skis on their descent because it was "too windy" to continue carrying them on their pack, and conditions were too difficult for them to actually ski. Climbing Rangers later recovered the skis that were left (littered) on the upper mountain. Needless to say we think this is poor form.

Happy climbing, Happy 4th. We'll be looking for fireworks from 10,000' so if you aren't up here and it's legal to do so in your area shoot off some big ones for us!