Monday, August 17, 2015

Does the outburst flood have anything to do with climbing conditions?


A real outburst flood originated from the lower terminus of the South Tahoma Glacier on Thursday, August 13.  There is rather dramatic video here.  The park has since received some inquiry if the outburst flood and the condition of the glacier has anything to do with the 'poor' climbing conditions this summer.
Well, let's clear up a few myths.  The climbing conditions have been pretty doggone good this year.  It's been a real travesty that more people haven't taken advantage of the great weather and solid routes to the top.

Outburst floods tend to happen this time of year when the conditions are warm.  Look at the Google Earth image below and put that into perspective of where the Disappointment Cleaver is on the other side of the mountain.

The climbing season got off to a great start in the spring.  By late July we were actually 500 climbers (year-to-date) ahead of last year.  Many people were out enjoying the mountain and climbing.  However, after a period of poor weather on July 22, the bottom fell out and folks have stayed away.
Here are another couple of facts.  It's true that our winter snowpack never arrived at Paradise.  In a big year, the snowdepth can reach over 240 inches.  This last year, it never got over 85" and stayed around 60" for much of the year.  The story was worse for Washington's ski areas as their base facilities are lower than Paradise.  However, most recording stations in western Washington recorded 'normal' precipitation.  The temperature was just dramatically higher.
We measure the snow accumulating on the Nisqually and Emmons glaciers as a part of an on-going mass-balance study conducted by principle investigator Jon Riedel, PhD, at North Cascades National Park.  Stakes are placed in the glacier in 6 places from the terminus up to 11,000 feet on both glaciers.  We did observe much less snow than normal at the stakes near the terminus, however, above 9000' near normal snowdepth (winter accumulation) was observed.  This was true at both Ingraham and Emmons Flats.
However, we have also observed that the Disappointment Cleaver has melted out to rock much more and much sooner than normal.  Deposition may have varied from place to place on the mountain.
So, the long-term forecast for the next three months going into the winter seem still to be for warmer and drier than normal conditions.  I bet that there will be a few more opporunties to climb!
Climbers Per Week / All Routes
Red: Three-Year Average
Blue: This Year

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Cold Blustery Weather is Upon Us

Climbers at Camp Muir braving an August alpine storm
that produced about two inches of fresh snow.
As we progress into mid August, the warm beach weather we are so used to is now transitioning into more of what you see in the picture to the left.  This does not mean the climbing season is over of that the warm weather has come to an end.  It just acts as a reminder that we are operating in a changing environment and that we have to be prepared for changing weather and upper mountain conditions.  If you are on the fence about packing that extra layer or the four season tent verse the three season, keep in mind that the fall weather is upon us.  If you were to get caught out in a storm, that extra layer might end up doing you some good.

The well traveled routes on the upper mountain are still holding up, but travel carefully and err on the side of caution when warm weather persists and you are faced with crevasse crossings or melting out bridges.  Pickets are highly recommended for each member of the climbing party in case someone were to take a plunge.  Keep in mind that as the season progresses, the amount of climbing parties is decreasing, so don't expect or plan on other climbing parties to be there to help if an incident were to occur.

With all the low pressure, and the in and out alpine storms, comes clear skies above the marine layer, so come on out and enjoy some fresh alpine air with minimal forest fire smoke.

Safe climbing!

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

NWAC Annual Report

Warm weather prevented a great ski season in the Cascade Range.  Snow pack set record lows at most ski areas.  Luckily, the amount of precipitation received was closer to average for the winter months.  This resulted in the higher elevations accumulating a more normal amount of snow, like we've seen high atop Mount Rainier.

The Northwest Avalanche Center released it's 2014-2015 Annual Report.  It gives a season summary and talks a little about the outreach they do.  Their avalanche forecasts are a great resource for climbers on Mount Rainier and elsewhere in the Cascade Range.  The forecast staff has come up to the park to give the rangers snow science lessons and members of the professional observer team can be seen up on the slopes digging pits and taking weather notes throughout the winter.

Keep avalanche safety in mind as August storms start to bring new snow back to the mountain.  Watch for terrain traps below avalanche prone slopes and consider bringing the necessary gear to keep you safe when heading out after a late-summer storm.