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