After all that nice sunshine a few weeks back, old man winter has made a return to Mount Rainier National Park. Bringing snow and rain, even up to Paradise.
While this is certainly welcome in mid-January, it is both a blessing and a curse. While we are still stacking up needed snow pack, in the higher elevations, the storms we have been receiving over the past few days have been coming in fairly warm, meaning heavy snow. All of this heavy snow has been falling onto a weak layer of snow that developed last week, known as surface hoar. Surface hoar, once buried can create a persistent weak layer in the snow pack, meaning a layer prone to avalanches. Rangers have been out in the Paradise area, digging avalanche assessment pits, and noting that this layer has been fairly reactive to tests. This falls in line with what the Northwest Avalanche Center has been seeing and saying as well. In addition to this avalanche problem, loose wet slides have been occurring in the lower elevations, as the snow gets rained on. What does all of this mean? It certainly does not mean that there is not still fun to be had! It means that when choosing to come for a visit to ski or snowshoe at Mount Rainier, you should check the daily weather and avalanche bulletin before you come. And be prepared for all weather conditions, as well as with all of the appropriate avalanche gear.
On days that the road from Paradise to Longmire does not open, there is still plenty of snow shoeing and even ski touring that can be done out of Longmire. So come on up and enjoy the winter season in your park!
Northwest Avalanche Center, for your forecasting and avalanche bulletin needs: Avalanche Forecast