Thursday, June 08, 2017

Travelling on Muir Snowfield

All sunny weather spells come to an end eventually in the PNW. Winter has dropped in to visit Rainier once again.

This may come as a surprise to many who are traveling from afar, but the path from Paradise to Muir is still almost completely covered in snow. There are a few patches of ground popping out now around Marmot hill and Panorama point, but a majority of your travel will be on snow. And with a strong low pressure system coming through dropping temperatures and bringing  in snow down to 5000 ft in the coming days, it doesn't look like things will be melting out fast. That being said, hikers, skiers, and climbers should travel up the Muir snowfield prepared for the conditions, especially this coming weekend with the less than sunny weather forecast.

Know the weather and plan accordingly. Temperatures are going to be colder than they have been the last couple weeks. Be prepared for more winter like conditions with what you wear and bring for food and water. The snowfield is very exposed to winds. Rain shells and insulating layers are essential. There is a chance of thunderstorms in the coming days as well. There is no shelter out on the snowfield. Plan the timing of your hike accordingly.

Bring a GPS. For those used to traveling and navigating obviously marked trails or forested mountains, a map and compass or your natural sense of direction are not helpful when you are in a white-out on the Snowfield. We have had many people get lost on or off the Snowfield because of white-out conditions. There are times where you can't see the difference between the clouds and snow, what's the angle of the slope you are on, what is 5 feet in front of you, or whether you are moving or standing still (especially true to skiers). You can't take a bearing if you have nothing to reference off of. Wands are few and placed far apart and cannot be used as your sole method of navigating the field (they are not placed by the NPS and not regularly maintained0. This can be very dangerous for people who are unprepared. It is not hard to accidently wander too far left or right and fall off a steep slope or wander onto a severely crevassed glacier. For those of you coming prepared with your GPS, the following link has some helpful coordinates you can use to navigate the Snowfield in such conditions.

That all being said, as panorama point area begins to melt out, we ask people to start following the summer trail where it is exposed and not walking across the alpine meadows that have just surfaced out of the snow. Our park employees are working hard to put signage and ropes in to show where to walk as the snow recedes. We want to protect the beautiful and fragile alpine vegetation that is starting to pop out for visitors to see and enjoy throughout the summer.

For those who have planned a climbing trip this weekend are a bit disappointed with the weather, don't worry, the mountain will still be there. This could be a good weekend to still practice and hone in your skills (crevasse rescue, navigation, layering, etc) for you next summit attempt. Or wax your board or skis and get ready to sneak in a few more turns this season.