Thursday, August 31, 2017

Emmons Glacier and Inter Glacier Approach 8/31/17


Late season conditions seem to be the name of the game both above and below camp Schurman as September looms near. Of the few parties attempting to climb the Emmons-Winthrop week, only one was able to navigate to the summit and back. Even then, the team that topped out took nearly 15 hours round trip. All remaining teams turned around before the bergschrund due to loosing their way and not finding a viable route through/around large crevasses.



The route out of camp, up the Corridor and towards the Alpine Meadows continues much the same as it has, albeit with a few more open crevasses to navigate. It appears that the large, traversing crack at 12,400ft. which has held up all season, has finally opened up and is no longer passable. This is forcing climbers to head straight up the mountain around 12,100ft. At this point, the bootpack disappears and footing becomes a bit difficult due to penitentes, sun cups and sastrugi on the surface. Many parties that pushed up, into unfamiliar terrain, neglected to take a tracklog with their GPS and lost their way on the descent. Because of this, at least three teams got off route and had to ascend back up the mountain 1,500-2,000 ft. to get back on track.

This is no longer the time of year to head up the mountain without strong route finding abilities in complex glaciated terrain and a solid grasp up gps/tracklog functions. Without a bootpack, climbers are largely on their own. That being said, one party was able to find their way to the top of the mountain and back so climbers that have the necessary skill sets may still yet find success via the Emmons.


In other news, the Inter Glacier has been effected by snow just the same as the upper mountain and many moderately sized crevasses are continuing to open up along the approach to Camp Schurman. Climbers need to keep their wits as they ascent to the top of the prow and give these features a wide birth. The final climb into camp on the lower Emmons is also heavily crevassed at this point and teams need to rope up between Camp Curtis and Camp Schurman while on the glaciar.

Climbing rangers will be staffing Camp Schurman over the course of the next two weeks to work on some hut improvement projects for the fall. If you find yourself in camp, be sure to say hello and drop off any of that fresh fruit that you know they love!

- Safe Climbing!

DC Update 8/31

Here's a quick update before the weekend.

The guides have been extremely busy trying to establish a better route to the summit. As of now there are three viable paths. The first is described in our last update here. There is a variation to this route that avoids the long downclimb to the Emmons glacier but it isn't clear if this has been used by anyone other than a scouting party.

The third route was established 8/30 by a large team of guides. This route climbs the Cleaver and then traverses to the south towards Camp Comfort (the top of Gibraltar rock). It then climbs the upper Nisqually glacier to the crater rim. Today (8/31) will be the first day this route is operational for the guides. Stay tuned for more info over the weekend.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Muir Snowfield Conditions at the end of August

It's that time once again where sun-cups begin to grow deeper and the snow surface begins to resemble sand dunes.  The Muir Snowfield has a south facing aspect which means the sun-cups here are deeper and more defined than many other areas elsewhere on the mountain.

Looking down from Camp Muir.  Note the amount of dust particulate
on top of the snow.  These conditions are very difficult to navigate on
skis and cause damage to your ski/snowboard bases.
Currently there are still no crevasses on the snowfield, that being said, we are moving into early September which is by definition "Late Season".  If you plan on traveling up the snowfield and making the trek up to Camp Muir, keep an eye out for long sunken depressions running perpendicular to the boot pack.  These are good indications that open cracks are soon to come.  If you happen to see these features on the Snowfield, think wisely about where you step and refrain from blindly following the existing boot pack.  Snow conditions change on a daily basis, so what may have been stable the day before may have become too thin to support a weight of an a climber.  The bottom line: keep your eyes up and if a sunken line of snow appears in front of you that transects the boot pack, take a longer step to clear the feature.

Poor snow conditions near the top of the Muir Snowfield.  Note the wand for scale.

Example of an early stage crack forming.  Keep an eye out for these on the Muir Snowfield.

As you all may be aware, it's been very smokey around Mount Rainier, and the Muir Snowfield is no exception.  If you plan to trek up to Camp Muir, plan for decreased visibility as well as issues from exerting yourself with thick wildfire smoke.

Over the past weekend, we saw a number of folks hiking up skis and snowboards.  Most of them appeared to second guess their decisions and ended up walking their skis/boards down due to poor snow conditions and thin layer of sand and pumice on top of the snow surface.  We recommend waiting until the snow falls to bring ski gear up to the snowfield for risk of damaging yourself or your equipment.

As always, plan to pack lots of sunscreen, and more food and and water than you might think you'll need.  There is no water up at Camp Muir, so plan to bring enough for the trip up down the snowfield.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

DC update 8/27/2017

Late season conditions reign supreme on the DC. The route is long and there are numerous large crevasse bridges that must be crossed to climb to the summit. Most of the route's difficulties have been and continue to be above the top of the Cleaver (12,300'). Solo or unroped climbing is NOT recommended.

NPS Ranger Madsen climbing out of the Popcorn Bowl.
A 400' climb is still to come on the 'descent'.
The main area of concern for the guides is the 'Popcorn Bowl'. This is a heavily crevassed area where large seracs have all collapsed in giant blocks (the popcorn) and the blocks, crevasses and seracs are all shifting and moving constatly. The area is very reminscent of the Khumbu on Mt Everest. To top it all off there is a ladder lying at a 45 degree angle which get's you into and out of the popcorn. It's not a place to dilly-dally.

The rangers are more concerned with the length of the route and the fact that it climbs, descends, climbs, descends and then climbs and descends again. We normally refer to features by their elevation but the Popcorn Bowl lies at 12,500' and you reach that elevation 4 times while climbing Mt Rainier via the DC. The long and tough route is leading people to make some poor risk-management decisions. We have observed many teams takeing more than 15 hours for a Muir-to-Muir trip and even worse, leaving teammates behind and unroping from each other while on the upper mountain. It may be tempting to split up from a slower teammate but this is rarely a good idea.

The circuitous DC route of August 2017.


This is not the time of year to cut corners on your rick management and the rope is a key piece of that while climbing on glaciers. We'd much rather see people make safe and conservative decisions on the upper mountain as opposed to leaving teammates stranded or forgoing the rope altogether.
 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

CIC will be Closed 8/25 until 13:00

Due to a Memorial Service for the employees who died while on duty at Mount Rainier National Park, the CIC will be closed until 13:00 on August 25th. We will have the self registration box out until we open. Please do your research before you arrive if you need to register before 13:00 to start your climb (by paying your climbing fee before you get here, checking the blog, and check the weather).

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Climbing on the Cleaver

Well, the Disappointment Cleaver has been playing hard ball of late. Climbing rangers went up the route on 8/22 to assess conditions. And as reported in several previous posts, the problem zone has been just above the top of the Cleaver itself, with the upper portions of the route remaining similar to previous posts. There are two ladders in place, over a section that has been settling and falling into a large crevasse feature.

Ladder at approx. 12,700 feet
There have been relatively few groups making it to the summit in the past few days. One guided team was able to make it up yesterday (8/21), but it took the team approximately 14 hours from Camp Muir to summit and back. The combination of dealing with the ladders, and the length of the route has been causing longer than normal summit days for many teams. However, all of that said, the route is not closed! It is a matter of the level of risk each team is willing to accept. With proper belays, and rope technique it is possible to make it across the crevassed/ladder section above the cleaver. When making such decisions, it is important to keep in mind how warm the weather has been recently, as well as how rapidly the conditions on the upper mountain change this time of year. Just because a crevasse bridge felt solid when crossed in the early morning hours, does not mean that it is safe to cross in the warmer parts of the day.

Overview of the ladder and crevasse zone above the DC. 
As far as the rest of the route is concerned, the cleaver itself is almost entirely melted out. The recommended line of travel is to more or less follow the spine, or ridge crest, of the cleaver. And as always, be aware of teams travelling above and below you for rockfall. Stay tuned for updates as the route changes, and be sure to thank the hard working guide services when you see them for the excellent work they do maintaining the climbing route!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Schurman Side Conditions

Here are some pictures of the Inter Glacier and the Emmons/Winthrop route.  Camp Schurman was VERY quiet over the weekend. Rangers encountered one party of two between Friday and Monday.  That party of two was able to get to the bergschrund at 13,800 (where the DC and Emmons merge) on Monday morning but turned around due to time. 

View from Camp Schurman. 

With the DC route falling apart, the Emmons is probably the best route up Rainier right now (or the Kautz Glacier).  Be aware, however, that with so few climbers on the Emmons/Winthrop and late summer conditions, routefinding could be challenging and will require a higher level of skill than in the early season.  Certain sections are quite broken with many exposed crevasses. There probably won't be a boot track to follow and if there is, it could dead-end at an impassable crevasse.  And because of fewer climbers and the dwindling staffing of rangers at Camp Schurman, a climb on this side will require more self-sufficiency than in the height of the climbing season.  

Looking up toward the Inter Glacier. 


That being said, it's a great time of year to enjoy a quieter experience on the mountain.  The hike to Camp Schurman is currently very pleasant.   There are some deeper crevasses on the Inter Glacier but they are easy to avoid.  Just be cognizant on the way up and remember to watch out for them on the way down!  Be cautious descending the Inter.  Glissading is not recommended. Enjoy!

There are large crevasses on skiers right in this picture but they are difficult to see until right on top of them.  Beware!

Crevasses on the Inter.

-686

Disappointing Cleaver- The Latest

Word from the upper mountain is that the DC route has once again become too sketchy for the guide services to use.  The problem area is just off the top of the cleaver as the route works its way north towards the Emmons.  A crew will be working on an alternative route on Tuesday.  If your planning on a DC climb later this week or next weekend- you might want to give some serious consideration to the Emmons-Winthrop route (see the latest post).  Stay tuned for updates as they occur.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Emmons/Winthrop 8/16 GPS Track


It sounds like the crux is between Camp Schurman and Emmons Flats at the moment due to many crevasses.  It's been described as 'swiss cheese.'  The rest of the route appears to be pretty direct, but always assess the route as you go, don't just blindly follow the bootpack.  Climbing rangers are headed to Schurman Friday and will be there through the weekend.  We will post a more in-depth route description after our summit climb.
Image taken from a GPS track log of an 8/16 ascent by a former ranger.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

DC Is Back In!

It's not a groomed trail all the way yet and it's a little longer than it was a week ago, but after several days of hard work, the guides have the route going to the crater rim again. Be sure to thank them for all they've done when you come up.

It's important to note, it still passes over a number of large plugs and descends after reaching the top of the DC, and with the warm weather returning again we will see how long this version lasts, along with climbers' morale. The climbing rangers will go up on Wednesday to get a better update on the route, but for now, here at least is the kmz for those who are up to the challenge.




* Map: Google Earth representation of the tracklog of the route taken by the guides from Camp Muir to the summit today (8/15/2017).  Download the Google Earth KML file.

Climbing Ranger Updates on 8/16/17: The route still goes to the top and matches the above map. Be ready for it to feel exceptionally long with a number of switchbacks and small descents while trying to ascend. Guided groups are leaving around 11 PM to give themselves a little extra time.

Also, things are really starting to hollow out, so watchout for less than obvious holes, especially on the tight switchback after you descended 300ft from the top of the cleaver. Below are a couple of pictures of cruxes on the route. Watch out for the large crevasse near 13900 ft-there is a fixed line with a falling apart step to the left and an easier, thicker ramp up and over a wave on the right-climbing rangers chose the right option.

 
 
Always assess bridges before crossing them, especially as things soften up on your way down.

Leave No Trace In The Alpine

LNT is a term almost all backpackers and climbers are familiar with (if you have yet to hear of it, you have now and I recommend doing some further research to dial your systems to meet its principles). It is a set of seven principles that people follow in the backcountry to leave where they go looking as untouched as possible for future generations to enjoy the same wilderness experience. A number of the principles relate to your personal safety as well and will help you enjoy your experience in the wilderness.

From the impacts we have been seeing on Rainier lately however, it seems as though many are not familiar with how to adapt their LNT practices to the alpine environment, or they don't know LNT principles at all. Here's a run down of how to apply the seven principles on Rainier and other alpine areas.

1. Plan and Prepare
  • Do your research on the route, climbing permits, and climbing fees a head of time.
  • Know and practice your skills before you get on the mountain (from your layering system to navigating in whiteouts to crevasse rescue). Skills are perishable.
  • Bring a GPS unit or have it on your smartphone with the maps of the area already downloaded. Have extra batteries.
 
2. Hike and Camp On Durable Surfaces
  • Please don't hike on our beautiful alpine meadows, or camp on them. The flowers are beautiful and easily destroyed. Stick to dirt, rocks (though watch out for the lichen too), or better yet, snow (the least impactful surface).
  • Please don't camp next to water sources or go the bathroom near them! How would you feel if someone peed in your water source?
3. Dispose of Your Waste Appropriately
  • Pack it in and then Pack it out. This includes your food scraps, gum, and dental floss. We've been picking up piles of rice, granola, noodles, and chewed gum at Camp Muir and Camp Schurman. We have thousands of people passing through both camps every summer. How gross do you think camping there would be if even half the people left a small pile of food? Would you ever want to come back here if you saw that? It does NOT biodegrade up that high and in the snow. It just melts out and rots. We rangers work hard to keep that mountain clean, but we need your help.
  • Human waste: If you are not going in our toilets at the high camps, then you should be packing it out. You can't dig a cat-hole and bury it in a glacier and expect it to disappear forever. Guess what, it just melts out for others to see and accidently step on, and the rangers have to clean iit up. Again, thousands of people climb the routes on Rainier every year. Do you want to dodge piles of poop as well as crevasses? I doubt it. Rainier would become a biohazard in no time if people didn't carry their waste out.  Bring your blue bag or wag-bag and aim for the bag or pick it up after like you would your dogs' poop.  Bring extra blue bags so that you have enough.  There's no excuse not to pack out your waste. 
4. Take Nothing But Pictures
  • Millions of people pass through our National Parks every summer. It's so awesome to have people coming out and showing their support of our wilderness areas by enjoying them. But if even a quarter of those people took a souveigner from the mountains, meadows, or woods we would have less flowers, awesome small rocks/fossils, or pinecones for future generations to enjoy (and wildlife to eat!!). Snap a photo of those awesome things you see so that you can remember them later.
 
5. Minimize your campfire impacts
  • This one is simple in the alpine. No fires are allowed in the alpine. And good luck finding something to burn while you are up there.
  • That being said people sometimes do find things to burn in the subalpine and that is no good either. It destroys nutrients deep in the soil and it takes a long time to replenish for vegetation to grow there.
  • Do we also need to mention the fire hazard in many areas this year? Do you want to be the one responsible for starting a forest fire? Have fires only in officially designated areas and check if there is a fireban first.
6. Respect Wildlife
  • We want wildlife to live as they should in the wild and to be dependent on themselves. If they habituate to people, they become dependent on us, eat what they should not (get sick), and then starve in the winter months when no people are around and they didn't build their own stashes of food or forgot how to forage for themselves. Bears become agressive when they are habituated to people. They are then considered a "problem bear" and are sometimes killed because of it, even though it was really the fault of "problem people."
  • Moral of the story? Don't feed wildlife, whether it is directly from the nuts in your hand or the food scraps you left at camp.
7. Respect Other Visitors
Super important, especially when climbing in the alpine and here's some tips to make your climb (and others') more enjoyable.
  • Watch out for bottle necks on routes-try to space yourself out from other parties when leaving camp on busy nights.
  • Be careful when traveling on loose rock (keep your rope short) so you don't knock rocks off onto other people or knock rocks onto yourselves.
  • Be self-sufficient and prepared when you come on Rainier so you can prevent an incident. If things do go south, have the skills and equipment to care for yourself and teammates so you don't pull other people into your incident and endanger them.
  • Parties late into the night at the high camps? This is inconsiderate to those who need to get up early for their climb.
Please, help us keep our mountains looking pristine to provide an awesome climbing experience for all to have.



Monday, August 14, 2017

DC Update

The Disappointment Cleaver route has been living up to its name the last few days.  The good news is that by mid-afternoon several climbing guides were able to use an older route (used in early summer) to reach the top.  The less then good news is that it is still questionable how 'good' this route is- in other words will it be useable for the next several weeks, is it a short term fix, or a flash in the pan?  If judged suitable for public use this route will probably need several days of work by the guides before it is considered 'open'.   Like always- stay tuned for more updates.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

DC Route Update

This morning, Saturday, August 12th, a major plug in a crevasse at 13,600 ft fell in, making the current Disappointment Cleaver route impassable.  Climbers will be looking for alternate routes aournd the crevasse in the coming days, but nothing obvious has presented itself.  Changes to the standard routes (both the Disappointment Cleaver and Emmons-Winthrop) occur daily late in the season and become much more challenging.  Crevasses widen, snow plugs fall, and snow bridges collapse.  Note that these changes can occur AFTER you've passed through thus making a descent on the same route impossible.  Be sure to keep your head up and look for alternatives while you're ascending and don't climb above something that once collapsed, would prevent your descent.

With both the rapid changes on the routes and the approaching storm front, this weekend has especially hazardous conditions in store.  Please be conservative in your decision making - these next couple of days isn't the time to push your limits. 
 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Training for Rainier

The season is not over, but the end is approaching fast. As I am sure you've read from previous blog posts, the Emmons/Winthrop and DC are much more challenging than they were earlier in the season, with massive crevasses opening wider and the bridges getting thinner. Bummed that you didn't make it to Rainier this summer? Life just got in the way, but next summer is the one?

Here's some tips to help set you up for success for next summer.

1. Physical training. It's rather obvious it's not just a walk in the park going up Rainier, but you would be amazed at how many come up ill prepared for 10,000 ft of vertical gain with a heavy pack. Running is good for your cardio, but that alone doesn't cut it. Mountain/road biking, hiking with a heavy pack, and getting up to altitude to exercise are excellent training. Stefan, a Climbing Ranger at Rainier for many years, swears by skate skiing. He says it made those early season hikes to Muir and Schurman so much easier than running every did. A less adventurous training method, but time efficient, would be the occasional squat routine with weights to strengthen your legs and core.
If you live in smaller mountain ranges like the Appalachians, link a couple peaks up in a day. If there's barely a foothill near you, get on that stair master (or skate skis) or better yet, tell your boss you need some more vacation time to travel to other mountain ranges to train. Get in some 10 to 12 hour days climbing, hiking, biking or skiing. Think longer slower workouts, not intense short ones.

2. Practice your rope skills. You would be amazed how much you can forget in a winter, let alone a couple of years without using them. They are perishable skills and it's good to be dialed before you come up the mountain.  Make sure your whole team knows these skills.  It might be the person with the least experience who needs to save you. By all means when you come, have a layover day to practice the skills with your team while you acclimatize, but you shouldn't need to completely learn them from scratch while you are up there. The gear you carry does you no good if you don't know how to use it.

3. Get out in the cold and snow. Dial your layering systems, test your equipment. It's a red flag when you see someone taking their gear out of the packaging at the high camps. Practice walking in varying conditions/slopes of snow and ice with crampons on. Lots of injuries are caused by people with little experience walking with crampons. Practice navigating on snow in white-outs in the alpine (using some sort of GPS system).

4. Take a Wilderness First Aid/Responder course. If you haven't already taken a first aid course, you definitely should jump on board if you want to know how to care for yourself or peers in the wilderness. Good risk management is first and foremost, but sometimes things happen despite your best preparations and decision making-you need to be ready to deal when the hospital is hours away.  Self-rescue is the best form of rescue.

5. Take an avalanche awareness course like an AIARE 1. Especially if you are looking to travel to Rainier early season (March, April, May, and even June), you need to be able to assess the snow stability (or lack there of) yourself. Avalanches are real up there. Know how to rescue your partners if they get buried.  There's no avalanche forecast for the top zones of Mount Rainier.


6. Give yourself and your team more than two days to summit. Weather can be unreliable in the PNW. Don't force yourself to try and summit when the conditions aren't right, just because you have to catch a flight.


These are tips that will help make your attempt at the summit of Rainier a successful, safe, and enjoyable one, that wasn't just a suffer-fest where you simply ticked something off your bucket list.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

Emmons-Winthrop Route -- August 10



Emmons-Winthrop route. August 10, 2017.

Summary: Prolonged warm temperatures have led to rapid changes in the Emmons-Winthrop Glacier route.

The Glacier Basin Trail is snow-free until the base of the Inter Glacier around 7000’. The Inter remains fully snow covered with no skeletal glacial ice exposed. Multiple bootpacks and glissade tracks lead past a handful of crevasses en route to Camp Curtis. As always, give these cracks a wide berth and roping up is recommended.

Upper Inter & Emmons Glaciers from Mount Ruth.

From Camp Schurman, the route is in late season conditions. Access to Emmons Flats is criss-crossed with crevasses running in nearly every direction—many of which have thin, cathedral-roof ceilings over very deep and dark chasms. Although many folks camp and travel unroped in this area during the early season, travel currently requires a full suite of glacier travel skills and experience doing complex glacier navigation. Camping at Emmons Flats is not recommended in its current condition.
Camp Schurman and Emmons Flats. August 10, 2017.

The numerous crevasses that we have been tracking all season above the Corridor have begun to open in earnest. Although there is a pronounced bootpack up this stretch (from 11,800’ to 13,000’), it often leads to dead-end crevasse crossings spanning 40 feet or more! Any teams attempting this route in it’s dwindling days should expect to do all of their own navigation above Camp Schurman. Warm temperatures and thin snowbridges have also led to multiple over-head crevasse falls in recent weeks. Conservative route selection and diligence managing rope tension can help reduce the depth and severity of crevasse falls.

Overall, the Emmons-Winthrop has seen better days. Although it is still passable, most climbers will find it more enjoyable next season.


--687

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Emmons-Winthrop Route Update 8/5/17



Little Tahoma from the Corridor on 8/5

The Emmons-Winthrop route is beginning to change as warm weather wilts away the snow bridges spanning crevasses climbers have been crossing since May.  The trail/trough is still well defined from Camp Schurman all the way to the summit.  However, in a few places that trail is not the easiest way to the top.  Rangers at Schurman explored new route options on Saturday.  Some variations were purely to make the cramponing easier, and other variations cross crevasses in better spots.

Climbing on this side of the mountain puts more responsibility on the climber as there are no wands, ladders, or other work done on the route by guide services.  It's up to you to make route finding decisions on the climb when the old trail is no longer the best route.

The track below shows the trail (red) and some new variations taken by climbing rangers on 8/5/17 (blue).  Right out of Camp Schurman, climbers can avoid almost all the large crevasses at the Emmons Flatts by kicking out climbers right (rejoining the trail at about 9,850 ft.)

Red: old trail from June still being followed.  Blue: variations taken by rangers on 8/5 (bold contour lines 200 ft apart)
In the photo above, notice the blue track splits from the red one above 10,200 ft after gaining the corridor.  Rangers found much nicer cramponing out here on the climbers left side of the corridor.  100-200 feet from the current trail, the snow surface was much smoother, and not a trough flanked by penitente; as the current trial is.  Rangers rejoined the trail at the top of the corridor, and followed it until about 11,900 ft.  Here, if you climb out of the trough and ascend straight up, you can avoid many of the more challenging crevasse crossings on the route.  There is no trail here (see photo below).

If leaving the trail here, ascend until you reach about 12,300 ft in elevation, then traverse hard right (neither gaining nor loosing elevation) about 200 yards until you reach the main trail.  You will intersect the main trail right where it crosses the big crevasse at 12, 300 ft.  On this variation, you will have to negotiate some smaller penitente once you leave the trough.  Pay careful attention on the way up if you plan on taking this variation on the descent as well.

Looking uphill at the variation from 11,900 ft to 12,300 ft.  Switchback straight up, then traverse hard right at 12,300 ft
The crossing at 12,300 ft is still pretty solid.  The plug climbers are traveling over to cross the crevasse is big, but it won't last forever.  Think about putting in running protection at this crossing if your team needs it; especially on the way down.  A fall from a team member descending here could pull an uphill teammate over a big edge.  Don't forget to keep the rope tight between climbers when crossing crevasses like this one.  Slack = Acceleration in the event of a fall.

Ranger Hasebe descending the plug at 12,300 ft
After crossing the plug at 12,300 ft, the route ascends the same path it has for some time.  Just before the bergschrund at 13,800 ft, the Emmons-Wintrop meets the DC.  Expect to see wands here marking the trail to the top.  Don't forget to take a left on the way down so you end up back at Camp Schurman.

Key Points:  The well worn trail out of Camp Schurman is still a viable climbing route.  Better variations do exist, but they require more decision making.  Jumping over large crevasses is dangerous, and you should find a different way across if you think you need to jump.  Start early to avoid being in the hot sun for many hours.  Climb safely, make conservative decisions, and have fun. -691

Disappointment Cleaver 8/5/17

Two climbing rangers climbed the DC on 8/5.  Travel conditions were generally easy with a well maintained and mostly low angle trail.  The route hasn't changed much since the last blog post - it is still quite long due to its traverse onto the Emmons route so be prepared for a bigger day than in the early season.  We've noticed parties taking a very long time on the route in the past few days.  Be prepared to turn around if your pace is so slow that you won't make it back to Muir by early afternoon.  Descending in the evening after being on route for more than 12 hours doesn't leave you much room to deal with unexpected events.  There is one ladder crossing just before you descend toward the Emmons from the top of the Cleaver.

Ladder crossing around 12,300'.

The Cleaver itself is in good shape and still climbs over snow on the upper half.  Navigation on the Cleaver is straightforward.  Rockfall is always a potential so make sure to shorten your rope so it's not dragging through the rocks and wear a helmet!  Be aware of parties above and below you while on the Cleaver.

Upper Cleaver and Little Tahoma. 


Rangers have been observing a disturbing amount of climbers unroping while on the upper mountain.  While it may seem easier to travel without a rope, it is much more dangerous and is discouraged.  Not only are you subjecting yourself to an unroped crevasse fall (many of which end up being fatal) groups tend to get spread out and party members separated when unroped. This is also undesirable for obvious reasons.  Solo glacier climbing on Mount Rainier requires a special permit - PLEASE, ROPE UP WHILE ON THE UPPER MOUNTAIN AND STAY ROPED UP.

Trash that rangers collected at a break spot at the top of the Cleaver.  

Another issue that rangers observed yesterday is an abundance of trash and even a few piles of feces along the route on the upper mountain.  THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.  Be a good steward of the mountain and pack out all of your trash.  If you need to defecate, do so away from the trail and PACK IT OUT.  Plan ahead for your trip and take an adequate number of blue bags (provided by the NPS).   If you don't pack it out, guess who does?  When you're busting out your Power Bar or GU, make sure to pack out the corner of the wrapper you tear off.  Blow your nose with some TP?  Pack it out!  If you see someone else's trash, feel free to pick it up and pack it out.  Come on people.  Do the right thing.

Above the smoke layer on Saturday 8/5. 

The smoke appears to be dissipating as Sunday morning progresses, so hopefully the air quality will continue to improve over the next few days.  The top level of the smoke has been hovering at the 10,000-11,000 foot level, so the air quality on the upper mountain has been the best in the state as of late.  Even more reason to come to the mountain for a climb!

-686

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Rangers and Helicopters


Mt. Rainier Climbing Rangers are a enigmatic, tight knit bunch of mountain men and women that live their summers at 10,000 on the side of a active volcano covered in ice. They spend most of their time helping visitors, answering questions, climbing to the summit, and occasionally rescuing one of the 10,000+ climbers that attempt to summit this grand "montain" every season. One could imagine the multitude of hazards involved with a job like that.
Climbing Rangers in spring conditions crossing the Muir Snowfield

NPS Photo 2017
Mt. Rainier Climbing Rangers are continuously training throughout the climbing season.  During a normal season training begins in early March and continues through the summer months until the main climbing season ends in the fall.  Their job demands a high level of skill and knowledge to safely conduct complex search and rescue operations in less than ideal locations.

To the left we see a climbing ranger hailing a helicopter for a mountain rescue operation. 



One of the rangers main tools is a yellow bird in the sky, otherwise know as an A-Star B3 Helicopter. This is a power tool and allows for rescues that would take multiple days and many hands to just a few hours and a couple of rangers. Rangers use several techniques with this helicopter to access injured climbers. Some techniques involve stepping out of hovering helicopters to hanging on a rope below.
A Mt. Rainier climbing ranger accesses steep snow covered terrain from a short haul rope.


NPS Photo 2017

Short haul is a term used by the Park Service that in layman's terms means "hang me from a helicopter."
This technique is used when a location is difficult to access safely on the ground. Rangers can be set precisely where they want to access an accident scene using limited time and exposure to themselves and their patients. Mt. Rainier has been successfully conducting short-haul operations every summer on Mt. Rainier over the past 6 years. The Park still uses the Military Chinook CH-47 for rescue operations but has been increasing the number of rescues done by Short-Haul since its inception.
Over the past two seasons climbing rangers have expanded their borders to include Cascades and Olympic National Parks.  Rangers travel to these other parks to provide needed assistance for search and rescue operations in remote locations.



Many of these humble rangers soles can be found high above the clouds in a stone hut on the side of an ever change glacial landscape. The beauty and views captured from such a place is life changing for many who take the time. Next time you are at Camp Muir or Camp Schurman be sure to say hello to the on duty ranger. They can usually be caught enjoying one of the many beautiful sunsets.
A sea of clouds below the Winthrop Glacier





weather ed-smoke

Weather Ed- SMOKED

With widespread smoke across the Pacific Northwest, including the park, here are a few thoughts on the distribution and variability of that smoke.  We have been under the influence of high pressure for sometime now which means that the upper and mid-level winds are pretty light.  Nevertheless smoke from the large fires in BC have been transported south over the course of the week.  It does not take very much wind to transport smoke over long distances.
 
Looking west from Paradise at 8 AM Saturday Aug 5
Over the last three days we have seen considerable variability in the amount of smoke around the mountain. In general the least amount of smoke at mid and higher elevations occurs around sunrise.  The highest concentrations are occurring in the late afternoon and evening hours. There are a number of possible reasons for this.  The most obvious explanation might be that large quantities of smoke are being transported directly from the fires during the afternoon.  This may be true at times but the significant morning versus evening differences are due to other factors.  One of the important aspects of this type of high pressure is the fact that air in the center of the high tends to sink (subsidence) slowly, nevertheless this means air parcels in the lower atmosphere have a difficult time rising.  In addition, the atmosphere cools during the night; the greatest cooling occurs just above elevated terrain (inversion).  This also generates stable layers in the lower atmosphere.  The net result is that by morning, the bulk of the smoke tends to be trapped below 5-7,000 ft.  Smoke by the way is composed of various hydrocarbon gases and particular matter (minerals found in the during wood) that become attached to other aerosols.
 
During the day those stable layers weaken or disappear which in turn allows smoke to rise to higher elevations.  Smoke rises due to two external forcings.  First a column or parcel of air may heat enough so that it is warmer than the surrounding air, hence it will rise because it is positively buoyant.  This is most likely a secondary process compared to the following.  Even though winds in the upper and mid-level's are light, lower level winds are generated during the daylight hours over the terrain.  These are valley and slope winds which are typically on the order of 5-10 mph, but nevertheless they can transport smoke back up hill. At night weak mountain or glacier winds are generated on the mountain which transport smoke back down to lower elevations.  [Winds generated by the heating and cooling of the terrain make for a separate Weather Ed topic]
Camp Muir webcam looking south at 8 AM Saturday Aug 5
 
Unfortunately weather models are showing that there is not going to be any massive changes in the upper level ridge over the next 5 days, with the exception of coastal areas which should see some modest onshore flow later this weekend .  The good news is that upper level westerly will develop Thursday night and slightly stronger southerly winds on Friday.  In short, the smoke is going to be around for some time to come but the concentrations will continue to vary.

Kautz Glacier August 3rd




Climbing rangers finish off the 2nd "ice pitch" on the Kautz.
Although the conditions on the Kautz glacier remain nearly the same as was reported on both July 20th and July 23rd, there are still a few things to note. Climbing rangers set out from the Comet Falls trailhead to take advantage of some shade along the approach and to get a glimpse of the wildflowers that are beginning to peak in the alpine meadows. This is a great option for accessing the Kautz as you don't need to rope up or cross a glacier the entire way to the Castle or the upper 11,000 ft. bivies. However, it's important to keep in mind that you start 2,000 ft. below paradise if you choose this trail. 

The wildflowers in Van Trump made for a nice, although longer
 approach for the Kautz Glacier.
 Rangers were glad to take advantage of the trees and shade for the first few miles of the approach, as the August heat has come on strong this year! We were rewarded with prime wildflowers and multiple mountain goat sightings. Paired with the solitude on the trail, this approach makes for a nice change of pace compared to the standard route approaches. Bugs weren't too bad except for some biting flies near treeline that you only noticed when you stopped for breaks. Please remember that the Van Trump meadows are quite fragile and climbers should take extra care to minimize their impact on the area.

Penitentes adjacent to the Wapowetey Clever.

Once off the ridge and onto the Kautz proper, conditions are still quite suncupped along the route. Although visible ice is starting to present itself on both "pitches", the majority of surface conditions are firm, sun cupped snow. Despite bringing two ice tools for the climb, a 2nd tool almost seemed more awkward than helpful. It was more secure to use one tool and one whippet or trekking pole. That being said, rangers were still able to place solid ice screw protection throughout the route. In the early morning conditions, vertical pickets were not an option in the firm snow. As the summer progresses, the climbing will no doubt become more technical.
Visible bootpack that crosses multiple crevasses
on the upper Nisqually glacier. 

After the slope angle backs off and you transition back to glacial travel mode, the bootpack is quite vague and teams may need to do a bit of route finding to end run some crevasses and cross some narrow (but thick) bridges. In general, the route is straight forward up to the Wapowetey Cleaver. From here, there is a visible boot pack that takes many switchbacks and crosses multiple crevasses before reaching the crater rim. Other teams reported quite a bit of ice fall down the ice pitches in the middle of the day. Due to this, rangers are recommending that parties climb earlier than they would otherwise. Record high temperatures are creating unstable upper mountain conditions later in the afternoon and parties should plan to be off route by a reasonable hour. Climbing up/over the mountain and descending the Emmons or DC is a great option to avoid rappelling the ice pitches late in the day. Be sure to check out the blogs on the Emmons or the DC to get the most current conditions before descending these routes.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Muir Snowfield Update





A climber near Pebble Creek makes his way towards the Muir Snowfield.
As the heart of the summer presses on the snowfield continues to melt quickly. New rock outcroppings, cascading waterfalls, and alpine plants are emerging from the winter snow pack. Typical weather this time of year consist of sunny days and warm nights with many hours of daylight. Climbers and Hikers alike are coming and going at all hours of the day and some are feeling the effects of the midday heat. Be sure to bring the essentials (water, sunglasses, sunscreen) before making the trip up. There is no water at Camp Muir so bring enough to stay hydrated on the way back down if you are only out for a day hike.

The Skyline trail starting in Paradise leading up to the Muir Snowfield which begins just past Pebble Creek is nearly 100% snow free. The picture to the left shows one of the two late season snow patches encountered before reaching Pebble Creek.
Please take care and do your best to stay on the designated trail. The Alpine plant life gets trampled continuously by visitors that don't understand the impacts they are making and leaving behind when walking of trail. Take pride in your park and help others to understand and preserve the beauty.


The wind rolls leading out of pebble creek up to the snowfield are becoming steeper and grooved out by the many glissade tracks. Use the climbers lefthand side to get up an over these wind rolls. There is usually an uphill boot track in the snow that will make getting up over these much easier. On a side note, don't be the guy/gal that walks downhill in the uphill track. Doing this ruins the steps for everyone else going uphill.
Current snow conditions at 9'000 feet
The snowfield proper is mostly a combination of sun-cupped snow with a barrage of boot tracks. Random icy layers are beginning to show up on the surface and glide cracks are not far behind. The snow during the day is generally soft but can also become quite hard during the early morning and late afternoon. Having the option for extra traction on your feet (yak track/microspikes) and a walking stick can help prevent the unwanted slip and fall. Expect to see many other visitors on the snow field if visiting over the weekend.

A climber at Camp Muir preps his backpack before hiking down the snowfield.