Thursday, September 28, 2017

End of September Update, Caution for Skiers

 The season is rapidly changing here at Mount Rainier National Park. The guide services are winding down their season on the DC with operations running until about October 2nd. The guides have been able to re-establish the route to the summit but the forecast for the weekend is looking rather stormy.

UW MM5 model showing significant precip for the October 1st weekend.

A couple of the Rangers went up to Camp Schurman this past week to check on the hut and to check conditions. The first coating of snow seems to be sticking to the upper mountain but not below 10,000'.

Traces of new snow on the Emmons Glacier.

With the recent snowfall skiers have been chomping at the bit to get their turns in but we'd like to caution folks from striking out unroped on the glaciers when a fresh skin of snow has covered the crevasses. This summer was remarkably free of precipitation and that means lot's of open crevasses. Add a couple feet of fresh snow to hide them and a person travelling rapidly on skis or snowboard and you have a good recipe for a crevasse fall.

Tracks around thinly covered crevasses on the Inter Glacer.
We did have a near miss last week when a snowboarder fell unroped into a crevasse. That person was able to self extracate and evacuate, fortunately. The best bet for skiing this time of year on Rainier is to stick to the Muir snowfield but even that can have hidden hazards. Look forward to a long ski season by easing into it and wait for a few more storms to roll throuugh.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Climbing Information Center (CIC) - Closed for the season

The Climbing Information Center closed for the season on September 10, 2017.

Climbing Information
You can continue looking at this blog for the latest climbing information.

To register for your climb at Paradise, please go to the self-registration kiosk at the Paradise Old Station, the small A-frame building at the upper Paradise Parking Lot.

Climbing Cost Recovery Fee
Please pay your climbing fee on line at home before you come to the park!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

DC Conditions and the End of Summer

Winter conditions have returned to Mount Rainier without much of a Fall transition. There has been snow as low as Paradise in the last 24 hours and the National Weather Service has issued the first winter storm watch for the season.


.TODAY...Showers. Snow accumulation at Paradise near 3 inches. 
Snow level near 5500 feet. 
.MONDAY NIGHT...Showers. Snow accumulation at Paradise near 9
inches. Snow level near 5500 feet. 
.TUESDAY...Showers. Snow accumulation at Paradise near 8 inches. 
Snow level near 5000 feet. 
.TUESDAY NIGHT...Rain or snow. Snow accumulation at Paradise near
5 inches. Snow level near 5500 feet.
.WEDNESDAY...Showers. Snow accumulation at Paradise near 4 inches.
Snow level near 5000 feet.
A snow level near 5000 feet is typical for Winter here in the Cascades. BRRRRRR.
The guided climbs from Sunday didn't even leave Camp Muir to attempt a summit bid due to the stormy conditions. The route requires a large degree of independence and technical proficiency as well and would be very difficult to navigate in white-out conditions. We strongly discourage climbing it in a storm. Above the Cleaver there is several hundred vertical feet of heavily crevassed terrain. The guides have been sending teams up to repair and reroute the path through this area every day for the past several weeks. There have been large collapses with climbers on route and parties without sufficient skill have become stranded on the mountain for short periods of time.
Climbing teams navigating a heavily crevassed area.
There are a few more storms in the forecast before things dry out again. For this reason and the complexity of the route we would advise against attempting a summit bid in the next few days. Consider changing your objective to focus on learning skills instead of going to the summit or even let the winter pass and climb when conditions are more favorable in the Spring. Remember that even a trip to Camp Muir can be extremely hazardous in low visibility.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Climbing Rangers End of Season

The Climbing Ranger's six month season is about to come to a close. We started our season in mid-March and other than a few maintenance folks and full time rangers the majority of the crew is done working until next season. Climber numbers typically drop to near zero by mid-October as well since winter like conditions typically return to the upper mountain by late September.

The permanent rangers will start preparing for next season almost immediately. Part of that process is analyzing the current summer and preparing an annual report. An archive of previous years can be found here.

Average Climber Numbers on Mt Rainier drop to near zero by the end of September.

Our record low precipitation this summer seems to be nearing an end as well. There are a series of storms forecast to begin hitting the Cascades starting early Sunday and continuing through next week. The storms look like they will be fairly cold as with snow levels dropping to near 5000 feet. That's down right cold!

This is great news for the firefighters working near the Park boundary on the Norse Peak and American River fires.

The UW WRF model showing significant precipitation for the Cascades over the weekend.

The guide services are shifting to their late season schedules and will be wrapping up all operations by the beginning of October. They have been doing work on the ladders above the Cleaver daily trying to keep the route viable, but climbing conditions have been very difficult as of late. Last weekend a party was stranded for a short time at 12,800' when a portion of the trail was wiped out by ice fall. The team was not prepared for a technical descent nor were they equipped to navigate to an alternate descent route.

It is tempting to view the DC as a benign route since it is maintained extremely well by the guides but do not underestimate the skill required to climb the mountain when the guides' route is not available to you. Climbing on Rainier in late September should be considered a highly independent endeavor.  For most of the people who are interested in climbing the Disappointment Cleaver this time of year, we recommend one of the guide services.

White River Entrance Open Again

The recent fire activity has cooled down with the latest front that passed through and the road to Sunrise and White River Campground has reopened.  Campers and hikers can now access camps and trails on the east side of the park.  See the park's alerts and news release website for the most up to date info. 

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Conditions Update

The White River Entrance to the park is currently closed due to nearby forest fire activity.  Here's a link to the park's website with details on the closure.  The closure may be lifted with cooling temperatures and the chance of rain this weekend, but it may remained closed if fire behavior stays high.  The park's website has an Alerts and Conditions page that has the most up-to-date info.  

This means climbers should expect to register and climb through Paradise this weekend.  Check the previous posts for current conditions on the Disappointment Cleaver and Kautz Glacier.  Even with the added difficulty of late-season conditions, both of those routes have been climbed in the last week.  Be prepared to breathe some smoke and carry extra water for the unseasonably high temperatures.  The Emmons/Winthrop Glacier Route has not been climbed in over a week due to crevasses spanning the entire glacier mass.

The Climbing Information Center will be open this weekend, but it's the last two days of the season that it will be staffed.  After this weekend, climbers will be able to self-register at the Paradise Old Station.  Have a safe and hopefully non-smoky weekend!

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Smoke on the Mountain.

The Wildfires of the PNW are causing  some very unusual conditions around Mt Rainier. Here are a few photos of the conditions from the summit  and Camp Muir. Smoke is expected to dissipate over the next few days with some cooler weather expected too.

-Sam Luthy  682

Looking to the south and the Muir Snow field. Mt. Adams in the Smoke.

East, toward Little Tahoma. 13000ft

Heavy smoke  layer looking down the Nisqually Glacier.

Liberty Cap in the Clear, but smoke filling the lower elevations.

Little T from Camp Muir on Wednesday 9/6. Empty Camp.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Labor Day DC Conditions

The Disappointment Cleaver Route has been all over the upper mountain this year, and September climbing is not an exception. The most recent route change, first mentioned on 8/31, has become established as the current best option to reach the summit. Instead of the taking a hard right of the top of the  DC and proceeding to the Emmons Shoulder, this route climbs above the Cleaver through broken and hollow terrain before traversing across the upper Ingraham to just above Camp Comfort at 12,800ft. This Ingraham traverse is very similar to conditions in 2015. Teams will have to negotiate steep terrain, two ladders and significant overhead hazard to make it through. Good time management is key and stopping for any length of time along this section should be avoided.  Once above Camp Comfort and climbing on to the upper Nisqually glacier the steepness and overhead hazards ease and the route traverses almost all the way to Point Success  and then to the  East Crater  Rim. Keep an eye out for hollow terrain and crevasse crossings thru here as well.  Total Route length is  3.5 miles from camp Muir.

 A main factor of this current route is its tenuous nature. Many of the current passages are thin and hollow and the  current hot weather is not helping. Teams should be prepared to potentially change route or not return exactly the  way they came. Stay tuned for any updates as more info from Rangers and Guides become available.

Making the top of Rainier is still possible this September. Come enjoy fewer crowds, and fall vistas on the Mountain.

- Sam Luthy  682

Hollow terrain just above  the Cleaver .
Double Ladder bridge.

Penitente Fields to the Summit

Seasonal Summary

Every season has it's own peculiar events, the summer of 2017 was no exception.  A lot of it was dictated by the weather and route conditions but let me start off with some climber statistics.
So far this year (all of 2017) we have had 10,384 registered climbers, which is only a few less then the 2016 season.  Out of that number 68% have been on the DC, 18% Emmons-Winthrop, 5% Kautz Glacier, 2% Furhers Finger, 1% Liberty Ridge, 1% Gibraltar Ledges, etc.  Success rate for all routes has been hovering in the lower 50 percentile, which is a little on the low side but nor extreme.
Smoke did make for some photogenic sunsets and sunrises.
It was a wet and cool winter across the Northwest which of course generated a solid snowpack at the beginning of the climbing season. As of mid-May the snotel site just below Paradise was indicating that the snowpack was 174% of normal.  However due to warm weather from mid-June onwards this deep snow melted out a week earlier than the long-term average date (mid-July).
   May: Air temps and precip were normal; there were alternating periods of clear weather with short-lived storms.  We had two windstorms high on the mountain early in the month:  sustained winds were on the order of 60 mph with gusts in the 80's, (strongest recorded gust of the season was on May 5th at 88 mph).  Route conditions were good with considerable traffic on the Ingraham Direct alternate.  Skiers were common place on the upper DC and Fuhrers Finger routes.
   June: Early June was a continuation of May.  However from June 15-19 a major low pressure system out of the Gulf of Alaska moved onshore and produced 3.89 inches of rain at Paradise with lots of snow on the upper mountain.  Due to wind drift snow totals form this storm ranged from zero to several feet- this shut down climbing not only during the storm but for days afterward due to avalanche potential.  After this storm there was a major shift in the position of the East Pacific Ridge which blocked storms from reaching the Northwest.  The result was the start of a very warm period that is continuing until the present.  Marine stratus clouds were common but no more so than in a typical June.
   July: Hot and dry was the theme.  No rain was recorded around the mountain during the month.  July 20th was the only time that the temperature sensor at Camp Muir (10,188 ft) dipped to freezing- otherwise temps were mainly in the 40's and 50's.  A windstorm did hit the upper mountain from the 5-7th with sustained winds in the low 60's and gusts reaching 77 mph (respectable for a mid-summer storm).  There were a number of days around the lower mountain where the marine stratus was thick and persisted well into the afternoon hours.  However, the tops of these clouds were on the order of 8,000 ft so the upper mountain continued to bake.
   August:  The heat during July was only a preview of coming attractions.  Freezing levels were ridiculous high all month- generally between 14-16K.  On the 11th an air mass thunderstorm passed by the east side of the park, not much rain fell but lighting from these event ignited a number of fires near the Norse Creek Wilderness which have continued to burn.  The only recorded rain during the month was on the 13th when Paradise was blessed with 0.45 inches during the morning hours.  This was the only time that Camp Muir had air temps at the freezing mark. This rain closed out the first of a number of smoke events which have plagued the mountain since the beginning of the month. 
   September: So far nothing has changed in terms of heat and smoke.  The weather models are indicating a system moving onshore on the 7th which will blow smoke back to the east and hopefully bring some cooler temps and showers.
The graph to the right shows the average freezing level for the months of July and August- its pretty clear that this period holds the record for the highest FL since this dataset was started in 1948.  There were three days where air temps at Camp Muir reached into the lower 60's.  There were many nights were the low temps were in the lower to middle 50s.  What was lacking this summer was the presence of locally generate cumulus clouds.  It was just too hot and dry for these to form.
The heat and sunshine took its toll on the mountain.  The DC route went through numerous alterations during August- with a very long indirect path in use most of the month. There were a number of times when snow bridges collapsed making the route un-climbable for several days. Other routes held up a bit better through the heat- the Kautz Glacier was climbable through late August while the Emmons-Winthrop is still doable but with some challenging navigation high-up.
We can only wonder what 2018 will bring!