Friday, August 10, 2018

Updates before the Weekend!

The busiest time of year has now passed on the mountain and things have started to settle down.  Guide services have finished up with their trips on the Emmons-Winthrop Route and many independents have shifted over to climbing the Kautz Glacier and Disappointment Cleaver Routes.  Here's some updates for conditions on these routes:
Also, here's a write-up on navigating around Mount Rainier.  There's definitely a 'science' behind finding your way back off the mountain in a storm, but there's a key piece that's all 'art' - which is at the heart of climbing up and down mountains in general.  

Have a great weekend!

Disappointment Cleaver update -- 8/9

Warm temperatures and late season conditions have combined to create increasingly difficult conditions on the Disappointment Cleaver route. Weeks of above average temperatures have thinned snow bridges and widened crevasse crossings, making the route more circuitous and prone to change. Overall, however, the route remains in similar conditions from recent blog posts.

Many of the technically challenging sections of the route are becoming more hazardous. Getting onto Disappointment Cleaver above Ingraham Flats (11,200') is a serious endeavor. Rockfall has been prevalent at all hours of the day and night; this hazard is best mitigated by limiting your exposure to it. The glacier-to-rock transition area is also steep, icy, and crevassed, making the timing and location of the rope transition a challenge. Shortening the rope too early exposes the group to additional crevasse fall hazard, while adjusting it too late increases overhead rockfall hazard by stopping in the danger zone. All of this requires competent ropework and speedy transitions to reduce the time spent below loose rock. Unfortunately, these transitions require practice and it takes a keen eye to anticipate the best place to do it.  There is no simple answer when it comes to managing the co-mingled hazards in this zone.

Many groups have been surprised by the amount of time required to climb and return to Muir and have decided to spend an extra night at Muir after their climb. Planning for a three-day climb at this time of year might help set you up for success and not overdue.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Navigating Mount Rainier

So how do the climbing rangers navigate the intimidating glaciated peak of Mount Rainier on a daily basis? Mountain navigation is a complex skillset that is developed over years of practice and training, but a few key concepts and tools might aid you in your next adventure.
Digital navigation has its perks.

First and foremost, keen observational skills are mandatory. Being aware of your surroundings, looking for and identifying features ("oooh, that's Cathedral Gap!"), and recognizing hazardous terrain is the most critical skill to develop. Identifying these on a map and orienting yourself to the landscape helps ingrain these details and make future decision-making easier. Using an altimeter and paper map may not be as fashionable these days, but it is less reliant on batteries; it is still a requisite skill for mountain goers.

For digital reassurance of our navigation decisions, many of us use mapping apps on smartphones like Gaia, Avenza, Trailmap, and TopoMaps+, rather than carrying a GPS during the summer months. These apps are relatively cheap (especially compared to other stand-alone GPS devices), and you can pre-download maps onto your phone before your trip. Once in the mountains, it is easy to track and insert waypoints while conserving battery in airplane mode. We always have at least one phone tracking our route during the climb. Certain apps allow you to easily share waypoints and tracklogs as well.

That being said, there are many other GPS apps and stand-alone GPS devices that work well.  Be aware that certain tracking settings can eat through battery power relatively quickly, especially if you have an older phone or if you are using it in the cold (which is likely).  It's a good idea to have backup batteries, a rechargeable battery pack, or a backup device.

The other bonus for using a phone is--in the event of an accident--your phone may be able to connect to 911 from the upper mountain (all cell towers are required to pick up the call regardless of your cellphone carrier). Conserving battery life for the phone's primary purpose is a recommended strategy. Many parties choose to have one person track their team's climb on one phone while conserving battery life on everyone else's phones.

Keep in mind that you're probably only going to "need" your GPS in a storm, which can happen any time of year. A protective case and waterproofing should be considered mandatory.  Practice using your GPS with gloves on.  Also, can you use it when there's water on the screen?  These are things to know and learn before a entering into a stressful situation like being on a steep glacier near crevasses in a white-out. It is important to remember that no GPS or phone app is a predictor of crevasse locations and that, even with a digital track to follow, navigating glaciers in whiteout conditions is frequently terrifying.

If you choose to use wands (as well as a GPS) to mark your route on the ascent, please be sure to remove them on the way down and carry them out. Routes change rapidly and wands suddenly become just litter on the mountain when routes are not maintained.

Kautz Glacier 8/8/2018

Approach to Kautz from Alta Vista taken on 8/6/19
Sustained, above average temperatures have been causing glaciers and snowfields to melt out and change rapidly everywhere on the mountain. As chossy rock melts out from the snow and ice, things become even more prone to moving. As you can see from above, crossing the Nisqually and Wilson Glaciers expose you for a long period of time to rock and ice fall. On top of that, traveling through that type of terrain is slow.

If you are looking to climb the Kautz in the next month, a route with less objective danger enters from the Comet Falls trailhead. This will minimize your exposure time to rockfall and overall time in hazardous terrain. Not to mention, the wildflowers on Van Trump should be glorious now. Take a moment to stop and enjoy the flowers on your hike up.

That being said, even with an approach via Comet Falls, the Kautz Glacier still presents lots of hazards and risks to assess and manage. A large, natural rockfall occurred last week above the rock-step where the route descends from the bivy sites to the Kautz Glacier. Falling boulders swept through the area at the bottom of the step, crossing an area that had commonly been regarded as a safe location. Scouting this area in the evening before your climb will help you decide how to move though the area faster and reduce your risk. The glacier travel above the ice pitches remains viable, but is becoming more circuitous and time-consuming. Warm temperatures may make these upper mountain crevasse crossings more dubious as time progresses.

Set yourself up for success and plan a head to move quickly through such areas to minimize your exposure time. Keep your head on a swivel and your wits about you.

Emmons Update 8/6/18

The Emmons Glacier route was continuing to be climbed through the weekend of 8/6/18. The route from Camp Schurman to the summit was in similar condition to the last blog post. A major junction at 13,300 feet (below the bergschrund) trends right and out to the Winthrop Saddle before climbing up the last 800 feet to the summit. Don't be suckered into climbing directly over the bergshrund by the old bootpack -- the bridge is thin, wide, and incredibly consequential if it fails. Walk the long way to Winthrop Saddle!

Current Track of the Emmons Route. 8/6/2018

Conditions directly above Camp Schurman and up to around 11,200' seem to be some of most hazardous on the route. Not much snow exists above the glacial ice in many locations and this leads to "punchy" conditions as you are forced to navigate through a sea of holes. Rangers observed and responded to a visitor crevasse fall between Camp Schurman and Emmons Flats as a team was working their way through this section. The route that you take in the cold morning hours may not be the way you want to return. Use caution and attempt stay on the grey glacial ice where possible.

Crevasse maze above Camp Schurman. Camp is in the lower left.

The upper mountain above, 12000 feet, is continuing to hold together. Many of the large crevasses require end-running and the passable crevasse bridges are becoming hollow. Rangers found that the majority of cracks had more than one possible crossing. Assess your options for the most solid crossing--it may not be where the major boot pack takes you.
Climbers descending from the Winthrop Saddle back to the 13300' route junction.

Climbers returning to camp as a thunderstorm approaches.
Inter Glacier:
The approach to Camp Schurman on the Inter Glacier is continuing to become more and more crevassed. As warm weather continues and bridges continue to thin, traveling as a roped team is recommended on the Inter Glacier.

Glissading is strongly discouraged due to icy and crevassed conditions.
View of the upper Inter Glacier from Mount Ruth. Climbers path proceeds up the center.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

DC Route Update 8/1

The DC route is largely the same route with many of the same hazards as in the previous post, but with a few small changes. Once to the top of the Cleaver, the route continues climbing uphill for around 300 feet to a large serac jumble (referred to as the popcorn). Where the recent route climbed beneath this feature, the current route travels up and over this formation--which reduced the objective hazard, but by no means resolves the issue and hazards. From this point,  continue climbing towards the Emmons Shoulder, traversing along an exposed fin with a very large crevasse just uphill until faced with a steep side-hill slope that will bring you back to the old route.

Be aware that with the elevated freezing levels and all the warm weather, the upper mountain has been changing very quickly. Serac movement can change the route quickly which may result in the route becomming impassable. As stated in previous blog posts, be ready for things to change rapidly and have a reserve of energy to overcome potential challenges if you happen to come across an route-finding or navigation issue while descending.

For a more detailed description on the entire route, see the previous Blog Post  

A view looking up from the top of the Cleaver

Climbing around the top of the serac feature above the Cleaver

Looking towards the Emmons Shoulder. The Ranger is about to climb onto the fin.

Climbing out onto the Emmons Shoulder with a handline

The route is not without serac hazard.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

In Depth Route Descriptions

Hey, everyone!

We wanted to take a moment and orient everyone to two documents we worked on this winter.  These two 20-30 page documents detail what we want you to know about climbing the Disappointment Cleaver and the Emmons-Winthrop Glacier.
Each route guide contains details on:
  • Route History
  • Route Use and Statistics
  • Case Studies in Rescues
  • SAR Occurrences and Statistics
  • Weather Statistics, Forecasting and Resources
  • Assessing and Managing Risk
  • How to Train
  • What to Bring
  • Search and Rescue Program
  • Explanation of Climbing Fees
  • Leave No Trace and Wilderness Protection
  • Permitting and Reservations
  • Ski Mountaineering
  • PreClimb Briefing
  • Physical Route Descriptions
  • Further Reading

Kautz Glacier and Liberty Ridge In-Depth Route Guides

Based on the success of the two route guides that were published last year on the Disappointment Cleaver and Emmons-Winthrop Glacier routes, we decided to publish two additional documents this year.  The two routes we chose were the two next most popular routes; the Kautz Glacier and Liberty Ridge.

Each route guide is 20 to 30 pages in length.  Similarly organized, each document gives overall statistics, climbing history, recommended skills, a physical description of the approach, ascent, and descent, how to get current conditions, weather data and forecasting resources, ski mountaineering considerations, risk management strategies, resource protection, search and rescue statistics, as well as many other topics of discussion relative to each route.

Written by Mount Rainier climbing rangers, the text of each document is a holistic body of knowledge from nearly 1000 ascents of the 13 current rangers.  With the rough edges of opinions and approaches rounded out, the advice contained in the guides delivers the core elements of what you need to know.

There's something in these documents that you'll find interesting no matter what your skill level.  From historical use statistics to search and rescue data, you'll likely learn something you don't know.  The document contains weather forecasting recommendations and data, recommended additional reading, and lessons learned from search and rescue incidents.

Here are the direct links to each document on Mount Rainier's official webpage:
Enjoy the documents and have a great ascent!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

D.C. Route Update 7/29

The only thing that is consistent on the D.C. this year is change. With the recent warm temperatures the route has been evolving rapidly. Where there was once multiple options to navigate through broken up sections there are now only paths with significant exposure to hazards.

The main area of concern is 'The Popcorn' at 12,500 feet. Popcorn is a reference to large blocks of ice stacked up with little support. If one block shifts, all the other ones move as well. This particular popcorn section sits above a large crevasse cavern and thus is not supported from below. Climbers entering the Popcorn expose themselves to both the potential for ice fall from above and for the route to collapse underneath them. Either of these would be an unsurvivable event.

For those that have been following this blog, the 'plug' discussed on the last update has collapsed into the crevasse cavern and the route now travels ~150' further uphill.

Photo of the Popcorn section. Note the large cavern below the ice blocks.

This is a typical low-probability, high-consequence risk management problem. Each climber needs to decide if they choose to accept this risk or not. The rangers at Camp Muir have been instructing climbers to look at the feature for themselves and have a discussion amongst their team about the risk. If any member of the team decides that climbing that section is too hazardous, the whole rope team should respect that decision and descend. Approximately one-third of the teams that make it to the Popcorn have decided that the risk is not acceptable and they have retreated from that point.

A ranger climbs through the Popcorn

Additionally, if this area collapses while you are above it, returning to camp will require several thousand feet of extra uphill climbing. The only other known option to return to Camp Muir involves climbing back up to 13,500' and descending to Camp Comfort at the top of Gibraltar Rock. From here, you will have to follow an old, unmarked trail to get back to the Disappointment Cleaver. If you are planning to climb this week, be ready for things to change rapidly and have a reserve of energy to overcome these potential challenges.

Approximate climbing route as of July 29, 2018.

With all the discussion of the route finding issues it's important to note that other hazards still require attention. Rockfall hazard exists in Cathedral Gap as well as getting on/off the base of Disappointment Cleaver. Climbers have been injured by rockfall this summer. Crevasse fall is, of course, an ever present concern on the glaciers as well.

It's important to come to Mt. Rainier with a good understanding of the risks inherent in mountain climbing and the hazardous areas unique to the D.C. route.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Emmons Update - July 29, 2018

Here is an update for the Emmons/Winthrop route.  The bulk of the route information is similar to the last blog post.  You can follow this link to access that post.

The main area of concern for the rangers continues to be the bergschrund at 13,200'.  Here the old trail crosses this large crevasse on an ever-shrinking snow bridge.  The old trail is still the easiest to discern but PLEASE DO NOT GO THIS WAY!  This snow bridge looks like it will collapse very soon.  If it collapses while a team is on it the consequences will be catastrophic.

This is the snow bridge that we would like climbers to avoid.

Instead, at the junction at 13,200', look for a fainter boot pack that will take you up and right  (northerly) toward Winthrop Saddle above the upper Winthrop Glacier.  This is the safer route. 

Fork in the road.  13,200'.  You want to go right here, toward the ranger. 
There are still many hollow spots along the Corridor, so use caution.  On Sunday there was a report of an independent climber falling in a crevasse.  Fortunately the individual was uninjured and his partners were able to extricate him.  This is the second reported crevasse fall on the Emmons in two weeks.  In both cases the team was able to self-rescue.  This is commendable.  Parties attempting any route on Rainier must have the equipment and skills to perform crevasse rescue.

Lastly, PLEASE DON'T LEAVE TRASH AT CAMP SCHURMAN (or anywhere on the mountain).  Climbing rangers were a little dismayed at the amount of stuff abandoned near the hut when they arrived Friday.  There was a foam sleeping pad, trash bags, a coffee mug, trash in the bear box which is used for food storage near the hut, etc.  Please remember to pack out all that you pack in to the mountain. 

We're definitely entering late season on the mountain.  Come get it while it's still good.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Last Weekend in July Update..

Both the Disappointment Cleaver and Emmons/Winthrop Routes have been changing, almost daily, due to shifts in the glacier.  The high freezing levels and uninterrupted sunshine have been cooking things on the upper mountain.  Both of the most recent blog posts for these routes outline the gist of where the route goes and what to expect, but be aware that it can change at anytime.  We encourage climbers to start early on these warm days and stick with an early turn around time to help avoid being in the most hazardous areas during the hottest part of the day.

The weather forecast has a bit of a blip coming up this Friday and Saturday:

.FRIDAY...Sunny. A slight chance of thunderstorms in the
afternoon. Snow level near 12500 feet. 
.FRIDAY NIGHT...Partly cloudy. A slight chance of thunderstorms
and snow showers in the evening, then a slight chance of
thunderstorms after midnight. Snow level near 12500 feet. 
.SATURDAY...Mostly sunny. A slight chance of thunderstorms and
snow showers in the afternoon. Snow level near 12500 feet.  

Be cautious ascending high on the mountain with thunderstorms in the forecast.  They often move over the mountain faster than climbers can descend and can cause a potentially dangerous situation.  Don't climb up into a thunderstorm and if you see thunderstorms approaching the mountain or beginning to build nearby, consider descending back to camp or the parking lot.  It's best not to be the tallest thing out on a wide open snowfield.

July has flown by!  It's starting to be a bit quieter on the mountain, but we still encourage folks to come during the weekdays if possible to avoid the crowds.  Talk to the rangers when you register for your climb about the latest in conditions.  See you on the mountain!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Emmons-Winthrop Update 7/23

The Emmons-Winthrop route remains in typical late July condition. Many crevasses in the Emmons Flats and Corridor areas sport thinning snow bridges and the route is growing more circuitous by the day. The bulk of the route remains unchanged from the previous posts; the route trends climber's left above the Corridor through a large bowl. Expect to make decisions regarding the best route for your team during your attempt.

Light blue indicates the most recent route to the Winthrop Saddle.
The bootpack is quite narrow in places—especially on steep traverses—and it requires careful footwork to avoid catching a crampon on your pants. The consequences of a fall in this terrain are significant. Move slowly and deliberately through this terrain; some parties may wish to use running belays to increase their security.

The bergschrund is on its last legs. Climbing over it is the steepest section of the older route.  It spans roughly 30 feet and the bridge is a mere three feet thick in places. Rangers were able to establish an alternate route to the summit rather than crossing this terrifying feature.

The old boot pack takes you over this....

This option traverses to climber's right (toward Liberty Cap) below the bergschrund and weaves its way through a small trough and open slopes out to the Winthrop Saddle at 13,600'. This recommended option approximates a common path that the Emmons-Winthrop route has followed in previous seasons. The bootpack is currently difficult to discern in this section and is not wanded.

Trend Right.
As July rolls on into August, expect the glaciers on Mount Rainier to continue to present more challenging climbing conditions. Be prepared to navigate complicated terrain, perform crevasse rescue, and give yourself more time overall to complete your summit attempt.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

D.C. Route Update -- 7/22

Ingraham Flats with the Disappointment Cleaver on the right.
Few climbers managed to reach the summit via the Disappointment Cleaver on July 22nd. This was, in part, due to reports from returning climbers early in the day that the route had changed overnight. There were also reports of a bottleneck at a glacial plug around 12,400’--near where climbers leave the top of the Cleaver and climb through a frequently-hollow section of glacier. 

Plug at 12,400' with overhead icefall hazard that is constantly present on the DC route
The morning light allowed a more thorough assessment of the plug. It is possible that some of it had collapsed overnight--what remained intact was narrow, but moderately thick. Nearby glacier features, like thin fins of ice, give the appearance that the plug is poorly supported. With the high freezing levels in the forecast, there is no telling how soon this snow bridge will fall out. Remember to practice conservative decision-making in the mountains and this situation is no exception; it is not advisable to cross tenuous features in late morning or early afternoon conditions once the sun starts softening snow.  For the moment, this route remains a viable option in somewhat typical July condition, excepting weakening snow bridges like these and other hazards inherent in the mountains.

Looking up from the top of Disappointment Cleaver. Note the icefall debris on the left and the crevassed jumble on the right.

However, with this partial collapse and the increasing potential for rapid changes, the guides at Camp Muir have begun talking about other options. Who knows where the route will go as the summer presses on?  Guides are hopeful that the debris from the collapsing bridge and surrounding seracs will eventually fill in the crevasse at 12,400' and allow the route to follow a common summertime path out to the Emmons Shoulder.  If the gaping crevasse doesn't fill in with debris, the guides will likely have to completely rework the route. Time will tell.

Plug at 12,400' from another angle
Please understand that if this bridge fails while your team is above it, your descent to high camp will be a long journey. There is no easy workaround if you return to this bridge and it is no longer passable. In fact, if the bridge collapses while you are above it, returning to camp will require several thousand feet of extra uphill climbing. The only other known option to return to Camp Muir involves climbing back up to 13,500' and descending to Camp Comfort at the top of Gibraltar Rock. From here, you will have to follow the old trail (no markings, wands, ladders, or pickets) and make your way across the recent ice fall debris on the Ingraham Glacier to get back to the Disappointment Cleaver. If you are planning to climb this week, be ready for things to change rapidly and to have a reserve of energy to overcome these potential challenges.

Climbing Ranger descending to the top of the DC

Friday, July 20, 2018

Disappointment Cleaver Route Update -- July 20th

The new route variation (blue) on the Emmons Shoulder.
As the freezing level continues to stay near or above 14,500 feet, the glaciers on Mount Rainier continue to change as well.  Guides recently put in a new variation that directs climbers up towards the "Emmons Shoulder" from the top of the Disappointment Cleaver.  All of the wands and pickets placed on the older variation of the route have been pulled.  If you choose to climb the older route be prepared to navigate with a GPS, and protect the steeper headwall terrain and major crevasse crossings. 

The new option avoids the major ice fall zone that occurred on the Ingraham Glacier a couple of weeks ago, but doesn't eliminate all of the overhead hazard.  There is still potential for ice fall onthe new variation.  Keep an eye out for looming ice cliffs above and don't linger or take breaks below these hazards.

Rockfall near Cathedral Gap has also been active at all hours (including in the middle of the night) due to the warmer temperatures.  As climbers finish crossing the Cowlitz Glacier and gain the rocks at Cathedral Gap, the transition from glacier-travel mode to rock-travel mode stalls them directly beneath the hazard.  Prepare your team ahead of time for this roped transition; make necessary rope adjustments out of the rockfall hazard zone and pass through quickly.  It's also worth taking a break, getting a snack and a sip of water, before crossing the hazardous area so that everyone can move their fastest if needed.

Overall, the Disappointment Cleaver route seems to be in late-July conditions. It will continue to break apart and become more circuitous as the summer goes on.  The high pressure and sunny skies that settled in a little over a week ago remains in place and has made for great weather conditions on everyone's summit day.  And, lastly, it's still the busiest time on the mountain; consider climbing during the weekdays through the rest of July and early-August to avoid the crowds.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Inter Glacier and Emmons Conditions - July 17th, 2018

Here are some pictures of current conditions.  The best route up the Emmons Glacier, and the one being used most frequently over the past few days, is still ascending up and climbers' left of the "Corridor" through the "Garbage Disposal" before traversing right at around 13,000 ft to tie-in with the older boot track.  More information on this route is here: 

While the "Garbage Disposal" avoids many crevasses, it is steeper and subject to icefall.  Be sure to ask if this overhead risk is worth it for your team and consider how long you will be exposed.  Additionally, there are many crevasses opening up right out of Camp Schurman and near Emmons Flats.  The Corridor is also quite crevassed and there was a report of at least one team member experiencing a roped crevasse fall on Monday morning.  If attempting this route in its current condition be prepared for route finding and crevasse rescue.  It is in late-season condition.

The Inter Glacier is also entering late-season condition and features crevasses along the bootpath which are difficult to see until you are right next to them.  Glissading is not advised and roping up is not a bad idea.

The Emmons-Winthrop from the top of the Prow.  

Crevasses on the Inter Glacier.  The boot pack goes right next to these with more on the other side.  
Looking up from Glacier Basin. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Emmons Update - July 15th: Warmer Temps Taking a Toll

First morning of wildfire smoke this season.
It seems that the high pressure of summer has finally arrived and with it so have the climbers and rapidly changing route conditions. Throughout the weekend, nearly all camps were booked with climbers: from Camp Schurman and the Emmons Flats, to Camp Curtis and the Inter Glacier bivies. As we continue to roll through July & August peak season here at Mt. Rainier, climbers should show up with some flexibility to their plan and perhaps a backup option or two. That being said, many groups were up on the mountain this weekend and a few teams had successful summit attempts despite heat and somewhat deteriorating conditions of the route.

Approach route onto the Emmons from Camp Curtis continue
to melt out rapidly with high temps this week.
With a rapidly depleting snowpack all over the mountain, the Inter Glacier and the approach route off the Camp Curtis ridge and onto the Emmons is melting out quickly. As of yesterday, climbers are now avoiding the obvious line in the photo and are dropping in/exiting the Emmons slightly downhill in order to avoid the steeper, slabby and exposed rock scramble. Rangers have been happy to see that nearly all parties are roped up as they come into camp. Perhaps it's only due to the more broken nature of the Emmons this year, but that section of glacier is heavily crevassed and certainly warrants the deployment of ropes, harnesses, helmets, axes and crampons (full glacial mode). Once in camp, climbers can expect to share space with many other eager climbers so camp etiquette and hygiene are paramount.

Full camps are a theme throughout July/August peak season.

 In terms of route conditions, the steadiness/reliability that we saw on the Emmons throughout much of the early season has finally begun to deteriorate. Arriving in camp on Friday, rangers received reports from both guides and climbers alike of a hollow route from top to bottom that was difficult to protect. Reports of large, sagging, "team eating" bridges, postholling into blackness and unnerving, soft snow conditions gave rangers enough reason to try to find an alternate route up the mountain.

Climbing rangers scouting a new re-route for the Emmons
between 11,400' and 12,600'.

 Although rangers were able to climb via a different route between 11,400' (top of the corridor) and 13,600', the steepness and exposure of the upper pitches didn't make it an ideal alternative to the current bootpack. That being said, a variation to traverse back into the main boot pack around 12,600' still cut out nearly 1,200' of the most hollow section of track. As of Sunday morning, there was a mixed-bag of attitudes in high camp. Many parties decided that the warm temperatures and objective hazard was simply too high-risk and stayed in camp. Some parties attempted the old boot pack today and all of them turned around due to the sketchiness of the crevasses all around. Finally, a few more experienced parties were willing to attempt the new re-route and some of them had success to the top. Most folks that have been able to summit have been topping out by sunrise and returning to camp by 9 or 10 am to beat the heat. 

Track log from the re-route on the Emmons. Green route is new,
red line is the old, most hollow section of the route.

Topo of the new re-route. Cutting out the old bootpack (in red) avoids a large section
of hollow terrain between 11,400' and 12,600'.

No matter what choice you make if deciding to climb the Emmons, rangers are stressing the importance of personal risk assessment and risk management amongst groups as they show up in camp. As of now, the route is no longer the "cruiser,"  stable route that we often expect earlier in the year. For parties with solid mountaineering experience, including excellent comprehension of crevasse rescue, running belay/anchor belay and glacial navigation techniques, the Emmons might be a great challange under the current conditions. For parties with minimal mountaineering experience and less confidence in unstable glacial conditions, the current Emmons route might offer too much hazard/risk. Even with a new re-route there is still a lot of uncertainty/risk from the first crevasses encountered out of camp all the way to the nearly 75' overhung bergschrund curtain that the route passes directly over at 13,600'. Successful and safe passage up the current route will require a full repertoire of skills from belay techniques, route finding (it will undoubtedly change daily as things continue to melt out this week), fitness and the ability to ascend and descend by early morning.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Disappointment Cleaver Update -- July 12

Looking down the icefall debris on the Disappointment Cleaver route. Note climbers for scale.

The path of the Disappointment Cleaver route remains largely unchanged over the past few weeks.  The route still climbs up and left from the cleaver to the top of Gibraltar Rock before continuing up to the crater rim. This may change as guides work to re-route the path in coming days and weeks to reduce exposure to serac hazards and as the crevasse crossings along the route widen.

Looking across the Ingraham Glacier toward Camp Comfort. Note icefall debris and leaning seracs.

Crossing the icefall debris.
The biggest concern this week has been objective danger from serac fall on the route coming from the upper Ingraham Glacier. There have been two very sizeable ice falls starting at around 13,000 feet, resulting in a debris field that is a few hundred feet wide and roughly 1000 feet long.  Many parties are choosing to not subject themselves to this hazard by stopping their climb atop the cleaver at 12,500 feet and deciding to come back another time.  If you choose to climb through this section, move quickly and DO NOT STOP until well away from any overhead hazard.

Rockfall below Cathedral Gap.
With warming temperatures, the large rockfall debris near Cathedral Gap is becoming increasingly dangerous as the snow pedestals holding boulders begin to melt out. Above freezing temperatures at night mean that these behemoths may fall at any time of day. Move swiftly through this area.

Ladder at High Crack.
 A pair of short ladders were installed on the route this week, across widening crevasses. If you feel the ‘need’ to jump across a crevasse, look for an alternate route. There is no reason to take flight during glacier travel, contrary to what many books and social media posts may portray. Ankles and knees rarely take the hard landing well and many injuries result from being airborne - especially when wearing crampons. 

Be sure to practice Leave No Trace while on the mountain. Blue bags can be obtained at the ranger station when you get your permit; use these any time you are not at a bathroom. The bags can be deposited in labeled barrels at Camp Muir and in Paradise (not in the toilets). Do not leave your human waste along the climbing route for others to see or clean up!

July crowds to the right and icefall debris to the left.
It’s shaping up to be another busy July weekend on the mountain. Plan ahead to obtain your climbing permit (even for single-push attempts), be courteous to other climbers, and make good decisions for yourself and your team.

Disappointment Cleaver Route Track Log taken on July 11.

Kautz Route Update

Rangers climbed the Kautz Glacier route this week and were pleased to find pleasant climbing conditions. The Kautz route is more technical than both the Emmons and DC, however, it remains a good stepping stone for those contemplating more challenging objectives on Rainier.  The route requires a higher level of technical skills in order to negotiate the rock step, technical ice chute, and glacier route finding. Rangers ascended from Paradise to Glacier Vista, then descended toward the Nisqually Glacier.  This approach was still mostly snow covered. 

The route taken on 7/10 to a bivy site near the Turtle Snowfield.

There are two common ways across the Nisqually; one heads toward the "Fan" and the other traverses a little higher towards the Wilson Glacier "Gully" just above. Rangers opted for the Gully approach as the Fan is quite melted out and the crevasses on the Nisqually Glacier crossing didn't prohibit access to the upper ridge. Remember to rope up for these glacier crossings, and take a GPS track once you leave the trail in case clouds roll in and visibility deteriorates during the climb.

The Wilson Gully approach from the Nisqually Glacier.

Above the Wilson Gully, rangers ascended the lower Wapowety Cleaver to The Castle at 9600 feet.  Many good campsites exist in this area between 9,400 and 9,800 feet, in the vicinity of The Castle. Other bivy sites can be found near the top of the Turtle Snowfield around 10,800 feet. Rangers found running water near both The Castle and the 10,800 bivy site.  

Shortly after departing camp the next morning, rangers arrived at the rock step.  Currently, a 25' rappel is necessary to negotiate the rock step and access the Kautz's ice chute.  Old, tattered fixed ropes mark the top of the rock step.  As with all fixed equipment, the fixed lines should be inspected for core shots or damage before use. Be prepared to back up any gear you encounter and use your own ropes/equipment if you doubt the quality of fixed gear. The ice chute is sun cupped from top to bottom.  The snow pinnacles offer good security, but don't hesitate to utilize running belays or pitch out the terrain. Decent alpine ice can be found near the top of the chute to the left or right of the gut.

Looking down the Kautz ice chute.

From the top of the chute, meandering glacier travel brings you to the Wapowety Cleaver at 13,000 feet. There are a couple small exposed bivy sites on the Wapowety Cleaver, but no running water.  From the Wapowety Cleaver, a few long switchbacks bring climbers across the upper Nisqually Glacier to the crater rim.  The upper glacier is in good condition and smooth. A few large crevasses in this section have thin snow bridges, and it may be a good idea to belay your partners across these crevasses.

The route taken to the top from high high camp on 7/11/18
If you're planning a climb on the Kautz, grab some blue bags from the ranger station at Paradise or Longmire when you get your climbing permit. Wherever you decide to bivy, be sure to keep camp clean and pack out any trash you find.