Thursday, April 12, 2018

April Showers, No May Flowers

Winter is slowly releasing its grip on Mount Rainier. While stormy weather has been the norm recently, there have been glimpses of the upper mountain and some of the climbing routes at times. Rangers have been out training on the mountain and in the Tatoosh over the past few weeks finding deep and variable snow conditions. Summer climbing season still seems a long way off at the moment and there won't be flowers poking out anytime soon!

View from the Tatoosh Range on April 9th, 2018

Speaking of winter snowpack, Paradise currently has 98% of its historic average snowpack. That means that we have over 180” of snow on the ground at 5400’—that’s fifteen feet of snow! A series of cold storms beginning Wednesday should continue through the weekend, adding more snow and creating difficult travel conditions with poor visibility at times. Comprehensive pre-trip planning, avalanche assessment skills, and whiteout navigation will be necessary if you plan to visit the park this weekend. It is possible to minimize snow travel by choosing low elevation trails near the Nisqually entrance and Longmire; some of these are melting to bare ground, but are still largely snow-covered above about 3000’. Be prepared for and self-sufficient in off-trail navigation regardless of your chosen route.

The transition into spring commonly comes with a wide range of freezing levels. In the past week, we have seen freezing levels climb to around Camp Muir elevations (think RAIN!) and snowfall as low as 3000’. This huge temperature range leads to rapid changes in the snowpack, dynamic avalanche problems, and diligent observation about changing weather and snow conditions. Remember that “big changes lead to big problems” when dealing with avalanches. Be sure to review the avalanche and weather forecast before you come to the Park.

Remember that the gate in Longmire closes at 5:30PM for downhill traffic, so plan to depart from Paradise no later than 4:30PM to get down with plenty of time. Pending conditions, winter gate hours will remain in effect for another week or so.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Almost April

Conditions in March varied drastically week to week this year.  Periods of winter-like storms enveloped the mountain, rainy spring-like storms passed through as well, and then moments of glorious sunshine occurred and made it seem like summer was truly on the way.  Skiers and climbers have been busy out on the lower slopes of the mountain.  Carving turns in fresh snow, drawing with pastels amongst an alpine landscape, and testing equipment to prepare for an early-season climb on Denali were just some of the activities on the mountain in March.

All of the spring months, March, April, and May, are notorious for lengthy storms and bad weather.  Even when the cherry trees are blossoming down in the city, the slopes of the upper mountain can be extremely harsh.  Any summit attempts should be made by teams with lots of experience, and not just climbing experience in general, but previous climbing experience on Mount Rainier.  It's strongly recommended that climbers attempt the mountain for the first time during the regular summer season.  Not having the correct warm clothes, a stove malfunction, running out of food and water, a ripped tent, being unable to navigate, and so many other hazards can become serious events this time of year.  Make conservative decisions in the backcountry during this time.  And, as always, check the forecast and avalanche report before venturing out on snowy slopes.

As the summer season draws near, and climbing plans start to gel, check the park's Permits and Reservations page to make sure your team gets all their proper paperwork taken care of.  The Paradise Wilderness Information Center will start opening on the weekends in early-May and seven-days-a-week starting the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend.  Swing on in and say hello to the staff and get all your climbing questions answered!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Winter Storm in Spring

Crevasses opening up early-season.
Spring sprung on the mountain for almost a week - high temps, plenty of sunshine, and even a couple of rain squalls.  Now that it's officially spring the sun is carving a higher arc in the sky providing warmth to most slopes on the mountain during the day, and speaking of days: they're getting longer!  Summer will be here before we know it - but even in the summer, and reading into the forecast for the weekend, winter storms can still pummel the mountain.  With almost a foot of new snow and 1000 foot freezing levels, this weekend looks cold!

Climbers have been submitting reservation requests for this season already.  The park starting accepting reservations on March 15th.  You have until April 1st to submit your request before the park starts processing requests in the order they were received.  We recommend making a reservation if:
  • The dates you want to climb are around a holiday weekend or around a weekend in July
  • You're traveling a long distance to get here
  • There's a slim margin of dates that you're able to climb
  • The size of your climbing party is large (five or more)
Remember that walk-up permits are available and that only 60% of the total amount of permits are available for reservations.

Some intrepid climbers have already made the summit of the mountain this March during a spell of good weather up high.  The self-registration kiosk in Paradise and the Longmire Museum in Longmire are the two places climbers can register this time of year.  Any overnight trip in the park requires a wilderness camping permit, and each climber climbing above 10,000 feet or on glaciers must pay the climbing fee.

This time of year on the mountain can be cold, and at times unsafe, but can also be the most wild and beautiful.  Check the forecast, road access, and come on up to visit the mountain in the spring time!


Saturday, March 10, 2018

March Madness

The sun came out for the second weekend in March and so did the skiers and snowboarders.  High pressure aloft made for amazing views from the flanks of Mount Rainier.  New snow made the mountain sparkle!

Big shout out to the Road Crew for keeping the road clear and getting it opened early on a Saturday morning for all the backcountry enthusiasts.  Check out the park's twitter feed (link to the right) for the latest info on when the roads in the park will open and close.  Remember that it is still 'winter' here on the mountain and to drive and park accordingly.  If in doubt, ask a ranger.

Also, as a reminder, please be aware of the avalanche danger in the backcountry.  The forecasters at the Northwest Avalanche Center have been doing a great job this winter.  Check out there website, read the current bulletin, and then corroborate the forecast with your actual observations.  Avalanches aren't the only danger in the backcountry - cliffs, rocks, creeks, tree wells, moats, sastrugi, and other visitors can all cause accidents.  Stay in control when you're skiing and riding.  If in doubt in the backcountry, make a conservative decision - there's no ski patrol at Mount Rainier waiting at the top of the mountain and any help or rescue could be hours, if not days, away.

It's just five days away from when reservation requests for the summer season will start being accepted.  Don't worry about being first, at least not until April.  All requests received from March 15th to April 1st will be picked at random and processed starting in April.  Any request submitted after April 1st will be processed in the order it was received.  We recommend getting a reservation if you're flying a long distance to get here and don't have flexible dates, have a larger party size, or are planning on climbing during a weekend in July and early-August.

Hope to see you on the Mountain!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Winter has Come Roaring Back

There was a time frame there where I think most skiers and snowboarders in the state were getting a little worried that winter had decided to pack up and call it a season. However, winter has come back strong the past week or so. We have been getting steady snow almost daily here at Rainier for almost a week. And it has been coming in cold and fluffy!

With the weekend approaching, it is looking like there is yet another big storm taking aim at the Cascades, and Mount Rainier. There is a winter storm warning in affect from tonight until early tomorrow morning. So if you are planning to come up to the park be prepared for winter driving conditions, and be patient with the plow drivers and the road opening times. They do a ton of hard work to keep the road in good shape all winter! Also, don't forget to throw in your tire chains, as all vehicles are required to carry them in the park this time of year. Now, with all the logistics out of the way, we can talk about the snow and skiing/riding conditions!

Climbing rangers were out in the Paradise area on Thursday to assess avalanche and snow conditions. They found quite a lot of new snow (about a meter, or 3 feet for you non-metric folks!), sitting right side up on top of a prominent crust from February 13th. This all sounds pretty good, however, on top of that crust is a layer of facets that are causing the potential for deep instabilities. The layer appears to be stubborn to trigger since it is so deep in the snow pack here at Rainier. However, this layer may present itself closer to the surface depending on the location and aspect. Long story short, there is certainly a sleeping dragon down in the snow. But, the good news, it is getting deeper by the day and the facets that were observed were trending towards rounds. But this problem is still out there, and if triggered, has the potential to go very large.

With all of this in mind, the climbing rangers chose more conservative terrain to ski, and found excellent ski quality on moderate angled slopes, some of the best turns of the season perhaps! So it is definitely worth the trip up this weekend to take advantage of some Utah or Colorado type snow in the Cascades. Remember to check the park's social media pages (links on the right side of this page) for the latest road conditions as well as NWAC for the latest on weather and avalanche conditions.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Clear Skies and Cold Temps

Over the weekend people were out in force around the mountain. While the skiing conditions were not so great, the weather was fantastic. And I think a lot of folks from around the Northwest needed a good dose of sunshine.

Climbing rangers were out and about and up at Camp Muir over the weekend and found a wide variety of ski conditions, from breakable rain crust, to light, cold snow on top of the crust, to wind scoured ice. Ski crampons were a near necessity for the majority of the journey to Camp Muir. Many people had taken their skis off and were wearing boot crampons. There was certainly some better turns to be found on leeward aspects where snow had been deposited by the wind instead of scoured away, but these spots were few and often times far between. But this weekend was more about enjoying the sunshine and the views of the mountain than ski quality!

Cathedral Gap 2/10/18
The overall snowpack on the upper portions of the mountain, including Camp Muir, appears to be fairly low for this time of year. For those of you familiar with Camp Muir, the rocks that form the helipad in camp are currently melted out and exposed. As are nearly all of the structures, with the usual wind blown snow around them of course. The route across the Cowlitz Glacier looks to be filled in, but  Cathedral Gap still has several bare patches, and rocks popping out. From what rangers could see, the upper mountain appeared to be in a similar state, with large sections of exposed ice and scoured snow. The Gibraltar Ledges route appears to be well filled in, but looks more like it typically does in May, as opposed to February!

If you are planning a trip to climb the mountain, this may be the week! Just be aware that conditions may be quite firm and icy up high. And be prepared to have the upper mountain all to yourselves, with no established route or wands this time of year. When the weather is nice this time of year, it can be a true wilderness experience on the upper mountain, and teams need to be self-sufficient! Don't underestimate "the standard routes", which become a little more involved when there is no shoveled boot track, wands, or other parties on the route. It is a good idea to come prepared with a GPS that has pre-loaded way points, and gear to spend an unplanned night on the upper mountain in the event of an emergency. All of that said, when the weather is nice in the winter time, Mount Rainier can be a great place to recreate, so maybe consider taking a day or two off work and coming up to play!

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Sunshine in the Forecast!

Well, for all the skiers out there it has been an up and down winter so far. Lots of big snows, followed by some big rain events. Such is life with La Nina! However, this weekend looks to be a sunny one at Mount Rainier National Park.

The forecast is calling for a cooling trend, with a sunny day on Saturday and maybe some "filtered" sunshine on Sunday. If you are in need of some vitamin D, grab your skis or snowboard and come on up to the park. The recent rains and warm temperatures at Paradise have settled the snow pack a bit, making for relatively stable avalanche conditions, which are expected to remain similar through the weekend unless something drastic changes in the forecast. With that said, it will still be a good idea to avoid steep slopes that will be in the sun. While the cool temperatures should certainly help, the sun has strong effects on the snow, even when it is relatively cold outside. Many of the cornices that developed over the last storm cycle have also been gaining weight from the rain, so avoiding slopes with cornices above will also be prudent.

It may not be a powder weekend, but it is always nice to get outside to ski, ride, or snowshoe in the sunshine. Grab your avalanche gear, a partner, and some sunscreen and come up to the mountain! Make sure to check the park social media pages (Mount Rainier Twitter Feed), website, or this blog to find out the most up to date road opening and closing information for the weekend. And if you see one the snow plow drivers thank them for their endless hard work! Without them none of us would be able to enjoy Paradise in the winter months.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Happy New Year 2018

It's the start of another year and the gears are just starting to turn as we prepare for another season here on Rainier.  There's over eight feet of snow on the ground at Paradise and it's hard to imagine that Memorial Day is only five months away.  Check out the Paradise Area Webcams to keep an eye on the waxing snowpack. 

Randy King Climbing Rainier

Climbing reservations for 2018 will be accepted starting March 15th.  There's a new Wilderness Permit and Reservation System that will be in place by then, and the process to submit a reservation will be different.  Stay tuned to the park's permit and reservation website for updates and changes as the time nears. 

Speaking of changes, Superintendent Randy King is retiring this month after 14 years at Mount Rainier (and Superintendent since 2011).  He's been a crucial part of developing the Climbing Program at Mount Rainier into what it is today and is no stranger to the summit of Mount Rainier.  We'll miss him!

Wintertime on Mount Rainier can offer pristine mountain views and quiet moments of solitude, but please remember to prepare for the potentially extreme conditions that can occur.  Driving, hiking, and especially skiing and climbing all require an extra level of expertise and equipment to be safe this time of year.  If in doubt, contact a ranger to ask any questions.  See you on the slopes!