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.