Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ingraham Direct / Disappointment Cleaver Update and 'Sketchyness' Assessments

A climber end runs a large crevasse at 11,600' on the Ingraham Glacier

As of 6/19/2018 the Ingraham Direct is still the preferred route to the summit from Camp Muir. This is the longest the route has been viable in the 14 years that this ranger has been working on Mt. Rainier.

That said, the guides are prepping the Disappointment Cleaver for the eventual shift to that route. Most guides are now ascending the Ingraham in the night and descending the cleaver in the warmth of the day. This avoids crossing snow bridges when the snow is soft.

A lot of climbers are asking about the 'sketchyness' of the crevasse crossings on the Ingraham. This is obviously very subjective and each team will have to make their own risk management decisions when they get to the crossings. For an experienced team, using proper rope techniques, the crevasse crossings present much less of a risk than they do to a team using the rope improperly and certainly much less than an unroped climber.

Teams that are unfamiliar with heavily glaciated terrain should approach the Ingraham with utmost caution. Team fitness, weather conditions and snow surface conditions are all contributors to the sketchyness factor and should be taken into account throughout the climb.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day Conditions on the Inter Glacier

 Lets start out with snow cover  --  

The Glacier Basin trail is snow free for approximately first mile and a half until you reach patchy snow.  Skiers are able to start skinning at the switchback below Glacier Basin, but have to take skis off for a small crossing above Glacier Basin.  From there it's snow all the way up.

A couple things to keep an eye out for when heading up the Inter Glacier --

Crevasses are starting to poke out as seen in the photo below, some of which are right next to the existing boot-pack and may be hard to spot until you're fairly close to them.  Keep an eye out and note their location for your descent.

Clouds move up the Inter Glacier up faster than you realize.  We recommend taking a track log with your GPS on your way up, that way if you loose visibility on your way down, you have something to go off of.

The Inter Glacier terminates at Steamboat Prow.  If you climb to the top of the Prow and wish to descend to Camp Schurman, you are faced with two options.  The first involves a loose, chossy down scramble through 4th class terrain with exposure.  This can prove difficult with a large backpack and mountaineering boots.  The second option, and the one we recommend, is to head to Camp Curtis (lower down on the ridge to the east) and descend up to the Emmons Glacier.  This involves roping up for a short hike up to Camp Schurman.  This option is much less technical but does involve glacier travel, so make sure to use proper rope techniques.

Sunken crevasse bridges adjacent to the existing bootpack.

8400' on the Inter Glacier

Hiking up through Glacier Basin with the snow melting quickly.

Clouds moving in on the Inter Glacier

Climbing the Inter Glacier around 8500'

Rough waypoints of crevasses beginning to open up on the Inter Glacier
Looking down the Inter Glacier towards Glacier Basin

Emmons Update, June 17th

Climbers ascending the Emmons into Camp Schurman with
 thunder cell development in the background.

Stormy weather and challenging route finding over the last few weeks have kept successful Emmons climbs to a minimum. Climbing rangers were stationed at camp Schurman over the weekend prepared to handle the large volume of climbers that were registered to climb. Once again, unsettled weather, cloud caps, high winds, thunder and lightening were the theme of the weekend. With relatively light crowds at camp throughout the weekend, it's assumed that many parties turned around before even reaching Schurman. As of Sunday afternoon, thunderstorms, white out and moderate winds continued to hamper upper mountain climbing conditions.

Cloud cap development was a theme of the weekend and prevented
 most parties from pushing above 11,600ft.
Of the many different guide groups and independent parties attempting the route in the last week, most reported firm surface conditions, lack of an existing boot pack and challenging route finding throughout the route and especially near the bergschrund. One party climbing on Friday morning was fortunate enough to have moderate temperatures, light winds and good visibility that presented a short window for a summit push. They described "end running" the 12,400 ft. to the climbers right, all the way out on the Winthrop shoulder.  This maneuver requires a long, uphill traverse from the top of the corridor and across numerous snow bridges. From there, the route climbs like it has in years past up the Winthrop shoulder and towards the bergschrund features around 13,400 ft. At this point, route finding will become a bit more critical as you work through crack systems up and North towards Liberty Saddle. The successful party reported traversing nearly all the way into Liberty Saddle proper before then ascending the crater to Columbia Crest.

Emmons glacier on Friday afternoon before storms rolled back in.
Notice the many parallel crevasses in the "alpine meadow"
between 11,800 ft. and 13,000 ft.
As of Sunday afternoon, many parties were staged at camp waiting for the weather to break and the predicted high pressure to move in. However, despite the forecasted warming trend, unsettled weather and chance of showers/thunderstorms may persist throughout the week. With that, climbers should be prepared for rapidly changing conditions throughout the course of their climb in terms of storm/cloud cap development, white out, poor visibility and challenging route finding. The lack of an established "bootpack" above 11,600 ft. will require sound glacial navigation skills and may necessitate a gps tracklog in order to find your way back down if conditions turn for the worse.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

General Conditions - June 15, 2018

The south side of Mount Rainier - June 11, 2018
The last week of mixed weather has brought a mix of conditions to Mount Rainier. Early in the week, snow fell below the elevation of Paradise. This shut down most climbing trips, but a few lucky skiers found mid-winter powder skiing conditions on the Muir Snowfield and Inter Glacier. This snow blew around, especially above high camps, and led to natural avalanches on steeper slopes. Crowns were visible on the Ingraham Glacier and other nearby features, clearly demonstrating unstable snow conditions. With warm weather forecast in the coming week, these slopes will be more prone to loose wet avalanches. Watch out for wet surface snow, pin wheels, and roller balls that can quickly entrain large amounts of snow.

On the White River side of the mountain, the trail into Glacier Basin is more dirt than snow and many are choosing to hike rather than ski on the approach. The Inter Glacier is starting to sport some open crevasses and the least broken line ascends on the climber's left side of the glacier near Mount Ruth. Strongly consider roping up on the ascent, especially if the light is flat or visibility is poor. Ensure that you can see the entirety of the runout if you choose to glissade on your descent. Glissading into a crevasse would be a terrible way to finish your trip!

The Emmons-Winthrop route has been seeing increased traffic over the past few weeks. The route remains largely unchanged and has a bootpack that is coming and going with fresh snowfall. As always, use a GPS to save your ascent track for possible use when descending in poor visibility later in the day.

Willis Wall - June 12, 2018

Carbon Glacier (Liberty Ridge in middle). June 12, 2018

Liberty Ridge has been shutting down all recent groups due to a combination of rockfall and complicated glacier travel on the approach. Snowfall last week and sustained winds likely built some sensitive avalanche conditions on the route also.

Mowich Face - June 12, 2018

Friday, June 15, 2018

Ingraham Direct Update: June-uary

Stormy weather enveloped the upper mountain last weekend putting a damper on climbing.  Rangers at Muir weathered high winds, deep snows, and cold temperatures over the last 5 days. A break in between storms Monday allowed rangers to climb to Ingraham Flats, where debris from natural avalanches were observed on the upper Ingraham Glacier at approximately 12,500 ft.

High winds transported the new on the upper mountain.

High winds on the upper mountain transported the new snow and created isolated wind slabs on many aspects.  By Tuesday, a brief warming period helped stabilize the recently transported snow, and several parties reached the top.  Remember to bring avalanche rescue gear including a beacon, shovel, probe, and the knowledge of how to perform partner rescue with this equipment.  These tools are critical pieces of equipment for climbing the mountain when snow is in the forecast.  With more showers in the forecast this week, don't forget to take a GPS track from Paradise to Muir on the way up.  This track can be followed down from Muir if clouds roll in and visibility becomes poor.

It is unusual for the Ingraham Direct to still be a viable climbing route this late in the season. Expect things to change rapidly with warm temperatures next week with a likely shift onto the Disappointment Cleaver.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Emmons-Winthrop update - June 7th, 2018

Rangers were last at Camp Schurman the previous weekend (June 3rd) and observed only two teams climb the route due to stormy weather and an obscured boot track.  Over the week, several guided parties have also successfully climbed the route, and reported the route to be in ‘good shape’ and following the same general path as before.  

Note that there is currently a special weather warning from the NWS for this weekend...COLD AND WET WEATHER IS EXPECTED IN THE MOUNTAINS...Snow levels will likely fall to between 4000’ and 5000’ elevation and several inches of snow are forecast, with summit winds approaching 50 miles per hour.  

This implies that there may be new avalanche hazard, and that route finding on the Emmons-Winthrop route could be very challenging for those not intimately familiar with the route.  Good skills with all forms of navigation tools will be essential, even after the storm.  Of note, if you’re planning on climbing any of the north-side routes (Liberty Ridge/Ptarmigan) be aware that the typical descent route (i.e. the Emmons-Winthrop) is NOT easy to on-sight, especially post-storm since any boot-track on the upper mountain quickly fills in or is blown away...Be sure sure to have a good sense of the route, especially on your descent, and don’t assume that just because there’s a boot-track, that it’s going where you want to go. We see numerous parties each year that accidentally descend to Camp Muir instead of Camp Schurman. Don't let it happen to you. 

So wait it out, and then get out on the mountain, as it’ll be a clean slate after this storm cycle!  It will be a great opportunity to truly feel the grand scale and remoteness of the mountain if you get a chance to ‘set’ the route!

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Special Weather Alert for the Weekend June 9, 10

The National Weather Service has issued a Special Weather Statement for this coming weekend. Please pay attention to the latest weather forecasts as the weekend approaches.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Ingraham Direct/Disappointment Cleaver Conditions June 6th

The preferred route up from Camp Muir is still The Ingraham Direct (depicted in orange on the map below).  

There are currently two routes kicked-in from Camp Muir to Columbia Crest.  The Ingraham Direct that had been the primary route for the past month or so has seen some glacial movement within the past couple of days.  The guide companies have decided to kick in a route on the cleaver in case a bridge in the Ingraham Ice-fall collapses.

The Dissapointment Cleaver route is slightly longer and involves travel over rocky areas which has the potential for rockfall if multiple parties are descending at the same time.

Above 12,700', the route is largely unchanged except for a crevasse bridge at 13,800' that fell through this week (seen in the picture below).  These bridges, though large stable, have the potential to collapse at any point.  We recommend parties keep their rope tight while navigating these crevasse crossings.  It is not a good idea to stop or take breaks on these bridges.

With the route becoming busier as the summer season progresses, there are a couple of notes that we want to touch on.

Stay as a group, and stay roped up while on the upper mountain.  Don't leave anyone parked on the side of the mountain while the rest of the group heads up to the summit.  If one team member cannot continue, the entire group needs to descend.

Be heads up for rock and ice fall.  With more and more climbers on the route, this hazard will increase.  Wear your helmet for the entire climb.

If your party is moving quicker than another party and you wish to pass, wait to do it in a safe location.  Don't try to pass while on steep icy terrain of over a crevasse bridge.

Stay as a group when descending from Camp Muir to Paradise.  We have had a number of parties get separated recently.  Use the gps track that you took on the way up if you encounter poor visibility on the way down.  This counts for the upper mountain as well.

Remember, everyone is here for the same reason.  Be courteous, and enjoy the climb.

A large bridge crevasse bridge that recently fell through, resulting in a short re-route.

Upper spine of the Dissapointment Cleaver

Ingraham Direct. Notice parties descending the ID, as well as traversing from the base of the cleaver.

July-like conditions.

Looking towards the "backboard" from the "Nose" of the Cleaver.

Looking uphill from the nose of the Dissapointment Cleaver

Cleaver route is depicted in purple. Ingraham Direct route is depicted in orange.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Considerations for Skiers

A skier descends the Kautz Glacier.

The Rangers have observed a marked increase in skier traffic on the upper mountain in recent years. This has coincided with a significant increase in accidents involving skiing. We are compiling data in order find common errors that skiers make that get them in trouble. We hope to use these cautionary tales to prevent future accidents.
One constant observation that the rangers have made is that the basic approach to risk management is often skewed in skiing parties. It is often assumed that since skis spread one's weight out over a large surface area then they are a safer method of travel on glaciers. This may be true for flat valley glaciers but on the steep terrain near the summit the opposite is often true. The extra weight and awkwardness of skis makes the endeavor more challenging and requires more attention paid to risk management.
Another area of concern for rangers is the willingness of parties to climb one of the standard routes to access a steeper, more remote descent objective. This may be physically less challenging but it robs the skier of the ability to assess conditions on the ski objective and to identify hazards on the ascent. Dropping in to an unknown, unseen route automatically increases the risk of the endeavor substantially.
Individuals considering a ski attempt on Mount Rainier should possess significant previous experience skiing on glaciers and at altitude. While no other Cascade volcano possesses the same degree of challenge for the ski mountaineer, it is imperative to have experience skiing on other peaks like Mount Baker and Mount Adams before coming to Mount Rainier.
Here are some considerations if you are planning a ski trip on Mount Rainier.
Team Selection
This is the most important factor to consider when planning a trip to Mount Rainier. The vast majority of terrain on Mount Rainier can be classified as “no fall” territory. Although ski falls may be common and insignificant in a ski resort, all falls on the upper mountain are serious. Simply losing an edge can easily cascade into an unstoppable slide into an open crevasse. Reverting to side-slipping or falling-leaf technique, rather than linked turns, can help maintain control of your ski descent.
If anyone in your party has any doubt of their ability to safely ski the route, you must be willing to communicate that and revert to appropriate roped glacier travel techniques.
Successfully completing a ski descent of Mount Rainier requires individuals and teams who are competent in a broad spectrum of mountain skills. Mountaineering, glacier travel, rope techniques, navigation, and expert-level downhill skiing skills with a heavy backpack are the bare minimum.
Route Selection
There is no easy way to ski from the summit of Mount Rainier. All routes feature complex glacier travel, steep skiing, and long sections of no-fall terrain. Commonly attempted routes include: Emmons-Winthrop, Fuhrer Finger, Kautz Glacier, Success Couloir, and Ingraham Direct.
There are many excellent ski descents on the mountain that minimize exposure to crevasses, ice and rock fall, and high altitude. Descents of the Muir Snowfield, Van Trump Snowfields, The Turtle, and Inter Glacier all serve as a nice introduction to the challenges of skiing on Mount Rainier.
One Day vs. Overnight Trips
An increasing number of teams opt for single day attempts; these require exceptional fitness levels. We see many teams that begin their attempt together but slowly get spread out across the mountain. This is unacceptable. It is crucial that team members remain within verbal and visual communication at all times. If one party member needs to stop or descend, the group should do the same. Do not leave anyone alone on the mountain. Consider a multi-day attempt so that you can begin your summit attempt rested and focused for the strenuous day ahead. Overnight trips also present better opportunities to time your descent for optimal conditions.

No matter which strategy your party chooses you must register for your climb and pay the climbing fee. More information on that process can be found here.
Weather & Avalanche Conditions
Since professional avalanche forecasts are not issued during the summer months, snow stability must be assessed by the team before entering avalanche terrain (most of the upper mountain). Late season storms often deposit feet of snow and produce slab avalanches. Even small amounts of snow spread out on the volcano can rapidly drift into wind slabs.
When signs of instability are present, the best course of action is to descend immediately from your current location rather than trying to outsmart the avalanche problem. It only takes a small amount of moving snow to knock you off your feet and push you into places that have serious consequences.
Snow Surface Conditions
This is probably the hardest variable to predict when planning a ski descent of Rainier. Snow conditions vary widely across aspect and elevation. The upper mountain rarely features smooth snow surfaces that could be defined as “good” skiing – it is commonly “survival skiing” up high. The surface above high camps is frequently a mix of breakable wind crust, very firm wind packed snow, ice chunks, sastrugi, and refrozen snow. Expect to ski “bad snow” for some or all of every descent.

Furthermore, it is rare that a ski descent does not require some down climbing. In many cases the decision to transion to crampons and ice axe for a short down climb can be a life-saving event. You must expect that you will need to take off your skis, rope up and climb down intermittently.
Just because you’ve read reports of good ski conditions on south side routes, don’t expect the same on other aspects of the mountain. The east and north sides of the mountain are commonly weeks behind in the melt-freeze cycle transition into corn snow. This means that routes like the Emmons and Fuhrer Finger have vastly different conditions on the same day. Don’t be afraid to walk downhill rather than skiing in difficult conditions.
 Glacier Conditions
As the season progresses, all potential ski descents become more challenging as crevasses open and more ice is exposed. The trend in recent years has been to attempt ski descents earlier in the season to help mitigate these hazards, though this brings increased risk of avalanches, challenging navigation, and more hidden crevasses. Regardless of when a descent is attempted, always ensure that you can see to the bottom of the slope you are on. Convex rolls often hide crevasses on their downhill side.
All parties on foot should be roped up to help protect against glacier hazards. This means transitioning from skiing to booting (or skiing to booting) should be done after roping up and spreading out the team. The greatly reduced surface area of boots compared to skis greatly increases the likelihood of crevasse falls.
Technical & Rescue Considerations
All parties must be competent in crevasse rescue. Every member should wear a climbing harness at all times in the event of a crevasse fall. Carrying two ropes affords a greater safety margin in the event that the person carrying the only rope falls into a crevasse. Many crevasses are deeper than 100 feet, so carrying two ropes per team that are each longer than 40 meters is recommended. Each party member should have enough supplies to construct a rescue anchor, rappel into and ascend out of a crevasse, and execute a haul system. All other mountaineering equipment should also be carried, including crampons, ice axe, helmet, navigation, and survival gear.
A ski descent of Rainier can be one of the most rewarding experiences for a competent party but it can quickly turn disastrous for the unskilled or unprepared. The fact that descending on skis is so much faster than on foot allows skiers to get off route and into problematic terrain all that more quickly. Proper planning and a high degree of caution is a prerequisite for a successful ski descent of the mountain.



Trashing Camp Muir

Last weekend was busy one with climbers, skiers and day hikers converging at Camp Muir. The public shelter is a resource for backcountry users to take refuge from the environment and is open year-round.

It appears that a bag of trash was left in the shelter and other users came in and filled it up with more trash and other unwanted items. Some very kind climbers helped out the rangers by carrying down a large portion of the discarded rubbish. We really appreciate that kind of effort.

Please respect the public sheltler, Camp Muir, the National Park and wilderness in general and pack out all of your trash, extra food and fuel. This is a high use area and it does not take long to really 'trash' the place.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

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!

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Ingraham Direct Route Conditions June 2, 2018

The Ingraham Direct is still the route of choice for climbing via Camp Muir. There are several large crevasses between Ingraham Flats and 12,000' that may become impassable and force the route over to the Disappointment Cleaver soon but at this point the Ingraham Direct is the best choice.

The guides have started to prepare the Cleaver for the eventual shift but that route is not recommended at this time. This steep snow slopes near 12,000' have a faint trail but climbing that area when the snow is frozen will require the utmost care. Any slip could easily produce a catastrophic fall.

That's not to say the Ingraham is without it's challenges. Currently the main difficulties lie between 11,400' and 11,800'. The route travels through a heavily crevassed and steep area and several large crevasses must be crossed on ever-thinning snow bridges.

A climbing party crosses a crevasse on the Ingraham Glacier.

A climbing party above several large crevasses.

A climbing team crosses a large crevasse.
The route above 12,000' is a very direct shot towards the crater rim, especially for Mt. Rainier standards. That still means there's over 2,000 vertical feet of steep, glaciated terrain to the summit. But the climbing is rewarding and the views down the Nisqually and Ingraham glaciers are fantastic.

Climb safe!