Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Variation to Emmons Climbing Route


Crevasse at 13,000'
Rangers from Camp Schurman proofed a variation on the standard climbing route on Sunday. As the glaciers open up more and the route changes adding more distance to the climb, this new route takes a more direct approach up the Emmons Glacier.
Variation to route up the Emmons Glacier
Leaving from Camp Schurman the route negotiates a heavily crevassed section of glacier until you reach Emmons Flats. The crevasses in this area are traditional to the route this late in the season and are mainly composed of skeletal ice.
Looking down at Camp Schurman from atop Steamboat Prow



Crossing the Emmons Flats and lower "football field" is mostly sun-cupped soft snow. Several large snow bridged cravasses at the base of the corridor are well supported and easily crossed. Take a look under the snow bridge to see what is supporting it. If it seems questionable then look for other options.


From the top of the corridor, approx 11,000’ the route can be climbed out to the right, following the standard summer line of ascent, or out to the climber's left into the upper Emmons Bowl. This upper bowl holds large deposits of winter snow making it challenging uphill travel early season. The large expanse of smooth snow is a great option for late season when the snow pack is consolidated and boot penetration is minimal.

Route finding through the upper Emmons Bowl to 13,000’ is relatively easy with the majority of the landscape visible. Taking a low approach (climber's left side of the bowl) will offer some distance from seracs and occasional ice fall that releases on the right side the bowl. The left hand side will also give a more direct ascent line to end run large crevasses extending across the slopes.

At the 13,000’ elevation there is a large vertical fin of snow that marks the top end of the bowl.  This also marks the beginning of the route finding. The landscape above is hidden from view, but with every new crest additional large expanses of smooth terrain will appear.

Climb right of the fin at 13,000' to end run two parallel crevasses. From this point the route trends left, but doesn’t meet up with the Disappointment Cleaver Route - not that far left! Climbers will find small snow bridges where the seemingly impossible crevasses narrow down to the point where small snow bridges provide passage.
New route
If you're looking for adventure on Mount Rainier and want something new, then try a late season Emmons Climb. This route doesn’t disappoint! 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Emmons-Winthrop Route Update 8/15/19

Little Tahoma and the lower Emmons Glacier

Camp Schurman was relatively quiet this week despite several days of great weather. The route to the top is still climbing well, and climbers can expect an exciting and engaging climb above camp. The Inter Glacier has several crevasses, so roping up is recommended here. Check out this previous post for great beta on the approach to Camp Schurman.

The Inter Glacier has crevasses and exposed ice in spots. Glissading is not recommended.
The snow on the lower half of the route is quite firm and a little icy in spots, so rangers recommend that each party bring a couple of ice screws for running protection or anchors. The upper half of the route still has plenty of snow, and pickets are essential equipment for building anchors on the upper mountain. Make sure your climbing team has both pickets and ice screws for your climb.

A rough representation of the Emmons-Winthrop climbing route.
From Camp Schurman, the section of glacier leading to Emmons Flats is quite broken. The boot pack still takes a good line through here, but expect to meander a bit around crevasses. Above Emmons Flats, the track wastes no time climbing to the Corridor. Getting onto the Corridor, climbers will cross a large crevasses that is spanned by a long, narrow snow bridge. Give this bridge a look before crossing it. Rangers found another snow bridge about 100 feet higher that works as well.

Once on the Corridor, climbers will find firm snow and a boot pack that winds up along sun cups. There are numerous crevasses cutting through the Corridor, so be on your game and pay attention. Evaluate each crevasse crossing for snow bridge integrity before committing to crossing it. Often, a better crevasse crossing or end run is only a short distance from the existing boot pack.

Once your team nears the top of the Corridor, expect a section of steep and exposed climbing leading to the "Alpine Meadow." The fall consequence here is severe, so place pickets or screws to protect your team across this section. The boot pack across the Alpine Meadow dead ends in several places where old snow bridges have fallen in. Be observant here and look for ways to end run crevasses or cross where the snow bridges are thick.

Remember to probe the bridges with your ice axe and communicate with your party members before crossing suspect snow bridges. A partner who is not paying attention won't be much help arresting a fall should a snow bridge collapse.

Above 12,400 feet, the climbing becomes more straightforward as the route heads towards Liberty Saddle. Solid footwork is essential here. The steep, planar snow surface would accelerate a falling climber very quickly. On the traverse towards Liberty Saddle, the boot pack is in good condition, and the route is quite efficient. Above the saddle, continue climbing up towards the crater rim. First you'll see the edge of the west crater rim, then a little higher, the true summit.

The boot pack leading towards Liberty Saddle. Liberty Cap can be seen center right.
With the adventurous route finding, and potential for running belays, be prepared for a long summit day. An early start will allow your team to descend before the hot summer sun weakens snow bridges on the descent. Climb with plenty of water, or a stove to melt snow along the way. Bring ice screws, pickets, and crevasse rescue gear on your climb. August is a great time to experience solitude on the upper mountain, but don't forget to enjoy the wildflowers on the hike out as well!


Disappointment Cleaver Update


Disappointment Cleaver from Dunn's Roll. 8/14/19
Twice in the past four days Rangers conducted patrols of the Disappointment Cleaver route.  Overall, conditions are still quite good for an attempt of this route.  With somewhat cool temperatures off and on this season, the glaciated upper portion of the route is still intact and fairly straightforward.  However, the typical "watch outs” for the route still exist and are consistently producing ice and rock fall hazards.

Watchout Zones!
As per usual, the portion of the route between Ingraham Flats and the Nose of the Cleaver itself--and area known as the Icebox and Bowling Alley--are the greatest contributors to overhead hazard on the route.  The icefall that characterizes the “Icebox” dropped a large serac a couple weeks back and has dropped some additional debris in the last few days.  The current boot pack travels through this debris field. While afternoon warming can be a contributor to ice fall, seracs are also notorious for breaking without warning in the cold of the night.

The next watch out zone of significance is the “Bowling Alley”.  This is the exceptionally loose cliff band that climbers travel under in order to reach the Nose of the Cleaver.  This area is a repeat offender for natural and climber-initiated rock fall.  Over the weekend, a significant natural rock fall event dropped VW bus and microwave size boulders directly across the climbers trail.  Most natural rock fall is the result of daily warming trends, and this event happened midday while a group of 3 climbers sat only 50 feet away donning their crampons for the next glaciated section.  They were still quite spooked when they returned to Camp Muir an hour later!  

Take Home Point - Do not stop moving or rest when significant overhead hazard exists!  This is true even if debris has not yet fallen into a particular piece of terrain, but also where potential overhead hazard exists.  The image below exemplifies where not to rest on the boot pack between Ingraham Flats and the Nose of the Cleaver!

Debris in the Icebox
Camp Muir to Ingraham Flats
This section of the route is straight forward with an obvious boot pack.  However, crevasses are beginning to open up on the Cowlitz Glacier just out of camp and significant crevasses exist below the boot pack.  These are fantastic locations to practice crevasse rescue on a layover day in camp.  The rocky path up to Cathedral Gap is essentially trail walking.  Make sure to keep your crampons on however, as the terrain approaching Ingraham Flats from Cathedral Gap has a large portion of exposed glacier ice.  Slips and falls are common in these conditions, even with spikes underfoot.

Ingraham Flats to the top of the Disappointment Cleaver
Here on volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest, we often refer to mountain ridges as “Cleavers.” The Disappointment Cleaver being the namesake ridge feature of this route.  As mentioned in the “Watchout Zones” section, the portion of the route from Ingraham Flats to the “Nose” of the Disappointment Cleaver has the greatest overhead hazard of the route.  However, once clear of the Bowling Alley, one now becomes a potential contributor to the rockfall hazard!  The route up the ridge is well-wanded and simple walking all the way to the top, as long as you remain on the route.  Stick to the wanded route and be careful of knocking rocks off onto climbers below!  If the terrain doesn’t feel right, take a look around and reassess.



Wanded route on the Cleaver Ridge. Little Tahoma in the Background.

Disappointment Cleaver to the Summit
The glacier above the Cleaver is still in phenomenal shape for climbing.  The local mountain guide services who lead climbs up the mountain have done a fantastic job maintaining the route. The DC would not be nearly as approachable for the average climber without their work.  So thank a guide if you meet one!  The route currently sports a clear boot pack and generous wanding.  However, the wands can be blown away, fall over, or get covered with the next storm’s snow.  Make sure to track your route so that backtracking is easier if you get turned around.  There is currently one significant crevasse problem found at 12,900 feet.  This is being solved with an anchored 12ft. aluminum ladder.  There is fixed snow picket protection both above and below the ladder.  Use these as appropriate to protect a fall.  

Ladder at 12,900 feet
Current Route up the Disappointment Cleaver
Thus concludes this week’s blog update for the Disappointment Cleaver!  Go. Climb Smart. Try Hard!




Thursday, August 15, 2019

Muir Snowfield Conditions 8/15/2019

Looking towards Camp Muir and the summit
Typical August conditions exist on the Muir Snowfield. There's no snow below Pebble Creek and the slopes just above the creek crossing are fairly steep. Proper footwear selection is critical for a safe journey up and down from Camp Muir. A pair of sturdy boots that allows one to kick steps into firm snow is highly recommended. Crampons or micro-spikes are also not a bad idea.

On the snowfield proper the main route heads to eastern edge of the snowfield at approximately 8,000'. It then traverses to the west side of Moon Rocks. As you ascend the slopes from 8,000' to 9,500' there are patches where last winter's snow has melted down to older layers. Easily identifiable by their dark color, these old layers are extremely firm and icy. It's easy to loose your footing on these patches.
Dark, icy patches at 9,000'
There are small glide cracks opening near 9,000' but none of them present much hazard at this time. This may change in the coming days and weeks so check back for updates or ask a ranger when you are in the Park.

We still do get requests for information about skiing conditions and we definitely do not recommend it at this time. The sun cups are large, the slopes are icy and pumice has coated the entire surface. The folks that have made it to Muir for a ski descent recently did not appear to enjoy their turns very much.


Looking down from 9,800'

 

Friday, August 09, 2019

Aerial West Side Reference Images

The following images were taken on Wednesday, August 7th, 2019 and can be used for reference for snow levels, identifying major crevasses, bergschrunds and terrain features around the west side of the mountain.  Keep in mind, many of the non-standard upper mountain routes are out of season due to glacial features, rockfall etc..

West side of Mount Rainier - looking at the Tahoma Glacier and Glacier Island.
The Tahoma Glacier to the right and the Puyallup Glacier to the left.
Looking at the North Mowich Glacier and Mowich Face above.
Spray Park with Echo and Observation Rocks above.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Camp Schurman

Approach to Inter Glacier
Getting to Camp Schurman is a beautiful hike through two distinct zones. The trail starts at White River Camp Ground and is forested and gently graded, about four miles to Glacier Basin and offers climbers a wonderful sub-alpine zone experience. From there the trail gains lots of elevation and you enter into the alpine zone, traveling up the moraine of the Inter Glacier. The route up the Inter Glacier is fairly direct gaining 2000’ elevation to Camp Curtis, at about 8700 feet. There is running water at the base of the glacier, which is nice place to fill up.  Crevasses are opening up on the upper section of the Inter Glacier, use cation traveling down this area.  We recommend 'roping-up' for this glacial travel and NOT glissading on your way down.  We've already had two serious accidents in the last couple weeks due to climbers getting out of control during their glissade.  Please descend carefully. 


Crevasses on the Inter Glacier
If you are staying at Camp Curtis, camping is only permitted in the five camp sites numbered by metal signs, elevation of 8685 feet. Please do not build new wind breaks for your campsite around this area - use the existing rock rings.  Note that if you're permitted for the 'Inter Glacier' Alpine Zone you are not permitted to camp on rocks and must dig a tent platform in the snow (which is very difficult this time of year now that the softer snow has melted away and only firm glacial ice remains).
Camp Curtis (8685 feet)
From Camp Curtis the trail traverses down a steep loose rock and sand slope onto the Emmons Glacier.  Expect to travel near several crevasses this time of year up to Camp Schurman.


Trail on Emmons Glacier to Camp Schurman

Camp Schurman is on the tip of the divide between the Emmons and the Winthrop Glaciers which is known as Steamboat Prow. Tents can be set up on the NNW side of camp, on the Winthrop Glacier. Camping is not permitted on the rocks - please camp on the snow.  



Looking down onto Camp Schurman
For climbers staying at Camp Schurman, there are two restrooms in service located behind the ranger hut.  In case of an emergency and there are no rangers around, a radio is located on the front of the hut, mounted to the outside wall in a grey box.  Also, just a reminder to anchor your tent down using a dead man style anchors or something with more strength than the small tent stakes that come with the tent. Winds in this area are strong and unpredictable.  We've had a couple of tents blow away with climber's gear inside. Use caution around both Camp Schurman and Camp Muir - crevasses are opening up in the camping area.

Camping is also available at Emmons Flats located a short distance from Camp Schurman. No services are provided in this area, so blue bags must be used and can be deposited in the container near the restrooms at Schurman. The route to The Flats is becoming more technical with one long traversing crevasse and small snow bridges.

Crossing onto Emmons Flats

Enjoy your time spent camping in the Schurman area and remember to leave the area better than it was found.
 
Sunrise over the Emmons Glacier

As far as the climbing route on the upper mountain, the route is still in great shape - and surprisingly similar to what the route has been for the last five weeks.  Still direct, still has some ice patches, still traversing out to Liberty Saddle at about 13,500, and still fun.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Protecting Ladder Crossings

Climber expertly demonstrating 'ready position' with a taut rope on the DC route at 13,000'
Ladders are one tool that is employed on the Disappointment Cleaver Route on Mount Rainier. These are most commonly used when there are no suitable snow bridges to cross a crevasse, making the route otherwise impassable. Learning how to cross these ladders smoothly, efficiently, and safely is a skill that should be practiced before encountering them on the route.

Small ladders and boards are commonly crossed using standard glacier travel technique (just pretend it's a sketchy snow bridge instead of a ladder) and with an emphasis on keeping a taut rope and climbers in the "ready position" to self-arrest. However, as the crevasse crossings get wider, so do the potential free falls a climber is exposed to. Once potential fall gets big enough to question their team's ability to arrest, that team must bolster their fall arrest system.

If taut ropes and a ready, self-arrest position aren't adequate to stop a fall, additional security can be gained by placing and using running protection (running pro) and/or belaying climbers. Both systems don't take much time, but can reduce the chances that a fall will catastrophically pull the whole team into a crevasse. Oftentimes, ladders and boards are held in place with fixed pickets. If a climbing team deems them safe, these pickets are perfectly acceptable to use as anchor points for running pro and belaying.

There is currently one ladder in place on the DC route (pictured above). However, more snow bridges will likely melt away as summer progresses and may be replaced with ladders and boards, if there are no feasible walk-around options. Climbing teams will be rewarded with confidence and time saved by becoming familiar with and practicing these techniques before attempting a climb on Mount Rainier.

Ladders and snow bridges are typically points on the route where back-ups and waits can occur.  If you're approaching a 'line' waiting to cross one of these features, try to take a break in a strategic spot and not add to the chaotic scene.  Also, try looking for alternative routes - a ladder may be in place just to make the route shorter, but is often times not the only option. 

Talk to one of the rangers at high camp if you have any other questions and to get the latest on ladder crossings! 

Cracks Opening Up In Camp Muir

Summer is truly here on the mountain and it shows at Camp Muir. The glacier and seasonal snowpack has been melting back from the rocks and the crevasses are opening up in camp.
Crevasses running next to the trail and tents in camp

Please be aware as you walk around camp and where you choose to set up your tent, especially at night. The cracks are large enough that one could easily break an ankle and some of the holes will soon be big enough to swallow a person. It serves as a good reminder why we encourage people to rope up when they climb above Camp Muir, and to return to camp still roped up.

Ingraham Flats also has large crevasses surrounding the common camping area. Assess carefully where you plan to put your tent. Look for long depressions in the snow surface and strongly consider using an avalanche probe (or at least a trekking pole) to make sure you are not parking yourself on a thin snow bridge. 

A bag full of micro trash found around camp with a tissue paper melting out above it.
As the snow recedes, a lot of micro trash that was lost or forgotten earlier in the season is melting out. Please help us keep camp clean by doing a thorough sweep around and under your tent for bits of trash and food. Hike out any trash you find to leave camp nicer than you found it for the next group. This is a beautiful mountain to challenge ourselves with, so let's respect it and help keep it clean.

Emmons-Winthrop Update 07/30/2019

Sunset over the Puget Sound from Camp Schurman
On Tuesday, July 30th, Rangers climbed the Emmons Route from Camp Schurman. The route is in decent shape, but will see deterioration in the coming weeks in a few key locations. The current primary hazard of the route is the crossing into Emmons Flats from Camp Schurman. The Emmons Flats are a common site for groups to set up camp in an area with a bit more of a "wilderness" feel.  Getting into Emmons Flats requires crossing through a convoluted series of crevasses with thin snow bridges. While these bridges were generally firm in the morning, climbers were consistently punching through in the afternoon hours. A potential work-around may exist, but has yet to be pioneered.

Above the Emmons Flats, a well-established boot pack rises through the Corridor to approximately 11,000 feet.  Here, the boot pack currently parallels large crevasses that run up and down hill. It is important to remember that glaciers are fluid and they will form crevasses wherever the tension in the ice is great enough.  This means that crevasses can exist both parallel and perpendicular to a summit bound track depending on how the glacier is moving. 

Looking down at Camp Schurman from the traverse onto the Corridor (approx. 10,600).

Approaching the next major crevasse at 11,800 feet, climbers must traverse through another convoluted bit of broken terrain that includes an ice bulge.  Consider taking ice screws to protect this section.  Using pickets or screws as a belay is always a good idea when fall consequences become severe and an ice axe arrest may be difficult.  Remember, a proper risk assessment for climbing includes a consideration of the likelihood and consequences of a fall.  While likelihood may be low because the climbing is easy, high consequences alone can dictate the need for a more prudent risk mitigation strategy.

Snow bridge over a gaping crevasse near 11.800'
At 11,800 feet there is a steep, arching snow bridge over a large crevasse.  This was fairly stable over the weekend but summer temperatures are in the forecast and things may change.

Above this crevasse the route is quite straight forward.  There is another steep section where a fall in firm conditions would result in rapid acceleration.  This is followed by a traverse under a large serac to Liberty Saddle.  The final push to the summit from is just about putting one foot in front of the other without breathing too hard or sweating too much! As always, the summit is only half way.  Be sure to keep your head on straight for the descent as this is where most accidents occur as fatigue takes its toll.


All in all, the mountain is in average shape for this time of year.  Go climb the mountain with skill and preparation, and get its good tidings!