Saturday, September 11, 2021

Autumn on Mount Rainier

Looking down onto the Muir Snowfield - icy, crevassed, and rocky late-season conditions!

Its begun to feel like fall up on the mountain.  Over the past week, vine maples have started turning orange and red, huckleberries have ripened and guide services have wrapped up their daily summit climbs. The season wrap-up at Camp Muir and the Disappointment Cleaver has begun.  Route adjuncts like ladders and hand-lines have been pulled off the route.  Tents and equipment caches at Ingraham Flats have been removed.  

If you choose to hike to Camp Muir this fall, expect to encounter icy conditions, crevasses, moulins and the lack of an established boot-pack.  Some sort of traction like crampons, shoe chains or spikes and an ice axe is recommended right now.  Consider full glacier-climbing kits just to get to Camp Muir!  In addition to difficult travel conditions, weather conditions also tend to become more unpredictable and expectations of cooler and wetter weather should begin to become more of a consideration when planning a trip.  

Until further notice, the Camp Muir Public Shelter will remain Closed, (Emergency Use Only), due to COVID-19.

Here's a run down of the common climbing routes currently:

Disappointment Cleaver - As of today, September 11th, all ladders, fixed lines and fixed pickets have been removed for the season.  Past this date, it will be extremely difficult to climb past Camp Muir and a high degree of skill and planning will be required in order to safely and effectively navigate upper mountain terrain.  Don’t expect there to be any other parties on the route - you’ll have to be self-sufficient and have a contingency plan in place for yourselves.  

Emmons/Winthrop - This route has not seen an attempt in the last three to four weeks.  A large portion of the route consists of ablated glacier ice, high consequence crevasse crossings and complex route finding.  This route should be considered "out for the season" as a standard route.  The Inter Glacier is also experiencing late season conditions.  Crevasses, glacier ice and rockfall are all present and add significant hazard right now.

Kautz Glacier - Not many parties have climbed the route in the last couple weeks, but the most recent blog post from August 23rd is still, for the most part accurate.  The ice pitches will continue to grow in length and crevasses above the Wapowety Cleaver will continue to be more complicated to cross.  The approach up Comet Falls Trail to this route is the preferred method - crossing over the lower Nisqually Glacier has become very difficult.  A descent of the DC will be extremely difficult due to the lack of ladders and additional route adjuncts.

____________________________________________________

All this being said, the mountain is by no means "Closed".  We welcome you to come and enjoy the autumn experience Mount Rainier has to offer.  It really is a great time of year to take in the sights and sounds of the changing seasons.  And also a wonderful opportunity to find moments of solitude up high before winter hits!

As we move into late-season here on the mountain, registration changes will occur; check the park's permit website for the latest, but here's the gist:

The Paradise Wilderness Information Center (PWIC) will be open 7 days a week from 7:30am to 5:00pm until Sunday September 26th. All climbing permits starting Monday 9/27/21 will be by self-registration.  Until that date, all climbers and campers who wish to spend the night will need a permit to do so and ALL climbers must still pay the annual climbing fee.


A hiker takes a moment to assess crevasses on the Muir Snowfield.


Friday, August 27, 2021

Muir Side Update

It’s feeling like Fall is approaching on Mount Rainier. The Muir Snowfield is in late season condition with lots of exposed glacial ice, rock, and even crevasses. Come prepared for a more challenging ascent to Camp Muir, with sturdy boots, crampons or spikes, and the expectation to have to navigate through some crevassed terrain. 


Camp Muir has been fairly quiet, though guide services are still taking clients up the Disappointment Cleaver route, and some independent parties are still climbing the route with some summit success.  Expect more challenging route conditions and increased rockfall hazard, particularly through the Bowling Alley and onto the Cleaver itself.

Please remember to come self-sufficient as there are fewer climbers than normal on the route. Also remember to pack out all trash from the mountain, including from Camp Muir. There are no trash receptacles at Camp Muir!  The Camp Muir public shelter remains closed, so bring a shelter if spending the night. Make sure you have proper tent anchoring systems for snow.  Tent stakes made for dirt are not appropriate for pitching a tent on Mt. Rainier!

Come up and enjoy the laid back, late season vibes on the mountain!





Kautz Ice Chute Patrol

 

Ranger on rappel from the Kautz Ice Chute


The Kautz ice chute is in nice form for some late season tool swinging. Rangers from the park went on a patrol on 8/23/2021, detailed below is an account of what they found along their route. 

Approach Via Comet Falls and Van Trump Park 

Comet Falls trailhead is an alternative start to climbing one of the more popular climbing routes to the top of Mt. Rainier, the Kautz Glacier. For our patrol, the Paradise approach seemed more hazardous in the late season conditions and we opted for the Van Trump Park approach option.

While longer and more elevation to surmount via this approach, there are certainly pros to the Comet Falls trail start. First, you will notice the waterfalls cascading along the trail for the first 1.6 miles to the Comet Falls viewpoint. If you have not seen Comet Falls before, you are in for a treat. Second, above the Comet Falls viewpoint your level of solitude is sure to increase. The occasional day hiker will press on from the falls to Van Trump park, but on this patrol they were few and far between. 

Rangers descending toward Van Trump Park

Snowfields and Scree 

Above Van Trump Park (5,500') the unmaintained trail ascends a defined ridge trail before giving way to the scree and talus above. The trail trends N by NE and around 7,000' you begin to move between sections of rock and snow up to approximately 7,800'. From here a consistent bit of snow travel along the upper Van Trump Glacier will put you into the 9,400' elevation zone. Trending East across the rock band below the Turtle from here allowed our team to find running water and camping options numerous enough to set up camp out of the wind.


Sunset from near the Lower Castle camp around 9,400'

The Castle Area

The castle area, lower and upper, from approximately 9,250'-9,500' are common areas for teams to make camp. In the afternoon we arrived, there seemed to be an abundance of running water in this zone, and many options for camping. As the sun sets expect the water sources to reduce in flow significantly. 

The Turtle 

The two approach trails to the Kautz merge at 9,800' at the base of The Turtle. The slope of the lower turtle is approximately 45 degrees and in early season this feature can be efficiently navigated traveling on snow. We found the turtle had melted down to glacial ice, which increased the risk and slowed our travel. The icy conditions and exposure to ice and rockfall could be mitigated by staying along the western side of the terrain where the angle was slightly less steep, and the exposure to rock and ice fall was reduced. Climbing this features covers the elevation from 9,800' - 10,800' where a trail through the loose rock of the Wapowety Cleaver leads the climber to more camping options just below Camp Hazard and next to the rock step or rappel that must be descended to get into the ice chute at around 11,300'.

 

Looking at the upper portion from the lower section of the ice chute.

Kautz Ice Chute

To get to the ice climbing there is a rock step which must be descended. Rangers found there to be doubled, fixed static climbing ropes anchored at the step. Knots tied along the ropes would not allow the climber to rappel these ropes, but when utilized as master points to clip into with a personal anchor or a tether coming off the harness, they were helpful. At the base of the step a loose rock trail, above exposed terrain must be traversed to get onto the glacier where you traverse yet further under an area of ice fall potential with small crevasses that need to be negotiated. Moving beyond this hazard zone puts one into the ice chute and teams can pick out their line of attack from there. On 8/23 rangers found the ice pitches to be approximately two 400-450' sections, a lower and an upper section, separated by a patch of lower angle snow between the sections. The lower section was at approximately 50 degrees and the upper portion 70 degrees. Good, Fun ice climbing ensued!

For a more detailed look at the route, check out the Kautz Glacier Routebrief.


Thursday, August 19, 2021

Emmons Update

Late summer conditions and the start of fall weather patterns.

Summer heat has created challenging climbing conditions on the Emmons-Winthrop. Much of the seasonal snow has melted exposing firn ice and opening many cracks. Although challenging conditions exist, no total occlusions of the route have been reported, so summits via the Emmons may still be possible. Climbers attempting the route should come prepared to navigate complex terrain and be solidly self-sufficient, as there are no guided groups and few independent climbers on the route. Additionally, ice screws are mandatory if parties are to travel the route with sufficient security. 

Large cracks on Emmons Glacier getting to Camp Schurman

The approach to Camp Schurman has also become increasingly challenging. Getting on to the Emmons glacier from Camp Curtis still appears possible, but will require immediately crossing cracks on the glacier. Camp Schurman can also be accessed via the Steamboat Prow. The rangers at White River can describe this approach in detail. 

Lastly, our summer high pressure weather pattern is beginning to break down. This means unexpected cloud caps and widely fluctuating freezing levels. Don't get caught off guard by severe weather. Show up ready to handle fall/winter temps and surprise precipitation. 


Monday, August 16, 2021

DC Route Changes 8/16

Mountains are always changing. With all the hot and dry weather Mount Rainier has experienced in the previous months, the DC route has hit a point of a major change.

Let's get the big question out of the way: YES, you can still climb Mt Rainier via the Disappointment Cleaver route, but it's not as straightforward as it was just last week.

So what has changed?  As of 8/14 the concession guide services (RMI, AAI, IMG) have decided that they are no longer going to support the current route from Ingraham Flats to the top of the Disappointment Cleaver. It is the guide services, not the NPS, that construct and maintain the DC route including ladders, fixed protection, shoveling etc. This route work is done for their clients and the climbing public has the benefit of getting to follow along.  As a consequence, the first ladder on the route (just above Ingraham Flats) across "High Crack" has been removed.  A bypass exists above High Crack, however, that still provides access to the Cleaver.  This route is slightly steeper, icier, and moderately difficult.

   Potential route for bypassing the  "High-Crack" 

Once at the cleaver, parties will have to negotiate an area of recent rock fall and scree. This is a highly exposed zone with recurring rock fall and the reason that the guide services have elected to re-route. The risk here is significant for large groups moving slowly, but may be acceptable for smaller teams that are nimble on rock while wearing crampons. Avoid waiting for other parties in the rockfall zone, and move through as quickly as possible.  


New rockfall and the current access route onto the Disappointment Cleaver.

The route above the Cleaver  to the summit remains the same as previous posts with another ladder in-
place at 13200ft.

Today 8/16, a large group of guides are heading up to rework the route with completion TBD.  As a new route is put in place we will try to provide updates. Happy Climbing!




Friday, August 13, 2021

Five Pro Tips

Sunrise behind Little Tahoma

There are a number of common mistakes that climbing parties repeat over the years. Some of them aren't so obvious - lack of proper physical training, essential equipment and knowledge of how to use it, and of course, not checking and/or heeding the weather forecast.  There's a common thread between all of them that can be linked back to the number one principle of Leave No Trace: Proper Prior Planning.  Here's five tips to help you plan for your adventure on Mount Rainier and hopefully avoid some of these common pitfalls.

First Tip: Check the weather before you head into the field to make sure you are prepared appropriately for the conditions or if you're objectives are even feasible.  If you don't want to consider a change in your itinerary, consider changing your objectives - a stormy weekend could be perfect for practicing navigation with a new app or crevasse rescue skills, but probably not a summit attempt.  

Second Tip:  With the hottest month in human history just behind us and more high pressure on the way, heat exhaustion has been common issue this summer. Consider carrying more water than you normally would on a climb. Have a stove to melt snow on the upper mountain.  And even if you are drinking a lot of water, it might not be enough to hydrate and fuel you. Consider electrolyte drinks/tablets and make sure you snack regularly on salty food.  Mountaineering often takes more time than expected and isn't easy to train for.  Leave yourself a buffer with the amounts of both water and food you're carrying.  Take breaks.  Also - don't forget your sunscreen and sunglasses!  So important.   

Third Tip:  If you are on prescription medications, don't forget them!  Often times they aren't on the packing list and get left behind.  With certain medications and medical conditions you will want to talk to your doctor before you go on your trip. The stress, altitude, lack of sleep, and the physical exertion all can exacerbate many medical conditions.  

Fourth Tip: Prophylactic Altitude Medications.   Rangers have noticed a trend that so far has almost been a rule - every climber we've rescued due to an altitude related illness had been taking some form of medication to "help" them with the altitude.  Of course this is anecdotal evidence, but consider NOT taking medications to deal with altitude ahead of time, and just responsibly adjusting your itinerary if you start feeling altitude sickness.  Add an extra day or two on your itinerary when you plan your trip to acclimatize instead.  Most altitude meds have side effects (like being a diuretic) and can alter your performance in a way that's not desirable when undergoing a huge athletic feat in the heat.  Talk to your doctor about any medication you plan to take, or not take, but realize that nothing works as well as a slow and methodical ascent plan.  

Fifth Tip:  Wash or sanitize your hands.  It sounds simple, but GI issues have been a common problem in the backcountry.  Bad camp hygiene and inappropriate disposal of human waste are usually the culprits for these issues. Make sure you plan to gather fresh snow for melting water, don't leave food waste (even those micro-crumbs) at your campsite, and clean up your human waste when you're not using a bathroom.  Plan to leave the mountain cleaner than you found it!

Penitentes next to the Wapowety Cleaver

There. Five Pro Tips to help you enjoy your climb on Mount Rainier.  Check and heed the weather forecast, bring plenty to hydrate with, take your prescription drugs, don't plan on prophylactic altitude drugs helping - and consider their downsides, and wash/sanitize your hands while keeping camps and the glaciers clean.  Awesome.  See you on "the mountain" soon!