Friday, March 05, 2021

Twenty Twenty One

View from the Muir Snowfield looking at Mount Rainier in early-March

Winter still blankets the mountain, but preparations for another season on Rainier have begun!  Almost 18 feet of snow has accumulated at Paradise - which bodes well for skiing this summer - and high winds (averaging well over 50 mph at Camp Muir) have created some amazing textures and patterns on the snow's surface.  

The park's new permit and reservation system through Recreation.Gov has just started accepting lottery applications for reservations this summer.  It'll be open and accepting reservations until the evening of March 14th.  If you're considering a climb during a weekend, especially in July and August, we recommend putting in for a reservation.  If you're attempting a non-standard route and have flexible dates then you're probably not going to need a reservation.  Check out the park's website for specific permit system changes and other recommendations.   

And, as always, please recreate safely!  Early season storms can arrive without warning, forecasts can be wrong, and Search and Rescue resources are limited this time of year.  Any rescue could be delayed for days due to conditions.  Build resiliency into conservative back country travel plans this time of year and be able to return in future years to keep enjoying The Mountain!  

Ski tracks on Panorama Point.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Storming into "Winter Season" on Mount Rainier

Cancelled climbs and cold weather closed out the regular climbing season on Mount Rainier.  Guide services are finishing their trips for the year and all of the route adjuncts (handlines, planks, ladders, etc.) are being taken off the mountain.  Dangerous conditions currently exist on the mountain with crevasses on the lower slopes being just barely covered with this new blanket of snow.  Be prepared to rope-up: have helmets, harnesses, ice axes, crampons, pickets and other glacier travel equipment with you - just to travel to Camp Muir!  In the regular season, a trip to Camp Muir can be done without that extra equipment, but this year's late-season conditions are extreme and especially dangerous in this transition time with icy crevassed surface conditions being hidden by fresh snow.  

Rain, then snow fell on the mountain last week.  Drifts up to three feet deep!

No climbers have been on the Emmons-Winthrop or the Kautz Glacier Route in the last couple of weeks.  Both can be considered "out" for the year.  With the guides removing the adjuncts and fresh snow, the Disappointment Cleaver Route can also be considered "out" for the year.  Any climber attempting the summit this time of year should consider it an off-season climb and be very experienced, totally self-sufficient and realize that any emergency help could be not just hours, but days away.  

Late season storms on the mountain can roll in with little warning and can be much more vigorous and longer lasting than summer squalls.  Please check the weather forecast before starting your trip - click on the Weather Resources tab above for some starting places - and because forecasts can be wrong, prepare for the unexpected!  This last week we had winds reaching Category 2 Hurricane speeds at Camp Muir which sits well below the actual summit.  Stretches of beautiful summer-like weather can also be possible, and late-season visits do offer more solitude than the more popular times, but please be cautious this time of year.

All climbers still have to pay the annual climbing fee (which can be done online ahead of time) and obtain a climbing permit (which has switched to self-registration for the winter season and can be done in-person at the trailhead).  Enjoy the change of the season!

Monday, August 31, 2020

General "Late-Season" Route Update - August 31st

It's already the LAST day in August!  Where did the summer go?  There's already a hint of autumn in the air and it felt like the first of many winter storms just passed through last night.  The next week's forecast looks to be unseasonably hot - freezing levels jumping from 10,500 feet back to 16,500 feet - but, as September rolls around please come prepared for both the summer heat and the inevitable start to stormier winter weather.  

Late-season conditions: broken glaciers, rocky peaks, and lingering clouds.
As we move into the late-season here on the mountain, registration changes will occur; check the park's permit website for the latest, but here's the gist: 

Effective Tuesday 9/8/20 for the remainder of September 2020, climbers can self-register on WEEKDAYS (M, Tu, W, Th) outside the Paradise, Longmire, or White River WICs. Climbers who wish to climb on WEEKENDS (F, Sa, Su), including single-push climbers, must submit a reservation application at least 2 DAYS prior to their trip start date and receive their permit via email. ALL climbers must still pay the annual climbing fee. All climbing permits after Sunday 9/27/20 will be by self-registration.

Here's a run down of the common routes being climbed right now:

DC - In general the Disappointment Cleaver Route has continued to be well-maintained with the hard work all the guide services have been putting in.  The route has been climbed by both guided and independent parties in the last couple days and the route remains in the same general location as the track log posted in the August 6th update.  Be cautious both on the ascent to Camp Muir and in the camp itself with crevasses starting to open.  There's some large cracks in camp and on the snowfield that are easy to avoid, but could cause serious injuries if one were to fall in them.  

E/W - This route has been much less popular in the last two weeks with many parties turning around due to the circuitous nature of the route and the high consequence crevasse crossings melting out.  An experienced team made it to the summit last week, but this route should be considered "out of season" as a standard route.  

Kautz - Not many parties have climbed this route in the last couple weeks, but the most recent blog post from August 21st is still accurate.  The ice pitches will continue to grow in length and the crevasses above the Wapowety Cleaver will continue to become more complicated to cross.  The approach up the Comet Falls Trail to this route is the preferred method - crossing over the lower Nisqually Glacier has become very difficult.  

See you in September!

Friday, August 21, 2020

Kautz Glacier Route 2020 Update

The Kautz glacier route is in good climbing condition. The approach for the climbing route can be started from two different locations. The the most common approach starts from Paradise and crosses the Nisqually and Wilson glaciers. The alternate approach starts downhill from paradise at the Comet Falls trailhead. The Comet Falls approach is longer with more elevating gain starting at an elevation of 3,700'. Comet falls is the preferred late season approach with its well developed trail and ample water access that is snow free up to 7,600'. Trail runners instead of clunky mountain boots for this section of the approach can be a bonus if you don't mind carrying them later once you switch out footwear.

Climber on the approach trail with Comet Falls in the background.

The snowfield starting at 7,600 to the castle at 9,300' is covered with large sun-cups. These "cups" will continue to be more pronounced as the summer wears on. Be prepared for slower travel up these slopes with lots of mini zigzags to navigate the terrain. Regardless of what time of day you hit the snow-line you should plan on using your climbing boots. The slopes become steep enough that you will need to kick-in steps. If it is late in the day and the snow is beginning to firm up then crampons will be necessary also. 

View of upper Van Trump with the Castle visible along the right hand skyline. 

The Castle has many good bivy options and running water sources. This is a reasonable location to start an upper mountain climb from, but realized that it is still 2,000' below Camp Hazard. The Turtle snowfield located between the Castle and Camp Hazard is sun-cupped with mostly firm snow and glacier ice. Having an ice tool in-hand along this section could come in useful. Camp Hazard at 11,300 has many good bivy locations as well, but water is scarce this time of year and you may have to spend some time searching. 
Sunrise on the Turtle snowfield with sun-cups visible along the snow

The fixed rappel lines leaving the Wapowety cleaver at 11,300' are in reasonable condition. Using the fixed ropes, climbing teams should be able to either rappel or down-climb off the cleaver onto the transition slopes that lead out to the Kautz glacier. Please remember that fixed soft goods are always subject to damage and should be assessed for safety before using. 

View from the rock step and transition slopes at 11,300' 

The transition slops leading out to the glacier are comprised of rock scree and ice. The glacier that extends above these transition slopes holds a large active ice fall that can catch you off guard and send you running. Many parties manage this section by not roping up until they are clear of this deposition zone. Once you reach the main climbing slopes of the Kautz glacier you will find the first 200' of the route to be low angle ice. This lower ice section can be climbed using various techniques with a minimum number of ice screws. The transition zone between the lower and upper ice pitches is firm snow and is walkable. 

Climber approaching the upper ice pitches on the Kautz glacier

The main ice climbing headwall is 300' tall and can be climbed easily in two pitches with a 60m rope. Simul-climbing would be a good option for skilled parties that want to move quickly through this section. The climbing at it's steepest point is approximately 50 degrees. Six to eight ice screws with draws would be a reasonable number of pieces of protection for this section of ice climbing.  The ice slopes hold shade for most of the morning hours, but there is running water along these icy slopes so keep an eye out for opportunities as you climb. The ice climbing tops out at 12,000' with a view of Point Success and the upper Wapowety cleaver. 

Climber topping out on the ice climbing pitches.

Glacier travel across the upper Kautz alpine bowl to the upper Wapowety is covered with numerous crevasses. Many of the cracks leading out above the ice climbing are small enough to step across without much end running. As you approach the scree slopes of the Wapowety the crevasses get larger and end running will be necessary. Climbers can expect to encounter moats along the rock slopes of the Wapowety where the cleaver meets the glacier.  

Climber crossing a snow bridge over the bergschrund near the crater rim.

From the top of the Wapowety at 13,000' you can see the crater rim on a clear day. Crossing the upper slopes of the Nisqually teams will encounter more crevasses, trail breaking through knee high penitentes,  and a large bergschrund near the top. The schrund can be end run in either direction. This route is a true mountain experience and should not be missed. Have fun, be safe, climb smart!

Thursday, August 20, 2020

DC Conditions Update 8/20/2020

 The DC route is due for a change and the guides are busy working on a re-route.

The current track has held up well, but the recent spell of warm weather has caused many of the crevasses to open significantly and for the Ingraham/Cleaver transition (the Bowling Alley) to become more difficult.

Looking at the Bowling Alley from the Ingraham Glacier, ~11,400'
Looking at the Bowling Alley from the Ingraham Glacier, ~11,400'
Getting off the glacier and onto the rock requires some scrambling in loose blocks with overhead hazard. Move through this area as quickly and safely as possible and don't let your rope get caught up in the rocks.

We expect a transition to the classic late-season line from the top of the cleaver out to the Emmons Shoulder but the guides may find a more direct option. Either way, expect them to keep the route established but be aware of dynamic events such as snow bridge collapses and ice fall that may necessitate your own route finding.

Several parties climbed into clouds on the upper mountain in the last week so we'd also like you to please keep in mind that navigating through a heavily crevassed, high elevation glacier in a white-out is a risky endeavor at best.

Climb safe!

Emmons Winthrop & The Inter Glacier Approach - August 17th

Both the Inter Glacier and the Emmons are becoming harder to navigate as we move into late August.  The Inter Glacier approach has a fair amount of ablated ice exposed and warrants the use of crampons, ice-axe, climbing helmets, ropes and crevasse rescue equipment.  Due to late season conditions, be anticipating a more complex ascent to Steamboat Prow or Camp Curtis.

The Emmons route generally follows the route described in the previous post, with the addition of more thinly bridged crevasse crossings & plugs.  Be cautious while maneuvering these features and be anticipating the need for implementing belays to cross them.

The climbing route up the Emmons has been more involved as we transition into late season.  With this being said, anticipate your climb taking longer than it typically would early season.  This coupled with the elevated freezing levels, leaves the possibility for climbing parties in a position to find themselves on the upper mountain late in the afternoon in rapidly warming snow conditions and decompensating snow bridges.  Try to employ the use of a strict turn around, and do your best to stick to your itinerary.

Climb safe!

Looking down onto the Inter Glacier from Ruth Ridge

Looking at the Emmons-Winthrop from the top of Steamboat Prow

The view of crossing from the Corridor to the Alpine Meadows

Crossing from the Upper Alpine Meadows to Liberty Saddle

Looking from Liberty Saddle down towards
the Emmons and the Alpine Meadows