Friday, May 20, 2022

Good Weather for the Weekend But Please Use Restraint

It looks like winter's icy grip is about to loosen for the weekend and that is cause for some celebration, but we're asking climbers and skiers to use some restraint before rushing to the mountain this weekend. Caution is advised due to the combination of two heightened risk factors:

1) A human-factor of Scarcity due to a lack of recent opportunities to recreate can create a self imposed pressure to finally take advantage of a nice weekend. And, the unusually cold and snowy spring we've been experiencing has thwarted many plans so it may be tempting to rush to take advantage of this weather window. Social media can also contribute to the fervor and increase the pressure you put on yourself to take on a big objective.  Stay true to your ability level and maximize your enjoyment! 

2) A Rapid Warming on a snowpack that is currently in a mid-winter condition. The climbing rangers have observed a widespread natural avalanche cycle with avalanches of up to size 3 (large enough to destroy cars and small buildings) within the past four days. This cycle will likely continue as the temperatures and solar input increases.  Guides have also been reporting sudden reactions on wind slabs above 10,000 feet.  There's no avalanche forecast for the upper mountain.  Use your judgement (of knowledge of your lack of experience to make a good judgement) to know when to turn around. 

During the past few good weather windows we have had several human triggered avalanches in the Nisqually Chutes and one prolonged rescue high on the Kautz Glacier. All of these incidents were a direct result of groups trying to 'squeeze-in' their objective during a break in the weather and could have been avoided by taking a tactical pause and assessing conditions objectively. 

So that's what we're asking the climbing and skiing community to do, collectively. Slow down, take a breath, talk to your partners and communicate with each other about the risk you are taking.  There's an above average and seemingly deep snowpack, and we should be climbing and skiing in great conditions well into the summer.   We want folks to enjoy, but be able to return to the mountain!

NPS/Waterfall Photo

Sunday, May 15, 2022

April Showers.. and May Storms!

It's been an unprecedented stormy start to the summer on Mount Rainier.  Prepare for full winter conditions for any adventure in the park this May.  Not much to report conditions-wise since weather has been shutting most of the climbing and skiing down.  Use caution when entering onto steeper slopes on the upper mountain - the snow pack hasn't transitioned to a regular spring diurnal pattern yet, and there could be hazardous conditions with all of the new snow.  

The Paradise Wilderness Information Center (PWIC) is already open on weekends - come on up and register in-person!  Self-registration is still in effect during the weekdays until May 27th.  After May 27th the PWIC will be open everyday through the end of the climbing season in September.  Paying the Climbing Fee and obtaining a Climbing Permit is required for all climbers and skiers who journey above 10,000 feet or onto a glacier - even folks doing a single-push style ascent.

Rangers were able to get up in the helicopter for some aviation training and snapped some photos of the upper mountain.  See below for some photos taken May 10th and 11th.  We're excited for more stable weather patterns and a bit more sunshine - and excited to see everyone up on the mountain soon! 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Twenty Twenty Two

Mount Rainier with it's winter snow coat.
Winter weather still lingers here at Mount Rainier National Park with a seemingly endless atmospheric river running through the sky and the freezing levels lingering around the three to four thousand foot level.  Longer days with the sun reaching higher in the sky have made advances in bringing a spring-like feel to the lower slopes below treeline, with some pesky alders already sticking up through the snow in the Tatoosh, but above at Camp Muir and the upper slopes of the mountain there's still deep winter conditions.  Any team adventuring up on to the mountain in the winter months should be self-reliant and have their own contingency plan in place in case of a mishap or injury.  

The Tatoosh Range on a rare sun break, just south of Mount Rainier.

Check out the park's website for information regarding climbing permits this summer season.  The early-access reservation lottery results were just released on March 14th.  For those who won the lottery, access to make a reservation will start rolling out March 21st.  For those who didn't win the lottery or didn't apply, climbing permit reservations will be available starting April 25th.  There's a table with all of the important dates on the website.  

Keep an eye on the weather using some of the great resources we have here in the NW (see the Weather Resources tab above), make sure to get your climbing permit reservations, keep your winter fitness training plans going, and we'll see you here atop the mountain this coming summer climbing season!

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Fall Skiing Considerations


Backcountry skiers and snowboarders near Panorama Pt. -NPS Photo

A series of storms has deposited new snow on the mountain over the last few weeks. Skiers and snowboarders have taken advantage of clear weather between systems to start their winter season. On Saturday, Oct 30 the upper lot at Paradise was full by 10:30am, mostly with snow-sliders. Conditions this time of year are always a mixed-bag and coverage is usually spotty at best.

The Paradise area trails are still exposed in most places with very slippery patches of ice in places. Skiers/boarders carried their equipment on their packs up to the top of Panorama Point for the most part. Above there the Muir snowfield was mostly covered in rime ice with a few patches of soft snow near 9000'. Many people turned around at 9000' or below where the rime was very slick. A few (mostly the ones that brought ski-crampons) made it to Camp Muir where the weather was calm and quite warm compared to Paradise.

Please remember that at this time of year the days are short and the gate at Longmire is on winter hours. Plan your turn around time to make to back to your vehicle with enough time to be down by the time the road closes to traffic. Please look here for all of the Park's road status.

Remember that emergency response is more difficult when the trails are snow covered. Ski, ride, hike well within your abilities as the winter environment on Mt. Rainier is extremely harsh.

Another issue this time of year is the trampling of vegetation. A thin layer of snow may allow one to slide on skis or snowboard but it may not be sufficient to protect the wildflower species that Paradise is famous for. The Dead Horse Creek junction was hit especially hard over the weekend. Have fun and enjoy your park but please give the plants a break while they go dormant until next July.

Skier and hiker tracks near Dead Horse Creek. -NPS Photo

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Autumn/Winter 2021

Summer is officially over and the climbing season is pretty much wrapped up here on Mt Rainier. The end of the season was a unique one for sure with most routes becoming significantly impacted by significant heat waves this summer. This resulted in more crevassing on the glaciers and increased rockfall on the ridges.

Snowfall has returned however, and while this is a good thing for the mountain in general it does make an autumn or early winter ascent particularly dangerous. Crevasses are just barely covered with a thin blanket of snow. And so, be prepared to rope-up: have helmets, harnesses, ice axes, crampons, pickets and other glacier travel equipment with you, potentially just to travel to Camp Muir! 

The Cowlitz Glacier and Cathedral Rocks

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 with icy, crevassed surface conditions being hidden by fresh snow. 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 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 - but keep in mind that forecasting for Mt Rainier is very difficult, so prepare for the unexpected! 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 are still required 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 seasons and climb safe!

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Late Summer 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.