Tuesday, November 11, 2008

First Ascent of Kang Nachugo by Climbing Rangers

In mid-September, one of our lead climbing rangers, David Gottlieb, took off for Kathmandu on a climbing trip through the Himalayas. David's climbing partner, Joe Puryear, is a previous Mt. Rainier climbing ranger and friend. Their goal was a first ascent of Kang Nachugo (6,735 meters), found within the Himalayan Valley of Rolwaling. Joe set up a climbing blog, so that friends, fellow climbers, and family can stay up-to-date on their progress. We all waited patiently for news of their climb and verification of their safety. Thankfully, a post on October 25th stated simply that they were successful and were safe. Their blog now has a full trip report, complemented by some amazing pictures - definitely worth a full read-through. We just want to say "Congratulations" to both Joe and David, while wishing them safe travels home. We hope to see you on the Mountain soon!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center II

On Friday, October 10th, the second reincarnation of the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center was opened to the public and dedicated to the highly regarded and revered Washington State Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson. Funding for the original saucer-shaped visitor center (check out the image to the right - a distinct likeness of the old JVC and a flying saucer taking off into space) was guaranteed much to his hard-work and dedication, so it was only fitting that the new visitor center also carry his name. Peter Jackson (the son of Henry Jackson, not the director) spoke at the ceremony, highlighting his father's love of wilderness, his desire to protect our country's most precious spaces, and to create enjoyable ways for people to learn from and enjoy these amazing places throughout our country and this state. The ceremony drew big-wigs from Washington (D.C. that is), including the Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Representative Norm Dicks of Washington's Sixth Congressional District, and the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks. Other distinguished guests included local Nisqually tribal elder Zelma McCloud, National Park Service Pacific West Regional Director Jon Jarvis, the aforementioned Peter Jackson of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, Mount Rainier National Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga, an elder representative from the Consolidated tribes and bands of the Yakama Nation; yours truly of course and another famed NPS persona, Mike (Gator) Gauthier, dressed to the nine's in his class "A" uniform, and several hundred other attendees at the ceremony.

The new 'green', energy efficient JVC II is architecturally designed to match its surroundings and the historical park style, referred to as 'Park Service Rustic'. The feeling of the building when you first enter is dictated mostly by the space, due to the height of the ceiling and massive windows that line the entirety of the wall, naturally lighting the surroundings. However, it could also have something to do with the weird climber want-to-be mannequin placed high atop the climbing display. A feeling of comfort is there too. Above you are post and beam rafters, held together with cast iron fixtures and signs made from a menagerie of dark metal and wood. Overall, I was impressed and I think the sentiment was shared by most.

If you missed the grand opening, fret not, as you will have ample opportunity to view the building on weekends and most holidays, including the winter/holiday break from December 20th through January 4th. And as has been the tradition up at Paradise for many years, Ranger-led snowshoe walks will begin at the new JVC (snow permitting) on December 20th. The two public walks (12:30, 2:30) are approximately 1.5 miles in duration and last less than two hours and are moderate to strenuous. The walks are an amazing opportunity to experience the Park and Mountain in the wintertime. The adjacent photo was taken this past winter as I was returning from one of my group snowshoe walks - a beautiful view of the old JVC at sunset.

The opening of the JVC II means one more VERY important thing....re-opening our beloved Climbing Information Center (CIC) up at Paradise next summer. The CIC will function as it did before; climbing rangers staffing the desk will issue climbing permits and sell climbing passes, provide up-to-date route and snow conditions, weather forecasts, advice and as can only be expected from climbers (and NO ONE else) when they are awake and moving at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday - perhaps some witty banter as well. See you all on the Mountain!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Speed climbing and the Super Sherpa

This summer has seen a flurry of interest in climbing Mount Rainier FAST... Justin Merle set the pace by breaking Chad Kellogg's record (4 hours 59 minutes) by 10 minutes on July 11th. His friend and colleague, Liam O'Sullivan, raised the bar a few weeks later by sprinting up and down the mountain (Paradise to summit and back) in 4 hours 46 minutes, besting Merle by 3 minutes... Last week, Lhaka Gelu Sherpa threw the gauntlet down in hopes of smashing that record. With 13 Everest summits under his belt and a previous Everest speed record (the current record is held by Pemba Dorje Sherpa), Lhakpa certainly had the credentials to do it. But his well-publicized attempt was thwarted by nasty leg cramps on the descent (something that Liam also met with on a prior and unsuccessful ascent) and so our "Super Sherpa" will have to try again another day. I suppose that we'll see him again, and other speed climbers too... But any takers better move fast, as the route is beginning to change in ways that make rapid movement harder and more challenging (but it's still great for the masses that take 2-5 days, so don't worry).

We've also been getting questions about timed ascents to Camp Muir. So for your information, here are a few facts. In 1994, Climbing Ranger Scott Wanek ran from Paradise to the high camp in 51 minutes! Not bad, eh? Most people can't even ski DOWN that fast. But don't feel bad if your normal one way time is something like 4-6 hours, because Scott also had run a personal best 4:11 mile. Of course, Wanek's record had to be broken too, and it was done last year by Climbing Ranger Andy Anderson. Andy quietly posted a 46 minute one way ascent to Camp Muir! Yup, 4,500 feet of gain in 4.5 miles. So what did you do in the last 46 minutes? Michael Phelps might be smashing Olympic records, but it seems the Rainier records are meeting a similar fate this summer too.

Post by Monica and Mike

Friday, August 01, 2008

Fort Lewis Chinook Pilots Climb to Summit

Pilots Richard Bovey, Bryan Campbell and Scott Salkovics from the 159th alpha Company Army Reserve, accompanied by two climbing rangers, spent four days at Mount Rainier training and climbing to the summit via the Emmons Winthrop Route. All three men have trained at Mount Rainier in high altitude rescue and provided critical support in Search and Rescue. In addition to their assistance with SARs, Bovey, Campbell and Salkovics are also huge supporters and fans of Mount Rainier. Bovey and Campbell have done volunteer work to help restore two of the lookout towers and all are avid outdoorsmen. Although they have all hiked in the Park extensively (Campbell completed the Wonderland Trail in a seven day period) none had summitted Mount Rainier.

This trip afforded the pilots the opportunity to look at many of the training and rescue locations on the ground, as well as train in crevasse rescue, glacier travel and route finding on the upper mountain. The conditions for the climb where ideal - great weather, excellent food and lodging (the hut and barbecue at Camp Schurman). This is a special thanks to them and to the U.S. Army unit that supports climbers and search and rescue operations on Mount Rainier. There is more information about the unit and its work from previous trainings and missions.

Photo and post by David Gottlieb

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Researching Mount Rainier's Glaciers

Everyday, climbers inquire about thinly covered crevasses, glacier conditions, or that “bergschrund” on top of the Emmons. And we’re here to share what we know about the Emmons, Kautz, Tahoma and other major glaciers on Mount Rainier. But we also wanted to let you know that the NPS is actively monitoring these glaciers in an effort to better understand how the climate is affecting them and how these glaciers are affecting the mountain and the surrounding areas. This is important stuff when you consider that Mount Rainier’s glaciers are a primary water source for many Washingtonians, while at the same time a potential geological threat to communities in the floodplains downstream.

Basic Science Recap:
Glaciers are permanent sheets of flowing ice that erode mountain slopes, carve valleys, and affect the geography of the park. Rainier’s glaciers have an “accumulation zone” (where more snow gathers than melts) and an “ablation zone” (where more snow melts than accumulates). The most recent detailed measurements (1913 to 1994) on Mount Rainier indicate that the combined glacial area has receded by a 1/5th, and that the total volume of glacier mass has decreased by 25%.

The Nisqually and Emmons are part of a long-term monitoring program making them the most scientifically prodded glaciers in the park. The current study is a cooperative venture between Mount Rainier and North Cascades National Parks and includes field measurements of snow depth, snow density, and snow/ice melt. It includes an annual series of terrestrial, aerial and satellite images. To better understand what's going on, researchers place “ablation sticks” (PVC poles) at various elevations and locations on the Emmons, Ingraham and Nisqually Glaciers. In the spring, researchers us a steam drill to sink these stakes into the winter snowpack until they reach the glacier ice. Then throughout the season, researchers measure the snow accumulation and more importantly, the rate of snow melt. This allows them to calculate the net balance of the overall snow and icepack. The graph below shows the results gathered since 2003. As you can see, the overall mass balance of the ice is decreasing.

So why are we sharing this geeky science information? Well, we like it, but also because climbers have been noting the PVC poles buried on the glacier and have asked, “What’s the plastic pipe all about?” Those PVC poles are the measuring sticks. If you keep your eyes peeled on your next summit attempt, you may note one or two of them on the Muir Snowfield, Nisqually, Emmons, or Ingraham Glaciers. If you do see them, please do not disturb or remove them.

For more information on the glacier monitoring being conducted by North Cascades National Park, check their website. And if you’re interested in the historical Mount Rainier glacier studies referenced above, check out the “Glacier and Glacier Changes” homepage on the Mount Rainier website.

Photo contributed and graph by North Cascades researcher Jeanne Wenger.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

New "Unoffical" Speed Record Set

On Wednesday morning, July 11, Justin Merle, an avid climber, international mountaineer and current employee as a guide with International Mountain Guides (IMG), broke the Mount Rainier summit speed record with a time of 4 hours, 49 minutes and 35 seconds. Here is a link to a recent article on his climb in The News Tribune.

The previous record holder, climbing ranger alum Chad Kellogg, set the record in 2004 with a time of 4 hours, 59 minutes and 1 second. Like Merle's time, it too was not officially recorded; there was no time keeper available at Paradise, Camp Muir or the summit to confirm the event. However, we do have pictures taken by Merle of his watch before and after the climb and climbers up at Camp Muir also confirmed seeing Merle on his descent. This obviously leaves room for disagreement for all those non-believers, but this level of athletic achievement, in such a challenging sport as it is, and a dangerous location as Mount Rainier can be, deserves a nice tip of the hat and a hearty "congratulations". There is no doubt Merle has raised the bar, and the level of anticipation for those other hopeful climbers looking for a new challenge. So, a lingering question remains, “Who's next?”.

Below is Merle’s account of the trip:

Times 6:00:05 -- left the upper Paradise parking lot
7:33ish -- climbed through Muir
8:30ish -- top of Cleaver
9:27 -- Columbia Crest
9:30 -- left register after signing the book
9:35 -- descended from crater rim
10ish -- Ingraham Flats
10:10 -- Muir
10:30 -- Pebble Creek
10:49:40 -- back in the parking lot
Roundtrip -- 4:49:35

I wore light boots (Sportiva Trango S) and Kahtoola

aluminum crampons, lightweight pants and a lightweight longsleeve top. I carried a BD Bullet pack with 2 liters of Cytomax in a hydration bladder, a light Goretex top, warm hat, and gloves. For fuel I carried 6 Gu packages and a pack of Shot Blocks. Overall, the route conditions and weather were almost perfect. The route was direct above the Cleaver and there wasn't much for traffic aside from the guided parties, who were all quite nice in letting me pass. I went to the tippy top and took the time to sign in at the register. It was quite windy on the crater rim and on the summit; aside from that the breeze was pleasant and I did not have to add any layers except a pair of gloves during the ascent. The descent went well--good snow for plunge-stepping and striding out pretty much all the way down. I did fall once on moderate terrain near 13000' as I was cutting some switchbacks--slid a couple meters before regaining my feet. On the descent, I left my pack at Muir and my crampons at Pebble Creek--thanks to the guides for carrying them down. I timed myself on my Suunto watch, and also used the logbook funtion to record the ascent/descent. The only "proof" I have of the times are a couple of before and after photos of the watch, and video taken with the same camera, before and after (I left the camera in a stuffsack at the trailhead). I did sign the register, and saw a lone climber on Columbia Crest, but did not speak with him.

This was my 106th summit of Rainier, by my best count.

~Justin Merle

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Heatwave Climbing

Longmire may still be a snowy icebox (3-4 feet of snow in some places and cool down-valley...katabatic... winds) but the upper mountain hasn't been. On Thursday and Friday nights, the low at Camp Muir "dipped" (!) to a balmy 50 degrees. Former climbing ranger and famed speed climber Chad Kellogg found a sea of slush on his way to Camp Muir. Chad left Paradise around midnight (60 degrees) using (needing) snowshoes to plow through snow on the Muir Snowfield. I've posted a photo and an upated description of the Disappointment Cleaver on the Updated Route Conditions page.

Under bright sunny skies, the newly remodeled Paradise Inn reopened without a hitch (TNT) last Friday. The only complaint that I heard was that somehow, they forgot to reinstall the historically significant "Glacier Lounge". What, no bar?! Other than that, the new floors look pretty darn good and everyone was happy.