Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Climbing Program Manager

I'm pleased to announce that Stefan Lofgren has officially been selected for the permanent position as Climbing Program Manager. Of course, he's been serving in this role in an acting capacity for over a year now, but his skills, drive, and vision for the program have proven him to be the best person to further the professionalization of the Mount Rainier Climbing program. Stefan has worked for over 20 years in the parks in the Pacific Northwest-most have been here at Mount Rainier, but he has also worked at Olympic. He knows the mountain, the weather, the people, and the environment. While serving in the acting Program Mgr. role, Stefan has guided a major transformation toward professionalizing the overall operation, establishing increased permanent supervisory oversight for staff, provided his staff with increased training opportunities and additional time to prepare for the season, created clear guidelines and SOPs which have helped reduce risk for his employees, spearheaded the first major climbing permit fee increase in over 10 years, and has set a vision for the program which will provide for an even more effective operation that works safely and efficiently doing the amazing things that the climbing rangers do. In addition, he worked with park staff to envision and implement a webcam for Camp Muir and established network connectivity for the Camp. These items will increase the safety for visitors going up to Camp Muir, and enables supervisory staff to spend more time on the mountain than at their computers in Longmire. Congratulations, Stefan! - Chuck Young, Chief Ranger, Mount Rainier National Park

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Snowdepth Record at Paradise

Starting on the 7th of August this year, we have more snow at Paradise than ever recorded since 1916. The world-record snow years in the early 1970's made for similar snow packs this time of year, but the cool weather has caused the snow to melt more slowly than usual. Our total snowfall for the winter of 2011 was approximately 907 inches - not a world record, but one of the five biggest snow years Paradise has ever seen.

What's different is our cool summer we've had this year. Just today, I skied all the way to Camp Muir from the Paradise parking lot. That's amazing. It's August and we should be enjoying the flowers.

I anticipate that our record breaking trend will continue a few weeks. It never really cleared off today at Paradise. The moist, marine-layer that has Seattle fogged in is strong enough to push all the way to Paradise.

Here's the data break down:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nisqually Rock Avalanches - Frequency and Size

For those of you still watching these large rockslides from the Nisqually Cleaver, here's a little more information for you. I called Kate Allstadt of the Earth and Space Sciences Department at the University of Washington and asked her for some seismic data that may show a better picture of the frequency of rock avalanche events.

She was able to graph some data that shows the distribution of the major rock avalanche events over the period from June 24th to July 7th. You can see in the graph that there is a trend decreasing in frequency and size. So it appears that the danger could be abating - but only gradually.

I must say that this correlates with direct observation, as there have not been any major rock flows down the mountain in the last week or more. The lowest extent of the largest debris path is to an elevation of about 8200 feet. Here is a graph Kate produced that shows the data from the seismic sensors installed on Mt. Rainier. The horizontal axis represents the date. The vertical axis represents the number of events per hour. The top row identifies single and large events.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Large Rock Avalanches on the Nisqually

OK, folks, there're some major rock avalanches happening on the Nisqually Glacier. Anyone venturing near the Nisqually or even traversing across it lower down to get across to the Fan should read this post. We're not talking about a bunch of rocks, but many thousands of tons of debris in a 50' wall of snow, ice, water, dust, and rock coming down the glacier that would outrun anything in its path.

Rangers, climbers, and guides at Camp Muir first were aware when these series of slides started on the 24th of June. Rangers reported feeling the earth shake and hearing a very loud rumble. Indeed, you can tell from extent of airborne dust in the picture above that it must have been loud. Shortly after the slide occurred, the geologists at the Cascades Volcano Observatory called us and asked us what was up. Below is the seismograph reading during the event.
Here's a quote from one of the original emails between the NPS and USGS. - "FYI about 10 minutes ago the climbing rangers at Camp Muir saw what they all described as the biggest icefall they've ever seen come off the Nisqually. A guide party at 8,000 ft on the Wilson glacier reported that it had multiple fingers & traveled down to about 7,800 ft. They also described it as the biggest icefall they've ever seen anywhere.
The rangers at Muir described the debris as a mix of rock & ice and being about 50 feet thick but couldn't judge the acreage covered as it is hard to see the entire run-out zone from Muir.
" from Ranger Ben Guttridge.

After I heard about the slide, and saw it from my house in Packwood, I decided to hop in my airplane and take a ride towards the mountain to get some pictures as close as I could.

All in all, there have been three slides of this size in the last two days. Right now, we don't recommend crossing the Nisqually Glacier at all - although at this time, the park has not declared a "closure" of the area. If you are intent on doing the Kautz Glacier route, think about accessing the base of the route by Comet Falls trailhead. Click on this link for a Google Earth KMZ file of the approximate extent of the series of avalanches. Also, here is the screenshot of this file from Google Earth.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sending in June

Generally awesome climbing conditions have led to many teams summiting these past couple of days. Check out the trip report by Olympic Mountain Rescue on the Kautz Cleaver. This is a classic ridge-top line giving spectacular views down the southside of the mountain and a raven's point of view of the Kautz Glacier's ice pitches.
A couple of nice pics were also snapped by rangers in the Sunset Amphitheatre. The westside routes are as remote as ever and offer extreme climbing opportunities along with a moderate descent route (via the Tahoma Glacier).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Powder to Corn

As the sun shines more frequently, and the freezing level rises, the snow around the mountain changes. It consolidates, mushes together, and begins to melt away. Spring skiing conditions are on the way! With better weather patterns in the forecast, now is a great time to have solitude on the standard climbing routes.

Also, please note: the overnight parking location at Paradise has changed: it is now exclusively in the lower parking lot. Please do not park by the Paradise Inn (snow removal operations are taking place).

... and, due to a recent accident, a word of warning: Skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers should use extreme caution when engaging in snowsports in the Paradise area. High snowbanks, created by road plowing operations, coupled with unseasonably high snowdepths, present a falling hazard above plowed roads and parking lots. Make sure you have scoped out your intended route before engaging in snowsports around the Paradise area. Parents should ensure children are kept away from all snowbanks above roads.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Route Update: Ingraham Direct

Here is a trip report and pictures from a party that climbed the Ingraham Direct route on Feb 1-2:

Climbing in a party of two, myself Joe Edmark, and my buddy Andrew Doedens. We'd been watching the weather for about a month looking for a summit window and put our climbing plans in motion when we saw our chance. Left Lynnwood for the mountain early Tuesday morning with the plan of hitting Longmire for climbing permits at 9am. We chatted with a fellow making a solo attempt of the Kautz while getting ready in the parking lot. We were a bit behind schedule but started skinning up to Camp Muir about 1130am. I was on AT gear and Andrew was carrying his climbing boots while skinning up with alpine trekkers and alpine ski gear. We carried a tent although reports said the public shelter was open. We had decided to take our time to Muir to save energy for our summit attempt and arrived at Muir about 630pm just as the sun was setting. We were met by icy and difficult skinning conditions about 1000ft below Muir which slowed us down considerably. I carried ski crampons but didn't use them (andrew had none) but it was manageable with a bit of patience and concentration. There was another party of two in the Muir shelter also planning an ascent on the ID, Harrison and his partner (don't recall his name) We cooked dinner and melted snow for water with a bit of help from our neighbors, (always bring a backup stove) thanks guys. We planned an alpine start at midnight and somehow motivated our bunkmates to start up before us. The other party left us some hot water on the stove and headed out while Andrew and I got ready and had some breakfast. We headed towards Cathedral Gap with crampons on following the other summit teams tracks about a quarter past one am. It was slow going but conditions were great and the trail was broken (thanks again guys), there were about six crevasse crossings on the whole route, easily crossed with running belays without setting any other protection. Weather was in the single digits with pretty sustained winds around 20-30mph and the sky was overcast most of the morning. Andrew started getting sick so I dug out a snow shelter at about 13,000 and he took a nap while I watched the beautiful sunrise. The other team was making their descent past our dugout as we were getting ready to continue up since Andrew was feeling better. The sun started peaking out from behind the clouds as we approached the rim. We topped out on the crater floor about 1030 am and hung out for a bit while we hydrated and fueled up for the descent. The sun really started to shine as we made our way down and we had to shed layers pretty quickly. Conditions were much looser on the way down but the snow pack was still pretty stable with minor sluffs here and there. We arrived back at Camp Muir about 230 pm. We packed up and headed to Paradise back on skis somewhere around 4pm, and were met by very difficult to ski in variable conditions. We ran out of daylight and had to stop to put headlamps back on, skins back on and figure out where we were. We had almost skiied past Paradise but were fortunate to have stopped in time and were just almost there. We packed up the rig somehow misplacing one of Andrew's plastic climbing boots and made our way down to the locked gate at Longmire. We got the combination from the hotel and fiddled with the rusted lock for a few minutes (please replace) before we got the gate open and headed back home. Awesome weather, awesome climb, awesome mountain. Looking for my next weather window! :-)

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Route Updates for Fuhrer Finger and Kautz Headwall

Howdy Everybody!

We just had two parties return from a great day of climbing and skiing in the sunshine on Wednesday, February 2nd.

The first party was attempting to climb and then ski Fuhrer Finger. They encountered 'buttery' snow up to 9,000' which switched over to very hard snow (ie front pointing) above 10,000'. The ski descent was dust on a very hard crust and didn't sound like very much fun. However, below the finger the snow softened up and made the entire trip worthwhile.

Also, a soloist ventured up the Kautz Headwall very early this morning. He didn't have much to say other than the snow was very soft above 10,500' and he turned around because it was slow going. He also reported that it was icy between 8,500' and 10,500'.

Some precipitation is headed our way, and depending on where the snow level lands it could come as rain or snow. Hopefully, we'll see some more climbs during our next weather window!