Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Let it Snow, Let it Snow

There is no doubt that it has been a "December to remember" in the Cascades. The snow has steadily stacked up in Paradise, with totals approaching 100". All of this snow has brought out the skiers and boarders, snowshoers and sledders, and folks who just want to play in the snow.

With the holidays fast approaching, and schools on winter break there are a few things to keep in mind as you head up to the park for a winter outing. Over the past several weeks there have been several incidents of folks venturing into the backcountry or even as high as Camp Muir without the necessary equipment. In both cases, the parties ended up spending an unplanned night in the public shelter. Thankfully these situations ended well for all parties involved. But it is a good reminder that when you are travelling in the backcountry to be prepared for all weather conditions. The winter weather on Mount Rainier can be far more extreme and fickle than summer weather patterns. The park's website contains a useful page regarding winter preparedness. One item to never leave the parking lot without in the winter is a shovel. A tool as simple as a shovel can be life saving. Also, if you are planning an overnight in the Paradise area, or even Camp Muir, please remember that a permit is still required. These can be obtained at the Jackson Visitor Center (Link contains operating hours), as well as via self registration, which is located in the tunnel of the Old Ranger Station in Paradise.

For those skiers and snowboarders out there planning a trip to Mount Rainier, the skiing has been great over the past couple of weeks. And while the snow has been stacking up, and our coverage is increasing, remember that it is still early in the season and low snow hazards do still exist. Some streams or trees may not be fully covered just yet, so please use caution when crossing areas where streams may be below. As far as avalanche conditions, while skiing or snowshoeing in the backcountry, remember to check the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center 's avalanche and weather forecast prior to heading up to the park. You will also want to make sure everyone in your group has a shovel, beacon and a probe, and the knowledge of how to use them.

From the rangers up here at Mount Rainier, we hope to see you all around the holidays, and we hope you have a great holiday season! Bring your skis, snowboard, or snowshoes on up and come enjoy the beautiful winter season at Mount Rainier.

-Climbing Rangers

Monday, November 28, 2016

Holidays. Time for Family and Ski Partners.

The winter weather has settled into Mount Rainier and the forecast is easy on the eyes for snow play enthusiasts.  Over Thanksgiving Weekend the park accumulated enough snow to put us over the three foot mark at Paradise.  The road from Longmire to Paradise is now closing every night and reopening in the morning once the plows remove the drifts (usually around 9:00 am).  Please try and park in-line with other vehicles at Paradise to maximize the small parking lot (read: don't park your car askew against a snow bank away from others because it looks cool).  Climbers can still self-register at Paradise at the kiosk in the small A-frame building right next to the parking lot.  The kiosk is on the covered patio.  All overnight users must get a permit.  We recommend that all visitors wishing to stay overnight register at the Longmire Museum (open everyday 9:00 am - 5:00 pm).  

Three feet of snow isn't enough to fully cover and blanket all of the hazards in Paradise.  Watch out for rocks, creeks, and downed logs.  There are no 'manicured' runs for skiers and snowboarders and staying in control, making conservative risk-decisions, and having a self-rescue plan is mandatory.  Even the best riders fall and cartwheel down slopes injuring themselves; here at Mount Rainier there's no ski patrol standing by.  It can be hours and even days before help can arrive.  Be prepared!  And lastly, on a safety note, please venture out with a partner.  Tree wells are just as dangerous as avalanches to backcountry users and having a partner can help mitigate both of those hazards.  Get online and find a buddy, meet up with another group your speed in the parking lot, or wait till your friend's schedule lines up with yours, but definitely travel with a partner.  

Since winter has kicked into gear, so have our local Mountain Rescue Association Members.  Over the holiday weekend we had volunteers stay in Longmire and do some patrols on skis around Paradise.  Big shout out to the MRA folks who've been coming out and helping up at the park.  

Most of the seasonal road closures have occurred and only the typical winter roads are still open.  See the park's Roads and Access page for more info.  

Come on up and see Mount Rainier with a winter coat and have a happy holiday season!


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Windy, Warm and Wet

After an October in which we saw record setting precipitation in the Pacific Northwest November has stayed much the same. In the first ten days in November we have measured almost 2.5" of rain at Longmire. The days are getting very short and normally the temperatures would drop significantly but our high temperatures have remained on the upper end of normal. We even recorded a balmy 58 degrees at Paradise on the 8th.

Even though the snow cover is down from what it was two weeks ago there's still plenty of skiers getting out for turns on the Muir Snowfield. Rangers found good skiing from Camp Muir down to Pebble Creek on the 8th. Below that it's basically just linking snowpatches with some hiking in between.

As the meadows around Paradise are in the transition from Fall to Winter we would like to remind visitors to stick to the summer trails where they are melted out and avoid damaging the fragile vegitation by hiking or skiing over thinly snow-covered terrain.

The Park's road systems are progressing towards full winter status. Most of the seasonal closures have already gone into effect but Chinook and Cayuse passes remain open. The Paradise road remains open 24 hours a day but that can change depending on weather. You can always check the Road Status page for the latest info about Park roads in general and for specific info on the Paradise road the Mount Rainier NPS Twitter Feed is the best bet.

And, finally, when you come up to visit, make sure to stop by and give us a shout.  Rangers staff the booth at the entrance to the park and the ranger station at Longmire daily.  On weekends and holidays the Jackson Visitor Center (JVC) is open.  Climbers and overnight hikers still need to register in person with a ranger or at a self-registration kiosk.  Follow the directions from the ranger or the kiosk to obtain your permit and/or pass.

Safe travels!

-The Mount Rainier Climbing Rangers

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Return of the Snow

With the onset of colder weather and the wrap up of guide service operations the number of climbers attempting the summit has dropped nearly to zero. The first half of October has been fairly active weather-wise and with the reduced temperatures we have received a fair bit of snow above Paradise. Rangers observed almost 2 meters of new snow at 8500' on October 19th.

It doesn't take much snow for skiers to brave the early season conditions and tracks have been popping up on the snowfield fairly consistently. We urge people to exercise caution this time of year as many hazards exist under the thin snow pack. Trees, rocks and flowing creeks can all be lurking under the snow.

Construction for the ongoing paving project on the Paradise road is finished for the winter although a few crews are out working on small projects. The road remains open 24 hours a day but may close nightly due to weather. You can check @MountRainierNPS on Twitter for status updates.

It's a great time of year to enjoy Mt. Rainier. There are few crowds and when the skies are clear it's as beautiful as always. Be safe, enjoy the park and have fun.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Winter Season Transition

The last week of September is the last week of guided climbing trips on Mount Rainier for the season.  Guides will be pulling out the fixed pickets, wands, and ladders that they worked hard to maintain all summer long.  With colder temperatures, larger storm cycles, and no route kicked-in to the summit, winter conditions have arrived.

The Climbing Information Center also closed for the season this week.  Climber registration is still mandatory, but can be done in-person at the self-registration kiosk when you arrive.  See the Permits and Registration page for more info. 

There's still lots of road construction going on inside the park.  Please read signage and make sure to park your car in the appropriate location - especially if you're planning to be out overnight.  Freezing levels for early October are forecast to be around 5000 feet.  Hopefully we'll be skiing right out of the parking lot soon!

To illustrate the point, here is a graph of the 5-year average number of climbers per week.  The interesting thing to note is that we've seen a slight shift of the climbing occur over the last couple of years.  The season start a week or two 'earlier' than it did 10 or 20 years ago.  The end of the season also begins to wind down faster than it did historically.  The graph shows climbers registering for the Disappointment Cleaver route only.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Climbing Information Center Weekends Only

September 17th

Another beautiful day after the storm!  Yesterday was a bit blustery as the storm delivered a solid blow (70mph at Muir) as well as heavy rain (2.4 inches at Paradise).  For the skiers in the crowd, the freezing level (about 11,000' elevation) unfortunately resulted in more rain than snow on the Muir Snowfield, but winter may be back again next week!  For the climbers, the heavy rain and relatively high freezing level  resulted in a hard frozen layer for much of the mid mountain.  As the storm cooled, it eventually transitioned to snow.  Conditions like this make for more challenging footing and self-arrest.  While it's unclear just how high the frozen layer may exist, climbers should be prepared for much more difficult climbing over the next few days, until either another snowstorm buries the frozen layer, or it warms up enough to thaw things out.  Regardless, it's beautiful up here now with a new dusting of white offset by all the fall colors!
Climber Self-registration Kiosk
Now for some logistics...  The Climbing Information Center will only be open during the weekends in September.  We close during the weekdays due to low volume, but open back up Saturday and Sunday for business - 08:00 to 16:30.  Swing on in and say "hello" before heading out on your adventures if you visit on the weekend.  Climbers can self-register at Paradise when the Climbing Information Center is closed.  There's a kiosk with all the instructions to get you a climbing pass (if you still need one this year) and to fill out a permit/check-out card.

Parking at Paradise will also change in September due to a paving project.  Here's the gist: if you want to park overnight, please park in the Paradise Picnic Area or along the Paradise Valley Road.  See this press release for further details and a helpful map!

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Summer flowers fade to Fall color

September 1st 

A crisp morning sunrise, a stroll through the woods, sweaters and hot cocoa.  Thoughts of fall are in the air and soon the color show will begin. For many fall is a time of reflection. A time when we slow down, take in the view, and remember what we have accomplished. A time to sit and watch the landscape become a painted mosaic of vibrant color. 

Fantastic color in the paradise area fall of 2015

Mount Rainier is known for its amazing landscape displays of which some of the most spectacular are fall color. Labor day weekend marks the beginning of that change from summer to fall. This year Labor day weekend will hold some of those familiar fall notes with cooler temperatures, a chance of rain, and new snow on the upper mountain.

Much of the wildlife will be out about preparing for the winter season ahead. Please remember to not feed the wildlife and stay on the marked paths. Warm clothes, gloves and hats should be part of every visitors outfit while enjoying the park this time of year. The park is still seeing a far amount to visitation from hikers and climbers so don't forget to come in early for your backcountry camping permit. "Find your park" this labor day weekend!

Monday, August 08, 2016

Summer Weather Forecasts vs. Winter Weather Forecasts

Weather is one of the most important factors when you consider climbing Mt. Rainier.  Usually, July and August tend to be reliably good weather and most folks experience favorable climbing conditions during this period.

This year, the weather has been predictably less good.  Not bad?  Well, there have been bad days, but many of the predicted poor weather periods have been somewhat less intense than what many of the forecasted models have indicated - or at least how I would interpret them in the winter.

Last Monday, because of the models and forecasts, I scrubbed my planned trip to Camp Schurman thinking it was going to be poor weather.  It ended up being good enough to get up to Camp Schurman easily.  I should've gone.

So I thought I'd show some of the forecast tools I use, and offer show what the actual conditions are compared to what the models currently say.  This may help us interpret them.

First of all, I look at the UW MM5 WRF-GFS 36km 500mb Temp/Pressure/Winds model.  Here.  The model for this hour looks like this:

This has been a fairly typical weather pattern this summer.  Low pressure centers have been developing in the Gulf of Alaska and tracking down the BC coast to end up right over western Washington.  This is generally bad and brings cool, moist, and unstable air to the area.
Next, I look at the UW WRF-GFS 4km Profile for Mt. Rainier.  Here.  It is a vertical cross section of the atmosphere.  This is what it looks like for the current forecast period:
The elevational profile of this graph is roughly from 0 feet to around 16,000 feet.  The rainbow colors are the presence of clouds.  So currently, at Camp Schurman, I would be looking at the right part of this picture, near what looks like a 'peak'. 
Next I like to cross reference these models with a different view of the same model inputs, the point data meteograms from the NWS.  Here.  This is what it looked like for this forecast period:
You can see right now that we are 'peaked' for precipitation and cloudiness (middle graph / brown and blue lines respectively).  The bottom graph indicates lightning!
The temperature / winds aloft forecasts was for calm winds.  Here.  I think this was probably the most important forecast component.  High winds in the forecast would've made things much more difficult and hard to manage myself.
What did I get on the way up this morning?
At 08:30 in White River, I had mostly cloudy skies, with a few sun breaks - all the way hiking in to the toe of the Inter Glacier at 7600 feet.  It began to snow lightly at first, then moderately.  Winds, from the north at 5-10 mph.  Snow level was about 8000.  It pretty much stayed like this all the way to Schurman.  It wasn't bad, at all.  Here's what it was like in Glacier Basin:
Here's a picture of what I'm looking at at Camp Schuman currently:
Here's a picture of the Camp Muir webcam, right now:
Yes, the visibility was reduced to 200 yards.  Yes, I got a little snow on me.  But it was generally a good hike up!  If you have a GPS and can use it like a boss, or are experienced with a map and compass and are prepared (dressed) for snow falling, this isn't horrible weather to navigate in.  The guide services were in the area with me (I heard them, but seldom saw them) and made it up where they are currently digging tent platforms.  So the guides had a decent ascent up this morning, too.
In my experience, the weather forecast resources are pretty right on.  However, I'm often reminded that the summer softens, somewhat, the blow of the hammer of the gods.  In the winter, this forecast would likely have deterred me, wind or no wind.

** Update ** Plus, I just heard that RMI summitted today.  So....
I'm glad I came up today!
- Stefan

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Late-July Prime Time

Busy Weekend at Camp Muir
It's that time of year again!  Summer weather has arrived with the hottest day in July predicted to be this upcoming Friday.  The two standard routes on either side of the mountain are still in great shape (but changing daily due to the hot weather).  And the daylight still lasts for over 15 hours (sunrise around 05:30 and sunsets around 21:00).  Climbing conditions are great!

Climbing early is important on these hot sunny days.  Snow bridges across crevasses weaken, seracs fall more often, and rocks frozen in place melt out during the middle of the day.  Try to be off the hazardous parts of the routes by noon.

Another tip for this time of year is to climb during the middle of the week.  Weekends can be crowded, and the opportunity of experiencing some "solitude" of climbing high in the alpine zone can be tough to get.  Plan your trip around the middle of the week for less crowds, quiet camping, and less jams on the route.  See you on the mountain!

Friday, July 08, 2016

Weather Windows

What is the weather doing on Mount Rainier? The age old questions that is on everyone mind when they come to climb the mountain, or is it? Many climbers plan months in advance, travel long distances, and sacrifice many other things to make their one trip to climb the Mountain. No matter how much planning goes into a trip their are always those unexpected obstacles we can't control like the weather. So what are you going to do about it?
Early Spring Conditions on Mount Rainier
There are so many weather tools out their today that provide us with the latest and greatest forecast, giving hour by hour in-depth information, but many of us don't know how to read or have the time to learn how to interpret these fancy graphs and flow charts.  So many climbers just ask the expert when is the best time to climb while they are here on their trip. What is my weather window? The new age question climber want to know.
So what is a weather window and how does it relate to climbing Mount Rainier? Many new aspiring mountaineers have preconceived ideas of what this may encompass. When do I start? How many hours? What is my turn around time? All good thoughts but in the grand scheme these questions are small picture thinking.  Weather windows at Mount Rainier should be measured in days not hours. The vast majority of people attempting a climb will take 3 days, and on the summit day from a high camp will take most of a day (8-14 hours) to complete.  Big picture high pressure vs. low pressure weather patterns are important to pay attention to. High pressure weather systems (called ridges) will provide you with the best weather window for making a successful climb. Climbing during a low pressure weather systems (call troughs) can have its successes but can be limited and challenging in possibly hazardous conditions.
Make sure to check the synopsis paragraph on the Mount Rainier Recreational Forecast
It will give you best up to date big picture view of what is happening at Mount Rainier and the surrounding area.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Summer on the Horizon

As we come to the end of June many thoughts flood our minds like where did the time go? Summer is finally here - and what, the 4th of July is next week?  That's right folks, its time to get your bags packed and get on up to Mount Rainier for summer fun. The weather is forecasted for a high pressure system starting tomorrow through the end of the week! A great way to kick of  the beginning of July and the summer climbing season on the mountain. Make sure you get in early to register as high camps have been filling up quickly.  Climbers can register and talk to a ranger at the Climbing Information Center in Paradise. It opens at 7am and closes at 4:30pm. You can also register for your climb at the Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise, the Wilderness Information Center in Longmire, and the White River Ranger Station at the entrance to White River.  Also - the Mowich Lake Road opening is planned for July 1st.  Climbers headed to the north side of the mountain can register at the Carbon River Ranger Station. 

The climbing rangers have been up preparing camps for the busy summer ahead. From making repairs to damaged doors and windows to replacing medical supplies and empty fuel tanks. A project to improve communication at camp Schurman has been in the works for awhile now and should come online this coming week. This new communication infrastructure will assist in planning a response for emergencies on the mountain.  Projects like this are mainly due to donations to our program via the Washington National Parks Fund.  We'd like to give them a big shout out for all the support they've given to Mount Rainier. 

This is the busiest time up high for a reason.  Both the weather patterns and route conditions on the standard climbs line up to be as good as they get in July.  We hope to see you up on the mountain!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

This Weekend's Weather and Avalanche Guess

This weekend's avalanche and weather guess:

Alrighty, we're getting a ton of phone calls about what we think the weather is going to do this weekend.  Here's my best guess:

First:  Use this forecast model from the University of Washington.  It shows the pressure systems at the 500mb heights (approx 17,000 feet).  You can see the upper level low pressure circulating and creeping towards Washington State.  The upper level low pressure has been creating unstable air and has been the source of much of our precipitation and clouds over the last couple of weeks.  As the low ciculates, grabs moisture from the ocean, it's already cool, and it brings it right to the cascades.  As the moisture goes over the mountains, it is cooled as it is forced up, which it will readily do because of the already present unstable low pressure system.  That causes the clouds and precipitation.

The next model can be accessed here: University of Washington 4/3km Profile.  This model is a x-section of the atmosphere from 0 - approximately 17,000 feet.  The red lines are humidities.  Here you can see the effect of surface warming each day and the low level instability that creates. 

The two models give a good clue that there is some crazy unstable air at the surface and up high that we are going to have to deal with beginning this evening through as far as we can see into Saturday.  This is a contrast to the summer upper level high pressure ridges that dominate the PNW weather.  There is often each day in the summer, surface low pressure over eastern washinton that sucks in cool marine air from the ocean.  That gives us lower level clouds and fair skies above.

This system is different.  There is upper AND lower level low pressure giving high high lapse rates that make clouds and precipitation probable along Mt. Rainier's entire elevational profile.

So do proceed with caution.  If you're bent on coming out for a try, please bring some navigational aids like a GPS and a compass and map and know how to use them.  Bring extra warm clothes and the sturdier tent.  Get a good weather briefing from the CIC before you head up.

With snowfall and precipitation and wind comes avalanche danger.  No one issues an avalanche forecast for Mt. Rainier in June.  However, there are plenty of anecdotal observations coming in from rangers, climbers, and guides.  Yes, there is some observed instability over the last two days.  Easy to moderate failures have been observed both yesterday and the day before at and above 11,000.  However, climbers did summit yesterday and today on the disappointment cleaver.

I anticipate that through the next 48 hours, climbing above high camps will be limited.  It's still too soon to tell about Saturday night and Sunday.

- Stefan

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Come Prepared and in the Know...

The weather over the past week here at Mt. Rainier has been more indicative of what we would see in early spring than mid June.  We recently received a substantial amount of new snow at elevations above 8000'.  What this means is the snow pack on the upper mountain is different than what folks normally see in June.  Large drifted pockets of unconsolidated snow create hazardous and tiring conditions for traveling.  We highly encourage climbers to have knowledge of avalanche assessment, as well as dialed partner rescue skills using a transceiver, probe and shovel.

Heavily traveled routes such as the DC and the Emmons are no different than any other routes on the mountain in regards to weather and avalanche hazard.  Just because other climbing parties are ascending with you does not make the route safe.  Use your sense of general mountain awareness and don't climb blindly into hazardous terrain.  If you have a feeling that avalanche danger is higher than what you're comfortable with, or that weather might be moving in sooner than you had thought, we encourage you to descend.  Mt. Rainier will be here for quite a while, and it's not worth risking your life if conditions aren't optimal.

Lastly, when you do climb, think about throwing in a large puffy, rescue tarp, shovel (in addition to a tranceiver and a probe), stove and extra food into your pack.  If the weather turns south and you end up having to spend the night out on the upper mountain, you're chances of survival are largely increased.  Consider laying a track of your ascent on your GPS, so if the weather moves in and visibility decreases, you'll have a detailed descent route to find your way back to camp.

Even though we're moving out of this most recent storm cycle, keep in mind that with the upcoming warm days, avalanche danger will spike prior to snow pack consolidation, and there most likely won't be splitter high pressure like we're used to seeing.

Come prepared so you can come back again!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Self Reliance

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Cloud Cap beginning to form over Mount Rainier
Self reliance as defined is "the reliance on one's own powers and resources rather than those of others. Many new aspiring mountaineers come to Mount Rainier to test their skills and get their feet wet both figuratively and literally. The challenge of Rainier can be easily underestimated and being prepared doesn't necessarily mean having all the right gear. Many other factors play a part in the success of climbing this mountain of which self reliance is one. Assuming responsibility, being informed, knowing where your're going, and making your own decisions are the 4 corner stones to self reliance. Living by these cornerstones can make the difference in the out come of getting to the summit, avoiding treacherous weather conditions, or having to be rescued. Before you plan your trip consider these outcomes and know what your getting into. Mount Rainier is a grand ascent and is forever memorable to all that have, and have tried to conquer it.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

June-uary.. .what?

June has started out with a ridge of high pressure bringing the freezing level above the summit for the first time this season.  Climbers and ski-mountaineers have been taking advantage of this great weather in June with successful ascents of both standard routes (the Emmons/Winthrop and Disappointment Cleaver), Kautz Glacier, Success Cleaver, Tahoma Glacier, Ptarmigan Ridge, and Liberty Ridge.

Forecasts have been predicting a stormier mid-June.  Remember that storms in the Pacific Northwest can still thump the mountain in mid-June and to be prepared to navigate in white-out conditions (especially if planning on descending the Emmons/Winthrop).

Be sure to register with a ranger before beginning your climb.  We'll have up-to-date information on route conditions and weather.  We also have blue bags at the ranger stations to hand out so climbers don't leave human waste on the mountain.

Whether it's your first climb or your 500th (shout out to Brent!) Rainier is in great shape right now.  See you up high!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Checking the Weather

A week of warm sunny weather made some big changes to the landscape around the park. The snowmelt has been rapid around places like Paradise. Small patches that would usually be covered this time of year are already snow free. The mountain has seen its own fair share of snow melt, but the effects have been less dramatic considering the larger snow pack up high. Climbers have been reaching the summit on a regular basis, and high camps have been busy with daily visitation.
Checking the weather can seem like a waist of time when the forecast says sunshine. Over this weekend and into next week the summer like days have given way to more inclement and unsettled conditions. Low level clouds with this type of forecast can move in and out around the mountain unexpectedly making it difficult to sometime impossible to know where your going. Freezing levels can fluctuate several thousands of feet turning rain into snow. Take the time to check the Weather Forecast. It is a valuable tool when planning your trip to Mount Rainier.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Changing Seasons

As the early season weather continues to change over from winter, everyone is starting to get that "spring fever."  Visitation to the park is slowly starting to increase with thoughts of getting out of the house for those long awaited recreational activities. Enthusiasm along with a sunny forecast can leave many of us unprepared.  The park undergoes many changes as spring arrives and the weather can be variable and unforgiving. Winter like conditions are still very much apart of the weather and can show up unexpectedly. Make sure you are prepared to stay the night with food water and shelter even if your only going out for a day trip. White out conditions from snow fall and low level clouds are common and can take you by surprise. Having the appropriate navigation tools and knowing how to use them to get yourself out is paramount. Be prepared as you head out into the park this spring and make the most out that "spring fever"

Climbing Ranger Ascending the Zipper on Lane Peak
Cayuse Pass is now open for your driving pleasure.   Also - the road from 410 to White River Campground is tentatively scheduled to open on May 20th.  Stay tuned for more updates on that!

In other news, Climbing Rangers are back training for the upcoming season. They have been getting out on the mountain assessing conditions and sharpening their rescue skills. Expect to see more blog updates on climbing routes as their training season winds down in a couple of weeks and the climbing season ramps up.

Self-Registration for climbing will continue until memorial day weekend.  Self registration can be found in the Old Paradise Ranger Station located directly above the upper Paradise Parking Lot.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Muir Webcam and Road Access

Warmer days and some sunny spring weather have made it possible to get some much needed work done.  Plows, loaders, and chainsaws are busy clearing roads around the park.  Every year fallen debris like trees, rocks, and yep, lots of snow, takes workers several weeks to clear for safe travel.  For the most up to date road conditions around the park go to the Park Access tab above and check out the links to Mount Rainier's Road Conditions site and Washington State Department of Transportation's site. 

In other news the Camp Muir webcam is back online! Once again you can see where your going before you get there. Always a helpful tool when planing your trip. Remember to always travel prepared because conditions can change, even on a sunny day.

Don't forget about the other webcams around the park as well. To view a list of all the available webcams go to the camera view selection site. If you want to see what is going on right now at Camp Muir follow this link: Camp Muir Webcam.

Also, our blog is starting to take shape again for the 2016 season.  We're revamping the route condition beta with new photos taken on 04/18/2016.   If you want to see older photos, please check out the archive on the conditions page in the lower right hand corner.  These older posts can shed light on what the route of your choice might be like in August or September if that's when you're planning on climbing.

We're looking forward to another awesome season on the mountain! 

Friday, March 25, 2016

2016 Climbing Permits: Walk-up Only

Due to a "critical failure of the park's existing reservation system during a recent storm event" the park will not be accepting nor processing reservations for any wilderness permits this season.  

Wilderness Camping to be First-come, First-served

This means only walk-up permits will be issued for climbing on Mount Rainier this summer.  Any reservations already received will be returned unprocessed and fees will be refunded.  Please see the press release above for more details.

In the past we've recommended reserving a permit for parties who don't have flexible travel dates and want particular sites during popular times (weekends in late-July and early-August).  This year, since reservations are not a possibility, here are some recommendations:

- Add an extra day to your trip so that your climb could start either a day ahead, or a day behind the original start date of your climb and thus opening up more possibilities to fit your party in.

- Register (must be in-person) as early as possible for your climb.  The Climbing Information Center in Paradise is open from 7:00 to 4:30 this summer and the White River Ranger Station will be open from 7:30 to 5:00.  Permits can be issued up to one day before the start of your climb. 

- Be familiar with the different camping zones up high on the mountain so you can make alternative plans if your first choice of camping location is full. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Endless Winter

March 12th

Winter has made a strong come back the past few days at Mount Rainier National Park. The series of frontal systems impacting the area are forecast to continue for the next several days as well, leaving up to 2 feet of snow in the Paradise area by Monday! It is not time to put away the skis or snowboards just yet!

Snow Profile results from Alta Vista 3-12-16
With all that new snow comes excellent skiing conditions, as well as the threat of avalanches and getting disoriented above the tree line in wintery conditions. Climbing Rangers were out and about today assessing conditions and digging a test profile to see what was happening in the snow pack. For those of you who follow the Northwest Avalanche Center, it was nothing that the forecasters have not been saying for several days now. The profile revealed a series of crusts, interspersed with melt forms and rounded grains. This comes as a result of various warmer periods and rain events, along with a few colder snow events. The one thing of note in the profile, was a strong crust approximately 16 cm below the surface. This surface was quite hard (knife hardness for you avalanche aficionados out there), and the snow on top of it was quite soft. The good news is that the current storm came in with cold temperatures, and the snow fall started gradually. Tests showed very little re-activity, and the fluffy and cold surface snow simply sluffed off, stopping quickly and did not entrain deeper snow.

All of that said, the forecast for the next several days includes a winter weather advisory, with significant snowfall amounts and moderate winds. What does all of this mean? Well, tomorrow, Sunday the 13th, the avalanche danger rating is moving to high for the near and above tree line zones. A high avalanche danger day means that natural avalanches are likely, and human triggered avalanches are very likely. Much of the problem over the coming days will likely be storm slab avalanches and wind slab avalanches on aspects that are leeward to the prevailing wind direction. All of this information may seem like a bit of "doom and gloom", but fear not, good skiing and snow shoeing can be had even on high avalanche danger days with proper terrain selection and careful travel.

So pack those winter clothes, map/compass/gps, skis or board as well as your avalanche rescue gear and come on up for some winter fun while it lasts! Spring is just around the corner, and soon will be the days where we are all dreaming of powder skiing. So come take advantage of this seemingly endless winter here at Mt. Rainier!


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Sunshine and Avalanches

February 24th

Note the clean crown line,
indicative of slab avalanches .
After a wintery weekend at Mount Rainier, the clouds parted and the sun came out yesterday. However, along with the sun came strong easterly flow, producing moderate winds in the Paradise area. The temperatures stayed low yesterday, and the weekend snow was still quite soft, allowing it to be transported by the wind. Climbing rangers were out doing snow observations yesterday and noted blowing snow, and wind transport onto west and southwest aspects. The wind can provide for dramatic effects on avalanche conditions, scouring some places, and leaving large depositions in others. These depositions can be quite firm, and create the potential for slab avalanches.

Red pin near the "n" in Point
 is the avalanche location.
Brown switchbacking line is
common skin track up
Panorama Point
Yesterday, and today's NWAC avalanche forecast called for this possibility. Wind loading is a common occurrence around here in the winter time, with the typical wind flow for this area coming from the southwest, which transports snow to north-southeast aspects. One can almost set their watch to it if a windy storm passes through. Yesterday's occurrence is a little more rare, wind slab formation on west-southwest aspects. Today while out patrolling the Paradise area, climbing rangers noted a substantial wind slab avalanche on a west facing aspect, at approximately 6,800 feet. While this avalanche was not likely to bury anyone, had it gone slightly farther, over another roll over, it could have been much more disastrous. And an unsuspecting skier or snowshoer in the wrong place at the wrong time certainly could have been injured by this avalanche.   Similar aspects or wind loaded features should be suspect, and avoided while traveling in the backcountry until the wind slab problem has had a chance to settle. 

Just remember, when coming up to go for a ski or snowshoe,
not only check the current forecast but go back a few days to find out what conditions have been occurring on the mountain recently. While the current forecast is valuable, knowing the history of what has been affecting the snowpack and conditions can be equally important. The link to the Northwest Avalanche Center, above, is a great resource for mountain weather and avalanche forecasts. They do great work! The sun should be out tomorrow with spring like conditions, so grab your sunscreen, avalanche gear, skis or board and come on up for some winter fun!


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Wintery Weather Returns

After all that nice sunshine a few weeks back, old man winter has made a return to Mount Rainier National Park. Bringing snow and rain, even up to Paradise.
While this is certainly welcome in mid-January, it is both a blessing and a curse. While we are still stacking up needed snow pack, in the higher elevations, the storms we have been receiving over the past few days have been coming in fairly warm, meaning heavy snow. All of this heavy snow has been falling onto a weak layer of snow that developed last week, known as surface hoar. Surface hoar, once buried can create a persistent weak layer in the snow pack, meaning a layer prone to avalanches. Rangers have been out in the Paradise area, digging avalanche assessment pits, and noting that this layer has been fairly reactive to tests. This falls in line with what the Northwest Avalanche Center has been seeing and saying as well. In addition to this avalanche problem, loose wet slides have been occurring in the lower elevations, as the snow gets rained on. What does all of this mean? It certainly does not mean that there is not still fun to be had! It means that when choosing to come for a visit to ski or snowshoe at Mount Rainier, you should check the daily weather and avalanche bulletin before you come. And be prepared for all weather conditions, as well as with all of the appropriate avalanche gear.
On days that the road from Paradise to Longmire does not open, there is still plenty of snow shoeing and even ski touring that can be done out of Longmire. So come on up and enjoy the winter season in your park!

Northwest Avalanche Center, for your forecasting and avalanche bulletin needs: Avalanche Forecast

Saturday, January 02, 2016

The Sun is Shining to Start 2016

Happy New Year!

After relentless snowfall over Christmas week, the clouds have departed, leaving behind plenty of bright sunshine and snow!

It appears that we have settled into a substantial high pressure system here in the park, with clear skies, cold temperatures, and relatively strong east winds. This pattern looks to be continuing through the weekend. The skiers, snowshoers, sledders, and snow lovers are have been taking advantage of the beautiful weather over the holiday weekend. Snow play, for those interested in sledding, is now officially open and has been a hit. If you are skiing, however, please follow the signs, and do not cross through the snow play area.

Rangers were able to make it up to Camp Muir earlier in the week as well. The conditions were highly variable, ranging from deep powder to glare ice, to breakable crust. The strong east winds have now blanketed much of the Paradise area with a substantial wind crust in many places. With that said, skiers and backcountry travelers should use caution. With high winds, and the soft snow available for transport, rangers noted wind slab activity on west facing slopes. There have been several, both natural and skier triggered, wind slab avalanches on west aspects over the past few days. The slab is ranging from 20-40cm in places, depending on the local aspect. And for all you avalanche aficionados out there, the slab is varying from 1F-P when looked at in an avalanche test pit. Rangers also found that when cutting blocks for a snow test, the blocks fractured when cut, before tests could be conducted. Take home message, use caution on west facing aspects, and have a shovel, beacon and probe.

Come on up to the park to kick off 2016, and the National Park Service's 100th anniversary and enjoy some sunshine and lots of snow! As always, if you plan to camp or climb please come prepared for winter conditions and get a permit from the Jackson Visitor Center on the weekends. Or self register at the Old Station before heading out.