Friday, September 21, 2018

Patience for Powder

There's an excitement in the air as the new snow falls on the mountain and things begin to feel like winter.  Skiers and boarders have been seen hiking their new planks up 2000 feet searching for small snow patches to link a couple of turns.  And though there is some fresh snow around the mountain, it's barely filled in the old icy sun-cupped base layer.  Please use caution if choosing to ski in these difficult and often dangerous conditions.  We've already had a couple of skiing accidents on the mountain and the culprit has not been lack of skill, but poor conditions. 

It's best to wait out poor conditions and likely injury to shred real pow in the heart of winter.  Going for a trail run, foraging for huckleberries, and maybe even a late-season swim in an alpine lake with a thin wet suit are all more seasonally appropriate activities.

As summer turns to winter our seasonal staff starts to migrate away from the mountain.  High camps will only be staffed very occasionally, search and rescue response to on-mountain incidents will be delayed, and the park's exclusive-use helicopter has also departed the area.  This time of year requires an extra amount of caution and experience to recreate up at higher altitudes.  Remember that there's no official that will be helping you judge when the conditions are too poor to be out and about on the mountain.  You and your party members must be responsible for your own safety.  Make safe decisions so that you can enjoy many winters to come!

DC: Final update for 2018

September 20th is the last day for full-time Ranger Station operations at Camp Muir.  There will be intermittent staffing, but don't rely on a ranger presence on the upper mountain.  The Paradise Wilderness Information Center is also closed for the season.  Climbers can still self-register at Paradise or any of the open ranger stations in Longmire or White River. 

Guide operations will continue though September.  The current route seams to be holding together with minimal change over the past few weeks.  It's still crossing the Cowlitz, ascending through Cathedral Gap, traversing over from Ingraham Flats to the Disappointment Cleaver, ascending the spine of the cleaver, traversing back to the west to the top of Gibraltar Rock, and then zig-zagging from the top of Gib to the summit crater.  Icy steep serac walls, skiffs of new snow hiding deep crevasses, and newly formed wind slabs are all hazards that climbers will encounter this time of year, along with the usual rockfall, icefall, and altitude hazards that occur year-round. 
If you're planning a climbing trip to Mount Rainier next season and are doing some pre-trip planning follow these links to view our in-depth route briefs on the Disappointment Cleaver Route, the Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route, the Kautz Glacier Route, and Liberty Ridge.  

Thanks for a great summer season!  Happy Autumnal Equinox and see you next year!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Camp Muir / DC Update

September 16th, 2018

This is the last day for registration at the Paradise Wilderness Information Center, formerly called the Climbing Information Center. Self-registration is now in effect only at Paradise until spring of 2019. Don’t forget to purchase your annual climbing pass at Pay.Gov.

Climbers can still register in-person (which we recommend) in Longmire and White River.  Check the park's operating hours and pay special attention to the date at which the operating hours change as we move into winter.

Flurries over the past few days have helped create a nice new layer of snow up high on the mountain. Old tracks on the Muir Snowfield and the DC are getting covered up. Guided groups are still at high camp, along with a few independent parties, but - like last night - the stormy weather and lack of kicked-in boot pack prevented all climbers from making the summit. The low pressure weather system and precipitation is forecast to continue throughout today with winds and precipitation tapering off into Monday. Tuesday is forecast to be the beginning of some better weather with high pressure moving into the region.

Muir Snowfield on 9/14/2018
Periods of pleasant fall weather will continue into October, but encountering winter conditions should be part of your planning when visiting the park for the rest of the season.  Be aware that there are periods lasting multiple days this time of year where the mountain conditions are too dangerous for climbing.  Realize that there is no gate at Camp Muir, or even at Paradise, "closing" the mountain when it's this dangerous.  You and your climbing party are responsible for your own safety and must properly assess the hazards to know when to be out on the mountain.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Muir Snowfield Conditions

A lone hiker descends the Muir Snowfield
At this point in the season there's typically a steady drop-off in climbing numbers, but the number of folks making day trips up the Muir Snowfield remains fairly steady.

For those who choose to make the trek: late summer/early fall can present hikers with mountaineering-type challenges. It is not uncommon for people to bring crampons and an ice axe to Camp Muir as icy conditions may exist anywhere above Pebble Creek. Walking down tends to be more difficult than up.

There are also glide cracks opening on the snowfield. While not technically crevasses, like those found on glaciers, these fissures can still injure you (or worse) if you fall into one. 
A glide crack on the Muir Snowfield ~9000'
Lastly, winter is on the way and this week looks like a stormy one. Any significant snow fall will obscure the path to Camp Muir making navigation harder and possibly cover up the glide cracks, turning them into trap doors. Use extreme caution when attempting to go to Camp Muir in poor conditions.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Emmons: Final Update for 2018

Emmons-Winthrop from Camp Schurman. Sept 08, 2018
As summer winds down, so does the climbing season on Mount Rainier. Very few parties have attempted the Emmons Glacier route recently--all have reported broken, wandering, and difficult glacier travel on the climbing route. Climbing Rangers have finished doing patrols of the route for the year, and all guided climbs have ceased. Although it is probably still possible to forge a route above Camp Schurman, all parties attempting such a late-season attempt should expect a very long day and circuitous, complex navigation requiring honed glacier travel and ice climbing skills.

Beware that autumn storms often deposit enough snow to obscure any remnant of this summer's climbing route and can thinly cover open crevasses. Serac fall has also been observed recently, including one that swept the route from roughly 13,000' to 11,500' this week. Be prepared to do all of your own navigation, route-finding, and decision-making if you choose to attempt the mountain this late in the season.

This will be the final update for the Emmons Glacier route for the 2018 climbing season.

DC Photo Update

The Disappointment Cleaver route was significant rerouted recently to reduce the number of ladder crossings and widening crevasses (read the recent update here). The new trail is poorly defined due to a combination of fewer climbers and large snow penitentes. These massive penitentes and complex route-finding are contributing to long days on summit attempts with many groups taking 12-16 hours round-trip from high camp. In particular, many climbing parties are having difficulties finding the new route where it trends left from the top of the Cleaver toward Camp Comfort above Gibraltar Rock. Eventually, around 13,300', the new route regains the old track and a better defined bootpack (until it becomes obscured by new snowfall with incoming autumn storms).

Speaking of snowfall, this weekend is bringing the first significant chance of snow on the upper mountain in many months. Forecast snow levels are as low as 8,500 feet this weekend, meaning that the route to Camp Muir (and above) may become hidden by new snow. It is easy to become disoriented and lost in these conditions; if you are planning a late season attempt, be equipped and skilled with navigation tools (GPS, map, compass, altimeter). Talk to the Climbing Rangers at Camp Muir to obtain the most up-to-date details about how to find this new route and weather conditions.

Climbing teams descending the DC around 13,000'

Climber traversing the edge of a crevasse on the DC

The route climbs along this snow fin at approx. 13,300'

Climber descending along the DC route

Climber navigating the large snow penitentes

Typical terrain you will encounter along the climb ascending from the top of the Cleaver.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Late season conditions make for long days on the DC

Labor Day weekend brought pleasant weather and many day hikers to Camp Muir. Unfortunately, the upper mountain has not been quite as mellow or secure for climbers trying to reach the top. Firm conditions, penitentes, and sun cups have combined to make travel on the upper mountain arduous at times. In addition to tricky snow conditions, large crevasse crossings, bridged by long ladders have been intimiating for both climbers and guides alike.

New route shown in blue. The old route (with ladders) is shown in maroon. Guides will remove the ladders on the old route in the coming days.

It was time for a change, so guides ventured from the top of the Disappointment Cleaver towards Camp Comfort, determined to find a better route. The new route avoids the large ladders above Dissapointment Cleaver, but one ladder still exists above Ingraham Flats.

The ladder at 'High Crack' above Ingraham Flats at 11,400 feet.

Near the top of Disappointment Cleaver at about 12,200 feet, the route traverses climber’s left across the Ingraham glacier under an icefall zone. Move quickly through this area, as the icefall has remained active in recent weeks. At 12,400 feet, the route begins switchbacking up to Camp Comfort.

Icefall hazard still exists on the Ingraham glacier while traversing towards Camp Comfort. (Photo: Pete Van Deventer)

From Camp Comfort, the route traverses west, gaining elevation slowly until 13,200 feet, where a fin is negotiated by squeezing through seracs in the glacier above the Nisqually Cleaver. After the squeeze section, the route heads straight up until it meets the old boot pack at 13,700 feet. Between 13,200 and 13,700 feet, there are places where the path is narrow and a bit exposed.  The path to the crater rim from 13,700 feet is unchanged.

Climbers taking a break on the traverse above Camp Comfort with Gibraltar Rock below. (Photo: Pete Van Deventer)

The new route is a little more direct than the old route, however, be prepared for a long summit day non the less.  Several parties have underestimated the slow and difficult travel on the upper mountain this week, and have reached Camp Muir quite late in the day. September climbing on Mt. Rainier necessitates efficient movement, good time management, and the mental fortitude for a long day of climbing.

Favorable climbing weather is projected through Thursday. Another weather system approaches the mountain Thursday night, and stormy weather is likely this weekend. Monitor the Mount Rainier Recreational Forecast closely if you plan on climbing this weekend.

Muir Public Shelter

September 3rd, 2018

The emergency shelter at Camp Muir is a welcome resource to climbers and hikers who find themselves at Camp Muir and need a brief respite from difficult weather conditions. However, as with any convenient shelter resource, it tends to be treated like a vacation rental by some users, where after you use it, there is a cleaning staff to come in and clean up after you, do the laundry, dishes, and change the sheets.

This, of course, is not the case.

Half  eaten dehydrated meals, burritos and bagels left in the public shelter.  On this particular day, there was probably 15 lbs of food left for others to clean up and carry out. All had to be thrown out after sitting there for 2 days. Beneath it all: granola encrusted to the counter.
  • Emergency Use. The primary use of this shelter is as an emergency shelter.  On a space-available basis, users are welcome to sleep in it. Please remember the sad stories over the years where climbers who were in need of shelter, found their way to the hut during a storm, discovered it was full, and decided to descend and never made it back to Paradise. If you are occupying the shelter, you are the host. Please welcome all folks into the hut, especially when the weather is poor or the condition of the folks look like they need it.

  • BYOB. Bring your own bivy or tent. There are no reservations for the public shelter, so park employees can't guarantee you a spot. It fits about 25 people comfortably, and even more during a storm.  Make sure you are conscious about how much space your stuff is taking up when there are a lot of people who want to stay in the public shelter.

  • Leave the shelter nicer than you found it. That means leaving none of your trash, half eaten food, and/or untouched food. People seem to think they are doing others a favor by leaving food, but people don't eat things when they have no idea where it came from. At best it all gets thrown out and it's a terrible waste.  At worst, it starts a habituated wildlife problem and attracts mice who then learn to eat through packs to get all those tasty energy bars.  Think about giving the hut a quick sweep before you go and wiping down the counter after you use it.

  • Label your food and put it in the bear boxes next to the shelter if you are stashing it for a climb. Be sure to have your name and the date you are due out on your bag of food. And when you head down from camp, bring everything with you. Leave nothing.

  • Be courteous to other public shelter users. Many are climbers that go to bed early to wake up very early.  Please keep things quiet in the evenings. If you are a light sleeper, bring earplugs so you don't get woken up as easily and get grouchy. Pack out ALL your trash, food, food scraps, clothes, and gear. Double check the shelter and outside it so you don't forget anything.
Trash swept off the beds and floor of the Public Shelter at Camp Muir.

The public shelter is a wonderful amenity. Most mountains in North America don't have something like this half way up them.  Please respect the use of this shelter and don't leave messes for others to clean.  Again, use the mantra "pack it in; pack it out."

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Labor Day Weekend for the Disappointment Cleaver

September 1st, 2018

Happy labor day weekend! It has been cloudy over the past few days around Paradise but the clouds are beginning to break up. Dry and sunny weather is forecast for this weekend before a weak weather system on Monday moves through the park with a chance of showers. Seasonal temperatures are expected. For more up-to-date weather take a look at the Mount Rainier Recreational Forecast.

Photo of Camp Muir and the Cowlitz Glacier from Cathedral Gap

The Disappointment Cleaver route is still seeing ascents by guided and independent climbing parties. Late season conditions and the reduced number of climbers is causing the route to become less defined. Expect to encounter large Snow Penitentes and sun cups making climbing more arduous and footing less secure. The route has not seen any changes since the last post but the guide services are looking at other route options. A guide team left today from paradise to complete route work on the upper mountain. Be sure to check-in with the rangers at Camp Muir for details on changes to the current route. 

Photo of the large ladder crossing near 13,000' on the DC

A crispness to the air and hints of color on the leaves has the fall season on the mind. The freezing levels have begun to fluctuate and the seasonal snowpack is near the Fern Line. Consider the conditions you will encounter this time of year and what type of gear you want to carry. Ice screws, snow pickets and hammers are all good choices when planning for crevasse rescue.

Foliage in Paradise showing some color
Gone are the days of summer but fall holds some of the best and most beautiful days of the year. Full time staffing of high camps will end September 20th  The mountain has not seen its last climb for the season so get out while it still goes!