Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Camp Muir - Wait for it...

Climbing rangers made it to Camp Muir today as this was our second day back to work after the shutdown.  Except for a set of tracks we saw from one intrepid hiker who made it to Camp Muir (evidently all the way from Longmire), there was no sign of anyone having been at Camp Muir in the last 5 weeks.  After 30 years of working at Mount Rainier, I can't recall if there has ever been a five week period where so few people have been up there.

Photo from Camp Muir looking out and up towards the Disappointment Cleaver through Cadaver Gap - 2019-01-29 - Lofgren

Nevertheless, we were anxious to get there to assess if winter storms presented us with any damage.  We knew at least that the Camp Muir weather telemetry was not working and weren't sure where the trouble was.

The temps were cold and the wind cut a pretty stiff chill as we left Paradise.  The snow is very firm and we were glad that we brought our ski crampons.  As we approached Panorama Point, we observed a relatively rare system of soft slab avalanche crown features and debris off of the west side of Panorama Point.

Wide angle shot of Panorama Point, January 28, 2019.  Look closely in the center for the avalanche debris. - Lofgren

Close up photo of soft slab avalanche that probably occurred on January 23 during storm and subsequent rain-on-snow event. - Lofgren
The snow proved to be so hard that skinning was impossible.  We shouldered our skis, then transitioned to carrying them on our backpacks as we ended up chopping each step with our whippets.

Finally on the snowfield, the wind abated and the sun began to warm us.  Off came the outer layers.  No wind.  By the time we were at Muir, we were in our base layers.

Photo of Camp Muir ranger station and Gibraltar Rock (and the summit) in the background, January 28, 2019 - Lofgren
Facilities looked to be in working order.  There is one toilet open and the public shelter was accessible through the main (albeit) half door.

We did get a chance to check out some problems with the telemetry.  We are working with other park employees, folks at the NWAC, and at NoHowInc to get things working again as fast as we can.

Climbing ranger Brian Hasebe discovers a broken antenna on the telemetry tower at Camp Muir, January 28, 2019. - Lofgren

Skiing down was another story - at least for the first 1000'.  The sastrugi was terrifying, even as the sun and lack of wind softened the top inch.  We traversed from windpad to windpad through a ski-torquing labyrinth of surface features.

We're excited to get the park open and there was much progress made on clearing the parking lot at Paradise today.  There is still work to be done widening the road as it had only been plowed to one lane during the shutdown.  Please stay tuned to NPS media sources (Facebook and Twitter) to learn when public access to Paradise is restored.

Remember your winter preparedness skills if you attempt winter trip to Camp Muir.

  1. Have a GPS with maps on it that locates you automatically on the screen as well as a map, compass, and altimeter.
  2. Bring extra batteries for your GPS, cell phone, and head lamp.
  3. Get an excellent mountain weather forecast and avalanche forecast from the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.
  4. Bring enough gear to thrive a night out if you get stuck, lost, or penned down with bad weather.  It isn't enough to merely 'survive' a night out.  Many don't with that level of preparedness.
  5. You need to 'float' in the snow.  Often you can walk on the snow with just boots, however, depending on the extent of daily warming or new snow, what was easy going up or down can be impossible on the return trip.  Skis, snowshoes, or a split board are necessary.
  6. Perhaps most crucial piece of gear is a shovel.  This is effectively your 'tent' that you left at home!  When you get penned down in bad weather or to thrive a night out, you'll need to build a snow cave.  Pretty much impossible with your hands.
  7. Take into account what would happen if you fell on a steep slope.  Many a hiker in recent years have fell down Panorama Point and required a lengthy night time evacuation.  Bring crampons and know how to use them.  Bring an ice axe or a pole with a whippet end.
  8. Bring an insulite pad, small rocket stove, as extra survivability insurance.
Have a great day and we look forward to seeing everyone out on the mountain again.