Wednesday, June 24, 2020

"Standard Route" Remains Unclimbed

Recent poor weather has hindered any summit attempts from Camp Muir – no climbers have made it past Ingraham Flats; the Ingraham Direct and Disappointment Cleaver routes remain unclimbed. Climbers have been successful on the Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route from Camp Schurman to the summit over the last few days.

Aerial Photo of the Disappointment Cleaver 6/22/20
For some climbers, the current situation on the upper mountain can be a delightful new adventure across an untrammeled glacial landscape. For others, the prospects of forging a path up thousands of feet of untracked snow may sound too grueling and uncertain. Whatever your disposition, the conditions on the upper mountain demand humility and lowered expectations of reaching the summit.
There is no “path” to the summit from Camp Muir currently (Wednesday, June 24th).

There are no guiding operations on the mountain right now; this means three important things:
1) No guiding presence in the Muir Corridor means there has been no route work, no trail markings, and no path to the summit. All route navigation, hazard avoidance, and crevasse crossings will have to be made independently.
2) Climbing routes from Muir will require advanced route finding techniques, expert cramponing, and possibly belayed climbing across steep slopes or over crevasse bridges.
3) Route finding on the upper mountain is arduous. Climbers may have to retrace their steps many times to find ways to the summit.
Aerial View of upper mountain above Disappointment Cleaver 6/22/20

Other climbing routes on the mountain are starting to see some traffic. If a non-standard route like the Kautz, Tahoma, or Liberty Ridge is on your list, consider this: there is no route kicked in back to Camp Muir.  Consider descending the route you climbed up or descending the Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route instead of trying to make it to Camp Muir from above. A top-down descent of the Ingraham Direct or Disappointment Cleaver Route would be extremely difficult without a route already kicked in.

Strong winds mixed with alternating snow and rain drifted into large patches of 6-8”of new snow above Camp Muir last weekend. Warmer weather Monday and Tuesday (6/22-6/23) should help snow stability improve but could also lead to wet loose avalanches in steeper terrain above 40 degrees. Furthermore, rangers have noticed an uptick in rockfall over the last 24 hours as temperatures have climbed. For the most up to date weather information, check out the links provided in the weather tab above.  See the latest update on the Emmons-Winthrop Route below for more snowpack observations.  Also, please read through the new permitting process described online on the park's climbing website thoroughly.  A lot has changed this year and it is bound to change some more!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Emmons-Winthrop Route

This route is still straightforward despite the late start to the climbing season. However, the weather has been fluctuating drastically, rapidly changing the snow conditions, covering crevasses one day and starting to melt them out the next. It apparently doesn’t matter that the summer solstice has already passed, avalanches have still been occurring on the upper mountain.

Emmons-Winthrop Route as seen from Camp Schurman
Things were looking a bit thin on the upper mountain back in April, when we had unusual high temps and dry weather. However, climbers and skiers will be psyched to know that the May and June-uary storms have really helped refill the upper mountain this last month. The Emmons-Winthrop saw it’s first ascents of the season last week and it is as good as it gets for late-June. There have even been a couple of ascents and descents of the Winthrop shoulder, though the cracks opening up down low warn that it wont last long if the high temperatures remain.

Looking down on the "fin" (lower left)
As seen in the photo, the route goes straight up the Corridor which has only a few cracks opening up right now. It then traverses right, across a thick "fin" which feels solid in the morning when it is frozen, but maybe makes one pause and contemplate a possible quick belay on the way down when conditions soften. After the fin you traverse over to the Alpine Meadows and head almost straight up to the summit, crossing several long troughs in the snow that hint at the large crevasses that will open as the weather gets hotter and drier. Look carefully for the safest crossing, especially on the way down, for it looks as though a couple of boots have already broke through sagging bridges to the crevasse below. As of now the route goes around left over the large bergschrund seen near the top of the route from camp.

Bridge over the upper bergschrund
It is important to note too that June still has some storms left before we hopefully hit the high pressure that marks true summer in Washington. With these unusually cold storms there were a number of avalanches that occurred during and even a couple of days after despite the intense solar radiation. Whumphing has been heard around the Cowlitz and Camp Muir long after we would usually suspect storm or wind slabs lasting this time of year. A climber triggered a significant avalanche on the Turtle Snowfield Monday, two days after the last storm. Several wet slab crowns (one that occurred 24 hours after a storm) can be seen on the Winthrop Glacier at approximately 10,000’. They occurred on a ~40 degree southeast facing slope. As the weather continues to fluctuate, stay tuned to what is happening on the upper mountain the days before your climb and don’t let go of those avalanche assessment skills even though summer is officially here.

Wet slab crown seen from Camp Schurman
As for the approach to Camp Schurman, it is easy walking all the way to Glacier Basin with just a few patches of snow to cross; tennis shoes or light hikers are recommended. Switch to skis or mountain boots and continue up the basin (watch out for creek holes) and up the Inter Glacier. The Inter is still relatively smooth for this time of year, though it has not been freezing completely overnight, and there are a couple of crevasses starting to open.

Plan and prepare for your trip so that you can have an awesome climb - read the terms of the permit carefully, check the various weather resources to get an idea of the conditions you'll encounter, and revisit the blog here for any updates.  We look forward to seeing you on the mountain!

Thursday, June 18, 2020

A Clean Canvas!

As of June 18th, there have been no summit attempts made by anyone, public, rangers, or guides!  No routes have been established.  There are no climbing adjuncts (ladders, wands, trail shoveling, etc) in place anywhere on the mountain.  Expect complex decision making in untouched glaciated terrain. 

Rangers have been at high camps.  Approximately 6-8 inches of new snow was deposited on Monday with steady transport winds (S x SW) leading to wind slab development leeward of ridgelines and some cross-loaded slopes.  A minor avalanche cycle occurred on mid-elevation slopes Tuesday and Wednesday as steeper slopes shed with solar input.  Higher elevation slopes that were observable from the Muir Snowfield and Paradise area did not appear to undergo a significant shed-cycle, but with the significant warmup forecast through Friday, one should expect an increase in avalanche and cornice hazard as well as potentially challenging travel conditions on the upper mountain.  

* The Emmons Glacier from Camp Schurman.

With the removal of the closure to the public on the upper mountain, expect a SLOW increase of traffic through high camps and on the upper mountain - the start of normal guiding operations will still be delayed and total numbers of climbers will be reduced during this phase.  Regulations and high camp quotas have changed - please read the description in the previous blog post below for the details.  Expect some more conditions updates soon as rangers and public begin to adventure on to the upper mountain. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Muir Snowfield Update

Looking down the Muir Snowfield from Camp Muir
The current snowpack depth at Paradise is 74” and the trails between Paradise and Pebble Creek are still covered in snow.   The route to Camp Muir is transitioning to the ‘summer’ route as areas melt out.  It was still possible to ski from Camp Muir to Paradise without any rock crossings as of Thursday, June 18th.  

Here are some helpful reminders for your hike/snowshoe/ski up to Muir.  As the snow melts, meadows will begin to pop up. Please don’t walk or sit on any vegetation. Snow bridges over creeks are beginning to weaken and collapse. Falling through a snow bridge into a creek is extremely dangerous. Avoid walking through the bottom of drainages or anywhere you can hear moving water under the snow. The guide services haven’t been running trips and the snowfield does not have an established or wanded boot pack. Come prepared to do your own navigation up and down the snowfield. Drawing a route with mapping software beforehand or starting a track when you depart Paradise are excellent ways to utilize GPS.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Climbing on Mount Rainier to Reopen June 19, 2020

The closure to visitor use above 10,500 feet will be lifted on June 19, 2020.  Currently, skiers and hikers are invited to ski, hike, and camp to and from Camps Muir and Schurman (and elsewhere below 10,500).  Remember, travel above high camps and/or glaciated travel still requires a climbing permit and payment of a climbing cost recovery fee.  Some temporary restrictions will still remain in place after June 19th.  Here is a substantive list of temporary use restrictions:
  • Climbing party size limited to 6 climbers
  • Camp Muir: 36 overnight non-guided users
  • Ingraham Flats: 12 overnight non-guided users
  • Muir Snowfield: 0 overnight users
  • Camp Schurman: 12 overnight non-guided users
  • Emmons Flats: 12 overnight non-guided users
  • All other wilderness zone camping quotas are normal with a max party size of 6
  • The Public Shelter at Camp Muir is CLOSED for visitor use and for emergency-use only
* PLEASE READ THE NOTE BELOW “Changes on the Disappointment Cleaver Route”.

Mount Rainier National Park also announced this morning (June 6, 2020) that it has reopened its gates to vehicular access including Paradise and White River which are popular access points for those destined to Camp Muir and Steamboat Prow.  See the press release here.
How to Obtain a Permit and Pay the Climbing Cost Recovery Fee
1)     Get a Reservation!
       a) All permits for overnight use including climbing will be made by reservation only
2)     Park staff will contact you by phone or email within one week of the start of your trip to issue your permit.
3)     We will confirm each party member has paid the climbing cost recovery fee.  Each individual climbers pays the fee here.
4)     Your permit will be issued to you by email with supplemental information.

* Changes on the Disappointment Cleaver Route
For an indefinite period this summer, it will no longer be a novice climbing route.
Each year, roughly 10,500 people attempt to climb Mount Rainier.  About 85% of those choose to attempt the Disappointment Cleaver route.  Roughly 4,000 of those Disappointment Cleaver attempts are with one of the guide services.  
The guide services are permitted to put in temporary features and mitigations along the Disappointment Cleaver route to minimize the risks for their groups of climbers.  Among these features are ladders over crevasses, wands marking the route, fixed rope lines through steep/exposed terrain, and shoveled/chopped trail-like surfaces that make it possible to walk normally instead of using more difficult French crampon technique.  This is what makes the Disappointment Cleaver and attractive option for those wanting to travel a well-worn route to the top.
Guide services are not expected to resume their full schedule of guided climbs immediately.
As the Disappointment Cleaver opens for climbing, climbers will find very different conditions this season.  Without these features and adjuncts, the route will be much more difficult to climb, akin to other routes like the Kautz Glacier or the Tahoma Glacier Routes.  The Disappointment Cleaver and the Upper Ingraham Headwall are nearly 45-50 degrees in places.  A much greater repertoire of skills by all party members will be required to climb the route including expertise in French Technique, route finding, step chopping, setting belays, and crevasse rescue.
During poor or marginal weather, climbers normally have some assurance that they can find their way back down because of this well-worn trail with wands marking the route and its switchbacks.  There will be no established route!  Tracks are likely to fan out all over as climbers attempt to find ways around crevasses and seracs.  Guides normally put in hundreds of hours of effort each summer attempting to find the best (or only) route to the summit. This includes adjusting the route throughout the season as crevasses open and conditions change. This is time and effort that non-guided climbing parties will not have.
There is also normally a ‘community’ of climbers attempting the mountain each day.  There is a certain amount of safety in this number of climbers as non-related groups will often help each other along the way.  In the absence of the guide services running at full capacity and fewer non-guided climbers on the route due to the increased difficulty, it is much more likely that you’ll be alone on the route on your summit attempt.  So please take enough gear that you can thrive if you are forced to bivouac due to an injury or losing your way on the upper mountain.
If you would not normally consider climbing the Kautz Glacier or Tahoma Glacier routes, then this may not be the right year for your Disappointment Cleaver trip due to the increased difficulties.
Your Search and Rescue
Mount Rainier National Park maintains a team of rangers who are responsible for search and rescue operations on the upper mountain.  The park also maintains aviation staff and an exclusive-use helicopter based at Mount Rainier in support of search and rescue.  Our teams are trained and in place to conduct operations this summer.  
COVID-19 has prompted our teams to alter the way we conduct incidents and take precautions against the spread of this disease within our own workgroups.  These precautions may slow our response down in several ways.  It is very important for each climbing party to consider a delayed rescue response and equip themselves on summit attempts with gear to last comfortably if they should experience an emergency.
The National Park Service’s policy on search and rescue states that a reasonable attempt will be made to conduct search and rescue operations.  For each field rescuer, there are usually 2-3 people in a support role in the incident command center.  COVID-19 precautions effects all levels of any search and rescue operation.
COVID-19, Personal Protective Equipment, and Your Climb
We very humbly ask you to stay at home if you feel you are sick or are exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19.  The rangers who staff the high camps are also the rangers who clean the toilets each day.  These are also the same rangers who perform the searches and rescues on the upper mountain.  If you know you’re sick and you attempt to climb anyway, you may not only get other climbers and park visitors sick, but you may also transmit this sickness to rangers.
During your climb, we ask you to:
1)     Descend if you feel you are getting sick and stay at home if you experience COVID-19 symptoms
2)     Bring your own bottle of hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes and use them before entering toilets and after leaving
3)     Separate yourself as you are hiking/climbing and breathing forcefully
4)     Maintain your distance from other climbing parties

Thank You!

Mowich Face, May 27th, 2020