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