Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Emmons/Winthrop Route Conditions

The record breaking heat of the past week has had a pronounced effect on the condition of the Emmons/Winthrop Glacier Route.  Freezing levels have been hovering around 17-18,500 feet since Friday!  Most of Washington State and Oregon set new ALL TIME high temperature records by a large margin over the weekend!  It is extremely uncommon to see freezing levels this high (most of us have never seen it) in an entire summer, let alone June, a month commonly punctuated by unsettled and sometimes winter-like weather on the mountain.  What makes it even more unusual is that freezing levels are not dropping over night.  Therefore, the typical diurnal melt-freeze process has been non-existent for almost a week.  

Which brings us to current route conditions: Things have changed immensely over the past week and are continuing to change by the hour.  Rangers, along with many independent climbing and skiing parties, summited on Saturday, June 26th.  At that time there had been little change in the overall route since the climbing season began - it went straight up past "The Corridor" and through the bergschrund to the Crater Rim.  As the temperature climbed and nights stayed warm, the seasonal snow cover began to rapidly melt.  Many more crevasses and even glacial ice are now visible along The Corridor.  Word from recent attempts indicate that the bergschrund is now impassible.  No one summited on 6/30 and all guided teams and most independent parties did not even leave Camp Schurman due to crevasse-fall hazard.  One party of skiers attempted the summit on the morning of 6/30 and were turned around at approximately 12,500' due to a crevasse bridge that had collapsed. 

Climbing ranger ascending the Emmons on Saturday, June 26 2021. 

Now for the fun part: Due once again to the lack of freezing temperatures, the snow is isothermal, unsupportable, and "punchy."  These are exactly the conditions that make crevasse falls a very real possibility.  In fact, since Sunday, rangers have heard reports of up to a dozen different climbers punching through into thinly veiled crevasses, sometimes up to their armpits.  Two different climbers took complete falls into crevasses, requiring rescue from their teammates (rangers would like to thank these teams for being adequately prepared to perform a crevasse rescue without outside assistance!).  That being said, it's fortunate that no one was injured in these falls.  A fall into a crevasse is often not "clean," meaning the person falling may impact the walls of the crevasse on the way down, sustaining a traumatic injury in the process. 

Unfortunately, weather forecasts indicate that it will continue to be unseasonably warm at Mount Rainier through the coming weekend and into early next week, and climbing conditions aren't likely to improve substantially. Freezing levels remain above summit elevation for the foreseeable future.  That coupled with the necessity of someone finding a new route up the glacier means that the chances of "success" (i.e., getting to the summit of Mount Rainier) might remain elusive until colder weather conditions return to Mount Rainier National Park.  However, there appear to be several viable options for a new route variation to the top.  It's just a matter of time until climbers find the way and the route 'goes' again.  This is the nature of climbing on Mount Rainier in the summer. 

Yellow line indicates APPROXIMATE route that has been in place for most of the season but is now most likely unnavigable.  The green lines indicate APPROXIMATE possible variations.  

In addition to the summit routes changing, the approach to Camp Schurman has also changed considerably in the past week.  The Inter Glacier will have crevasses showing soon, and the short section of the Emmons Glacier just before reaching Camp Schurman also changes daily due to widening lateral crevasses coming off of the Prow.  We can't stress it enough: just because there's a "trail" of boot tracks over the snow does not mean it’s a safe route.  Carefully assess for crevasses at all times - the boot pack is affected by crevasses throughout the season.  You don't want to be the one to punch into a crack on the boot pack because you weren't paying attention!  It's wise to rope up for this section of glacier.

Examples of the ever-widening crevasses and changing path coming into Camp Schurman.

Looking down the Inter Glacier from the top of the Prow - 6/30/2021.

Fortunately, summits aren't everything! It's a beautiful time to be in the mountains. Remember that to climb Mount Rainier one must pay the Climbing Cost Recovery Fee AND obtain a climbing/wilderness permit for their specific trip onto the mountain.  This is necessary even if a group plans to do a "single push" ascent without camping. Stay cool. 

Friday, June 25, 2021

Climbing Update 6/25

It's been all over the news and odds are you've heard; this weekend will be hot. Hot enough to break records all over the Pacific Northwest. For those hoping to escape the heat by gaining elevation, there are some important things to consider while planning your climb.

Record temperatures are in store for the Cascades.

Warm, sunny weekends are busy in the park. Budget extra time to get to Paradise or White River and reserve your permit in advance on if possible. If you are hoping for a walk-up permit, be flexible with your itinerary and have a back-up plan in case the reservations at high camps are full. Having another objective or alternate climbing route lined up is a good idea on busy summer weekends.

An early start or late evening approach can help you and your team beat the heat. Avoiding the snowfields and glaciers during the heat of the day when the sun angle is most intense is a good idea. Also, carry plenty of water and be able to make more on the way up. Melting snow with a stove only takes a few minutes, and saves you from carrying pounds of extra water.

Apply sunscreen thoroughly and often. Mineral based sunscreens are a favorite of Mt. Rainier rangers. Keep an eye on your team members too, making sure they eat and drink enough electrolytes on the ascent. Lightweight, sun protective clothing and glacier glasses are must this weekend as well.

The upper mountain will be changing rapidly with the warming temperatures. Freezing levels at night are forecasted to remain above the summit between 17,000 and 18,000 feet! Without a diurnal freeze, climbers need to be heads up. Snow bridges over crevasses could be soft, weak, and unsupportable any hour of the day or night.

Historically, rock and icefall on the upper mountain is most active during the month of June. The extreme heat this weekend may exacerbate rock and icefall hazards. Be aware, alert, and vigilant on the upper mountain. Move quickly though icefall zones and underneath seracs.

Move quickly underneath seracs and minimize your exposure time

Be mindful of where you and your team takes rest breaks on the upper mountain. Many teams sit on top of snow bridges and rest, which is a bad idea. Whole climbing teams have fallen into crevasses when the snow bridge suddenly collapsed while they were taking a break. 

Time management will also be crucial this weekend. Be efficient and stick to your team's turn around time. Enjoy the mountain and climb safely!

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Little Tahoma Conditions 6/22

On June 22nd rangers approached Little Tahoma from Camp Muir.   The traverse below Anvil rock across the Cowlitz and Ingraham glaciers was straightforward. Climbing up from the Ingraham to the Whitman glacier has approx 100' of exposed, loose rock.

View across the Ingraham glacier with the Cowlitz glacier and Camp Muir along the skyline.

Exiting the Ingraham to access the Whitman at about 8600'.

Looking down to the Ingraham Glacier from the Whitman.

The standard approach is up Fryingpan Creek to Meany Crest and onto the Fryingpan Glacier.

Looking at Meany Crest, Fryingpan, and K Spire from the North.

Little Tahoma from Camp Schurman.

Monday, June 21, 2021

DC Route Update 6/21 — Happy Solstice!

Summer is back on Mount Rainier and the DC is in great shape. The atmospheric river and weeks full of cold weather helped refresh the upper mountain. There are currently no ladders on the route and many of the snow bridges are thick, or one can step over the collapsing bridge to the other side. Temperatures are hot for the rest of this week however, so expect things to change rapidly.

From Ingraham Flats you travel straight up hill on a boot track highway. An independent party reported that in the heat of the day one of their party members broke through a hidden crevasse just on the edge of the boot pack, a short ways above Ingraham Flats Camp. Don't let the many footprints before you make you complacent on the route. At what is called "high crack," just below the Ingraham Ice Fall, daintily step across a bridge and go slightly down hill before contouring straight across to the nose of the cleaver. Travel here is quick and easy right now. The exposure to ice fall is not as severe as past years, but the hazard is still there and the rockfall danger just before the cleaver is there as always, so time is of the essence when you move through this traverse. 

Looking at the traverse onto the Cleaver that is exposed to rockfall and icefall hazards.

Travel around the somewhat sheltered nose of the cleaver following a handline (not a fixed line - do not ascend or rappel on these) to an open face that has snow that is rapidly disappearing. This is probably one of the main cruxes on the route right now, especially when descending in soft snow conditions. The traverse is exposed to rockfall (especially from parties above) and falling is not an option. So focus on your footing and move smoothly and quickly through here. The guides have worked hard to maintain a handline and a well shoveled trail to ease travel, but things are melting out rapidly. Don't clip to the handline and don't expect you can depend on it to catch a fall.

Looking at the steep switchbacks that are above the cleaver.

The trail is mostly on rock generally following the spine of the cleaver, occasionally bumping left to a couple switchbacks in the snow. From the top of the cleaver, go straight up towards the crater rim for a couple hundred feet, following many steep switchbacks that don't mellow out until about 13,300 feet. There are “fixed” pickets along the more exposed faces here. You might want to consider using them for running belays since a fall here on the steep switchbacks would be hard if not impossible to arrest. Please do not move the pickets or take the carabiners.

It is difficult to pass other parties on these upper switchbacks. So look up and look down to plan ahead. Communicate with the other parties.  And be courteous.  It is better to wait a little longer in a safe area to allow a party ahead to move through a bottle neck than it is to wait right behind them or entangle them while exposed to ice fall or steep slopes.  

From about 13,300 feet, the trail meanders up to the crater rim crossing a few large troughs along the way that will open up at some point to reveal the large crevasses hidden beneath.

Weather is looking great for at least this coming week on Mount Rainier. We look forward to seeing you on the mountain.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Aerial Photos

Here's some recent (June 22nd, 2021) aerial photos from the south side of the mountain.  The mountain had a slight refresh with the June-uary storm cycles earlier this month, but the recent heat has been melting the new snow almost as fast as it fell.  Most routes are still hanging in there, but as the snow recedes, many of the routes begin to have an unsafe amount of rockfall and "close" for the summer.  Definitely remember your extra dark sunglasses this time of year!  

View of the upper Emmons Glacier - the "corridor" visible on the right side of the image.

Cathedral Rocks run in the center of this image, the Disappointment Cleaver is the rock ridge in the upper right of the image - note it's still at least 50% snow covered.

The Fuhrer Finger is the wavy-hourglass feature in the middle of the image, just to the left of the Nisqually Ice Fall.  Note the dirty, rock strewn section which has started to grow as the route melts out.

The Kautz Glacier's ice pitches are front and center in this image.  Not too melted out yet!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Camp Muir and Camp Schurman update 6/14

Winthrop glacier from Camp Schurman

High camps were lonely this past weekend- and for good reason. An atmospheric river event slammed Mt. Rainier and Western Washington with an impressive moisture plume.

Radar image from Sunday night 6/13/21

Precipitation in the park is measured at Paradise, where the weather station recorded 2 inches of rain since Friday!

The freezing levels hovered between 9,000 and 11,000 feet during this storm. Winds were intense at both camps making travel on the upper mountain nearly impossible. Camp Muir felt the full force of this storm, being exposed to southerly flow. Sustained winds at Camp Muir exceeded 50 mph all day Sunday, and gusts up to 99 mph were recorded.

Check out the Northwest Avalanche Center website for real time weather data from the stations at Paradise and Camp Muir.

Camp Schruman after the storm broke Monday evening.

Looking forward, conditions will warm and dry by mid-week. This weekend will see temperatures rise and freezing levels climb above 13,000 feet. That's good news, certainly, but how will that affect climbing conditions?

All the precipitation from the recent storm fell as snow above 11,000 feet, or the level of Ingraham Flats. That means the upper mountain could have feet of wet, heavy new snow. Strong winds likely transported this new snow across the upper mountain and created fresh wind slabs that could be triggered by a climbing party. Teams attempting to climb this week must bring avalanche rescue gear- including a beacon, shovel, and probe for each climber.

Rising temperatures and the powerful June sun will slowly stabilize these avalanche hazards as we approach the weekend. However, dangerous avalanche conditions could linger near the summit into this weekend. Continually evaluate the snow conditions while climbing this week. A large drift of dry snow that sounds hollow or cracks when you walk through it should give you pause; and may be a reason to turn around.

Shooting cracks in a wind slab

For the most up to date weather information, check out the Mt. Rainier Recreational Forecast

The climbing routes up the Disappointment Cleaver and Emmons/ Winthrop have not changed much in the last week. Check out the links above for more detailed information.

Climb safely, and enjoy the sunshine this week!

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Emmons/Winthrop Route Update 6/3/21

Climbers leaving Camp Schurman under a full moon.
Climbers leaving Camp Schurman under a full moon

The rain stopped just in time for the long holiday weekend, and the skiers were ready. The Emmons/ Winthrop route saw a healthy amount of climber and skier traffic over the last several days and into mid-week. As the temperatures warmed, so did the snow from last week. Avalanche concerns have abated on the upper mountain for now but this coming weekends' low freezing levels and forecasted precipitation should make you grab your avalanche rescue gear if attempting a climb.

Here are the recent route conditions observed by rangers from White River to the summit:

White River:

Stop by the Wilderness Information Center to get your permit and a handful of blue bags before starting your climb. The rangers are friendly and knowledgeable. They want to help you be successful, while also protecting the parks fragile natural beauty.

The trail from White River campground is snow free for about one mile. The next mile has intermittent snow and melted out trail. About one mile from Glacier Basin you will find continuous snow.

Inter Glacier:

The Inter has seen more ski traffic than foot traffic recently. No crevasses are open yet, though keep your eyes open around the steeper convexities. June is typically when these cracks begin to melt out. Look for a climbers' trail near Camp Curtis (climber's left) at about 9200 feet that leads towards the Emmons Glacier. Put the rope on here and cross the Emmons glacier to Camp Schurman.

Camp Schurman from Steamboat Prow

Camp Schurman:

Avoid the helipad and find a spot to camp on the snow. Numerous tent platforms have been dug recently. A small amount of shovel work will make for a cozy place to pitch a tent. The bathroom is open and working- please keep it clean. A blue bag barrel is available right next to the bathroom for any deposits from your climb. Please pack out all your trash from your trip and leave only human waste in the bathroom. 

Schurman to the Corridor:

A straightforward boot pack heads out of camp and towards the corridor. Crevasses here are not obvious, but are lurking under thin snow bridges. One party reported an individual taking a roped crevasse fall 20 feet deep into one of these hidden crevasses. They were able to self rescue with the help of another team.

The Corridor:

Excellent climbing conditions will be found here. Some crevasses are beginning to show, but they are easy to avoid. At the top of the corridor, look for a well defined boot pack leading climber's right behind some serac towers out towards the Alpine Meadow.

The route above camp.

Alpine Meadow:

Traverse right and ascend generally straight up towards a very large crevasse complex at 12,500 feet. Here, the large crevasse can be crossed on a sagging snow bridge. A belay may be a required here if the snow is soft and punchy.

Upper Mountain:

Above the 12,500 ft crevasse, follow tracks up and slightly climbers' left towards an obvious traverse out farther left at 13,500 feet. The route traverses under a large crevasse here until finally crossing a snow bridge and ascending the steep uphill wall of this crevasse. This is another wise place for a belay; especially on the descent, or if conditions are firm.

A ranger gets a belay up the crevasse crossing at 13,500 feet

Above the 13,500 ft crack, follow the route up and climber's right towards the crater rim. This last 1,000 feet of climbing to the top is efficient and simple. Be sure to find the trail when you descend from the crater, as missing the boot pack here could easily lead you to the edge of the large bergschrung.


Skiers had a pleasant time descending the route as the warm temperatures made conditions quite favorable for skiing last weekend. Consider a proper alpine start if you are traveling on foot to ensure the snow bridges stay firm and supportable on your descent.


Pickets, shovels, and crevasse rescue gear are all very necessary for the Emmons/ Winthrop route right now. Compared to previous years, the route is generally more broken up for early June than normal. Despite this, climbing conditions are quite good for those who come prepared to do some route finding.

Enjoy your climb and your time on the mountain! Please remember to drop off your check out slip at White River so rangers know you made it down safely.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

DC Route Conditions and Aerial Photos 6/2/2021

The Disappointment Cleaver and the upper Ingraham and Emmons Glaciers

A series of storms and lingering avalanche danger had shut the DC down to all guided and independent parties for eight days. After three days of calm and sunny weather however the guides re-established the route and the DC has been climbed every day since 5/31.

The route currently ascends the 'spine' of the Disappointment Cleaver and from there weaves it's way through the heavily crevassed upper Ingraham and Emmons glaciers.

Temperatures have warmed rapidly and with warming temps comes an increase in rockfall and crevasse fall danger. As we switch to summer climbing conditions please keep in mind the specific hazards that come with the changing season.

That said, climbing conditions are reported to be excellent now, so pick a good weather window and enjoy the mountain.

The rangers have been busy flying equipment to the high camps and removing human waste. We were lucky to get some great photos from the SW, East and NW aspects on the mountain. Here is a selection of them:

Wapowety Cleaver and the Kautz Glacier

Fuhrer's Finger

The upper Kautz and Nisqually Glaciers

The upper Nisqually, Ingraham and Emmons Glaciers.

The upper Emmons and Winthrop Glaciers

Curtis Ridge, the Willis Wall and Liberty Ridge