Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Autumn/Winter 2021

Summer is officially over and the climbing season is pretty much wrapped up here on Mt Rainier. The end of the season was a unique one for sure with most routes becoming significantly impacted by significant heat waves this summer. This resulted in more crevassing on the glaciers and increased rockfall on the ridges.

Snowfall has returned however, and while this is a good thing for the mountain in general it does make an autumn or early winter ascent particularly dangerous. Crevasses are just barely covered with a thin blanket of snow. And so, be prepared to rope-up: have helmets, harnesses, ice axes, crampons, pickets and other glacier travel equipment with you, potentially just to travel to Camp Muir! 

The Cowlitz Glacier and Cathedral Rocks

In the regular season, a trip to Camp Muir can be done without that extra equipment, but this year's late-season conditions are extreme and especially dangerous with icy, crevassed surface conditions being hidden by fresh snow. Any climber attempting the summit this time of year should consider it an off-season climb and be very experienced, totally self-sufficient, and realize that any emergency help could be not just hours, but days away.  

Late season storms can roll in with little warning and can be much more vigorous and longer lasting than summer squalls. Please check the weather forecast before starting your trip - click on the Weather Resources tab above for some starting places - but keep in mind that forecasting for Mt Rainier is very difficult, so prepare for the unexpected! Stretches of beautiful summer-like weather can also be possible, and late-season visits do offer more solitude than the more popular times, but please be cautious this time of year.

All climbers are still required to pay the annual climbing fee (which can be done online ahead of time) and obtain a climbing permit (which has switched to self-registration for the winter season and can be done in-person at the trailhead).  Enjoy the change of seasons and climb safe!

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Late Summer on Mount Rainier

Looking down onto the Muir Snowfield - icy, crevassed, and rocky late-season conditions!

Its begun to feel like fall up on the mountain.  Over the past week, vine maples have started turning orange and red, huckleberries have ripened and guide services have wrapped up their daily summit climbs. The season wrap-up at Camp Muir and the Disappointment Cleaver has begun.  Route adjuncts like ladders and hand-lines have been pulled off the route.  Tents and equipment caches at Ingraham Flats have been removed.  

If you choose to hike to Camp Muir this fall, expect to encounter icy conditions, crevasses, moulins and the lack of an established boot-pack.  Some sort of traction like crampons, shoe chains or spikes and an ice axe is recommended right now.  Consider full glacier-climbing kits just to get to Camp Muir!  In addition to difficult travel conditions, weather conditions also tend to become more unpredictable and expectations of cooler and wetter weather should begin to become more of a consideration when planning a trip.  

Until further notice, the Camp Muir Public Shelter will remain Closed, (Emergency Use Only), due to COVID-19.

Here's a run down of the common climbing routes currently:

Disappointment Cleaver - As of today, September 11th, all ladders, fixed lines and fixed pickets have been removed for the season.  Past this date, it will be extremely difficult to climb past Camp Muir and a high degree of skill and planning will be required in order to safely and effectively navigate upper mountain terrain.  Don’t expect there to be any other parties on the route - you’ll have to be self-sufficient and have a contingency plan in place for yourselves.  

Emmons/Winthrop - This route has not seen an attempt in the last three to four weeks.  A large portion of the route consists of ablated glacier ice, high consequence crevasse crossings and complex route finding.  This route should be considered "out for the season" as a standard route.  The Inter Glacier is also experiencing late season conditions.  Crevasses, glacier ice and rockfall are all present and add significant hazard right now.

Kautz Glacier - Not many parties have climbed the route in the last couple weeks, but the most recent blog post from August 23rd is still, for the most part accurate.  The ice pitches will continue to grow in length and crevasses above the Wapowety Cleaver will continue to be more complicated to cross.  The approach up Comet Falls Trail to this route is the preferred method - crossing over the lower Nisqually Glacier has become very difficult.  A descent of the DC will be extremely difficult due to the lack of ladders and additional route adjuncts.


All this being said, the mountain is by no means "Closed".  We welcome you to come and enjoy the autumn experience Mount Rainier has to offer.  It really is a great time of year to take in the sights and sounds of the changing seasons.  And also a wonderful opportunity to find moments of solitude up high before winter hits!

As we move into late-season here on the mountain, registration changes will occur; check the park's permit website for the latest, but here's the gist:

The Paradise Wilderness Information Center (PWIC) will be open 7 days a week from 7:30am to 5:00pm until Sunday September 26th. All climbing permits starting Monday 9/27/21 will be by self-registration.  Until that date, all climbers and campers who wish to spend the night will need a permit to do so and ALL climbers must still pay the annual climbing fee.

A hiker takes a moment to assess crevasses on the Muir Snowfield.