Thursday, June 27, 2024

Ski-Mo or Ski-No?


June 27th 2024

This blog is maintained by the MRNP Climbing Ranger team for use by recreational non-guided climbers.

Use these reports as a baseline, but plan for changing conditions.

Ski tracks on the Paradise Glacier showing near misses with crevasses - NPS Photo

Skier traffic on the upper mountain has been hitting all-time highs this spring as the skiing itself rapidly deteriorates in quality. Solar input, especially as we approach summer, can lead to conditions such as: thin and discontinuous snow that requires steep down climbing; variable snow surfaces such as sastrugi, sun cups, runnels, and penitentes; open crevasses; weak snow bridges; and rockfall. Ski movement ability is the best way to improve your safety margin from falling while skiing in the mountains. When combined, the conditions described will make a route "out of condition" even for the best of skier. The routes have been changing rapidly due to consistent high freezing temperatures and sunny days.

An unseen crevasse causes a skier to fall and lose control - their tumbling impacts can be seen below the crevasse - NPS Photo

Even if someone skied the route a week prior, remember that we are in a highly dynamic environment that is changing at a fast rate. This results in quick route changes and new crevasses opening in a matter of hours, let alone days. Not only must you possess the skills necessary to navigate through heavily crevassed terrain, but anyone skiing the mountain must possess expert skiing abilities as any unplanned fall could have severe consequences.

Rangers are observing a marked increase in skier traffic on the upper mountain in recent years, with a decrease in the movement abilities of skiers and riders. This has coincided with an increase in accidents involving skiing. One constant observation that rangers are making is that the basic approach to risk management is often skewed in skiing parties.

The two biggest misconceptions about the risks involved with skiing on Rainier are:

  • Speed of Glacial Navigation on a Ski Descent: Since you may have more days on skis annually going downhill at a resort than you do walking downhill with crampons on, you may be under the impression that skiing down the upper mountain will be easier than walking. What this perception lacks to factor in is that when you are skiing, the same glacial navigation and snow bridge evaluation you had to perform on the way up the mountain has to happen at over double the speed on the way down! Rangers have seen many close calls with skiers approaching blind, convex rolls at speed -- just barely stopping before skiing straight into a crevasse. In one case, a skier was observed accidentally jumping a crevasse they did not identify. When managing open glaciers, slow is smooth and smooth is fast. So be sure to ski slow and in control, especially when you cannot see the whole line you are skiing.

  • Safety of Skis vs. Booting Uphill: It is often assumed that since skis spread one's weight out over a large surface area, they are a safer method of travel on glaciers. This may be true for flat valley glaciers, but while ascending on steep terrain, the opposite is often true. The extra weight and awkwardness of skiing or snowboarding makes the endeavor more challenging and requires more attention paid to risk management. Variable, steep surfaces with significant fall consequences are not the place to practice “high-stakes skinning”, especially if you are new to backcountry travel.  


Individuals considering a ski attempt on Mt. Rainier should possess significant previous experience skiing on glaciers and at altitude. While no other Cascade volcano possesses the same degree of challenge for a ski mountaineer, it is strongly recommended to have experience skiing on other peaks like Mount Baker and Mount Adams before coming to Mount Rainier. Mt. Rainier has more substantial objective hazards and complex glaciated terrain than any other mountain in the lower 48. Combine this with the unpredictability of how high altitude will affect you, and having significant previous experience to draw on will provide a much higher safety margin on any ski descent of Mt. Rainier. A deep well of experience managing these hazards on less complex terrain should be developed before heading to Washington State's highest peak.

Other Safety considerations for planning a ski trip on Mount Rainier:


Team Selection

This is the most important factor to consider when planning a trip to Mount Rainier. The vast majority of terrain on Mount Rainier can be classified as “no fall” territory. Although ski falls may be common and insignificant in a ski resort, all falls on the upper mountain are serious. Simply losing an edge can easily cascade into an unstoppable slide into an open crevasse. Reverting to side-slipping or falling-leaf technique, rather than linked turns, can help maintain control of your ski descent. If anyone in your party has any doubt of their ability to safely ski the route, you must be willing to communicate that and revert to appropriate roped glacier travel techniques - this would include stashing skis low and continuing on foot. If you doubt your ski ability, consider hiring a professional to give you objective feedback in a more controlled environment such as a ski resort or less complex ski mountaineering objective.


Successfully completing a ski descent of Mount Rainier requires individuals and teams who are competent in a broad array of mountain skills. Mountaineering, glacier travel, rope techniques, navigation, and expert-level downhill skiing skills with a heavy backpack are the bare minimum.

Route Selection

There is no easy way to ski from the summit of Mount Rainier. All routes feature complex glacier travel, steep skiing, and long sections of no-fall terrain. Commonly attempted routes include: Emmons-Winthrop, Fuhrer Finger, Kautz Glacier, Success Couloir, and Ingraham Direct. There are many excellent ski descents on the mountain that minimize exposure to crevasses, ice and rock fall, and high altitude. Descents of the Muir Snowfield, Van Trump Snowfields, The Turtle, and Inter Glacier all serve as a nice introduction to the challenges of skiing on Mount Rainier.

Skiing down a route that you didn't climb up is generally not recommended. When walking up the route you plan to ski, it allows you to see and assess hazards, record a GPS track, and plan your descent. When onsighting a descent, especially on skis, you are suddenly put in the position of quickly identifying hazards and route finding as you go in a broad and expansive glaciated landscape.


One Day vs. Overnight Trips

An increasing number of teams opt for single day attempts; these require exceptional fitness levels. We see many teams that begin their attempt together but slowly get spread out across the upper mountain. This is unacceptable. It is crucial that team members remain within verbal and visual communication at all times. If one party member needs to stop or descend, the group should do the same. Do not leave anyone alone on the mountain. Consider a multi-day attempt so that you can begin your summit attempt rested and focused for the strenuous day ahead. Overnight trips also present better opportunities to time your descent for optimal conditions.

No matter which strategy your party chooses you must register for your climb and pay the climbing fee. More information on that process can be found here.


Weather and Avalanche

When signs of current or developing snow instability are present, the best course of action is to descend immediately from your current location rather than trying to outsmart the avalanche problem. It only takes a small amount of moving snow to knock you off your feet and push you into places that have serious consequences.


Snow Surface Conditions

This is probably the hardest variable to predict when planning a ski descent of Rainier. Snow conditions vary widely across aspect and elevation. The upper mountain rarely features smooth snow surfaces that could be defined as “good” skiing – it is commonly “survival skiing” up high. The surface above high camps is frequently a mix of breakable wind crust, very firm wind packed snow, ice chunks, sastrugi, firm and smooth (slide for life) conditions, and refrozen snow. Expect to ski “bad snow” for some, or all, of every descent on this mountain.  

Furthermore, it is rare that a ski descent does not require some down climbing. In many cases the decision to transition to crampons and ice axe for a short down climb can be a life-saving event. You must expect that you will need to take off your skis, rope up and climb down intermittently using proper mountaineering techniques.

Glacier Conditions

As the season progresses, all potential ski descents become more challenging as crevasses open and more ice is exposed. The trend in recent years has been to attempt ski descents earlier in the season to help mitigate these hazards, though this brings increased risk of avalanches, challenging navigation, and more hidden crevasses. Regardless of when a descent is attempted, always ensure that you can see to the bottom of the slope you are on. Convex rolls are classic trigger points for avalanche's and often hide crevasses on their downhill side.


All parties on foot should be roped up to help protect against glacier hazards. This means that transitioning from skiing to booting (or booting to skiing) should be done after roping up and spreading out the team. The greatly reduced surface area of boots compared to skis greatly increases the likelihood of punching through a snow bridge into a crevasse.


Technical Rescue & Rope Considerations

All parties must be competent in crevasse rescue. Every member should wear a climbing harness at all times in the event of a crevasse fall. Carrying two ropes affords a greater safety margin in the event that the person carrying the only rope falls into a crevasse – this risk can be easily mitigated. Many teams opt to bring a single 60m rope, however carrying two ropes per team that are each 30+ meters increases rescue safety margins while having a commonly missed benefit: the ski quality for the party as a whole is increased as no one is skiing with the weight of a 60m of rope in their pack! Each party member should have enough supplies to construct a rescue anchor, rappel into and ascend out of a crevasse, and execute a haul system. All other mountaineering equipment should also be carried, including crampons, ice axe, helmet, navigation, and survival gear.


A ski descent of Rainier can be one of the most rewarding experiences for a competent party but it can quickly turn disastrous for the unskilled or unprepared. The fact that descending on skis is so much faster than on foot allows skiers to get off route and into problematic terrain all that more quickly. Proper planning and a high degree of caution is a prerequisite for a successful ski descent of the mountain.

DC Route Update 6/27/24

 June 27, 2024

This blog is maintained by the MRNP Climbing Ranger team for use by recreational non-guided climbers. Use these reports as a baseline, but plan for changing conditions.


Recent warming is causing the route to evolve, crevasses are widening, snow bridges are beginning to weaken and thin, adjuncts and the best paths up and down the mountain may vary day to day.

In addition to all the hazards that are present when climbing Rainier, climbing parties should be prepared for:

  • White out conditions
  • Rock fall hazard, thin snow bridges, and crevasse falls

Disappointment Cleaver

The approach to Camp Muir has transitioned to the summer route, please follow trails, wands, and orange poles marking the route up to the pebble creek zone. This is the time of year when as the snow melts, old boot packs expose underlying vegetation and delicate alpine meadows. Sticking to marked trails and wanded routes helps your party travel on an easier route and limits impact on the environment. Please do your part to help these beautiful and delicate landscapes last for others to enjoy!

Photo showing approximate route on 6/24

Above Camp Muir the route takes a standard approach onto the Cleaver. The moat getting onto the cleaver has begun to open up. As of writing this blog post this hazard is manageable but as always, with time this could change.

Looking across the bowling alley towards the cleaver (~11,300ft)

Looking back at the traverse onto the Cleaver from The Nose (~11,450)

Looking up the Cleaver from The Nose (~11,450)

The Cleaver is approximately 60% snow, and parties are encouraged to keep crampons on while ascending/descending this feature. Managing slack by shortening the rope is also important to lessen the likelihood of knocking off loose rocks onto your partners or other parties. 

Looking up the Cleaver (~11,800ft)

*Ladder at 13,200ft

*After the above photo was taken the ladder was moved just to the right of where it is in this photo. It is now steeper than pictured and has an associated handline.

There are a few fixed pickets before this ladder as well as after. When temperatures are warm, and the solar radiation is intense, fixed pickets and other adjuncts can melt out and become weaker without attention. Climbers have been seen clipping pickets, while descending late in the day that are inches melted out of the glacier! The NPS does not maintain these route adjuncts and climbers are encouraged to inspect them and use their own judgment before using them. 

Additional Information 

Please be prepared to spend time filling out some paperwork when coming to pick up your permit at the PWIC or other issuing ranger stations. Even if you reserved a permit through we still need to gather more information from you!

Enjoy the park and have a safe climb.

-Climbing Rangers

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Emmons-Winthrop 6/25/24

 June 25, 2024: Emmons/Winthrop Route 

This blog is maintained by the MRNP Climbing Ranger team for use by recreational non-guided climbers. Use these reports as a baseline, but plan for changing conditions. 


  • Windy! High pressure has dominated the past week with a couple of smaller, upper-level troughs rolling through. With the high pressure centered to the East, this has created pressure gradients that brought strong winds which have turned or kept parties off the route.  
  • Some of these troughs have brought upper-level moisture and formed lenticulars or high elevation cloud decks around 13,000 ft. which created problems for climbers.  
  • Localized white out conditions due to blowing snow has also created problems without clouds developing.  
  • High freezing levels, ~13,000 ft, dropping to around ~10,000 ft. with the cooler storms.  
  • Very warm and Sunny! When there was no storm... 
  • Wet activity has been noted below 11,000 ft. when the strong sun and warm temps developed. There has been wet loose releasing off cliff bands and a few small pockets of wet slab. 
  • The bridges and plugs used to cross, mainly at the 11,400 ft. crevasse, are melting with the warm temps. One crevasse fall was reported this week after a bridge collapsed in the late afternoon. 

The route currently follows the Corridor up out of camp. The first major crevasse crossing is around 11,400 ft, with two options to cross. One option is going straight up over a plug (photo below), or working climbers left crossing a series of crevasses. Both crossings are getting trickier as they melt out. Many are opting to place protection to navigate this section, especially on the descent. The route then continues with several long, right-hand traverses to end run large crevasses, notably at 12,400 ft. and 13,000 ft. The last long right-hand traverse is at 13,400 ft. to end run the bergschrund and get to Liberty saddle. Surface conditions on the route have been great with wonderful cramponing for the majority of the route. There were many successful summits this last week!


The conditions on the upper mountain have made early morning descents in the sastrugi/wind-blown snow tricky. Careful and calculated skiing is required to descend the upper mountain - this is not a beginner ski mountaineering objective! It is worth considering dropping skis and walking trickier sections on the route. There are large open crevasses that would be extremely dangerous in the event of a fall on skis in the wrong spot. Remember to yield to climbers on foot as they have the right of way! Skiing down on top of other mountaineering parties is bad karma.

The 11,400 straight route step

Looking down at the 11,400 crevasse. This shows the climbers left/skiers' right option around the block in the right-hand side of the photo. 

The 12,400 crack which is being end run with a long right-hand traverse at the top of The Corridor

Surface conditions and the bergschrund at 13,600 which is being end run with another long right traverse.

Looking back at the long traverse under the 13,600 bergschrund

The bergschrund traverse ending at the saddle.

Additional Information  

It is strongly recommended that parties rope up to access or descend from Camp Schurman via the lower Emmons. There is a large crevasse complex just below camp that you have to cross. It is opening quickly, and bridges are getting thinner every day.  

Secondly, many parties have been glissading the corridor above Schurman. This is a bad idea. There are crevasses in the corridor that are also growing as we speak.  

Finally... Too many parties are abandoning climbing partners on the upper mountain. NEVER split up. If you are climbing, stay together. If you are skiing, stay close enough to see each other and spot each other. 

Want to generate good camp karma? Use the bear boxes on the side of the ranger hut or burry your food deep in the snow. Ravens and finches have been raiding poorly stored food and can get into your tent. If you show up late to camp Schurman, you will also receive good camp karma by staying quite while you set up. Teams are likely sleeping for their early start, be courteous! Please remember to camp on the Winthrop at least 100’ away from the helicopter pad.