Here is an update on Kautz Headwall. Kautz Headwall lies directly east, and next to Success Cleaver. Both routes top out at Point Success. Kautz Headwall doesn't see too many ascents, so we placed the TR in this column because of proximity.
Kautz Headwall Route conditions: Solid, not icy at all, should be in for at least three more weeks. Be wary of rockfall/icefall; the guidebooks say it, believe it. Start early!
Gear: ice axe + ice tool per person, four ice screws and two pickets per team. No gear placed, no ice tool ever used, but that could change in the next few weeks with the warming trend.
We queried the rangers at Longmire Wilderness Info Center about West Side approaches, and they noted that there was still snow at Round Pass (almost always snow free by late June), and snow on the trail for almost the entirety of the approach. And with Monday's forecast looking a bit inclement (isolated thunderstorms), we thought it best to switch to a two-day trip, and Liam had the perfect suggestion in the Kautz Headwall (grade III). After jockeying cars/plans/gear, the four of us ended up leaving the Comet Falls trailhead at 12:30pm, and encountered snow within 1/4 mile - amazing, since this very weekend last year it was snow-free almost to Van Trump Park. We continued up the trail with occasional route-finding issues, marveling at the serenity of Comet Falls. From Mildred Point (a spectacular view of the entire Rainier southwest aspect), it was very pleasant travel (marked by occasional crusty, unconsolidated, and mind-numbing punching through, and scree) and finally to our 10,000' camp, on the west side of Wapowety Cleaver. Excellent dry bivy spot, just large enough for four bivy sacks, and water source close by. The heat, which we expected to be intolerable, had not been too intense the entirety of the day. It was 7:30pm , and we had gained 6,400' in seven hours, and still not much time to rest and acclimatize before Sunday's attempt.
Rose at 3am, off by 4am. Scree bashed down to the lower Kautz Glacier, where we stopped to rope up and put on crampons. We passed the bergshrund on the extreme left, and began the long rising traverse right. With the headwall directly in front of us, we noted strong rays of light illuminating the upper headwall - definitely not good, making me wish for an hour earlier start. There were many options as we continued up the increasingly steep slopes (45-50 degrees), including some exciting ice pillars 30-40' high, which we checked out and dismissed, with the freezing level about 13,500' or higher, and the lower pillar rotten. Very solid climbing, never placed pro or even got out the second tool, and took a break under a well-protected rock buttress. We got very lightly showered on by meltwater as we continued up and left, working past the most serious rockfall hazards, around 12,500'. I was basically 10' behind my partner, Liam, with both of us keeping the rope Kiwi-coiled, and he was a step kicking monster, working through the spotty unsolidated snow, which went at times knee high. We continued weaving through some rock bands, quite enjoyable travel, even as I began to slowly die from keeping pace with Liam.
We finally reached the upper end of Success Cleaver, where Liam and I peered over to the Puyallup Cleaver; it looked much like early May conditions on the Tahoma Glacier route, with an unusual amount of snow still blanketing St. Andrew's Rocks. Liam spotted a very fun and short 30' rock pitch (with only one sketchy move off the deck, requiring camming action with crampons) to gain the upper slopes. I was already breathing hard and feeling quite low on energy, and it was 13,200'. It was a straight shot to Point Success (14,153') which we reached by 10am after six hours of climbing with just a few breaks. The other two were far enough behind that we thought it best to wait and ascend Columbia Crest together. At high noon we began the long descent on the Kautz Glacier. Liam set a two ice screw belay and lowered us down the steep pitch on the Chute, and then it was down toward Camp Hazard (which included a short, 25' rock pitch that I hadn't done before). We continued the descent to our camp, and easily spotted our 10,000' camp, with an easy traverse. It was almost 3pm, and we had descended quickly.
There we roasted in the hot sun, with nary a shadow for protection. None of us felt like eating or, oddly enough, even drinking much. After a dazed 1-1/2 hours of wondering how much hotter it could get, Tom finally suggested packing up and leaving - and as much as we wanted to just lie and rest, that was trumped by the desire to get the hell out of the heat. So we packed up and began the descent at 4:45pm, enjoying an almost unbelievable 2500' of nearly continuous glissading back, a far better glissade than Inter Glacier, which I had always considered to be the premier terrain for such activity. Back to the cars (parked at Comet Falls trailhead) at 8pm - and just as I had almost completely changed, a bonafide torrenial downpour began, making us quite thankful we weren't huddled in our bivy sacks at camp. We dropped off the completed permit to the Longmire WIC, and then drove madly to the Copper Creek Inn (before closing) for an amazing Copper burger and salad with blackberry vinaigrette, and back home at midnight. After I unpacked, it was 1am, and as I smoked a celebration Marlboro Light (hey, I am from Kentucky) on the front porch, the most gentle rain came down for about two minutes - and I could only wonder what it was doing on Rainier.
~ Len Kannapell
Here's a quick synopsis of the route up to about 9400', generously provided by one of our independent climbers.
Since the west side road is still not open, the approach is long. It is made longer by the fact that there are several miles of traverse starting at 5000' in sun baked snow that gets very soft in the afternoon. I think much could be gained by crossing this section in the very early morning hours. However, once the Cleaver is reached the going is pleasant overall and did not seem to really soften up until early afternoon. At 7500' there is a rather large slab avalache (approx. 1' shear) well to the right of the route. I must say it was beautiful to look at, but had me questioning the snow conditions. Further up near the 9000' level I encountered what I condidered significant settling of the snow slab. Complete with the rather audible "whoomph", as well as the disconcerting sinking feeling. Aside from this, there appears to be ample snow to climb on for most of the rest of the route, although this is only a guess since I have never completed the route.
We don't have any reports, but we did get a photo of the route. If things keep up, climbing this route will be a rubble heap come mid July. Let's hope for more snow.
Check out the archived information on the Success Cleaver route.
Gibraltar Ledges Route Conditions - June 25th
"Still Hanging in There"
After returning from a beautiful summit day via the Gib Ledges route, we're happy to report that the route is still "in". With the freezing level beginning to rise, however, it's hard to say how much longer it's going to stick around as a viable route this season.
Starting from Camp Muir, the lower portion of the route ascended the steep slopes of the upper Cowlitz glacier, which was interesting, with roughly one-foot-tall neve penitentes littering the slope and an easily avoidable bergschrund.
Once at the notch, below Gibraltar Rock, we stepped into the shade of Gib Ledges proper and scurried along the ledge system like two rats running for cover in the woodshed. The lower portion of the route consisted mostly of loose rock with some snow and ice mixed in. Although we were concerned about the potential for rock fall this late in June, we didn't experience even as much as a pebble coming down from above. Future concerns may be more about the snow that is left on the route beginning to pull away from the rock underneath, which would signifigantly add to the pucker factor on the traverse.
From Camp Comfort at the top of Gibralter Rock to the summit was straight forward glacier travel that eventually hooked up with the upper portion of the Disappointment Cleaver route. (see photo below)
This image is from Greg Moo of sunny Sequim. Greg soloed the route on Sunday June 15th. He reported that "the route was straightforward and it never felt sketchy. Additionally, there was no rock or ice fall that I noticed."
With new snow, Gib Ledges remains appealing into late June.
Fresh new snow allowed climbers to access the route more readily. The following are some route conditions sent to us from the previous weekend.
Three of us plodded our way up Gib Ledges over the weekend and found the route to still be in great shape. Most of the ledges were snirt or ice. Some of the exposed sections of the ledges were covered in 2-3ft of loose, wind deposited snow from the Friday/Sat storm; but the traverse out and up Gib chute was nicely consolidated and easy going. After a break atop Gib rock, we took a largely straight line to the summit with only minor crevasse detours before connecting up with the DC at about 13,500. One of the folks in our party started to experience AMS at the crater rim, so we skipped out on the summit ceremony and high-tailed it down the DC—only seeing a few parties headed up.
The snow conditions on the way up made for very slow going. From Camp Muir to the connection with the DC, we plod/swam/wallowed through snow that varied from Styrofoam (rare) to knee-thigh deep sugar encased in a breakable crust (common)… We encountered some isolated wind slabs on the way from Muir to the Ledges (Q2 shears, 4-9 inches deep), but the conditions were otherwise pretty safe—just slow!
Easy steep kickstepping up the Cowlitz Cleaver from Camp Muir brings climbers up to the start of the ledges. The Gibralter Ledges are still in good shape thanks to the cold and snowy weather we have been having. Exit up the top of the Gib chute and around to the topside of Gib rock to Camp Comfort, still very straight forward on 45 degree snow. As the snowpack gets thinner around the the end of the ledges watch out for the moat as you leave Camp Comfort. Climbing is quite direct up above; ascend the Nisqually/Ingraham glaciers, avoiding crevasses up to the crater rim.
~ Phil Edmonds
May 31 – June 1
Here is an update on the route from a climbing party that went up last weekend.
My brother and I climbed Rainier via Gibraltar Ledges May 31 - June 1. We mostly stayed on the Cowlitz Cleaver before being forced onto the Cowlitz Glacier 200 feet below Camp Misery. Directly ascending the Cowlitz Glacier would likely work equally well at present. The entrance to the Ledges was straight forward, as were the Ledges. There was minimal snow, but enough to make travel easy. Rather than ascending to the upper Ledges, we stayed low and then climbed up to exit the chute -- easy kick stepping up the chute. With the continued cool weather, the route will likely be good for several weeks to come.
Memorial Day Weekend brought variable weather and variable climbing conditions. The following is a good description of the weekend's conditions.
Great Climbing in Gib Chute...
We got a predawn start and walked up the Nisqually by the light of headlamps. The bergschrund at the base of the Gibralter Chute is still able to be crossed in at least two places. The bridge we chose was very narrow, but we easily scrambled across un-roped. Conditions on the chute were perfect; A firm layer made for an easy approach without post-holing, while the fresh snowfall gave secure footing without having to front-point or kick in. As I climbed, I took into consideration the hard underlying layer, fresh snowfall, and 45 degree slope. I voiced concern about avalanche danger; my climbing partner countered that light snowfall was insufficient to do more than slough a little. Within three steps of his statement he released a tiny slide that posed no danger, but certainly some irony. During the extent of the climb we only heard one distant rock fall coming from the far side of the Nisqually. At the top of the chute, however, there was one ominous boulder that looked as though it was frozen in motion during its slide down a smooth slab. Above the chute, the glacier travel was simple with the crevasses posing no significant hindrance to our route to the summit. The greatest challenge was the poor visibility at the summit. Inside the crater I became disoriented and lead us in circles. My climbing partner had retained his sense of direction and was able to find the top of the Disappointment Cleaver route. With visibility severely limited we decided to join up with the only other team that reached the summit that day. They had just climbed the D.C. and remembered some of the twists and turns to get us around the crevasses and back onto the surer footing of the cleaver itself.
May 27th - Another independent report
The route seemed in OK condition with only a few spots melted out on the ledge. This was our first time on this route and our third time on Mt Rainier. We left Muir at around 11pm and were on top or Gibraltar Rock by 6:30am. It took a little while for us to find the actual start of the ledges but once we did, the rest of the way was obvious. Sometime before the sun came up something big came rumbling off of Gibraltar but we couldn't see enough to tell where it came from. When we got to the top of Gibraltar the wind was high and the temps were low and so was our energy so we opted for a traverse across the glaciers to descend the D.C. route. This worked well and the snow bridges were in great shape. The trail on the DC was well packed and it only took a few hours to get back to camp. It didn't look like fun to try to descend on the Gib Ledges route.
Saturday night two climbing rangers reconnoitered the Gibralter Ledges climbing to 11,900 ft. before turning around. Leaving at midnight they encountered punchy snow and warm temps before passing the Beehive at 10,800 ft. and gaining solid neve snow conditions. At 11,300 the snow gave way to loose scree and talus at the base of Gibralter Rock.
Following the west side of Gibralter Rock the Ledges were almost completely bereft of snow making for easy scrambling. It appears that this past winter's high wind conditions have stripped the Ledges of almost all of its snow until one reaches the Gibralter Chute bergshrund. At 11,900 after a quick two hours of climbing the two rangers turned around before committing to what appeared to be the technical crux of the route: a short section of third class scrambling before gaining the upper Gibralter Chute.
~ Joe Franklin
Find more 2008 reports in our Gibraltar Ledges archives.
Here is a link to a bearing map provided by the NPS.
Snow stayed in patches above Glacier Vista, making it through last week's big rain event. From below Glacier Vista to Pebble Creek, water ice forms on the trail, depending on the fluctuating temperatures. Below Pebble Creek, the summer trail is still easy to follow. Above this point there's an unbreakable crust, four inches thick; skis were better on my feet than on my back, even though the walking was easy. Crampons might be needed on the hill below Anvil Rock, or some other random location. Camp Muir greeted me with its normal slap in the face; gusts of wind delivering micro-derm abrasions from the ice particles aloft in the air. Rimed up ice world, drifts over the door necessitate a shovel to access the shelter. 2500' of skiing - all icy, yet, the happy zone of sliding down on my skis was achieved. FYI, one can see the sun go down into the trees from Muir this close to the solstice, have a happy winter:)
Paradise received about 3-4 inches of snow over the last 24 hours. Although the total accumulation is not very much, the wind created 1-2 ft snow drifts on the trail up to Panorama Point. The trail up to Pebble Creek is still good to go and easy to follow. Beware of crevasses on the Snowfield that may have been covered by this fresh coat of new snow. Check out the posts below for more details on how to best avoid these cracks.
On the lighter side, it was a beautiful morning up at Paradise -- sunny, crisp and clear. A day like today would make for a great hike up the hill. See you on the Mountain!
Winter weather conditions have been the norm on the upper mountain since the guiding season came to a close earlier this month. The snow bridges covering many of the crevasses encountered on the snowfield are extremely weak. Late September was blessed with days of intense solar gain and high freezing levels. These mild conditions left many of the large crevasses exposed and relatively easy to navigate around. The recent snow accumulation and high winds have created a deceptively uniform surface coverage on the Muir Snowfield. The previously open cracks between 9000 and 10200 feet are now covered with a thin wind slab (3"-6") that can fracture easily under the weight of a climber. Many hikers were making their way up to Muir this weekend in the tracks of other visitors who had ascended on skis. Please be mindful that bridges able to hold the weight of a person spread along the surface area of a pair of skis may not be strong enough when that weight comes down on the small surface area of a foot. Make sure to probe in suspect areas and give visible cracks a wide berth. Until more snow falls on the Muir Snowfield to help solidify these bridges, utilizing the rocks on climbers right as a handrail up to Anvil Rock and then on toward high camp is highly recommended.
"From Fall to Winter in a mile of Paradise"
The hike from Paradise to Camp Muir these days is definitely a dynamic one. This time of year, expect everything from 65 degree weather, blues skies and calm winds to 25 degrees, snow and blizzard-level gusts. This weekend up at Paradise was almost as manic as you can get up there...without the blizzard.
I started my hike in the morning around 9:00 a.m. Although the Mountain was only partially in view, it had been a beautiful morning, offering a purple sky at sunrise and beautiful silhouettes of the Tatoosh Range behind the fog. By the time I began to hike, though, the weather was deteriorating, and by the time my hike to Pebble Creek was done, the clouds had fully encompassed the sky. It both rained and snowed on me during the day, changing from liquid to solid form as I walked higher and the temperature dropped. The trail was covered in snow below Panorama Point and above there, rime coated the signs and the rocks, so caution was required to maintain steady footing. At Pebble Creek, things are pretty icy - it rained and then snowed, creating a nice ice sheet.
The Muir Snowfield is still pretty broken up and crevasses are still present along the route. Watch out for these gaping cracks and DO NOT approach them to get a closer look - we have already had multiple hikers fall into these crevasses, requiring assistance from guides and rangers who were luckily nearby. As per our previous posts, stay to the hiker's right on the way up.
Conditions at Muir are snowy. The wind this weekend also pushed the snow into drift 10 - 15 ft high, so maneuvering to the bathrooms may require a little extra effort; despite attempts by climbing rangers to shovel the doors free of snow. A note to climbers staying in the public shelter - BE SURE THE DOOR IS SHUT TIGHT! It is a heavy door and if not closed completely, can re-open, allowing snow and ice to get in and a very unpleasant stay for the next visitors.
Despite the cold, wind and snow this weekend, it was clear skies in the afternoon and evening. Not many climbers were around, so anyone venturing up there has an opportunity to enjoy themselves on the Mountain with few distractions. The hike up offers some beautiful views of the landscape blanketed in fall colors and even the snow coated trail up by Panorama Point is really spectacular this time of year. If you're looking for some additional recent images of Paradise and the hike up to Muir, check out the updated Route Conditions for the Disappointment Cleaver and the new post on our front page "Autumn in Paradise". Better yet, find out for yourself - G0 out there and enjoy it!
See you on the Mountain.
Approaching Camp Muir whether to climb or simply for a training hike requires both crampons and strong glacier travel skills BEFORE reaching Camp Muir. That's right, its 'game on' for the approach with three separate incidents of hikers falling into crevasses in the last two weeks BELOW Camp Muir. The hikers each fell approximately 25 feet unroped into open crevasses on the Muir 'Snowfield', each requiring high-angle rope rescue by either professional guides who happened to be close or by climbing rangers. Please exercise extreme caution when traveling above Pebble Creek to Camp Muir as the bootpack crosses onto hard ice with open crevasses running all the way to Anvil Rock; stay climbers right and try to end-run as close to the rocks as possible.
Caution is the name of the game right now, so be sure to have your "bearings" while heading up to Camp Muir and be prepared with the necessary gear for this time of year. Enjoy your hike up to Camp Muir, which despite the increased hazards, will likely be quite pleasant with lower visitor use this time of year.
The public shelter has been opened. Come on up and relax on the new benches outside the public shelter. A helicopter flew the rest of the contractor's equipment off today (Thursday). Climbers could see large sling loads floating below "three papa delta" (the helicopter's tail name) as he flew up and down from Camp Muir.
As always with September conditions on the snow field: BE CAREFUL. This is not the best time of year for kids. A 14 year old girl fell 20 feet down into a crevasse. She was wedged there until the climbing rangers with the help of some guides pulled her out. Use caution while jumping over these cracks in the snow field. If in doubt don't jump. Usually by hiking to the climber's right, the crevasse openings will become smaller.
Crampons aren't necessary to get up and down from Muir, but they will make your footing much more secure. Trekking poles are also strongly recommended.
Ahhhha, this is why they call it 'Paradise'.
Although most climber types (including myself) are prone to just put their heads down and grind out the hike to Camp Muir without much of a look around,I highly discourage that type of behavior these days. The wildflowers from Paradise to Pebble Creek are in full bloom, the marmots seem to have scheduled boxing matches, all while Bambi and friends stumble around the meadows above Paradise. Now, add to this picture the backdrop of the alpenglow on Mt. Rainier and the Tatoosh and you will begin to get a slight sense of the breath-taking natural beauty of Mount Rainier National Park and an understanding for why the words "why are we whispering?" are so common among hikers.
Temperatures this week at Camp Muir have been cold and some light snow showers pasted camp two days in a row. The route from Pebble Creek up the snowfield is still fairly easy to follow, although crampons are recommended for the upper third of the approach. Keep an eye out for both open and hidden crevasses in this upper third of the snowfield and don't be afraid to get off the bootpack and blaze a new trail as conditions are changing fast. Several climbers have reported punching through snow bridges on the approach and descent from Camp Muir accrediting their lack of vigilance to what is usually "just a hike".
Also, be advised that the Public Shelter at Camp Muir will remain closed through the weekend and possibly the beginning of next week as contractors are performing some much needed renovations to the structure.
First Snowfall of Autumn?
A strong winter storm plastered Camp Muir (pictured at right is the Ranger Hut with some excellent scottish style mixed climbing) leaving up to 3 feet of fresh windloaded snowdrifts...
Coming up from Paradise one will find good dry trails all the way to Pebble Creek before hitting snow. The wildflowers are still abundant and the Nisqually Glacier has some beautiful waterfalls pouring in from the upper mountain. Above 7500 the route to Muir is predominantly on soft snow with an obvious bootpack. At around 9000 ft hikers will encounter icy patches which only become wet when warm and provide little traction. Consider picking your way around on the new snow from this past week's storm or bring a trekking pole for balance.
With warmer temperatures in store for the end of the week the new snow probably wont be around for long. However, around 9500 ft on climbers leftside of the snowfield there is at least one open crevasse. This should not be consider too much of a threat as it is several hundred feet away from the bootpack but descending from Muir, one is liable to intersect this crevasse and possibly others. The crevasse in question (pictured) has been wanded but care should be taken to avoid the area around it.
With new snow filling in the suncups the opportunity for boot skiing the snowfield down to Pebble Creek allows for a quick descent. Be advised that Rainier has received significant snow every month this summer and one should not be complacent when traveling the snowfield. Still with excellent sunsets, sunrises, marmots and wildflowers come visit the highest camps on the mountain.
Both the Skyline and Deadhorse Creek Trails are mostly snowfree on the way up to Pebble Creek, with the exception of a few stubborn patches. These spots are pretty well marked and visitors should folllow the designated path to avoid stepping off the trail when the snow meets back up with dry land.
The snowfield saw sleet, rain and snow this past week and now sunshine and warmer temperatures. Therefore, expect conditions on the snowfield to vary depending on the day's weather and also the elevation. If it's raining at Paradise, prepare for possible snowfall further up the Mountain. The fresh snow that fell this week definitely helped out the exposed icy patch right below Camp Muir, but don't expect the cover to last too long...unless we get more snow next week. Additional things to look out for when hiking up to Camp Muir - Crevasses! That's right folks, although we use the term snowfield to describe this perennial snow cover, there is ice underneath most of the trail up to Camp Muir. Travelers on the Snowfield should keep their eyes peeled for some larger cracks that have formed below Muir Rocks, as well a small crevasse right off the bootpack at around 9500 ft. Also, if you plan on glissading on your descent back to Paradise, be sure that you can see the end of the path and any obstacles that may lie in your way. Several glissade routes ended in, or near-by melted out rocks and boulders - potential hazards for sure! Finally, the route is easy to follow with a boot-pack leading you uphill most the way, but if fresh snow falls and covers these tracks or whiteout conditions occur, which can happen quickly on the Snowfield as we warn about often, be sure to keep your topo map and compass or GPS handy. Navigating the snowfield can become extremely difficult if you are left unprepared. If needed, stop by the JVC at Paradise or Longmire WIC for more information.
Although fall is right around the corner, the snow around Paradise has finally begun to melt and the flowers are out and blooming. Both the Skyline trail and the Dead Horse Creek trails leading up to Camp Muir are mostly clear of snow all the way to Pebble Creek. Once you pass Pebble Creek, you step back onto the snow for the remainder of the approach to Camp Muir following a fairly well-established bootpack. Be aware that the underlying alpine ice is beginning to show itself just outside of high camp although crampons are not yet needed. Get out and enjoy the snowfield!
Camp Muir and Muir Snowfield - July 28th
Currently, there are two main trailheads in use for your hike up to Camp Muir: Deadhorse Creek and the Skyline Trail. The Deadhorse Creek Trail begins from the lower parking lot by the JVC. It's still about 60% snow covered. However, the trail is wanded and easy to traverse. At the upper parking lot by the construction of the new visitor center, the Skyline Trail begins across from the Paradise Inn. From the trailhead, signs guide you uphill to Camp Muir via the westside of the Skyline Trail. Right above Alta Vista, Deadhorse Creek Trail meets up with Skyline Trail and the merged trail heads to Panorama Point. The stairs at Panorama Point to Pebble Creek are mostly snow free. Throughout your route uphill, you will run into snow patches of varying sizes. It may seem easier to walk on the side of the snow, but please be aware of the fragile meadows running right next to the paved trail and below the shallow snow, so please, stay on the trails!
The trail on the snowfield is pretty worn in. The boot track used by most climbers and hikers runs uphill to the hikers right. The conditions on Monday were great. The snow was soft, but not too slushy, and the boot track was easy to follow. Be aware that conditions on the snowfield change not only from one day to another, but throughout the day as well. Later in the afternoon, we hit slick, icy conditions, especially inside those large suncups that dominate the snowfield at this time. These can be dangerous if your legs are tired from a long day's hike and you hit a hard ice patch after some footskiing downhill - there were more than a few slips and falls to be seen by those trying to cruise down the hill. Slide shoots are well worn in and many folks take advantage of the opportunity to give their legs a rest by sliding downhill a few hundred feet at a time. Be sure to check that you didn't leave/lose anything behind on the snowfield after a quick slide.
Skiing the route has become a bit arduous due to the large snowcups, but this doesn't stop everyone. Folks can still be seen skinning up and getting a few good turns down, thus extending their ski season another month.
Overall, the conditions for hiking up to Camp Muir on Monday were perfect: it was warm, but not hot, sunny and beautiful. Granted, we lucked out and hit the one day of nice weather sandwiched between lesser than ideal hiking days. With a low-pressure system coming in this week, bringing clouds and possibly also rain/snow, caution should be used when hiking on the snowfield in conditions that have potential for a white-out. Be sure to prepare for the weather and the possibility for some route finding. You just may find a cloud deck below Camp Muir, such as occurred on Sunday with bluebird skies above 9500 feet. At the least, you wont have to fight the crowds and you'll have the chance to enjoy some good times on the Mountain with a few friends.
More and more trail keeps appearing as the unseasonably huge snow load keeps melting. Be sure to stay off the meadows. This takes a lot of effort as the most direct path across the patches that are melting out is not the trail itself. Even if the "meadow" looks like just a bunch of rock - stay off it.
People hiking to Muir are still enjoying plenty of boot-skiing opportunities. The snow conditions to Muir have been soft which makes it easy to find traction with out crampons. We do reccommend trekking poles to help with balance. Enjoy!
Great skiing continues at Mt Rainier!! Those still feeling the need for turns can find them here with the Nisqually Chute (the top of the chute is visible in the center of the photo at left) still offering a continuous descent of 4600 vertical feet from Camp Muir to Paradise (some sidestepping involved). This steep, 35 degree couloir should last through the weekend before exposed rock makes the descent too hazardous. With beautiful blue skies and alpine flowers finally able to show themselves, the Muir Snowfield is a sublime mix of snow and sun.
Despite reported freezing levels of 14,000ft, the Snowfield was cold and firm at 7am all the way to Paradise with ice forming all the way down wherever there is running water. That said, conditions soften up by 11am and make for an easy and stable descent from Camp Muir. Consider taking trekking poles if you are hiking and if you anticipate harvesting the summer corn, please note the melted out areas around Pebble Creek on your way up. The freshly blooming flowers and grasses make for a great respite as you step out of your skis or board for the brief, but mandatory hiking around 7200ft. Please be mindful and stay on the melted out trail and off the fragile flora.
On Independence Day the Muir snowfield is still in great shape for hiking, skiing, and approaching Camp Muir and climbing beyond. Most of the trail is still snow-covered barring points near Panorama Point and Pebble Creek, the hike is brilliant.
Alas, July is just around the corner, yet we are all still up to our necks in snow around the Paradise area! Skiing conditions remain favorable on the Muir Snowfield with the exception of the couple of mandatory portages mentioned below. As the snow continues to melt, the trail is beginning to show itself mostly in the Pebble Creek area, which has running water by the way. As this annual thaw-out occurs please be respectful and courteous of the alpine vegetation which may be gasping for air beneath what once was the bootpack. The correct trail has been generally wanded by the NPS to keep resource impact to a minimum but there may be slight deviations.
The basecamp scene at Camp Muir has been one of good cheer and good weather as of late. A plethora of parties summitted this past week with the blessing of clear skies and calm winds. Anyone planning a trip to Muir in the near future should pack plenty of sunscreen and possibly your flip flops! Last but not least, please remember that as sweet as Camp Muir is...the same rules still apply of "pack it in, pack it out". Who doesn't appreciate a clean camp? Let's all try to keep it that way.
There are more 2008 winter and spring reports in the archives.
Some folks tried to ski this a few days ago, check out their report over on the Kautz Glacier page. They climbed the Kautz, and descended the Finger.
The Fuhrer Finger is still skiable and climbable. You are sure to find a line down or up, but watch for rockfall later in the day. The Thumb is looking clear for a while longer, but like the Finger, look out for rockfall hazards. The Wilson Headwall is still accessible from the climbers left, but the rock bands are becoming more exposed, again rockfall hazards later in the day. Come and grab a piece of this while they are still in- season.
Fuhrer Finger and Wilson Head Wall Route Conditions - June 24
A lot of climbers were looking for updated route conditions on Fuhrer Finger this week, so here is a report that hopefully provides some useful information.
My friend Robbie and I trekked to Rainier with skis hoping to smuggly click in on the summit and ski all the way down to Paradise in paradisical corn snow, via the Fuhrer Finger. The reality turned out to be a bit different.
We camped at about the 8,600'. First, I'm awakened from a deep sleep by, "John, it's almost 3am." Then I'm awakened again, "John, it's almost 4am..." Now this is getting annoying. So, we get a 4.30am start on this route. Making our way up the FF, we notice how the sun is already hitting the upper rock, and we get confirmation of this by two rocks WHIZZING by us before we even know what's happening. Since we're really, really smart we conclude perhaps the objective hazards of FF warrant an earlier start?
The route is in great shape, with only a few minor crevasse crossings, nothing sketchy. We climbed corn snow in very warm temps anticipating the dreamy turns from the summit back to camp. We tag the summit in an icy bluster, remove crampons with wodden fingers and quickly ski back to our route. For the next 6,000' we sideslip and make sketchy turns on snow that SHOULD HAVE BEEN CORN! Instead, the temps have plummeted quickly and we end up "skiing" (and I use this term in the loosest possible meaning) refrozen pennitentes and bulletproof corn. The best turns are at the bottom of the Finger.
To add to the bliss, we get to ski crust over rotten corn with heavy packs, and find the better turns are down the frozen bed surfce that is the HUGE avalanche below the Turtle Snowfield.
So, no pics because we were just surviving and I wasn't too interested in shooting. I'm sure there are plenty of pics of this route from previous TR's. Otherwise, a very fun route, no need for ice screws. The only gear we used were ski poles and crampons, and the skis for the "descent".
The dump of snow this week and warm weather resulted in lots of avalanche activity in the area this weekend. Skiers triggered an especially large slab above the Turtle snowfield, but all parties in the area were safe of the area within minutes. Once the avy activity settles down over the next few days, this route should be good to go. Great snow conditions and climbing other than the avalanche activity this weekend.
A quick update on the routes...
Fuhrer finger and thumb are still filled with snow, expect some rock fall later in the day.
Wilson Head wall still has plenty of snow on it
~ David Gottlieb and Chris Olson
Two climbers skied the Fuhrer Finger and found good conditions overall. Snow conditions from about 9,000 to 12,000 feet were crusty. Above 12,000 it started to get firm and below 9,000 it turned to sticky slush. The bergschrund and the bottom of the finger is easily passable and looks like it will be in for a while. The approach is straight forward following the Nisqually avoiding the fan.
Dan Otter sent us this trip report about a recent attempt on Fuhrer Finger. The group also posted a video of their ski descent on YouTube.
On February 25, Anne Keller, Liam O’Sullivan, Jeff Henderson, Forest McBrian, and Dan Otter attempted an ascent of the Fuhrer’s Finger with ski descent. We departed Paradise at 4:00 a.m. and turned around at 2:00 p.m. at 12,800’ due to the late hour.
The climb started out with whiteout conditions crossing the Nisqually Glacier. As we approached the base of the Finger, we came out of the clouds and it started getting light. It had snowed about 6”, with 4”-8” on the ground, depending on the elevation and aspect. The snow was quickly sun-affected and steeper south faces began sluffing, but avy conditions were otherwise very stable. A quick pit showed several very well bonded windslabs within the top meter of snow pack. The top crust under the recent snowfall was nearly impenetrable in areas.
Winds were completely calm with no clouds above 8,000’. Despite a forecasted freezing level of 4,000’ we were climbing in base layers for most of the day.
Crevasse hazard was minimal. The only obvious cracking we encountered was on the upper mountain around 12,000’, climber’s right of the Finger.
The conditions for the ski descent were great. The snow had become a little heavier due to radiation and kept our edges from going straight to the crust. Cloud level was still around 8,000’, which made navigating the Nisqually down to the bridge interesting. We reached our car at 4:30 p.m.
The joke of the day was that this was a peace climb since IMG, RMI and AAI were all represented in the group.