Mount Rainier / Cascades

Winter… In May?

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Mayuary – Yup it’s been a stormy month. We’ve seen an unprecedented stormy start to summer in the Cascades and Mt Rainier. Guides are reporting winter climbing conditions on Baker, Rainier, and in the North Cascades. A month ago, the average snowpack depth at Paradise, Mt Rainier was 84%, now it is over 125%. This is very unusual, typically in April and May we start to see the snowpack depth decrease. This past week teams were unable to reach the summit of Rainier due to avalanche danger. On Baker we had teams up high on the mountain but they turned around due to adverse weather conditions.

Yesterday (May 18th) a vicious quick moving storm impacted the Cascades and Rainier creating blizzard conditions- gale force winds with gusts as high as 80mph-90mph for a 9hr period at Camp Muir with just over 1” of snow at Paradise.

These conditions have created an unusual avalanche danger in the mountains for this time of year. Weather is currently the main driver for avalanche conditions. If you are interested in learning more the avalanche phenomenon we recommend taking an AIARE 1 course.

Next week the weather pattern looks to be shifting into a more traditional spring weather trend. We are hopeful the avalanche danger will decrease on the Cascade Volcanoes and allow teams to make summit attempts.

Conditions Update

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Mount Rainier
Over the weekend (5/6-5/9), a strong storm impacted the mountain. At Camp Muir, average wind speeds were 60-70mph with gusts over 90mph. At High Camp (Ingraham Flats) an estimated 5ft of snow accumulated during this storm. This strong spring PNW storm has prevented climbers from reaching the summit. On 5/10, we were able to re-establish our high camp at Ingraham Flats. Access to Camp Muir is currently following the winter route up Pan Point. Flotation is being used on some trips to make trail breaking easier. Guide teams are currently evaluating the upper mountain for avalanche stability and hazard. Mount Rainier National Park has announced they are making progress on access to White River with a project to have it open around Memorial Day weekend.

Mount Baker & North Cascades
Mount Baker (Komo Kulsan) and the North Cascades continue to be very snowy! In the past week we have seen several large storms continue to build our seasonal snowpack above 5,000ft. The road on the north side of Mount Baker is still closed around 6 miles from the trailhead due to a washout late last fall. The Forest Service does not anticipate that road opening in the near future. On the southside of Mount Baker you can drive a vehicle to around 2.5 miles from the trailhead. Guides are reporting the Easton Glacier is in excellent condition. There is still ample snow around tree-line with over 3m of snow at 5,000ft. The North Cascade Highway SR20 opened up on Tuesday. This allows access to Washington Pass and Rainy Pass –Get the Pass Report here

Holy Snow!

Just when we thought summer was finally on its way, we get hit with a large PNW storm (Typical)! Over the last week, Mount Rainier received a large amount of precipitation, helping to reach our annual average snowpack! While the precipitation is great news for the mountain, it also creates hazardous travel conditions for our teams. We have yet to reach the summit as white outs and heavy snowfall have forced teams to turn around. With warmer dryer weather on the way we hope to soon make our way to the top!

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Photos by Colt Bradley

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First Day of the Season!

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Here we go! Our first Rainier Muir climbing team entered the field today marking the start of our season! Mt Rainier currently sits at 100% of its snowpack with approximately 13′ of snow at Paradise. April has been a very stormy month for the Rainier area with many strong Pacific NW storms impacting the mountain. Travel to Camp Muir is following the winter route. Due to the stormy spring, few teams have reached the summit this month. Currently, we are working on establishing a route up the Ingraham Direct. Our team forges up to Camp Muir tonight and will assess conditions moving to High Camp tomorrow.

High Country News

Well it’s the first day of meteorological fall and the temperatures on the mountains are starting to cool down.  We are even getting some fresh snow up high!    In September, we start to taper down our Cascades operations – focusing on just Tahoma (Rainier) summit climbs and 6-day mountaineering courses and summit climbs on Kulshan (Baker).  We do have one final 13-day course (a real smorgasbord of climbing across the state) that is slated to kick off on September 4.   As it’s been a while since had a post (apologies) here’s a little recap about what’s been going on around here.

Tahoma (Rainier):

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  • DC Route Update: Currently the route is snow free to the base of the Muir Snowfield. We recommend climbers begin the climb in approach/trail shoes from Paradise with  their mountain boots attached to their pack until reaching the snowline.  Currently the Muir Snowfield has melted down to glacial ice and crampons are being used to ascend and descend the snowfield.
  • From Camp Muir, the route is well established across the Cowlitz glacier and up over Cathedral Gap to Ingraham Flats camp. Our teams have been reaching summit via the Disappointment Cleaver with reports that the upper mountain holding in good condition despite the warm dry summer. Climbers can expect to cross two ladders between Ingraham Flats Camp and Columbia Crest, the first is at 11,400ft and the second is 13,000ft. Due to the warm dry summer, large penitentes can be found on the glacier.

Kulshan (Baker):

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  • Easton Glacier Route Update:  Currently the route is snow free to camp and we recommend climbers leaving the trailhead in approach/trail shoes with mountaineering boots attached to their packs.   From camp, the first hour of climbing is done on firm glacial ice.   Around 7,200ft, we get above the firn line and start walking on the seasonal snow on the glacier.  The route currently traverses around a few crevasses as it heads towards the crater rim.   From the crater rim, up the Easton headwall conditions are currently firm with good cramponing in a well established track.  The final summit pyramid has melted out to a dirt cone.

North Cascades:

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  • The 8/13 13-Day Course may have launched on Friday, 13th but there was nothing spooky about their course.  They kicked their mountain epic with a day at Mount Erie working on rock climbing movement skills, knots, and rappelling and belaying.   From there, they headed to the Squak Glacier on Mount Baker to learn the ropes (pun intended) of glacier mountaineering.  Next, they headed to everybody’s favorite faux Bavarian village – Leavenworth for three days of rock climbing (single and multipitch) on someone of the finest granite in the state.   They snuck in a day at Washington Pass before climbing the ultra classic Fisher-Chimneys route on Mount Shuksan.  Love to see it!
  • Our late August Forbidden Peak climbs were not able to access Boston Basin due to fire activity off Cascade River Road.  They pivoted to Washington Pass and spent a few days climbing in the Liberty Bell group as well as tagging the summit of Black Peak via the Northeast Ridge.
  • The 8/20 Alpine Rock Course hit some mega Washington Pass Classics – Beckey Route on Liberty Bell as as South Early Winter Spire.  They got snowed out of their plan to climb Cutthroat, but had an excellent couple of days clipping bolts in Mazama instead.  Can’t beat the proximity to the Goat Store!
  • The 8/27 Shuksan-Sulfide Climb was a rousing success with excellent weather.  Guides reported that the route up the Sulphide was still in good condition, but a bit icy near camp.

Further Afield:

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  • Our 8/19 Mount Olympus climb enjoyed excellent weather on their quest to the roof of Olympic National Park.  Climbers raved about the trip – some calling it their favorite trip to date.  Guides enjoyed a nice change of pace, citing the verdant greenery of the Hoh Rainforest as a welcome respite from the Muir Snowfield.   The climbing conditions were definitely late season – the Blue Glacier is starting to break up and make travel more complicated, but the whole team made it to the top in good style.
  • The access road to the Glacier Peak was closed due to fire activity, so our 8/26 55+ Glacier Peak climb pivoted to the North Cascades.  They spent a day at Mount Erie honing their rock climbing skills and then headed up north for the Ruth / Icy Traverse.   Even though it rained for part of the climb, a fun time was had by all.    Conditions on the Ruth Glacier are also pretty late season with lots of blue ice to contend with.  The team found a safe route to the summit and enjoyed one of the best views in the North Cascades – a gorgeous view of Mt. Shuksan including the Nooksack Tower and three massive glaciers cascading into the valley below.

I’ve been exposed to a number of guide services and it would be hard for me to believe that I could find a better mountain guide than Willi.


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