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On Ptarmigan Ridge. Photo © Tim Matsui
 
  Mount Rainier National Park, 2006  
  by Mike Gauthier, Supervisory Climbing Ranger  

 
 
Oistorically speaking, 2006 was good to climbers on Mount Rainier. Many changes were made in way the National Park Service (NPS) interacts with climbers. A primary example is a new Mount Rainier climbing blog, which features a significantly improved way of delivering climber specific information over the internet. Found at www.mountrainierclimbing.blogspot.com, updated route and climbing information about Mount Rainier is regularly posted by climbing rangers.

Climbing an ice bulge on Ptarmigan Ridge. Photo © Josh Farris
Climbing at 11,000 feet on Ptarmigan Ridge. Enlarge Photo © Josh Farris
In 2005, we celebrated the grand re-opening of the newly remodeled Climbing Information Center at Paradise. In 2006, we sadly saw those doors close because of the Paradise construction projects. Rangers anticipate using the building again once the construction is completed. In the meantime, climbers at Paradise should get their climbing permits at the front desk of the Jackson Visitor Center.

More climbers attempted the summit in 2006 than in 2005, a notable reverse of the decreasing trend observed between 2000 and 2005. And of those, a higher percentage also summited.

No Fatalities or Serious Accidents
More exciting than summit attempts and success is the fact that we had no major rescues on the upper mountain in 2006 — no fatalities or serious accidents above 10,000 feet. This is a remarkable accomplishment, and the NPS would like to thank all the climbers for making safe decisions that contributed to this amazing statistic. No serious accidents are a trend we would like to see continued in 2007.

Improvements
The construction projects at Camp Muir continue to bump along. The latest improvement is a newly installed weather telemetry station at 10,080 feet. With just a click of the mouse, climbers, skiers, day hikers and anyone else can see the current temps, winds, and other weather data at the high camp. This new weather station, like the blog, has proved very popular with web savvy fans of the mountain.

Guide Service Contracts
After many years of public planning and participation, the NPS awarded the new guiding concession contracts in October 2006. Alpine Ascents International, International Mountain Guides, and Rainier Mountaineering Inc. all received 10 year contracts to lead mountaineering trips to the summit. This begins a new phase of guiding on Mount Rainier and will likely affect the standard of guiding around the region. Look for the new guide services on the mountain in 2007.

Climbing Statistics

9,154 climbers registered in 2006. Of those, 4,132 were part of a guided trip, while the other 5,022 climbed independently. The table below lists those statistics in comparison to previous years. The overall success rate in 2006 (63%) increased substantially.

  2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Climbers Registered 11,874 11,313 9,897 9,251 8,972 9,154
Independent Climbers 7,282 7,632 6,377
5,537 5,093 5,022
Guides and Clients 4,592 3,681 3,520 3,714 3,879 4,132
Total Summits 5,171 5,553 5,295 4,951 4,604 5,787


Mountaineering Patrols, High Camps and Ranger Stations

Patrols
The 2006 Climbing Ranger Program consisted of ten seasonal rangers that worked between Camp Schurman and Camp Muir. In addition, five full time volunteers, numerous part-time volunteers and one high camp laborer supported the program. Two lead climbing rangers guided the team and one supervisor managed the program.

Together, rangers worked a total of 449 field days. Field days included 314 days at high camp and 135 days on non-standard routes or climbing patrols.

Climbing rangers patrolled over 13 routes this year maintaining a strong NPS presence around the park. During these trips, rangers monitor the climbing routes for conditions, activity and compliance, while also being prepared and positioned in the event of an incident. The average patrol includes tasks such as: resource and impact monitoring; restroom maintenance; dismantling rock walls, cairns, and camps; climber contacts, concession monitoring, and responding to emergencies as needed.

High Camps
With few exceptions, Camp Muir and Camp Schurman were staffed daily with at least one ranger throughout June, July, and August. Rangers at high camps provided updated route, weather, and safety information to the public and the guide services. Climbing rangers traditionally provide this information during “evening rounds.” Evening rounds allow rangers to note the plans of individual teams, which can prove invaluable should the party encounter problems during the climb.

On Ptarmigan Ridge. Photo © Josh Farris
On Ptarmigan Ridge. Enlarge Photo © Josh Farris
Climbing rangers regularly cleaned and maintained the pit and solar dehydrating toilets. Of particular benefit is the dedicated maintenance manager (Ted Cox) at Camp Muir. That position provides an NPS backstop to the camp from Thursday to Sunday.

Climbing rangers also routinely maintain and repair facilities at the high camps. They also assist with projects such as rebuilding retaining walls, painting, minor structure repair (like reattaching doors that continually blow off) fixing leaky roofs, and other amendments to the high camp toilets.

Improvements and renovations at Camp Muir continue on the public hut and historic menís pit toilet. Some work remains to be completed in 2007, involving finishing touches on the public shelter and clean-up of construction debris.

Ranger Stations
Climbing rangers worked over 210 “person-days” between the White River Wilderness Information Center and Jackson Visitor Center. They are generally available during the mornings until noon and are an excellent resource for route conditions and the latest safety information. Climbing rangers also post updated route reports and other climber related information at: www.mountrainierclimbing.blogspot.com. For pre-recorded information in the summer, call 360-569-2211, ext. 6009.

Annual climbing passes are $30 and are required for all climbing trips. In the summer, climbing passes may be purchased in person at the Jackson Visitor Center, White River Wilderness Information Center, Longmire Wilderness Information Center, and at Carbon River Ranger Station. For most of the year, climbing passes are purchased by mail. Monies collected fund the climbing ranger program, the human waste program, and support preventative rescue measures.

2006 Projects

Resource Protection
Easy access to glaciers and alpine terrain make Mount Rainier one of North America’s most popular mountaineering destinations. An important part of the climbing program is to ensure the preservation of the mountain. Minimizing human impacts in fragile alpine areas is achieved by:
  • Properly disposing of human waste
  • Camping on snow or durable surfaces
  • Avoiding creation of new rock walls or tent platforms
  • Traveling on established trails
  • Packing out all trash
  • Leave no trace
Camp Schurman toilet
View from Camp Schurman toilet.
© MRNP
Visitors dispose of solid human waste by using the established toilets or blue bags. Toilets are available at Camp Schurman and Camp Muir. Well-maintained toilets keep these locations sanitary and leave snow cleaner for drinking water. Camp Schurman has one solar toilet and Camp Muir has three solar units and two pit toilets. The solar dehydrating toilets are only open during the summer months. Pit toilets are predominately used during the colder seasons of the year.

When toilets are not available, climbers collect their waste in “blue bags”. Mount Rainier’s blue bags are a light system for safely packing out human waste. Blue bags are distributed during registration. Visitors can deposit used blue bags into 55-gallon barrels located at high camps or at select trailheads.

In 2006, over 22 barrels of human waste (four and a half tons) were collected from high camps and Panorama Point. We regretfully report an increased number of displaced blue bags and piles of human waste, 122. Climbing rangers also carried down more trash from high camps than ever before, almost 700 lbs. Along the way, they also dismantled 71 rock walls and newly established campsites.

Looking Ahead

We anticipate a very busy summer in 2007. On the mountain, Alpine Ascents International and International Mountain Guides will be leading trips through Camp Muir and up the Kautz Glacier. In addition, Rainier Mountaineering Inc. can now guide the Emmons/Winthrop Glaciers. No commercial guiding, however, is allowed from the Success Cleaver to Ptarmigan Ridge (clockwise and inclusive) and along the Kautz and Emmons Glaciers on Friday and Saturday nights.

On the park’s roads, climbers should prepare for traffic during the day and an increased demand for parking spots. Paradise will surely be a busy place in June, July and August. Construction of the new visitor center and the remodel of the Paradise Inn will continue. Because the park has been closed for over six months because of last fall’s massive flood damage, more people will likely be eager to visit Mount Rainier to see the changes.

If you are coming to climb in 2007, we strongly recommended that you arrive at your intended trailhead early (before 10 a.m.). We also suggest that climbers check in for the latest information at: www.mountrainierclimbing.blogspot.com.


2006 Summary
November’s Massive Flooding
On November 5th and 6th, over 18 inches of rain fell at Paradise causing extensive damage to park roads and trails. The park was closed immediately, and remained so well into spring 2007. Damages were estimated at nearly 36 million dollars, and some repairs are anticipated to take years to complete.

Three Guide Services With Contracts
• Alpine Ascents International
• International Mountain Guides
• Rainier Mountaineering Inc.

Summit Attempts Up, Accidents Down
After five years of annual declines in climbers attempting the summit, 2006 marked a slight increase in attempts, with both a higher success rate and a lack of any major accidents.
Rescue Summary
No fatalities or serious accidents occured above 10,000 feet on Mt. Rainier in 2006.
Climbers on popular routes
6534 - DC/Ingraham Glacier Direct
1477 - Emmons/Winthrop Glacier
447 - Kautz Glacier & Fuhrer Finger
164 - Liberty Ridge
139 - Gibraltar Ledges
120 - Little Tahoma
51 - Tahoma Glacier
2006 Climbing Staff
Primary Volunteers
Arlington Ashby
Hannah Carrigan
Ken Davies
Lynn Finnel
Peter Jewell
Cooper Self
Sam Wick

Seasonal Leads
Andy Anderson
Paul Charlton
David Gottlieb
Joe Puryear

Rangers
Phil Edmonds
Jennifer Erxleben
Thomas Payne
Stoney Richards
Jeremy Shank
Adrienne Sherred

High Camp Maintenance
Ted Cox

Leads

Glenn Kessler
Stefan Lofgren

Supervisor
Mike Gauthier
Remembering Charlie Borgh
With great sorrow, we regretfully report the loss of our fellow climbing ranger Charlie Borgh. Charlie started volunteering on Mount Rainier in 2002 and quickly ascended the ranks to become a lead climbing ranger in 2005. When not working on Rainier, he volunteered as a rescue ranger at Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley. Always in pursuit of the climbing lifestyle, Charlie was climbing Mount Deltaform in the Canadian Rockies when he died on April 20th. After ascending the North Face, Charlie was swept to his death in a 3,100 foot avalanche. His friendship, warmth and smile are sorely missed by those who knew and worked with him.