Road construction from the Nisqually Entrance to Longmire. Expect a 30-minute delay, Monday through Friday.
Ranger Brief Video Series
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Ranger Brief: Avalanche Risk on Mount Rainier
Anyone familiar with mountains knows that avalanche danger is always a consideration when heading out for a snowshoe walk or ski trip. Mount Rainier is no exception. In our first Ranger Brief video, Climbing Ranger Glenn Kessler discusses avalanche risk and safety on Mount Rainier.
My name is Glenn Kessler, Supervisory Climbing Ranger at Mount Rainier.
The avalanche risk on Mount Rainier for visitors exists sort of two times- two different heights of the year. One is the winter season as we have right now where we get a fair amount of new snow on the mountain. Upper mountain, lower mountain, we just get a lot of snow. The primary avalanche season is the winter time. We tend to have storms that bring in avalanche danger and they’re direct action storms, and by that I mean when the amount of snowfall increases that’s when our avalanches generally happen. Snow time- or I should say if we have snowfall- we have a storm; as the storm starts the avalanche danger slowly rises, and then rapidly rises once we get six to eight to ten inches of snow. Often we’re stable on the lower mountain here within about 48 hours, although that’s only when the Northwest is acting like the Northwest, and it’s generally mild temperatures and deep snowpack. On the upper mountain that danger can linger for weeks. So that’s the main season, is basically December or late-November through the end of winter.
Then comes a secondary season in between when the skiers sort of take off and then our climbers come out in force and start heading out on the upper mountain. So we get a secondary season when the climbers come out and the seasons change such that the snow that’s already fallen, plus some new snow possibly, and the warm temperatures of spring-time start to melt the snow that’s on the mountain, and then we get a lot of spring avalanches which can happen directly after small storms or even larger avalanches as water percolates through that snowpack that’s been around all year long, and we can have this secondary season and have some pretty large avalanches based on that.
Today we have good weather and the only reason why the avalanche danger at this level has gone down to moderate and considerable just above here- moderate here at tree-line and considerable above- is that we’ve actually had a couple of days without snow. So, if you’ve got a big storm and that ends pretty pronto right after the large part of that snowfall and the sun comes out, we could have just a morning after a big snow storm and that’s a tough time because people know- they watch the weather, they watch the news and they know when that good weather is coming and what they don’t pay attention to is just cause you got good weather does not mean avalanche conditions aren’t bad. Looking at the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center website, making sure you are up on what’s going on. If that website is down for the year, which happens towards the April period of time, check with the Park Service and find out what’s gone on as far as the avalanche danger.
However, the avalanche centers can only basically do a forecast for about seven thousand feet or so. And here on Mount Rainier we’re already at fifty four hundred here at Paradise right now and seven thousand feet is the top of Pan Point which is not too far. Our visitors very often in the wintertime and the summertime are going well beyond seven thousand feet, so those avalanche reports have to be read and understood that they’re for a limited amount of terrain and the reports specifically say they are not valid for higher elevations on the volcanic peaks, such as Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Baker, Shuksan, etc. So you’ll have to do your own investigation once you leave that seven thousand foot level or so.
The roads on Mount Rainier are generally deemed safe when they’re open. You got to still be really careful on the roadways cause we do have some treacherous mountainous roads that there’s no way to make them completely safe from drivers that don’t adhere to speed limits, etc. But if the roads are open they’re deemed to be safe enough that avalanches should not be hitting the roads. We do very little control work but we try not to open the roads when lingering avalanche danger is there. If the avalanche danger is still there but not for large avalanches the roads may be open as long as we’ve got road crew on that can dig out whatever avalanches end up on the road. So, if you come to the park you may also find the road’s closed at times when there’s high avalanche danger because we simply can not open the roads. And that’ll often happen from about mid-winter towards ‘til the end of winter.
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Ranger Brief: Shoulder Season Hazards
Excited for spring? Fans of fall? We are too! But while warming temperatures melt away snow, they also expose new hazards hikers should be aware of. Fall weather in turn brings back the rain, turning streams into raging rivers that can make crossings a dangerous proposition. Make sure you have a safe and enjoyable transition between seasons and watch out for some of the hazards described by Backcountry Ranger Daniel in this video.
Hi, I’m Daniel, and I’m a Backcountry Ranger at Mount Rainier National Park. I thought I’d talk with you today about a couple of hazards we have in the backcountry here at Mount Rainier especially during the shoulder seasons.
The first one I’ll talk about is in the spring. The biggest issue in the spring travelling in the backcountry is the possibility of punching through the snow and what happens is as you’re hiking along you may hear water but you don’t see the water. That’s a clue to sort a be on the alert. What’s usually happening is as we’re in the spring and the snow is melting and the water is rising in places it cuts a path under the snow and you don't see it. It’s easy to step through this and fall and be injured. The fall might be a foot but it might be six feet. And below that, it’s dark and it’s cold, and there may be swift water. It’s a dangerous situation. It can lead to hyperthermia, drowning, suffocation- bad news. So you want to be aware of what’s going on when you’re hiking in the shoulder season in the spring, which is usually May and June in particular. What happens is, you go in the water, things get dark, you flounder around- it’s scary. You don’t want that to happen. So what you need to do is perhaps if you have a trekking pole or a hiking stick as you’re hiking along, if you hear water but you don’t see it you might start poking out in front of you a bit with your hiking stick or trekking pole to just test the surface in front of you because the water and the cavity below may be in your path of travel.
The other issue in the shoulder season, which would be in the fall, has to do with water as well, but more water coming from the sky. You get a lot of rains at Mount Rainier in the fall. That’s generally when we have the highest river levels are in the fall as we get a lot of rain and continue to get some snowmelt. If you’re hiking on a trail and you come to a creek or river that’s raging pretty high and in fact the bridge may be out, or the log crossing may be out, you need to make a smart decision about what you want to do at that time. If you think that you can ford the river, what you want to do is look up and down the riverbank for what appears to be the best crossing and then make a go. You want to- if you have a backpack on- you want to unbuckle the backpack because if you do fall over in the water you want to be able to get out of that pack as quickly as you can. It’s smart to be facing upstream as you’re making your crossing because you want to see what’s coming. That’s very critical. Now, on the other hand you may approach a crossing and find out that it may not be such a smart thing to try to make the crossing. If you hear loud noises like “BOOM BOOM BOOM” – something to that effect. What it is, is it’s really large boulders that are being pushed down the river by the force of the water. That’s an indication that just the force of the water could take you down and additionally it could mean that a boulder could take you down, so not a good idea. At that time you need to just sit on the riverbank, watch the river go by, enjoy the day, and then make your crossing when it’s safe. The best time to cross generally is in the morning when water levels are usually at their lowest. Later in the day as the temperatures rise, the water levels also rise.
Have a safe time at Mount Rainier, and enjoy your visit.
Did You Know?
For many years, the Paradise Ice Caves were a popular attraction at Mount Rainier. Until the 1980s, visitors could explore passages within the Paradise Glacier which had formed due to seasonal melting of the ice. By the early 1990s, climate change had melted away the last traces of the caves.