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Author Topic: Apr 29 + May 1, 2014, Mt Rainier, Muir to Bridge  (Read 6140 times)
Amar Andalkar
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Apr 29 + May 1, 2014, Mt Rainier, Muir to Bridge
« on: 05/06/14, 03:42 PM »

Skied twice from Camp Muir to Nisqually Bridge (via a moderate slope near Pebble Creek) during the first Northwest heat wave of 2014, finding complete solitude on the Nisqually Glacier both times as we were the only two parties to ski to the bridge during that 3-day period. Inconsistent semi-consolidated snow on the Muir Snowfield the first day, but nice corn on the Cowlitz Glacier two days later, and very sticky snow on the lower Nisqually Glacier both times, but with excellent snow coverage out to the bridge. As expected, despite the NWAC avalanche warning there was minimal avalanche risk and no real danger along this route -- proper terrain selection is everything, especially so in generally dangerous snow conditions.



With an excellent forecast for light winds at 14000 ft, I was very tempted to ski Rainier from the summit on April 30-May 1 via the Ingraham Direct, but decided not to do so this time. Given that I would have been solo, I was just not comfortable with glacier travel after so much recent snowfall obscuring the signs of crevasses, coupled with the unknown but probably severe avalanche hazard on steep slopes of the upper mountain. Almost a week later now, I'm still wondering if I should have gone instead, especially since such weather windows with light winds at 14000 ft are so rare on Rainier (usually only a handful of times in an entire January-July summit ski season). But I don't really regret playing it overly safe and just skiing Muir once again. The Rainier Climbing Blog reported on April 30 that "a very large avalanche (R3,D3-4) occurred on the Ingraham Glacier route within the last day or two ... started at about 12,900 near a serac and carried all the way down past Ingraham Flats", so probably all for the best not to have tried it!



April 29:

The last two days of April and first two of May brought the warmest weather thus far in 2014 to the Pacific Northwest, with freezing levels climbing above 12000 ft and temperatures at SeaTac Airport reaching 82 and 85 °F on the middle two of those four days (about 3 weeks earlier than is normal for first reaching 80 °F at that location). And all that warming came immediately after a late-April storm cycle which brought heavy precip and heavy snowfall to higher elevations of the Cascades over the previous 10 days, including over 5 ft of new snow at Mount Hood Timberline and Mount Rainier Paradise, bringing the snowdepth to a seasonal maximum of over 200". A perfect recipe for a major spring avalanche cycle, with the NWAC issuing a strongly-worded avalanche warning on the evening of Monday, April 28, and extending it daily through the whole week to Friday, May 2, forecasting "High" avalanche hazard in all of their forecast elevation bands along the entire west slopes of the Washington Cascades, plus the Olympics and Mount Hood area. Enough to make someone think twice about heading into the backcountry at all.

But there are always avalanche-safe routes even under such conditions, and I figured that one of my standard fallback routes in questionable snow conditions, the old standby of Camp Muir, would be quite safe at this time, and that with a careful choice of descent route, it would even be safe to ski out to Nisqually Bridge. I started the week with a solo evening and sunset ski of Mount Pilchuck on Monday prior to the warming, where I saw no one else for the entire 6 hours after I left the trailhead at 2pm until back on the Mountain Loop Highway. I watched the weather clear out as predicted by the UW weather model, from cloudy with ice pellet showers just after I started to full sunshine after 5pm and through sunset, with decent turns on a few inches of wet new snow atop a firm base. It looked like the forecast the next day would be perfect for going high and hitting Muir, with temps warming to near-freezing at 10000 ft with nearly-calm winds.


A terrible snow year, eh? Snowdepth at Paradise had reached its seasonal maximum of 204" the previous day, April 28, the most of any measurement site in North America during the 2013-14 season.

Got a very late start on Tuesday morning, not even leaving Seattle until almost 9am, but luckily this resulted in Hannah picking me up as she was heading to ski the same destination. We skinned up from Paradise just before noon, with a gusty easterly wind in the parking lot due to offshore pass flow, which strengthened to fairly cold 30-40 mph gusts above Alta Vista near 6200 ft. But the pass flow always diminishes with elevation, and after an easy skin up Pan Face in ideal sticky damp snow well-bonded to everything below with no instability, by 7500 ft the easterly winds were a mere breeze, and continued to decrease the rest of the way up, eventually to a dead-calm at Muir.



A skintrack was in place on the Muir Snowfield, but it was one of the most bizarre I've ever seen anywhere, a serpentine skintrack slithering hither and thither across the slope, meandering about with no apparent reason or plan or purpose, nor any correlation with terrain features. We straightened out a few sections, but it was tough going in the sticky semi-consolidated snow, and often better to just give-in and follow the existing track despite its frustrating flaws.



We saw a pair of skiers skiing down the summit dome above 13000 ft at 2pm, and a bit later saw them again looking through Cadaver Gap at the top of Disappointment Cleaver. We arrived at Camp Muir just before 3pm and chatted with them awhile as they prepared to ski down, an Austrian couple who had broken trail the whole way to the summit from Muir with no one else around at all, after expecting to find the route crowded with a deep track in place (they were a week or two early for that). They reported deep new snow in places on the DC, with windpacked snow up high and minimal ice. They saw no instability even on the steep south-facing slopes on the edge of the DC, but the serious warming had not yet arrived as of Tuesday.


Telephoto view of skiers atop Disappointment Cleaver, looking through Cadaver Gap from the upper Muir Snowfield.

We relaxed in the warm sunshine and calm air at Muir for well over an hour, in no particular rush to sample the semi-consolidated snow which was surely not yet ripe corn.


A nice 22° solar halo in the thin cirrus overhead, intersected by a contrail.

Skied down a bit after 4pm, on a strange patchwork of snow surfaces, some smooth proto-corn, some deeper wind-drifts of new snow, not terrible skiing but not great either due to the sudden unpredictable transitions.



The best skiing was along the winter-route ridge east of Pebble Creek from 7600-7200 ft, with the windswept slope having held minimal new snow and thus nicely consolidated and already corned up. I really wanted to ski out to Nisqually Bridge since there was still good snow coverage all the way, but we dared not even consider Nisqually Chute due to the obvious avalanche hazard, with distant slides and fresh debris deposits visible on many east and south aspects across the Nisqually and Wilson Glacier basins.

We headed for the NW-facing slope below Pebble Creek which is now my favored fairly-avy-safe descent down to the Nisqually, and could see a massive avalanche deposit on the flats of Nisqually Glacier, extending down to about 6000 ft and ending with a bizarre J-shaped turn across the glacier. The avalanche had clearly originated high up in Nisqually Chute and run down its entire length, but no crown was discernible due to several feet of more recent snow burying it, so it had apparently occurred sometime in the middle of the late-April storm cycle. Easily among the largest slide deposits I've ever seen from Nisqually Chute, but far smaller than some of the huge avalanches that occurred earlier this year on the Nisqually and Cowlitz Glaciers.


Five-shot vertical panorama of Nisqually Glacier from atop the NW-facing slope, with a large avy debris deposit originating from Nisqually Chute (right), and 22° solar halo at left. (click for double-size version)


We watched a large avalanche rumble down a steep cliffy SE aspect across the Nisqually, then skied decent semi-smooth snow down the NW-facing slope to the Nisqually moraine. A gusty easterly breeze (that pass flow still) kept things comfortably cool on the glacier.


More "baller G turns" once again down to the Nisqually moraine.


Three-shot panorama of Nisqually Glacier with a large avy debris deposit originating from Nisqually Chute (right). (click for double-size version)


There was a previous ski track angling through the moraine and across the bottom of Nisqually Chute and up the Nisqually Glacier to parts unknown, but otherwise the entire lower Nisqually was untracked and ours alone. The snow was fairly sticky, but at least it was consistently so with no fast-slow grabby annoyance and no deep isothermal mush either, with ski penetration generally a few inches. Actually not bad skiing at all.


Nice turns on sticky snow at the terminus of Nisqually Glacier.

Quite surprisingly for this time of year, snow coverage along the Nisqually River below 5000 ft had actually improved slightly since the last time I'd skied to the bridge on April 14. Lots of recent avy debris had come down the slopes on either side, but nothing was moving now even after 5pm, and there was no real danger.



The ramp up to the south side of the bridge was still in fine shape, easy travel shuffling up without skins, and no bushwhacking needed yet, with still about 3-4 ft of snowpack.



Out to the bridge just before 5:30pm, and although traffic was very light on this Tuesday afternoon, Hannah managed to get a ride from a nice couple (with a blue heeler!) within 20 minutes, while I waited in the sunny parking lot with our gear. A gorgeous day with 6200 vert of very springlike skiing, with some good turns and some sticky straightlining too.




MOUNT RAINIER RECREATIONAL FORECAST
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SEATTLE WA
400 AM PDT TUE APR 29 2014

SYNOPSIS...A WEAK WARM FRONT BRUSHING WESTERN WASHINGTON WILL KEEP SKIES PARTLY SUNNY OVER THE PARK TUESDAY MORNING. A STRONG UPPER LEVEL RIDGE BUILDING OVER THE REGION WILL BRING MOSTLY SUNNY SKIES TUESDAY AFTERNOON. THE STRONG UPPER LEVEL RIDGE AND OFFSHORE FLOW WILL BRING SUNNY AND WARM WEATHER WEDNESDAY AND THURSDAY WITH HIGH FREEZING LEVELS. A SHIFT TO ONSHORE FLOW WILL BRING SOME INLAND COOLING ON FRIDAY. AN UPPER LEVEL LOW WILL BRING COOLER AND CLOUDIER WEATHER WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS NEXT WEEKEND.

TUESDAY...PARTLY SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL NEAR 6500 FEET INCREASING TO 8500 FEET IN THE AFTERNOON.
TUESDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLEAR. FREEZING LEVEL NEAR 11000 FEET.
WEDNESDAY...SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL NEAR 12000 FEET.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT...CLEAR. FREEZING LEVEL NEAR 13000 FEET.
THURSDAY...SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL NEAR 13000 FEET.

TEMPERATURE AND WIND FORECASTS FOR SELECTED LOCATIONS.

                       TUE    TUE    WED    WED    THU
                            NIGHT         NIGHT

SUMMIT   (14411 FT)     15     19     22     24     24
                      W 10  SW  5  SW  5  SW 10  SW 15

CAMP MUIR(10188 FT)     30     36     40     43     41
                      S  5   S  5   S 10  SW 10  SW 10

PARADISE  (5420 FT)     57     41     66     43     68
                     NE 10  NE 15  NE 15  NE 15  NE 10

LONGMIRE  (2700 FT)     68     42     74     48     75
                      E 15   E 15   E 15   E 15   E 10

++ TEMPERATURES AND WIND FOR THE SUMMIT AND CAMP MUIR ARE AVERAGE
   CONDITIONS EXPECTED IN THE FREE AIR AT THOSE ELEVATIONS.
++ TEMPERATURES FOR PARADISE AND LONGMIRE ARE THE EXPECTED HIGHS AND
   LOWS. WIND IS THE AVERAGE WIND EXPECTED DURING THAT PERIOD.

EXTENDED FORECAST...

THURSDAY NIGHT...PARTLY CLOUDY. FREEZING LEVEL NEAR 12500 FEET.
FRIDAY...MOSTLY SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL NEAR 11000 FEET.
FRIDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 8000 FEET.
SATURDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 5000 FEET.
SATURDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 6000 FEET DECREASING TO 5000 FEET AFTER MIDNIGHT.
SUNDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 4500 FEET.
SUNDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 5000 FEET.
MONDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 5000 FEET.


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Amar Andalkar
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Re: Apr 29 + May 1, 2014, Mt Rainier, Muir to Bridge
« Reply #1 on: 05/06/14, 03:43 PM »

May 1:

Having decided not to make a summit ski attempt on Wednesday-Thursday, on Thursday morning I was headed back from Seattle to Paradise, joined this time by Drew Tabke and his friend Mike who was road-tripping from Utah. Our plan was to ski Muir to the bridge, perhaps including a ski of the Cowlitz Glacier from Cathedral Gap, and then head to the west side of Mount Saint Helens and Blue Lake trailhead that evening, hoping to find that uncommonly-skied route in good condition the next day with easy access to snowline.

We left one car at the bridge and shuttled up to Paradise, departing with another leisurely start just after 11am. No easterly pass flow at Paradise anymore, and it was almost calm as we skinned up past Pan Point.


Drew skinning in the Chilean hat, with Mount Adams at left above the Tatoosh Range and the next day's destination of Saint Helens at right.

At noon, we noticed several skiers descending via Fuhrer Finger (about 5, in 2 parties). It was unclear if they had summited or not, maybe they'll post a report someplace? It looked like nothing major had slid, but skiing a steep south-facing line like that (basically a half-funnel reflector oven facing the sun) at noon on the warmest day of the year thus far, given the high avalanche hazard and well over 5 ft of recent snow, is far beyond my tolerance for risk. Either they know something about weather and snowpack high on Rainier that I don't, or they got very lucky. The thin high clouds made the light flat enough that it was impossible to see their ski tracks on the upper mountain, but did produce nice solar halos once again.


Another nice 22° solar halo in the thin cirrus overhead.

Instead of strong winds down low like Tuesday, this time it was quite a bit windier up high, with an increasing SW breeze of 10-20 mph as we skinned up the Snowfield. Despite much warmer air temperatures and a freezing level 3-4000 ft higher, it felt much colder than Tuesday as we arrived at Muir just before 2:30pm.



Plans to continue up to Cathedral Gap were quickly abandoned given the wind, but we decided to still ski the Cowlitz Glacier. I had skied it on April 10 from Cathedral Gap with a large group, and felt comfortable navigating through the crevassed areas despite the recent snowfall. We headed down at 3pm, traversing north from Muir to the far side of the Cowlitz which has far fewer crevasses on the upper part.



Snow conditions on the Cowlitz were really good, smooth corn snow of fairly high quality, not perfect by any means but quite nice compared to Tuesday's snow on the Muir Snowfield, clearly helped by 2 more days of consolidation.


Three-shot panorama of Cowlitz Glacier from below some large seracs. (click for double-size version)


We traversed back below Anvil Rock near 9000 ft between extensive crevasses to the Paradise Glacier and then rejoined the Muir Snowfield near 8000 ft. Then down the same safer NW slope again to reach the Nisqually. Unlike Tuesday, this time there were a few ski tracks which had gone down Nisqually Chute either earlier that day or the previous day. There was also much more avalanche debris all around that area, as several slopes had slid with wet slabs and sluffs on Wednesday. Skiing the steep SSW-facing Nisqually Chute during those high avalanche conditions is also well beyond my tolerance for risk, it just doesn't seem like the reward (mediocre semi-consolidated almost-corn this time) is worth the risk (large wet slab avalanche).


Five-shot vertical panorama of Nisqually Glacier from atop the NW-facing slope, with a large avy debris deposit originating from Nisqually Chute (right), and lots of more recent avy debris too. (click for double-size version)


The lower Nisqually was just as sticky as Tuesday, somehow 2 more days of consolidation had done little to improve the snow down here, although it was still not grabby or mushy, and it skied decently. Still totally untracked down here other than our pair of tracks from Tuesday.


Two shot panorama / multiple exposure of skiing down the lower Nisqually Glacier.

The ski out along the river went fine despite the sticky snow, even on a snowboard. Nice to have a snowboarder along to groom a smooth path for me, and also nice to have a car waiting for us at the bridge this time, no need to hitchhike!



Another awesome day with 6200 vert, including some nice corn turns on the Cowlitz and the free 1500 ft bonus from the car shuttle. And on to the next destination: the unknown west side of Mount Saint Helens via Blue Lake mudflow. (TR being written...)




MOUNT RAINIER RECREATIONAL FORECAST
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SEATTLE WA
400 AM PDT THU MAY 1 2014

SYNOPSIS...A STRONG UPPER LEVEL RIDGE AND LOW LEVEL OFFSHORE FLOW WILL PRODUCE ONE MORE DAY OF SUNNY AND VERY WARM WEATHER. A SHIFT TO ONSHORE FLOW ALONG WITH A WEAK COLD FRONT WILL BRING LOWER TEMPERATURES AND SNOW LEVELS...CLOUDS...AND A CHANCE OF LIGHT RAIN LATE FRIDAY AFTERNOON. AN UPPER LEVEL LOW WILL MOVE OVER THE REGION THIS WEEKEND FOR COOL AND SHOWERY WEATHER...THEN WEAKEN AND MOVE EAST EARLY NEXT WEEK.

THURSDAY...SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL NEAR 13000 FEET.
THURSDAY NIGHT...BREEZY. MOSTLY CLEAR. FREEZING LEVEL NEAR 12500 FEET.
FRIDAY...SUNNY. A CHANCE OF LIGHT RAIN IN THE AFTERNOON. A CHANCE OF DRIZZLE IN THE AFTERNOON. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 10500 FEET.
FRIDAY NIGHT...BREEZY. MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 7500 FEET.
SATURDAY...CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 5000 FEET.

TEMPERATURE AND WIND FORECASTS FOR SELECTED LOCATIONS.

                       THU    THU    FRI    FRI    SAT
                            NIGHT         NIGHT

SUMMIT   (14411 FT)     22     21     17     16      4
                     SW 20   W 35  SW 55  SW 65  SW 60

CAMP MUIR(10188 FT)     40     37     31     23     18
                     SW 10   W 30  SW 30  SW 35  SW 35

PARADISE  (5420 FT)     69     48     57     33     40
                      N  5  NW 15   W 10  NW 15   W 15

LONGMIRE  (2700 FT)     77     47     64     40     49
                      E 10   N  5  SW  5  NW 10   W  5

++ TEMPERATURES AND WIND FOR THE SUMMIT AND CAMP MUIR ARE AVERAGE
   CONDITIONS EXPECTED IN THE FREE AIR AT THOSE ELEVATIONS.
++ TEMPERATURES FOR PARADISE AND LONGMIRE ARE THE EXPECTED HIGHS AND
   LOWS. WIND IS THE AVERAGE WIND EXPECTED DURING THAT PERIOD.

EXTENDED FORECAST...

SATURDAY NIGHT...RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS LIKELY. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 5500 FEET.
SUNDAY...RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS LIKELY. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 5500 FEET.
SUNDAY NIGHT...RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS LIKELY. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 5500 FEET.
MONDAY...RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS LIKELY. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 5000 FEET.
MONDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 5500 FEET.
TUESDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 4500 FEET.
TUESDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 5000 FEET.
WEDNESDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF RAIN AND SNOW SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 4000 FEET.


« Last Edit: 05/07/14, 09:57 PM by Amar Andalkar » Logged

Mattski
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Posts: 154


Re: Apr 29 + May 1, 2014, Mt Rainier, Muir to Bridge
« Reply #2 on: 05/06/14, 05:16 PM »

I skied the Nisqually Chute on Wed the 30th at 12 and it was the best corn of the day with only minimal rollers and no entrainment. The hazard was low when we skied through with no sloughing on steep solar aspects. Great skiing with a slow sticky exit. It might of met your risk tolerance had you been there;) We toured from the parking lot just before 7AM topping out just after 10 and headed down at 11:30 with enough ripe corn to make the trip worth it. It was a Dad's day out so we left at 1 to make it to our kid's soccer practice by 5, great day!
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kamtron
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Posts: 559


Re: Apr 29 + May 1, 2014, Mt Rainier, Muir to Bridge
« Reply #3 on: 05/07/14, 12:29 PM »

"Baller G turns" LOL
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Floater
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Posts: 70


Re: Apr 29 + May 1, 2014, Mt Rainier, Muir to Bridge
« Reply #4 on: 05/08/14, 06:21 AM »

"Almost a week later now, I'm still wondering if I should have gone instead, especially since such weather windows with light winds at 14000 ft are so rare on Rainier (usually only a handful of times in an entire January-July summit ski season). But I don't really regret playing it overly safe and just skiing Muir once again."

Wise choice!  You do great reports and we would all wonder why you missed the class! Being solo is a much scarier game and you were smart to dial it back.  Who would give us the weekly conditions for Rainier and all the great pictures?
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