South Tahoma Headwall, Mount Rainier. Photo © Carl Skoog.
South Tahoma Headwall, Mount Rainier. Photo © Carl Skoog.
  Mount Rainier
National Park, 2009
  by Rangers Stefan Lofgren, David Gottlieb, and Tom Payne  

L ots of change within the ranger division of the park set a fresh tone for the 2009 season. Ranger Stefan Lofgren transferred back into the climbing ranger program as the Mountaineering District Ranger. Ranger Margaret Anderson was hired as the new EMS director for the park, and Deputy Superintendent Randy King was transferred to acting superintendent of the park. Jeff Houck was hired as a teacher-ranger-teacher to spearhead office operations at the Paradise Climbing Information Center and to interface between the climbing ranger program and the other programs/divisions in the park.

The climbing ranger program received two major awards in 2009. Chris Olson received a Valor Award for his participation in a rescue on Liberty Ridge in 2002. The Andrew Clark Hecht Memorial Public Safety Achievement Award was presented to the entire climbing ranger program for an outstanding reduction in accidents on the upper-mountain over the last three years.

The climbing ranger program hosted Phu Nuru Sherpa for two patrols. A highly skilled Nepalese climber, Phu Nuru spent one shift at Camp Muir and one shift at Camp Schurman. This is the second year we’ve hosted Nepalese climbers—last year both Mingma Tsheri Sherpa and Chewang Nima Sherpa came for a patrol at Camp Muir.

Focus on the flood damage from November 2006 delayed progress on the Camp Muir Development Concept Plan (DCP) over the past two years. However, 2009 saw renewal of the DCP effort. Improvements include better facilities for the public and for guided parties and a possible switch from solar-dehydrating toilets to a newer style. At Camp Schurman a new roof was installed on the ranger hut.

Climbing Statistics
Above-average snowpack and nice weather kept the mountain in great climbing shape in 2009. Winter-like storms were present in April and May, but June had unseasonably fine weather with sunshine every weekend. This was very different from June 2008, when the sun didn’t appear on a single weekend day. July and August brought decent weather as well. A strong high-pressure system melted the extra snowpack quickly. Both standard routes, Disappointment Cleaver and Emmons/Winthrop, stayed in much better shape than during the previous couple of seasons.

General visitation at Mount Rainier increased about 5% over last season. Climbing usage showed similar increases. In 2007-2008 (October thru September) there were 10,116 climbers. During the same period in 2008-2009, there were 10,616 climbers. Climbing use by route was consistent with recent history. Almost 80% of climbing use on Mount Rainier begins at Paradise (see sidebar).

Mt Rainier climbers, 1950-2009.

The “worst economic times since the Great Depression” brought an increase in recreation to National Parks. It has been suggested that the increase was due to people taking “stay-cations,” seeking recreation close to home instead of traveling long distances or outside the country.

Mountaineering Patrols, High Camp Duty, and Ranger Station Shifts

Climbing rangers patrolled 10 different routes completing 166 ranger-summits and continuing a strong overall presence on the mountain. Duties while patrolling included acquiring up-to-date route information, snow conditions, new hazard locations, taking photos for the climbing blog, monitoring commercial services, and resource protection. Climbing rangers patrolled mostly on the standard routes with the heaviest traffic, but also found time to climb two north-side routes.

Routes patrolled included Disappointment Cleaver, Ingraham Direct, Emmons/Winthrop Glacier, Fuhrer Finger, Liberty Ridge, Ptarmigan Ridge, Gibraltar Ledges and Chute, Kautz Glacier, and Little Tahoma. Patrolling routes put climbing rangers in better positions to assist on search and rescue (SAR) missions than had they been staged at Paradise. Several missions listed in the sidebar were responded to by climbing rangers who were patrolling the upper mountain.

High Camp Duty
Anastasia Blagoveshchenskaya climbs the Kautz Ice Chute. Photo © Todd Eddie.
Anastasia Blagoveshchenskaya climbs the Kautz Ice Chute. Photo © Todd Eddie.
Anastasia Blagoveshchenskaya climbs the Kautz Ice Chute. Photo © Todd Eddie.
Every climbing ranger spent time at high camps this season. There were fewer crossovers in duty stations this summer—Eastside climbing rangers stayed mostly at Schurman and Westside climbing rangers toured mostly through Camp Muir. There were two climbing rangers on staff at the high camps for most of the season. Double staff at high camp enabled rangers to safely climb more often and have a better presence on the mountain. Evening rounds were conducted around 17:30 each evening at high camps. Climbing rangers spent 535 hours during the summer contacting public climbers staying at the high camps and communicated necessary information to keep people safe. Throughout the season (Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend) this meant an average of two hours every night talking with the climbers at both high camps.

High camp leads Jeremy Shank and Tex Cox headed up various projects at high camps this season. These included repainting the toilets with all-weather brown paint, rock stabilization and stair construction, and high camp cleanups. A total of 195 hours of maintenance was recorded along with 146 hours of rock and soil stabilization projects.

Ranger Stations
Paradise office operations moved out of the old Jackson Visitor Center and back into the Guide House at Paradise. The Climbing Information Center at Paradise was staffed seven days a week, 6:00 to 18:45, and the White River Ranger Station was staffed by climbing rangers two days a week, Friday 11:00 to 19:00 and Saturday 7:00 to 12:00.

The main duty while working in the ranger stations was accident prevention. Every climber and guide had to talk to a ranger before receiving their climbing permit. This gave climbing rangers an opportunity to communicate the hazards and current route conditions. Climbing rangers also maintained a blog (http://www.mountrainierclimbing.blogspot.com) with photos and route descriptions from our upper mountain patrols.

Duties accomplished while working the ranger stations included responding to nearby incidents, taking weather observations, training, organizing EMS supplies, assembling blue bags, and completing end-of-shift paperwork.

Searches and Rescues

A small increase in minor rescues occurred this season. There were no fatalities on the upper mountain. One of the more serious rescues involved one of our own climbing rangers accidently skiing into a crevasse. The incident brought home the importance of practicing safety in everyday climbing ranger duties. Operational procedures for upper-mountain patrols are expected to change following a review board recommendation.

Paradise continues to attract the lion’s share of the incidents in the park. Most of the climbing rangers are quartered at Paradise for that reason. Climbing rangers responded to scores of major and minor medicals in the park, supporting the park’s overall emergency response and EMS programs. The general medical incidents included heart attacks, open femur fractures, acute allergic responses, and other life-threatening injuries to non-climbing visitors in the park.

Climbing rangers responded to twenty-six search and rescue (SAR) incidents, nineteen of which were mountaineering related. Most of the SARs were due to leg injuries and a surprising number of breathing complications. The majority of the SARs occurred on the west side of the park. Short descriptions of each mountaineering incident are in the sidebar.

Resource Protection and Monitoring

Public Shelter Maintenance / Food Storage
Climbing rangers emphasized proper food storage to prevent the habituation of animals on the upper mountain this season. The hardest food source for the rangers to control was food left in the public shelter, mostly from day hikers. Climbing rangers had to swing into the shelter multiple times a day to try and keep the “donated” food under control. A successful job has been done so far; by August the reports of foxes stealing food at the high camps had stopped. Rangers reported a total of 82.5 hours spent keeping the public shelter clean. Other resource protection projects included:

  • Properly disposing of human waste
  • Camping on snow or durable surfaces—especially along the Muir corridor
  • Monitoring and getting GPS waypoints of existing tent rings and bivy sites
  • Trash removal inside the Kautz Glacier corridor
  • Keeping the public shelter clean
  • Leave No Trace ethics

Human Waste
During the season, climbing rangers spent 195 hours servicing the toilets at Camp Muir and Schurman. Service included cleaning any gross negligence, pushing down and emptying the toilet paper baskets, and rotating the baskets in the solar dehydrating toilets. There are four toilets in service at Camp Muir this summer—three solar dehydrating toilets and one pit toilet. There was only one toilet at Camp Schurman— a solar dehydrating one.

Location Number of Barrels Pounds
Camp Muir (raw human waste) 9 4000
Camp Muir (blue bags) 9 2000
Camp Schurman (raw human waste) 3 1200
Camp Schurman (blue bags) 2.5 700
Paradise (blue bags) 3 750
White River (blue bags) 0.5 100
West Side Road (blue bags) 0.1 20
Total 27.1 8870

Climbing Impacts
Snow melted down to an extremely low level late in September and the social trails and non-regulated camp sites on the Muir Snowfield began to show more clearly. Rangers rehabilitated many of the impacts along the Snowfield and documented many of the chronic problem areas. The Muir Snowfield continues to be one of the hardest hit areas on the upper mountain. Most of the guided trips and independent climbers still choose to climb through this area, and the area remains popular all year unlike the Inter Glacier which doesn’t see much traffic in winter. Rangers dismantled 62 camp/bivy sites and dispersed 97 cairns.

The Kautz Glacier corridor has gained a lot of visitation due to the new concession plan. All three guiding companies now lead trips through this corridor and reports from both guides and public came back this summer of people not practicing Leave No Trace ethics. Climbing rangers went on multiple patrols to the corridor just to bring down gear from climbers who abandoned it. Fixed lines and climbing gear left on the ice pitches also were reported. Rangers also documented non-regulated campsites within the corridor (taking photos and GPS waypoints) to continue monitoring them. This was also done on Ptarmigan Ridge.

Leave No Trace ethics are the standard applied by rangers and taught to other climbers this season. Keeping the mountain clean, beautiful, and accessible to future climbers is still at the heart of the climbing ranger program. Clean lines, fresh powder, and pure water are all maintained and protected within this set of ethics and continue to be at the core of the climbing ranger program.

General Resource Monitoring
Climbing rangers also took part in the glacier monitoring program, a scientific project that makes mass-balance calculations by taking field observations of ablation stakes placed on the glacier during maximum accumulation in the spring. This year, almost 2 meters of perennial ice melted on the Muir snowfield and almost 5 meters of ice melted on the Nisqually Glacier just below Glacier Vista.

Climbing rangers also took GPS observations of the extent of glacier ice on the Muir snowfield and Nisqually Glacier. GIS studies indicate that the Muir snowfield has lost approximately 45 acres of perennial glacier ice and that the Nisqually Glacier has retreated 700 feet in the last 7 years.

Climbing Concessionaires
There are three guide services who have concessions contracts with Mount Rainier for guiding clients to the summit. Each guide service is limited to the number of user-nights they can provide on the hill. About 41% of climbing use was guided by one of the three climbing concessionaires. There were also 16 commercial use authorizations for single-use guided climbs.

Guide Service Clients Guides Total
RMI 1845 671 2516
AAI 644 338 982
IMG 583 313 896
Total 3072 1322 4394

One of the duties of climbing rangers is to monitor the operation of the climbing concessionaires based on criteria derived from their concessions contract and operating plan. In 2009, RMI was monitored 39 times, AAI 31 times, and IMG 27 times. The guide services were successful and fulfilled their mandatory volunteer time, resource stewardship requirements, and other obligations laid out in their operating plans. There was open communication and cooperation between all the guide services and the park service. The climbing concessionaires teamed up to share gear at the climbing high camps and also share helicopter time to save money in support of their operations.

The climbing program manager also served as the SAR Coordinator and the Aviation Manager for the whole park. This coupled with law enforcement duties and his first season managing the program, took up most of his time.

A failure of the program this season was its neglect of reaching out to public climbing and rescue entities such as The Mountaineers, the American Alpine Club, the Mountain Rescue Association, and the military, to name a few. These organizations are integral to the climbing community and Mount Rainier must be actively associating and coordinating with them. A major goal of the climbing program manager for 2010 will be to re-establish regular communication with these outside cooperators.

2009 Summary
Climbing Ranger Program

Mountaineering District Ranger
Stefan Lofgren

Philip Edmonds
David Gottlieb
Nick Giguere
Nick Hall
Kevin Hammonds
Jeff Houck
Chris Olson
Thomas Payne
Brian Scheele
Cooper Self
Dave Weber
Philippe Wheelock
Sam Wick

High Camp Facilities
Ted Cox (Camp Muir)
Jeremy Shank (Camp Schurman)

Arlington Ashby
Brittany Buckingham
Ken Davies
Lynn Finnel
Scott Hotaling
Ryan Leary
Rachel Mueller

Climbers on Popular Routes
6862 (65%) - Disappointment Cleaver
1895 (18%) - Emmons/Winthrop
513 (5%) - Ingraham Glacier Direct
427 (4%) - Kautz Glacier
198 (2%) - Fuhrer Finger
146 (1%) - Little Tahoma
139 (1%) - Gibraltar Ledges
137 (1%) - Liberty Ridge
275 (3%) - All Other Routes

Search & Rescue Highlights
• May 21, Pederson SAR
RMI client, knee injury near Cathedral Gap. Littered to Camp Muir and sledded to Paradise.
• May 24, Steam Vent SAR
RMI guide fell into summit steam vent; multiple injuries including difficulty breathing. Helicopter evacuation.
• May 24, Boot Top SAR
Broken ankle at 8,100ft on Nisqually Glacier. Transport by litter back to Paradise.
• May 31, Landreth SAR
Overdue climber descending from Camp Muir was located at Panorama Point and accompanied to Paradise.
• June 5, Cross SAR
Summit party assisted down from 13,000ft above Disappointment Cleaver in poor weather.
• June 5, Kowalcyk SAR
Overdue solo climber on Success Cleaver was located safely as he was hiking out.
• July 1, Wick SAR
Ranger skied into crevasse near Emmons Flats, injuring ribs and pelvis. Helicopter evacuation.
• July 4, Rockface SAR
Climber limped into Camp Muir after being hit in the face with a rock and losing consciousness. Helicopter evacuation.
• July 5, HAPE SAR
Climber returned to Camp Muir with severe breathing problems. Weather prevented helicopter evacuation. Assisted to Paradise on foot.
• July 5, Wilkinson SAR
AAI client, knee injury near Moon Rocks. Transport to Paradise by litter.
• July 24, Dobell SAR
Climber at Camp Muir with severe AMS. Assisted on foot to Paradise.
• August 3, Cousins SAR
Climber stuck on Pinnacle Peak. Assisted off the peak with no injuries.
• August 16, Geehan SAR
Missing hiker located near Panorama Point, accompanied down to Paradise.
• August 16, Rothged SAR
Glissading hiker above Panorama Point sustained multiple injuries. Helicopter evacuation.
• August 21, Page SAR
Climber injured knee on Muir Snowfield. Transported by litter to Paradise.
• August 21, Stubbs SAR
Dehydrated climber on Muir Snowfield, assisted on foot to Paradise.
• August 26, Larson SAR
RMI client tripped on Muir Snowfield, possible boot top fracture. Transported by litter to Paradise.
• Sept 1, HAPE Two SAR
AAI client with breathing difficulties at Cathedral Gap. Helicopter evacuation.
• Sept 16, Emmons Shoulder SAR
RMI client tripped at 12,800ft while decending Disappointment Cleaver route. Helicopter evacuation.