Mt Rainier, Ptarmigan Ridge
  Mt. Rainier
National Park
  By Mike Gauthier, Lead Climbing Ranger  

Mount Rainier enjoyed warm, stable and frequently clear weather for much of the summer climbing season. The 2002/03 snowfall at Paradise totaled 602 inches and the park recorded a colder than normal spring. This resulted in wintry conditions that helped keep climbing routes in good shape throughout much of July. 2003 was an excellent year to climb Mount Rainier.

Registration Fee
The climber registration fee changed during the year. Climbing passes increased from the $25 annual and $15 one time pass to a flat $30 annual pass required per climber. Additional funds collected through the cost recovery program in 2003 were directed toward mountaineering program services and support. This included five additional seasonal climbing rangers which allowed for:

• Consistent staffing of Camp Muir and Camp Schurman
• Increased operational hours at the Paradise Climbing Ranger Station in May and September
• Early season maintenance of high camp toilets and other facilities
• Increased mountaineering and resource monitoring patrols

Climbing Data

9,897 climbers registered in 2003—a relatively light year when compared to the record high of 13,114 in 2000. Of the 9,897 registered, 3,520 were led by a guide service and 6,377 climbed independently.

Registered Climbers—Annual Totals 2000 – 2003 (and percent of total):

  2000 2001 2002 2003
Climbers 13,114 11,874 11,313 9,897
Independents 8,736 7,282 7,632 6,377
% independent 67% 61% 67% 64%
Guided 4,378 4,592 3,681 3,520
% guided 23% 39% 33% 36%
Successful 6,083 5,171 5,553 5,295
% successful 46% 44% 49% 54%

The Disappointment Cleaver remains Mount Rainier’s most popular route with over 4,700 climbers registered. The numbers for the seven most popular routes in the park are shown in the sidebar.

South Tahoma GlacierPhoto by Lowell Skoog.
South Tahoma Glacier
© Lowell Skoog.
In 2003 the Park had 14 seasonal climbing rangers and three volunteers. Together they worked more than 500 field days and conducted more than 90 high-camp patrols between May 12th and Labor Day weekend. Rangers also provided for two and three person climbing patrols. This greatly enhanced employee safety and allowed for the collection of valuable resource protection data.

A greater emphasis was placed on impact and resource monitoring. 2003 saw 64 resource-monitoring patrols (these patrols are generally undertaken on routes other than the Disappointment Cleaver and Emmons Glacier). The information gained from resource-monitoring patrols is used for:
• Establishing baseline standards of resource and climber impact through GPS inventory
• Updating route conditions and climbing information
• Gaining familiarity and experience on alternative routes

Camp Muir and Camp Schurman were staffed almost daily throughout June, July and August. Climbing rangers provided updated route, weather, and safety information. Toilets were regularly cleaned and maintained. For example, the door to the Camp Schurman toilet had to be replaced twice because of wind damage.

Climbing rangers staffed the Paradise and White River Ranger Stations for more than 1,200 hours. Climbing information and general public service is provided at these locations daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with weekend coverage in May and September.

Resource Protection
High altitude, expansive glaciers, pristine beauty, and easy access make Mount Rainier one of North America’s most popular mountaineering destinations. To ensure its preservation, the National Park Service works closely with climbers to eliminate additional impacts in fragile alpine areas. Some important tenets of resource protection are: to never create new rock walls or tent platforms, to stay on trails, to pack out all trash, and to properly dispose of human waste.

The proper disposal of solid human waste may mean using “blue bags.” These bags (one clear and one blue, with two twist ties) are used to collect and transport fecal waste where no toilets are available. Blue bags can be obtained when registering for your trip. If used, blue bags can be deposited into 55-gallon barrels located at high camps or selected trailheads. In 2003, more than 35 barrels (six tons) of human waste were collected from high camps and from Panorama Point. However, rangers also noted more than 170 incidences of improper human waste disposal around the mountain.

In 2003, rangers carried down more than 650 lbs of trash from high camps, collapsed 213 cairns (rock piles used as route markers), dismantled 81 rock walls, and contacted 23 parties who were camping in high-impact zones. However, a majority of climbers do indeed do their part and leave no trace, thus allowing climbing rangers to spend more of their time and energy working directly with the public.

  “Once on the summit, [the solo climber] requested (through other climbing teams) a rescue, stating that he was too tired and hypothermic to descend safely.”
The Park had eight major rescues and no fatalities in 2003 . Along the way, climbing rangers responded to a variety of other incidents such as: 19 medical situations, 127 climber assists , 5 litter carryouts, and 10 “mini” searches. Some of the major and more interesting rescues of 2003 are highlighted in the sidebar.

One less-exciting rescue involved the “short-roping” of a solo climber from the summit to Camp Muir in July. This climber chose to ascend despite warnings from guides and other mountaineers. He did not have a solo permit, proper equipment (overnight gear) or supplies (adequate amounts of food and water). Once on the summit, he requested (through other climbing teams) a rescue, stating that he was too tired and hypothermic to descend safely. Climbing rangers from Camp Muir ascended to the crater rim and, over the course of 11 hours, escorted the climber back to Paradise. The climber was cited and convicted in court for endangering the lives of others and soloing without a permit.

Rescues on Mount Rainer are completed by teams, whether they are in the field, in the air, or in the incident command post. Mount Rainier National Park recognizes and thanks Rainier Mountaineering Inc. and the Mountain Rescue Association for their continued assistance and teamwork in the rescue of persons lost or injured.

The National Park Service looked ahead at ways to improve climbing facilities, programs, and operations in 2003. One way we did this was by listening to public comments and suggestions, which are always welcome. Another way was by planning long-range improvement projects. At this time, restoration plans are being developed for historic buildings such as the Guide House at Paradise and the Public Shelter at Camp Muir.

Guide House Restoration
The restoration of the Guide House, for example, began in 2003. It is one of the oldest buildings in the park and needed substantial interior and exterior renovation. Upon completion in 2004, the Guide House will exhibit a newly developed mountaineering information center. There, climbers and other visitors will find information and services specific to alpine mountaineering, search and rescue, NW climbing history, and ways to preserve and protect the mountain. By 2005, climbing operations and registration will also move to the main floor of the refurbished building.

Camp Muir
The National Park Service is also working on a Camp Muir Plan. The Public Shelter, Cook Hut (both historic buildings), and other facilities at Camp Muir are in need of repair, improved access, and safety enhancements. The plan will consider these issues then present distinct alternatives on ways to improve facilities and services at Camp Muir.

Steve Winslow Departure
In March 2003, long time climbing ranger supervisor Steve Winslow became a district ranger at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Climbers and rangers know Steve for his friendly disposition and fondness for backcountry skiing. Not one for the limelight, Steve worked behind the scenes to administer the mountaineering and rescue programs. His efforts supported the rangers who directly serve climbers. We would like to thank Steve for his hard work and attention to climbing issues on Mount Rainier and look forward to seeing him again on the Mountain.
2003 Statistics
Mt. Rainier had 9,897 registered summit climbers for the year, a decline from 11,313 for the previous year, and characeristic of a steady decline from the record setting year of 2000.

Climbers on popular routes
4700 - Disappointment Cleaver
1800 - Emmons/Winthrop Glacier
550 - Ingraham Glacier Direct
400 - Kautz Glacier
200 - Liberty Ridge
120 - Gibraltar Ledges
100 - Little Tahoma

Rescue Highlights
• June
Assistance to nine hypothermic and disoriented climbers on the Emmons Glacier who requested help through a 911 cell phone call
• June
Medical Evacuation of a female climber (30) with a distressed knee injury from the Carbon Glacier
• June
Rescue of a guided male client (50) struck by icefall on the Ingraham Glacier
• June
Rescue of a male climber (29) with a broken leg on the Emmons Glacier
• July
Medical evacuation of a female (15) from Camp Muir suffering from seizures and blackouts
• July
Medical evacuation of a male climber (27) suffering a severe diabetic reaction, Kautz Glacier route
• July
Medical evacuation of a male climber (34) with altitude related illness, Camp Muir
• July
Rescue of a male climber (43) with a broken leg on the Emmons Glacier