Mt. Rainier, winter by Mike Gauthier
  Mount Rainier National Park 2005  
  by Mike Gauthier, Supervisory Climbing Ranger  


005 was a unique year of climbing on Mount Rainier. The winter was marked by extended stretches of clear and stable weather with very little snowfall. This provided incredible winter mountaineering opportunities, of which some climbers took advantage. We found that winter registration grew threefold in 2004/2005 to over 375.

The stable weather pattern changed in the spring, however, when a series of cold and wet storms blanketed the upper mountain with snow. This precipitation revitalized the glaciers and the alpine meadows for the summer season. Aesthetically and botanically, the meadows were simply amazing. They melted out early and many Mount Rainier aficionados found the abundant alpine wildflowers in 2005 to be some of the most spectacular in recent memory.

High on the Tahoma Glacier. Photo © Ben Bottoms
High on the Tahoma Glacier. Photo © Ben Bottoms
Another high point in 2005 was the reopening of the Paradise Guide House, now the best place to get a climbing permit. The newly remodeled facility houses climbing, alpine ecology, and rescue exhibits. During the summer, climbing rangers staff the Climbing Information Center each morning and help with registration. The Guide House has become a great venue for information about the upper mountain.

Similarly, the renovation of historic Camp Muir that started in 2004 was finally completed in the summer of 2005. The contractors did an outstanding job restoring the Cook Shack, Public Shelter, and Historic Men’s Toilet. In particular, the work on the Public Shelter was exceptional. Visitors staying at Camp Muir will appreciate the enhanced appearance, lighting, and livability of the remodeled interior.

On the climbing front, the season was intense and short. Most notably, the total number of climbers registered decreased. Though the winter climbing season was successful, formidable spring weather denied climbers reliable access until July. In addition, 2005 had numerous rescues and three recoveries; spring was especially difficult.

Climbing Statistics
8,972 climbers registered in 2005. We again see a continued trend in climber registration numbers. Over the past five years, those numbers have been steadily decreasing (see table below). Of the total registered, 3,879 were part of a guided trip, while 5,093 climbed independently. Independent climbers have a 44% success rate; guide services average a 60% success rate.

  2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Climbers Registered 13,114 11,874 11,313 9,897 9,251 8,972
Independent Climbers 8,736 7,282 7,632
6,377 5,537 5,093
Guides and Clients 4,378 4,592 3,681 3,520 3,714 3,879
Total Summits 6,083 5,171 5,553 5,295 4,951 4,604

The Disappointment Cleaver remains Mount Rainier’s most popular route with over 2,049 attempts. The registration statistics for the most popular routes are in the sidebar.

Climbing rangers patrolled 12 routes this year, maintaining a strong National Park Service (NPS) presence on the upper mountain. The average patrol included tasks such as: resource monitoring; restroom duties; dismantling of rock walls, cairns, and camps; climber contacts, concession monitoring, and responding to emergencies as needed.

The 2005 seasonal Climbing Ranger Program consisted of four rangers at Camp Schurman and White River and six at Camp Muir and Paradise. In addition, the program welcomed six full-time volunteers and two part-time volunteers. Those 18 rangers were led by two lead climbing rangers and one supervisor.

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 also allow rangers to note the plans of climbing groups, which can prove invaluable should the party encounter problems during the climb.

Climbing rangers regularly cleaned and maintained the pit and solar dehydrating toilets. It is incredibly beneficial to have the dedicated maintenance manager at Camp Muir from Thursday to Sunday. Climbing rangers also provided routine maintenance and repair at both camps.

A restoration crew focused on the Camp Muir Public Shelter and Men’s Pit Toilet in August and September. In the Public Shelter, new bunks, new cooking surfaces, another sun light, an active ventilation system, and a new concrete floor were installed. Contractors moved and reconstructed the Men’s Pit Toilet, which was collapsing into the Cowlitz Glacier, farther south, enabling its return as a storage building.

On Ptarmigan Ridge. Photo © Marcus Donaldson
On Ptarmigan Ridge. Photo © Marcus Donaldson
Ranger Stations
Climbing rangers staffed the White River Ranger Station and the Climbing Information Center at Paradise. They are available during the mornings and some evenings and are excellent resources for route and weather information as well as the latest safety information. These reports and other climbing information can also be found at: http://www.nps.gov/mora/climb/climb.htm. For pre-recorded information in the spring and summer, call (360) 569-2211, ext. 2314.

Annual climbing passes are $30 and are required for climbing trips. In the summer, climbing passes may be purchased in person at the Paradise Climbing Information 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 or by using the form available on the park web site (listed above). Monies collected fund the climbing ranger program, the human waste program, and preventative Search and Rescue (SAR).

The Mount Rainier climbing rangers responded to over 20 major rescues and four fatalities in 2005. They also assisted numerous visitors in routine events such as carry-outs, minor medical incidents, and short searches for overdue teams. Some of the more noteworthy rescues are summarized in the sidebar.

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 creating new rock walls or tent platforms
 • Traveling on established trails
 • Packing out all trash
 • Leaving no trace

Solid human waste should be disposed by one of two methods: using the established toilets at Camp Schurman and Camp Muir, or by using and packing out blue bags. In 2005, over 36 barrels of human waste (five-and-a-half tons) were collected from high camps and Panorama Point. In good news, we report that fewer climbers this year improperly disposed of their human waste. Climbing rangers, however, still carried down hundreds of pounds of trash from high camps. They also dismantled rock walls, newly established camp sites, and contacted parties who were camping illegally. The vast majority of climbers do their part to leave no trace, and it’s greatly appreciated.

On Liberty Ridge. Photo © David Gottlieb
On Liberty Ridge. Photo © David Gottlieb

Looking Ahead
Climbing rangers will staff the Climber Information Center at the Paradise Guide House in 2006. Paradise will be a busy place, as the NPS expects a number of large scale construction projects to be occurring in the summer. We ask that climbers check in with the NPS before coming to the park. You can find the latest information on our web site: http://www.mountrainierclimbing.blogspot.com

The Camp Muir Public Shelter is also ready to serve climbers once again. It now accommodates 20 people (more in a pinch) and will remain first-come first-served.

In closing, we would like to welcome back our longest-returning seasonal climbing ranger, David Gottlieb. David has served Mount Rainier National Park at Camp Schurman for the past 10 summers. Many climbers may recognize David as the tall thin climbing ranger with the beard. Last winter, David and Jeremy Shank (another long-standing seasonal Camp Schurman climbing ranger) both received the American Red Cross’s Hero Award for rescue work on the mountain. Congratulate them both at Camp Schurman this summer.

2005 Summary
Climbers on Popular Routes
2,049 - Disappointment Cleaver
1,478 - Emmons/Winthrop Glacier
928 - Ingraham Glacier Direct
276 - Kautz Glacier & Fuhrer Finger
94 - Liberty Ridge
100 - Gibraltar Ledges
106 - Little Tahoma
54 - Tahoma Glacier
531 - Other Routes
Search & Rescue Highlights
Ptarmigan Ridge
Two climbers (ages 25 and 28) departed February 1 to ascend Ptarmigan Ridge in 3 days. On day 4, overdue, the party reported by radio that they were continuing despite difficulties. They required 2 more days to summit, where they camped in a severe storm and ran out of food. They descended in storm and poor visibility “by Braille,” requiring another 3 days before being met by rescuers. One frostbitten climber was flown from Camp Muir and one descended with rangers.

Muir Snowfield
On May 23 two hikers who had reached Camp Muir on May 21 were reported overdue. A search found their bodies on the Paradise Glacier at nearly 8,500 feet. The pair apparently wandered off route while descending in storm and poor visibility. They attempted to set up a shelter, but abandoned it. In the ensuing storm, the improperly dressed team succumbed to hypothermia.

Gibraltar Ledges
On June 10, a two-person team was climbing the Gibraltar Ledges route unroped. While ascending at 12,000 feet, one climber slipped in an icy chute, falling 900 feet. The second climber descended to his partner and called 911. The injured climber was without respiration but had a weak pulse. CPR was given until rangers arrived a few hours later although the pulse was lost after 10 minutes. Resuscitation efforts were not successful.

Fuhrer Finger
While ascending the Fuhrer Finger route on June 29, an RMI client was hit by rockfall and sustained an open tibia/fibula fracture. The party provided first aid on the scene, and rangers were contacted. Three RMI guides were dispatched to the accident from Camp Muir with a litter. The patient was lowered down the route, arriving at a prepared landing zone on the Wilson Glacier at midday, from which he was evacuated by air.

Tahoma Glacier
On June 29, a three-person climbing team at 13,500 feet on the Tahoma Glacier called rangers to request a rescue, feeling they could not continue or descend the route because it was too dangerous. They had no tent or stove, only one sleeping bag, and did not think they could survive the night without help in below freezing temperatures and 20-mph winds. Climbing rangers left Camp Schurman at 6:00 p.m., reached the summit at midnight, and retrieved an emergency cache left by helicopter. They found the climbers and escorted them down the Emmons Glacier to the White River Campground.

Ingraham Glacier
On July 7, an RMI client fell on the icy slope at 12,800 feet on the Ingraham Glacier. An RMI guide arrested the client’s fall and then attempted to place a picket for an anchor, but was pulled off his feet when the client slipped again. The guide and client fell past their two teammates, pulling them off too, falling 150-200 feet before hitting a crevasse. The guide, with lacerations and a head injury, radioed for assistance to other RMI parties. Within minutes, a helicopter working nearby was diverted to pick up climbing rangers who were flown one-by-one to the scene. The four climbers, with femur fractures, serious head wounds, and spinal injuries, were airlifted.

Emmons Glacier
On July 12, four members of a seven-person group were descending the Emmons when one member tripped and fell, pulling two off an icy slope near 13,500 feet. The fourth caught the teammates with a self-arrest. The fall injured two. The rest of the party stabilized the injured as a nearby party descended to Camp Schurman and requested assistance. When the party determined they could not remain the night without bivy gear, they descended to Camp Schurman leaving the party leader to stay with the two injured. Rangers at Camp Schurman departed with supplies for the party. They found hypothermic climbers in severe conditions. Early the next morning, the two most injured were airlifted off the mountain, and the leader was escorted down.