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
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.
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).
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
||Number of Barrels
|Camp Muir (raw human waste)
|Camp Muir (blue bags)
|Camp Schurman (raw human waste)
|Camp Schurman (blue bags)
|Paradise (blue bags)
|White River (blue bags)
|West Side Road (blue bags)
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.
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
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
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.
|Climbing Ranger Program
Mountaineering District Ranger
High Camp Facilities
Ted Cox (Camp Muir)
Jeremy Shank (Camp Schurman)
|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
|• July 5, Wilkinson SAR
AAI client, knee injury near Moon Rocks. Transport to Paradise
|• July 24, Dobell SAR
Climber at Camp Muir with severe AMS. Assisted on foot to
|• August 3, Cousins SAR
Climber stuck on Pinnacle Peak. Assisted off the peak with no
|• August 16, Geehan SAR
Missing hiker located near Panorama Point, accompanied down to
|• August 16, Rothged SAR
Glissading hiker above Panorama Point sustained multiple injuries.
|• August 21, Page SAR
Climber injured knee on Muir Snowfield. Transported by litter
|• August 21, Stubbs SAR
Dehydrated climber on Muir Snowfield, assisted on foot to
|• 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.
|• Sept 16, Emmons Shoulder SAR
RMI client tripped at 12,800ft while decending Disappointment
Cleaver route. Helicopter evacuation.