Monday, July 28, 2008

Fire Lookouts

View of Grand Park from Mount Freemont

I have added a new set of Web pages for a guide to the fire lookouts in the NP and outside with views of Mt. Rainier. The pages include an overview and sites and map of sites. These lookouts offer excellent vista of the whole area, especially Mt. Rainier as well as offer an interesting history lesson since they were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1932 through 1934.

In addtiion there are two US Forest Service fire lookouts, one north and one south of the NP which also provided excellent views of Mt Rainier. This are more popular destinations as the access is easier and not requiring a NP pass. All of the rest of the lookouts in the area, two in the NP and about half a dozen USFS lookouts have been discontinued due to being destroyed or removed.

One last word. Two of the NP lookouts, Gobblers Knob and Mount Freemont were heavily damaged in the storms of November 2006 and the unusually high snowpack of the winter 2007-08, and haven't been fully rebuilt, so access may be limited, especially if you want to stay overnight (and remember a backcountry permit is required for this).

I hope you enjoy the information and it's useful, and please let me know if you have any questions, comments, suggestions or problems with the Web pages.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Carbon River Rd II

I wrote about the National Park Service plans for the Carbon River road, and how people can submit their comments. Well, Jeffery Mayer, with the Tacoma News Tribune has published an interesting point of view, which kinda' shows there is no real answer here because the road is between the river and the rocks.

It's the proverbial between a rock and a hard place and history isn't on your side. The road was intentionally built along the river in the 1920's, decided by NPS Director Stephen Mather over the objections of the federal Bureau of Public Roads. The Bureau knew it was a disaster always waiting to happen every year of floods. And after the road had national historical landmark signifiance, the NPS was now stuck in a perpetual repair mode, until in November 2006 when nature destroyed 40% of it beyond repair.

So, now the NPS is trying to find an answer where there is no optimum solution. If you want the road, you'll spend a money every year to maintain it and a lot of money every few years after floods to rebuild it. And in many locations along the route the river is the road or will be at point in the future, the road is the path of least resistance rivers like to follow, the idea of least expended energy.

The problem is that road is 5 miles to the Ipsut Campground which is very popular with picnic areas along it. This shortens the high to the Carbon River glacier to 6-7 miles roundtrip, easily doable by many people. But now it's an extra 10 mile hike from the Carbon River entrance roundtrip just to get to the Ipsut campground, and then hike to the glacier. In short it's an overnight hike, and with the Ipsut campground severly damaged from the flood and now a backcountry campground (no facilities), it's not a family outing.

And now the NPS is following up on the General Management Plan (GMP) which opted to eventually remove the road in favor of a hike and bike trail to the Ipsut campground. But the floods moved that up to reality and one of the options is to repair the first 3 miles or so which were the least damaged section and convert the rest to the hike and bike trail. Except that's only a short-term alternative until better longterm solutions can be found.

This is because it doesn't really matter if you have a Carbon River road or hike and bike trail, the river is still the problem and the danger to it. It will washout on occasion from floods, it's back to the river and rocks situation where you can't win. But if you remove the road for the trail, the NPS will now be depriving many visitors from their rightful experience. Mt. Rainier NP was built as a drive-in National Park, to be experienced by car and walking.

And the reality doesn't match anymore, at any price. And so the choices are really the lessor of evils but also depriving many people of coming and enjoying the National Park. And my view since I haven't said? I wouldn't want to be the Superintendent who has to make the final decision alternative to propose to the National Parks Chief. You'll be standing in the spotlight with no protection from the public and Congressonal criticism.

So I haven't said, but I would opt for the intermediate, meaning maintain the first 3 miles until it's clearly not financially feasible in light of the river. And then maintain whatever road you can until the river controls the situation, be it only one to two miles, and the keep converting it to a minimal hiking trail. I am in favor of rebuilding the Ipsut campground, somewhere safer, to make it a destination with facilities.

But it's not my decision, only my opinion.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Collecting seeds

As reported in the Tacoma News Tribune:

"Volunteers will be needed in August and September to help collect plant seeds at Mount Rainier National Park. The seeds are needed to help with restoration work in flood-damaged areas of the park, said Anine Smith, who is coordinating the collection. Volunteers will be collecting seeds at Sunshine Point, the Nisqually to Christine Falls section of the road to Paradise, West Side Road, Paradise and if all goes well at the White River Campground.

Due to the heavy snowpack, the flowering season is delayed, shortened and for some species this year, maybe even nonexistent, Smith said. She said the work will need to be done quickly to collect as many seeds as possible before the snow starts falling again.

If you are interested in participating, contact Smith at"

I'll post a update when I get word from the NPS with more details and schedules.

Debris flows

On August 15-16, 2006 a small debris flow in the upper Van Trump Creek basin raced down the steep slopes over Comet, Van Trump and Christine Falls into and down the Nisqually river (Seattle PI article). The debris flow started after a period of warm weather caused a portion of the Kautz Creek glacier to calve off over Wapowety Cleaver into the steep wall upper basin, and took ice and debris downstream.

It proceeded to inundate the falls and creek with mud and debris with much of it going into the Nisqually River and carried downstream by the main flow of the river. By the time is reached the USGS streamflow gage at National, the river rose just under 3 inches in minutes, partly from the silt and sediment and partly the increased flow of the melted ice and water from the Van Trump basin.

While this debris flow raised alarms, it was just a small one in the history of mud and debris flows off Mount Rainier, in fact a figurative sneeze of one. But it raised concerns and scientist have renewed their research this year in part from the significantly higher than normal snowpack and late snowmelt (Olympian article).

What does this mean to you the visitor?

It means when you're hiking the trails you should be alert to the signs of upstream debris flows. This is important especially if you're on a trail near a stream, where mud and debris flows can be high and wide through the valley along the stream or creek.

This is especially important this year with the snowpack and in July and August, the warm weather months where the chances of sudden glacier activity and subsequent mud and debris flows increase. And it's important at night if you're in one of the backcountry campground alongside a creek or river. Often the temperature diurnal at night from the warm weather creates the possiblity of glacial activity resulting in mud and debris flows.

It's not something to be in constant anxiety about, but it's worth noting when you hear loud, unusual sounds.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Seeking information

You can help my project. While developing the Mt. Rainier NP photo guide I ran across some historical reports on expeditions around Mt. Rainier before it became a National Park in 1899. I posted an entry about the first scientific expedition by Israel Cook Russel, Otis Smith and Bailey Willis, and others.

I've managed to find the set of 4x5 negatives Bailey Willis took on the expedition, currently in the archives of the USGS in Denver. They have scanned some of the collection but don't plan to scan the bulk for some time yet, so I'm discussing some options to help, or at least see the negatives and any prints (without going to Denver).

I've also managed to find locate and get a copy of George Otis Smith's field notes on the geology of Mt. Rainier on the expedition. I've found archives of some of Bailey Willis and Israel C. Russell's materials but very little of the expedition, and I have inquiries with university libraries and departments where they were professors, but considering it's the summer, answers will take awhile.

And so, I'm asking if you know of any materials or information about the expedition, I would be grateful. I realize it's an off-shoot from the photo guide, but it's an intriguing adventure into this group and their expedition. The initial goal is to find enough information to retrace the expedition and see if I can locate where the photos were taken, and if possible to take new 4x5 photos (yes, I shoot 4x5).

If it works out, probably a few years from now, and enough material is useful to retrace the expedition and locate the sites of the photos, the plan would be to produce an on-line paper or pamphlet for people to learn from the history of the NP, including a portfolio of photos then and recent.

And so it's just an expedition into an expedition. And like the first, who knows where it will lead and what it finds. But what's not to like about it? A snapshot of history meets the modern world. So you can help by sending me e-mail.

Monday, July 21, 2008

News and access

I have updated the Mt. Rainier NP news and access Web pages, at table of contents for the photography guide (see top section on news, access and monthly report).

To summarize, all the roads are now open including the road to Sunrise. There will be occasionally delays on highway 123 to Cayuse Pass as the State Department of Transportation fixes the highway from the landslides and this last winter high snowpack. In addition, the Carbon River road is still closed at the entrance, and is undergoing review where you can submit your comments on the various options.

The snowpack is still there, including some at Paradise and covering the Mowich Lake area where the road is cleared to the campground, but the campground, surrounding lakes and trials have snow. It will be another 2-3 weeks before the Mowich Lake area is snow free at the lake, but snow will persists in the trails above the lake, which includes Spray Park, where the wildflowers are usually out this time of year.

This limits the number of photo opportunities with wildflowers to the lower elevations for now and the next few weeks, but it means August looks good for all the areas this year. For July this also limits the number of snow-free trails and access the backcountry and all above 5-6,000 feet, including extensive lengths of the Wonderland trail, are still snowbound and may be for weeks to come, but things will improve into August.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Monday, July 14, 2008

No Guns in NP's

Despite an overwhelming outcry from Department of Interior senior career managers within the National Park Service (NPS) and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and from retired NPS Park Superintendents, the Secretary of the Interior is continuing his effort at the behest and on behalf of the National Rifle Association (NRA) to allow concealed and loaded firearms in National Parks (NP) an Wildlife Refuges (WR).

The Secretary and his staff are doing this in the disguise of a perceived but imaginary threat on people in NP's and WR's and the percieved but imaginary infringement on the freedoms of citizens' "right to bear arms" anywhere in federally owned lands, with the only exception as identified by specific regulations, which are rare. It's a sham on the public to be safe in NP's and WR's, and would very easily make it worse.

The rule change, published in the Federal Register, written as to appear innocuous unless one reads through it. It states,

"A person may possess, carry, and transport concealed, loaded, and operable firearms within a national park area in the same manner, and to the same extent, that a person may lawfully possess, carry, and transport concealed, loaded and operable firearms in any state park, or any similar unit of state land, in the state in which the federal park, or that portion thereof, is located, provided that such possession, carrying and transporting otherwise complies with applicable federal and state law."

In additon some gunowner groups are pushing its membership through the public comments to revise the rule removing the word "concealed", allowing everyone to have and carry a weapon in a NP and WR, in public view (not concealed). The public comments are infected with the same response no common person would right let alone many writing the exact same comment. Clearly the public comment section just got spammed.

That's it, wrapped in nearly two pages of political rhetoric about allowing state laws for gun ownership to govern managment and use of federal lands. And while it argues this applies to US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands and is only consolidating federal rules with those adhering to state laws, it's a ruse to equate those lands with NP's and WR's, which are managed under different policies and for different purposes.

And this proposal has the backing of a small number of Senators who favor the NRA's position on the total freedom of individuals to own firearms and take them anywhere for their personal safety without regard for the safety of everyone else. They're arguing individual rights trump the rights of all of us as a society, country and nation. It's not about the right to carry guns, but the right of everyone to be safe from guns.

This would create the risk of anyone visiting a NP or WR to realize that there will be people anywhere they go that may, and likely will, have a firearm on their person or in the backpack. And for what purpose would anyone do that except to show they can? The risk of needing a firearm in a NP or WR is lower than being hit by lightning, and where the risk is assessed to need a firearms, NP and WR rangers are trained and licenses to carry and use one.

We don't need vigilantism in NP and WR. We don't need to generate fear of other people in NP's and WR's of someone having a loaded firearm. We don't need to put NP and WR rangers at risk for that reason too, not knowing if they stop and inquire with visitors they can, and maybe will, have a loaded firearm ready at hand. Do we want the rangers treating every visitor as a suspect for carrying a loaded firearm? Or worse, treating everyone as suspects instead of visitors? Or starting conversations with, "First, do you have a gun in your possession or are you carrying a weapon right now?"

This is what it boils down to, your safety to visit and enjoy our NP's and WR's and the rights of those who feel the guns belong everywhere and are willing to risk everyone else's life for that behavior. I make no bones about the fact I want to visit, hike and photograph in Mt. Rainier NP without the fear someone else on the trails and especially in the backcountry will have a gun, and the fear they could, and likely will, use it.

It's a very simple argument that federal lands, especially National Parks and Wildlife Refuges, shouldn't be the province or under the jurisdiction of individual states. It's our land for the benefit of all of us and all the visitors to enjoy their visit without the fear of people with guns.

The window for public comment has been extended to August 8, 2008, see the Web page for additional information for additional information and the Web page for your comment.

So, for the sake of the visitors' and their families and ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable visit to NP's and for the sake of the National Park employees, concessionaire employees and volunteers who work in the Parks.

Let's keep National Parks Firearm Free Places

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Northwest Area

I've updated the photo guide for the northwest area in the National Park (NP) which is accessible via Highway 165 through Wilkerson where the road splits into the two entrances, the Carbon River Valley and the Mowich Lake area. You can get an overview of the separate quadrants and Paradise areas. The goal is to provide more detail information for each area to help you with your visit and photography.

Over the next month or so, the other areas will have the Web pages updated similar to the other on-line areas. Everyone is welcome to send e-mail with suggestions or questions they have about the areas and would like to see more information. Over time, each of these areas will be more fully expanded with more information, references and photos. For now I want to get an initial framework up to see what direction I need to go with the Web pages.

In addtion, work will continue on the other Web pages, labelled "forthcoming", meaning overviews and guides to other aspects of Mt. Rainier NP which should help your visit and photography. Some of these areas are beyond my experience, and I will be using help from friends and available resources to develop the Web pages, so your help would be appreciated. You can see where I'm at from the table of contents.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Carbon River Road Plans

The National Park Service at Mt. Rainier NP have updated their Website with the proposals for the Carbon River, see alternatives. This includes images of the maps they displayed at the two public meeting forums in late June and early July, along with a more complete description of the alternatives.

I hope you review alternatives and send the NPS you comments and suggestions via e-mail, see the link in Web pages (above) or use the form (MS .doc, see link) to mail your comments and suggestions. This is your chance to be heard about the Carbon River, and while there is a wide view on the issue of what to do with the Carbon River road, everyone's view counts.

The plan is to review all the public comments to develop a draft final proposal this fall for another round of public review and meetings to be revised and submitted later in the fall or early winter, so any funds for fiscal year 2009 and 2010 can be identified in NPS and DOI appropriations bills by Congress.

If this sounds like a long process, think of the diligent NPS folks who have worked on this for years already after the November 2006 floods, and all the public meetings they and the Superintendent of Mt. Rainier NP has overseen along with the many management meetings within the NPS. They've worked hard and deserve the recognition for their work, as well you deserve the chance to voice your view.

So, there it is, and it's your turn now.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Trail Overview

I've added a new Web page to the photo guide giving an overview of Trail Overview. The trails in Mt. Rainier NP have been around for centuries from the various Indian Tribes who visited the region for the meadows, resources, and wildlife. Almost all of these trails were for going through the NP area and to the meadows where Tribes established temporary camps for ceremonies, seasonal hunting and simply vacations.

After the Indians came the settlers looking for food and timber, and eventuall minerals. Along with them came the explorers, adventurers and climbers and then the surveyers and scientists. The first of the trails were in the southwest quadrant from Ashford to Longmire and eventually to Paradise and in the northwest quadrant, the Grindstone Trail to the upper elevations of Mt. Rainier which is now the Mowich Lake road and Spray Park trail.

From there surveyers and scientists established more extensives trails and the miners who filed claims to mineral and coal, namely in the White River and Carbon Rivers valleys. During the 1910's into the 1930's some of the trails become roads and new areas were opened with roads and later trails. During this time the Wonderland trail was fully established and improved over the decades.

Anyway, that's the Web page, which you can find on the Photo Guide.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Carbon River Road

View more images of Carbon River flood damage, courtesy of NPS.

The Carbon River road in Mount Rainier National Park (NP) is the least visited entrance, mostly because the access is via rural highway 165 through Wilkerson. It's also one of the unique areas on the NP, a temperature rainforest which has some of the oldest climax Hemlock forests in western Washington and the Cascade Mountains, and has one of the lowest elevation glacier, the (Carbon Glacier).

The Carbon River entrance has the five-plus mile drive along an historic, often flood damaged and repaired, road to the Ipsut Creek campground. The road once extended another two-plus mile to the toe of Carbon Glacier, but was abandoned ago due to frequent washout from floods. The Carbon River road was a road until the November 2006 which destroyed about 40% of the 5 miles, see trail damage map (PDF).

Since then the Carbon River road has been closed to cars at the NP entrance and open to hikers and bikers only. This may have been the way it would be and the National Park Service (NPS) simply improve and maintain the trail from damage, but the management of the Carbon River valley is regulated by the General Management Plan (GMP) and the road, built, repaired and improved throughout the 1900's, is part of the National Historic Landmark District (NHLD) registry.

And so the NPS is currently reviewing options, with public meetings and through July 31st, gathering public comments on the options. These options, described below, will not necessarily be the only choices, and elements of some may be incorporated into the final proposal to be ready for public release and comment this fall.

The NPS have developed three preliminary alternatives, two with short and long term alternatives, and were presented to the public at the meetings with public comment sessions. I personally am grateful for the hard work of the NPS folks and especially the team that did the work and conducted the meetings. They presented overviews of the flood damage to the Carbon River valley, the history of the area and some geomorphic work that will continue to effect the river for decades and beyond.

And so here is the alternatives for public comment.

Carbon River Road Public Scoping
June 30 - July 31, 2008
Preliminary Conceptual Alternatives

Alternative 1: No action (continue current management): Minor road stabilization to reduce further deterioration of historic Carbon River road. Maintain and Informal Multiuse (hiking / bicycling) trail within or adjacent to historic road corridor. This includes:

Informal hike and bike trail in historic road corridor,
Parking at entrance,
Patrol Cabin relocated to entrance or Ipsut Creek,
Continued picnikding at Chenuis and Ipsut,
Add picnic area at entrance,
Eventually remove or relocated facilities to boundary expansion area,
Ipsut Creek hike and bike camp.

Alternative 2: 2a (short term) Construct and maintain a formal multiuse (hiking / bicycling) trail within or adjacent to historic road corridor. 2b (longterm) Over time construct additional sections of the trail to link sectios of the former roadway. This includes:

Formal hike and bike trail in historic road corridor,
Parking at entrance,
Patrol cabin at Ipsut Creek,
Ipsut Creek hike and bike camp,
Continued picnicking at Chenuis and Ipsut,
Temporary access to decommission Ipsut Creek area.

Same as alternative 2a except
More sections of trail link intact sections of former roadway,
Remove entrance station and maintenance facilities,
Relocate bunk house and expand parking,
Maintain hiking and bicycling access to Ipsut Creek campground.

Alternative 3: 3a (short term) Maintain a sustainable one lane road with turnouts to Chenuis area and construct and maintain a hiking / bicycling trail beyond Chenuis within and adjacent to the historic orad corridor. 3b (long term) Over time construct a new sustainable hiking only trail outside the Carbon River road corridor to replace the Carbon River road. This includes:

Similar to alternative 2a except reconstruction to near Chenuis,
One lane road with turnouts,
Parking at entrance, Old Mine trail and Green Lake trail,
Expanded parking and turnout at Chenuis,
Construct hike and biking trail to Ipsut Creek Campground,
Patrol cabin relocated near Green Lake trail.

Same as alternative 3a except,
Parking at entrance,
Remove entrance station and maintenance facility and relocate bunkhouse,
Construct new hiking only trail on high terrace outside historic road corridor,
Construct loop trails to historic road corridor,
Replace Ipsut Creek hike and bike campground with backcountry camp.

Public comment open until July 31, 2008, and to add your voice, follow the link to open for public comment.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

MPG V2.2

Click on photo for Photo Guide

I've updated the guide with two Web pages. The first is a Monthly Report Web page. This page is for general information for each month, currently for July 2008. It's not meant to be specifically or completely accurate or complete, but for something the news and information the news and information won't or doesn't normally provide.

The second is the updated Paradise areaWeb page and the new Southwest area via the Nisqually Entrance, both updated for July conditions. The key here is the addtion of the NPS shuttle service from Ashford to Longmire and to Paradise. Parking at Paradise is still restricted by the snowpack, Paradise Inn construction, and still closed Paradise Valley Road. The message is get there early or use the shuttle.

So what are the prospects for July? Well, for one, the snowpack is gone below 4,000 feet in most areas except shaded and shelter areas and north slopes, and melting quickly between 4,000 and 5,000 feet. This means the lower elevations trais are clear with only patches of snow, and the mid-elevation trails clearing. The road to Sunrise from White River campground is still open daily depending on road work, but should open continuously by early July.

Two other things.

Bugs. They should be late this year, good thing, but lots more as there is more meltwater and warming temperatures, bad thing. Be prepared for bugs through mid-to-late August or the first freezing temperatures.

Wildflowers, Same thing with bugs, lots of them but later than usual. You should begin finding them in the lower elevations, and eventually at mid and higher elevations through July. Bring your camera.

That's it for version 2.2 for July.