Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some days

It just doesn't pay to even think to go to Mt. Rainier NP unless you're ok with clouds. Not clouds of the normal sort, but being inside clouds. With Paradise at 5,400 feet elevation and the Puget Sound blanketed with a low cloud layer, like today, the mountain is simply draped in clouds, as seen below about 10 am today.

But then it's also the days I sometimes enjoy to realize you're standing inside a cloud. You know it will be different. Driving in on the last section of road to Paradise you really know something is different.

Arriving at Paradise and looking south the trees are barely visible, let alone the Tatoosh Mountains.

You park and find Mt. Rainier to the north isn't there.

And getting out of your car you discover everything closed and no one is really there. Only critters and the diehard hiker/climber who likes these days.

And if you decide to hike and don't know to follow maps or have a GPS unit with you, make sure you remember which way you came as the route will be quickly lost behind you. And it's the old rule for hikers like me, stay on the trail.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Carbon River Road

An article in the Tacoma News Tribune story, reports that the NPS hasn't made the final decision on the future of the Carbon River Road. I've written some posts here, about the flood damage, plans and my choice. Now the NPS will release their choice sometime on or after January, after finishing the environmental assessments and impacts.

After that, there will likely be some more public presentations and meetings about their choice, then the long involved work of getting the money, planning the work, and then get their boots dirtly geting it done. There was no indication which the NPS prefers, but I'll bet they'll go with the one which reduces the longer terms cost for maintenance and minimizes the damage from future floods.

And that, to me, will likely be abandoning the road as a trail in the sections where the river has reclaimed it and building a trail on the slopes around those sections. This is mostly the first mile or two from the entrance. Then the trail can reconnect with the existing trail to Ipsut Campround and all the trails beyond.

This seems the best choice to me because trying to maintain a trail in a river channel, especially one which is constantly depositing material along the channel and will reroute itself during and after floods, like the Carbon River, is a never ending task. Every year of moderate or more severe floods will see the road and trail closed, and every summer the NPS will be repairing it from the damage.

Rerouting the trail and leaving the river to its own devices is the best alternative. But we'll know for sure in January when everyone can chime in again with their view.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Parking at Paradise

It's now a parking lot.

The NPS at Mt. Rainier NP announced the lower parking at Pardise at the old and now demolited visitors center (the 1966 spaceship building, above) is finished and open. It's a little late for this year and won't help through the fall and winter and into spring because there rarely are days where the upper lot even begins to fill, and that's only on weekends or holiday with good weather, but it's there now. And it's uncertain how much will be plowed once the seasonal snow starts. The announcement said there still is some landscaping to finish around the parking lot.

The benefit of this additional parking won't be seen until the summer of 2010. It still won't accommodate all the visitors, and the shuttle service will likely be operated through the main visitors season June through Labor Day weekend. But if you go early in the day, you'll have a better chance of finding parking which is key for many staying at the Paradise Inn or hiking the trails. The summit climb services usually operate vans to reduce the number of vehicles for their trips.

I really like the new visitors center, but still kinda miss the old one. It had a walk-around outer main floor and a 360-degree open top floor. But it was always cold and showed its age by the 1990's when I restarted hiking in the NP, and as the song goes, "The times they are achangin'"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Report on NP

The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO) and Natural Resources Defense Coucil (NRDC) has released a report, "National Parks in Peril", see press release. The report covers a number of national parks in the western U.S., including Mt. Rainier NP. While it's hard to argue against the finding and recommendations, and I don't have access to the full suite of data, information, people and resources they had for their conclusions and report, I have to fault a number of issues in it for Mt. Rainier NP.

The report gives a general overview of the potential effect Global Climate Change will have on the NP's with some specific examples from many of the NP's. The report, however, seems to be more a political statement than anything, as the conclusions and recommendations aren't well supported in the report, and some of the references and resouces aren't what might qualify under scientific journalistic standards.

That said, however, I can't argue with most of their recommendations. I can ague some of them aren't environmentally, socially or politically realistic since they're global or national in nature requiring signficant changes in our way of life, and as we've seen in the recent international climate meetings, more talk than show as countries really don't want to address the issues beyond what's commercially successful and profitable.

In short, nice ideas and great hope, but not in my lifetime, or what's left of it. Sadly, my experiece is that we've been hearing this since the mid-1970's and little has been done which really changes things and directions, so advocating greater change now is after the significant damage has already started, and best that can be done is dampen and impacts and effects. And hope that works to level things off when and where change is realistically possible.

As for Mt. Rainier NP in the report? Well, thats' where the report lacks substances and evidence, or at least in the report. And I'll address my opinion here.

First, they mention the November 2006 floods in Washington and specifically Mt. Rainier NP which closed the NP for 6 months. Those floods were significant, but not necessarily unusual for western Washington, including 100-year or large floods. They're more often in recent decades, but for now it's hard to determine the cause beyond just normal changes in the longer term hydrology.

And this flood, along with the floods of the winters of 2007 and 2008, did a lot of damage, namely the Carbon River valley and road, and the Nisqually river valley, road and NPS facilities. But the damage was the result of a major flood on top of decades of channel changes (bed and sediment buildup in the channel) which has raised the channels where any moderate or greater flood would more severly damage the area.

It's wasn't the flood so much as the flood on top of decades of channel aggredation in the lower slopes of the Carbon and Nisqually Rivers in the NP. It was the proverbial disaster waiting to happen and it did with a major flood. But any moderate flood would have also done similar damage. This report doesn't address this fact.

The report lists the following recommendation, "The Congress and the Administration should reestablish within the NPS the cientific and research capacity it had prior to 1993, by returning to NPS the programs and staff transferred that year to the U.S. Geological Survey."

I can't agree, not just because I'm a former USGS scientist, but because the USGS does a better job and has more resources with these research programs, and they write from an unbiased view, something NPS researcher couldn't necessarily accomplish with their research and reports. It is true the NPS would be better focused on the NP's than the USGS, but I would keep the NP research programs where they're currently working.

In the recommendations of the report, they use a graph which indicates what risks effect which NP. With respect to Mt. Rainier, the reports indicates seven risks, which are loss of snow and ice, loss of water, more downpours and floods, loss of plant communities, loss of wildlife, more overcrowding, and loss of fishing.

Well, it's fair to say the conclusions are out on some of these risks because they cite loss than change. What will happen as the NP biologists are finding, is that things are changing. These include changes in forests and forest communities in terms of tree and plant species and distribution of species. There is a discernible invasion of forest into the alpine open areas and meadows.

There will be changes in wildlife species, especially on those who live and need the higher elevations and whos habitat and enviornment requires the current tree and plant communities. There's no question there will be losses, but we can't establish that what know today is the best and is what should continue. We know the past wasn't near what it is today and the whole Mt. Rainier area is in a perpetual state of change.

Let's not forget the whole area of the Puget Sound and western Washington only came out of the Vashon glaciation just 10-12,000 years ago. So what's here now is just phase of change from the past. No doubt it's what we want, but it's not our doing to prevent change, only the type of change.

I agree with the loss of snow and ice. That's long been established for most of the glaciers on Mt. Rainier. Most but not all, and each goes through their own cycle of advance and retreat. If anything, this is probably the greatest risk of Mt. Rainier and the NP, but we have keep in mind the difference between natural and global climate cycles going on. The report doesn't cite any of the on-going research of the USGS on the glaciers of Mt. Rainier.

I don't know if this was an oversight, but much of their research is included in the Masters Degree thresis cited in the report. Either way, this is the greatest risk to the mountain. But that doesn't change the risk they cite of downpours and floods. While the climate model predict a generally warmer climate for Mt. Rainier and the NP, they don't predict a drier climage, and some suggest a wetter climate, more as rain than snow.

This will in turn change the annual hydrologic cycle of the Mountain and the rivers, which could create more frequent floods and drier summer flows from smaller glaciers and less meltwater during the summer. This would in turn effect both the fish and tree/plant species, but we don't know which and how they will adapt over time.

As for overcrowing, that risk been there for the better part of two decades. The NPS is well aware of it and are addressing it in the longterm management programs for the NP. This includes current changes in operation, such as a seasonal shuttle service at Paradise and campground reservation system, and the longer term visitor impacts on those areas, such as Sunrise and Paradise.

But the overcrowding isn't a result of climate change but population growth in the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area and the increase in out of state and out of country tourism to the NP. There simply are more people coming to the NP, no matter the cliimate. The problem in the NP is that the increase are predominately in the visitor areas and far less in the backcountry areas. People are visiting, some camping, but fewer hiking.

In the end, I applaud their effort and this report, flaws and all. They raise the issue that we as a nation need to address saving our national parks from ourselves and the global community. This reports adds to the call and the voice. The rest is what takes the hard decisions and work, and the determination, not just to try, but succeed.

Highway 410 landslide

Photo property of Seattle Times

A section of highway 410 about 12 miles west of Naches on the east side of the Cascade Mountain, northwest of Yakima was blocked by a landslide this weekend, see Seattle Times story. This is the highway to and over Chinook Pass to the junction of highways 123, south from the Ohanopecosh entrance, and 410, north from the White River entrance and NP boundary.

This doesn't effect any of the NP entrances or the highway from Seatle, Tacoma or Portland, only the access east from Yakima and the Tri-cities area. The highway closes seasonally for winter snow, so it's likely this road will remain closed from the slide to the pass until late spring when it can be repaired and the pass is open. They're working on a temporary highway for local traffic.

This only changes the plans of any travellers and visitors who wanted the scenic route from the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, who will have to take highway 12 to White Pass, and the junction of highway 12 southwest to Interstate 5 and Portland and highway 123 north to the Ohanopecosh entrance. White Pass also closes seasonally for snow and the Ohanopecosh entrance will close in October-November ahead of the annual snow.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Google Maps

I'm not sure who develops the map layers at Google, but their quality assurance leaves something to be desired, and insufficient when a new version was released this week. If folks use the map Web pages with my Mt. Rainier photo guide, you will notice a change. Google released new map data which recolored the land on part or all of the three of the sides around Mt. Rainier NP. The problem is the NP boundary is now lost on the map.

I don't know how long it will take them to fix the maps. I've put some notices on forums about this. And I'll research if there are interim fixes, but I'm not hopefully because of the application of Google map especially when it has to rescale when you zoom in or out, but I'm open to suggestions. For now, it's confusing to the user if they can't clearly see the NP boundary to know where everything is and relative to the surrounding areas.

I'll keep you posted, but for now I've add a popup advisory to the map Web pages.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October Updates

I have updated the Mt. Rainier NP photo guide for the October news, access and information, and the monthly prospective Web pages. October is the transistion month between the last of the September visitors and the work of the NPS getting ready for winter in the NP closing campgrounds and roads, and closing or reducing hours at facilities. By the end of the month, only a few facilities will be open weekends and holidays.

But there still are some great hiking and photography locations and opportunities, and there are far fewer people. But you have to be prepared with your clothes, supplies and equipment and be flexibile with your plans, as the weather is unpredictable as we've already seen with some snow at Paradise. The seasonal snow at the lower to middle elevations won't be in the NP until November and really December, but there are usually a few snow storms in the NP in October.

In addition to the October reports I've added a new Web page for an overview of the NP. It's an introduction and overview of the background, history, environment and photography locations and opportunities of the NP. It will get you familar with Mt. Rainier and the NP. As always, you're free to send me suggestions, questions, comments or corrections.