Monday, February 27, 2012

Hiking Overview

Update.--This entry is updated for minor corrections and broken links.

There a quite a few Web sites for hiking information, and I'll focus on applying those recommendations and guidelines to Mt. Rainier National Park. One factor that is critical with your visit to the Park is the length of your hike, whether it's a short or long day hike, an overnight hike, a 2-3 day hike, or a longer hike such as hiking the Wonderland Trail which circumnavigates Mt. Rainier. Before that a few basic rules apply to hiking in the Park.

For three of the four quadrants, access to the Park is through a visitors entrance, the Nisqually Entrance in the southwest, the Ohanapecosh Entrance in the souteast, and the White River Entrance in the northeast. The northwest entrance has two access areas, the Carbon River and the Mowich Lake Entrances, both of which are accessed by county highway, and often only occasionally checked by Park Rangers. When you stop at one of the entrances the rangers will provide you with information and newsletters which you should read to become familar with the rules of the Park.

Before you visit the Park you can get information about the road, trail and weather conditions ahead of your trip through the following Web sites.

National Park Service
NP Webcams
National Weather Service
Northwest Avalanche Center

I can't emphasize enough if you plan to do any day hikes, you should be prepared with a day pack and the outdoor essentials, and good hiking clothes, especially boots. You can use lightweight hiking boots for many trips, but using anything less only creates problems with your legs and feet after any short distance, especially trails with significant elevation gains and losses. It doesn't pay to be tired and still a few miles from the trailhead and your car.

There are numerous hiking guides on Mt. Rainier and the National Park, some straight hiking guides and some hiking experiences, and these are, in my view, the best to date.

"Day Hike Mt. Rainier" by Ron C. Judd, Sasquatch Books
"50 Hikes in Mt. Rainier NP" by Ira Spring and Harvey Manning, Mountaineers Books
"Hiking Mt. Rainier NP" by Heidi Schneider and Mary Skjelset, Falcon Press
"Adventure Guide to Mt. Rainier" by Jeff Smoot, Chockstone Pres

If you're an experienced hiker and planning any overnight or longer hike, you are probably well aware of the preparation you need to do and the equipment you need for your hike. If it's only a 2-3 day hike you can get by using some of the ultralight hiking tips to save weight, but you should not scrimp on emergency or bad weather clothing (wet or cold). Although the summers in the Puget Sound is good weather, it may be quite different in the Cascade Mountains and Mt. Rainier, as explained in Northwest Mountain Weather. You can get the latest conditions at the following Web sites.

NPS Current Information
WTA Trip Reports
Mt. Rainier Climbing
Cascade Climbers

If you plan to hike parts of the Wonderland Trail, there are two excellent resources. The first is the NPS Guide on the Wonderland Trail and the second is Bette Filley's book, "Discover the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail Encircling Mount Rainier", Dunamis House, out of print but often found in used bookstores.

One last thing to remember if you plan any overnight hike in Mt. Rainier National Park, there are very specific rules for backcountry hiking. These are outlined here. In order to make sure you minimize the impact of your trip and make it a good place for others, please follow these rules, and especially the following I personally favor.

Register and get a permit.
Camp at designated locations.
Stay on the trail unless noted as acceptable.
Avoid going off trails in meadows and similar areas.
NO DOGS on the trail.
Wear the proper clothes and take the proper supplies.

You can find links to more information for Mt. Rainier NP.

NP Boundary History

In reviewing Web pages I noticed the markers with the map of the boundary of Mt. Rainier NP, found here, had an error in the markers for the year. This has been corrected. I apologize for the mistake. The goal is to present the history of the NP from the original 1899 designation with the 1931 expansion to the Cascade divide to the recent 1988 and 2003 inclusions.

There are discussions to expand the NP in the northwest corner, namely along the Carbon River to include the whole River valley where the current bounday is along the center of the river channel diving the NP to the south and the USFS and private timber land to the north.

This is a great idea to provide the NPS with better management of the river and provide additional lands for vistor and NPS facilities currently inside the NP where floods threaten them, but the latest information sugggests with the current Congress and agency funding, this is not in the immediate future. We can hope with the new Congress.

Anyway, that's it from here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Snow sites

Notice to Reader.-- This blog entry has been superseded and moved to a Web page on Mt. Rainier weather overview, weather data and snow data. Please update your bookmarks and links.

Original Post - Please use links above to new Web page.

I've written about snow data, and some information about snow sites. Here I'd like to write about who to find addtional data about the snow sites and other snow sites operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service National Water and Climate Center, or NWCC.

First, the NRCS is the agency in the US government with the mandate to operate snow sites. Other agencies can operate similar sites for specific purposes for the agencies, eg. NWS or USCE, or its customers, eg. USGS, but the NRCS is the agency with the broad scope to assess the snow and water resources of the areas in the western US, namely the mountain ranges of the western states.

In the Puget Sound and Cascace Mountains in Washington the NRCS operates an extensive network of sites. These sites are located at or above elevations where snow is usually permanent through the winter season after any early season snowmelts. This is usually about the 2,500-3,000 foot elevation.

This is due to several reasons, but most of which is the dynamic weather in western Washington where you have to operate weather data collection sites with real-time telemetry through the extreme ranges of temperatures. This is difficult between 1,000 and 2,500 feet elevation because of the changes of temperatures and rain or snow where thawing and freezing are difficult to operate field sensoers, data collection instruments and real-time telemetry equipment.

It's easier to collect snow data once the seasonal snow is present and the temperatures are consistently near or below freezing where thawing isn't a significant problem through the winter season. It seems backward but practical experience shows it's true, and why there is a lack of snow data sites below 2,500 feet elevation. These sites are usually observartion sites instead of instrumented sites, usually operated by the NWS or state or local agencies.

The other reason is that you want to know the snowfall and snowpack as high in basin as realistically possible to colllect. This provides the range of snow data from the upper most to the lowest elevation for water resources management of basin. This can only be done by the NRCS. That said, below at the sites in and around Mt. Rainier NP.

The first is the site called, but actually southeast of, Paradise. The second is east of the NP boundary west of Mowich Lake. The third is the site just east of the NP boundary on highway 410 at Cayuse Pass.

These sites will provide you a good picture of the snow in Mt. Rainier NP, where you can data all the data for the site. You can locate them on the map of weather sites, see blue tags.

Snow data II

Water Year 2012 Graph for PARADISE SNOTEL in Washington

Notice to Reader.-- This blog entry has been superseded and moved to a Web page on Mt. Rainier weather overview, weather data and snow data. Please update your bookmarks and links.

Original Post - Please use links above to new Web page.

Above is the graph for the precipitation and snow water equivalent of snow for the Paradise SNOTEL site operated by the NRCS. I wanted to show folks what these folks do and what data they provide.

There are different types of snow data which can be confusing to readers and where it's easy to misunderstand the numbers cited in the literature, magazines and newspapers. These are snowfall, snowpack and snow water equivalent.

The term snowfall is obvious. It's the snow that falls measured in inches. This where the NPS publishes the annual figures (through 2007 - PDF). It's the most often cited statistic about the snow at Mt. Rainier NP. The data is usually determined at a site or from a collector, usually read daily.

The term snowpack is also obvious. It's the snow on the ground, again measured in inches (depth). This data, shown for the Paradise site, is also from a site either with marked poles or pressure sensors. This number changes during the season from a variety of reason, including new snowfall, snowmelt to runoff, ablation, compaction and melting-refreezing from pressure.

This is often the snow collected at and transmitted from remote sites in the NRCS's SNOTEL network of sites. It's often the easiest to collect and transmit, but it also requires calibration to be useful for other purposes, namely the snow water equivalent.

This term isn't so obvious and is defined as the equivalent of inches of water for a specific snowpack. This is where they visit the remote sites and take snow samples from the depth to the soil and then measure the depth (snowpack) and weight (as water). This is then converted to an equivalent water to snow, in inches.

This number determines the density of the snow, meaning the number of inches of water per foot of snow (or the reverse for other calculations). Usually dry snow is about 2-4 inches of water per foot of snow. Wet snow is 6 or more inches per foot. Mt. Rainier normally get wet to very wet snow where the Rocky Mountains get dry to very dry snow.

This number determines the amount of runoff in water is in the snowpack. It's important for water managers when modelling and projecting spring snowmelt into reservoirs for reservoir management and for river basin water resources management. This work usually starts in January, the beginning of the permanent snowpack (meaning now sudden severe rain-on-snow events) and goes through the final snowmelt in June-July when it's gone from at or below about 6,000 feet elevation.

The graph has been updated and has the following paragraph

You can see the SWE for 2011 is above average for this year along with the annual precipitation. Occasionally you will see the trend of the two lines differ for awhile. This is often due to field surverys to get new snow depth and density data, and a recalibration of the telemetry data posted to the Web. Snow (field) surverys are usually monthly.

Anyway, that's the lesson for the day. And you can find these sites on the map of weather sites.

Snow data

2012 Water Year Graph for Paradise SNOTEL, Washington

Notice to Reader.-- This blog entry has been superseded and moved to a Web page on Mt. Rainier weather overview, weather data and snow data. Please update your bookmarks and links.

Original Post - Please use links above to new Web page.

Above is the winter 2010-11 snow data for the NRCS' Paradise SNOTEL site, southwest of Paradise. This is the snow-water equivalent (SWE), meaning the inches of water of the snow. The depth on the ground is found at the Website. This is what water resources managers use to assess the water of the river basins and the area.

What is missing from the snow data is the snow elevation, the lowest elevation is at or is persistent. You have to use other snow/weather sites with their elevation to get a general, although not necessarily accurate, geographical picture. This is because the snow elevation has many factors where snow either sticks and then melts or persists.

Something to remember is the difference between snowfall and snowpack. This is kinda' obvious but often mistaken or misused with snow data. Snowfall is the total snow of all the snow storms at a given date/time through the winter. Snowpack is the depth of snow on the ground at a given location and date/time. These numbers will differ as snow on the ground melts, ablates, or compacts from melting and refreezing.

Snowfall is used to record the total snow and precipitation through the winter and snowpack is used to record the available water when it melts in the spring or from rain-on-snow events during the winter. Usually snowpack is about half of the snowfall, but this varys during the season and between years. Just something to remember when someone talks about it.

I will be updating this post with links to snow reports and other information when it becomes available. The NRCS doesn't issue snow reports until January (January to June).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weather Sites

Click on photo for Photo Guide

This entry has been updated to get all the weather and snow blog entries together

I've updated the Web pages for a weather overview and a map of sites for weather data.

There are eight sites operated by four different federal government agencies with a wealth of data to help with your trip in the NP. There are three sites by the NRCS for snow, snowpack and temperature data, three sites by the NPS for weather data, one for the NWS for rainfall and temperature data and one by the USGS for rainfall and temperature data. The Webpage (above) has links to their respective Web pages with the eventual goal of providing the latest data too.

The NRCS operates a network of SNOTEL sites, at Mowich, Cayuse Pass and Paradise, for snow and snowpack data along with other data to evaluate the water resources of the Western States. The NWS operates a network of weather sites and NEXRAD sites, Ashford in this case, along with collecting weather data from numerous local, state and federal agencies for the weather predictions of the United States.

The NPS operates three weather sites, at Longmire, Camp Muir and Ohanapecosh, for the operation and management of the NP and to help assess the conditions for climbers. The USGS operates a network of lake, streamflow and weather sites, at Buck Creek Camp in this case, for the evaluation of the water resources of the U.S.

I hope these Web pages help with planning your trip, and you're free to send me your suggestions, questions or problems.

Weather Information

Update.--This blog entry has been superseded by a Web page for the Mt. Rainier NP weather data. Please update your links.

One of the most important factors when planning your trip to Mt. Rainier National Park is the obvious, the weather. To first-time and even the occasional visitors, but especially long-time and frequent visitors, it's important to know the weather in Mt. Rainier NP is so dynamic that forecasts are at best just that, best guesses, and even the latest forecast is only a close proximity of reality. It's the old adage of weather folks here, "Mt. Rainier makes its own weather."

So, it's the normal "be prepared for the extremes." But that said, recent data and forecast is a place to start to plan your visit, and this entry will provide some resources to find the most recent weather information and forecasts. These will be listed as Websites where you can search for the specific site(s) and data along with some general weather data.

When you get close to your visit to Mt. Rainier NP, the first place to start is the current weather and latest forecasts, which are explained in the book Northwest Mountain Weather. After that, you need some on-line resources with weather data, information and forecasts, which are as follows.

NOAA-NWS Cascade Mountain Forecast
NRSC Washington Snotel sites
NWAC Weather Center Mountain Data
USGS Mt. Rainier NP area Weather Sites

There are many more on-line government and commercial resources for weather data and information on or around Mt. Rainier NP, but the ones above will give you a good idea of what to expect and get the latest data and forecasts. The next thing is to understand are the seasons, especially if you plan to be there between late fall and early summer.

This is because it's not about the normal seasonal late spring to early fall weather when the temperatures are usually more moderate and somewhat more predictable, meaning it won't get too cold except at higher elavations in the backcountry. This is shown in the average monthly temperatures for Longmire, Paradise and Ohanapecosh.

At the bottom of the post are tables with additonal temperature data for Longmire and Paradise. This data are the average high and low temperatures and the extremes of high and low temperatures, along with the average precipitation and precipitation as snowfall, which is the precipitation related to the temperatures, meaning when cold enough for rain to fall as snowfall.

This can occur at anytime of the year, but not normally late spring to early fall and not always from early fall to late spring. This means it can get cold enough to snow anytime during the year and warm enough to rain anytime during the winter. This is seen in the rain as snowfall and snow water equivalent, the latter being snow reduced to water and converted to equivalent precitation.

What does all this mean? You have to bring clothes to be dry and warm anytime of the year, lighter in the late spring to early fall and heavier early fall to late spring.

Longmire Ranger Station
Latitude: 46 degrees, 45 minutes north
Longitude: 121 degrees, 49 minutes west
Elevation: 2,762 feet

MonthAverage highAverage lowWarmest everColdest everAverage rainAverage snow

Paradise Ranger Station
Latitude: 46 degrees, 47 minutes north
Longitude: 121 degrees, 44 minutes west
Elevation: 5,550 feet

MonthAverage highAverage lowWarmest everColdest everAverage rainAverage snow
FEB352262 -1210.688.7
MAR372265 -210.498.6
APR44 277026.754.1
JUN5637 86 134.74.3

That's all for now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Updated Section One

I have updated all the Web pages and blog entries in section one of the Mt. Rainier photo guide. I am moving on to section two along with the March-April news, access, contditions and prospects over the next week or so, and will post when that work is done.

The goal is to do a complete review of the current Web pages and blogs before resuming work on the Web pages and projects presently waiting my attention, research and production. The plan is to work on those over this year and probably into next year as they require weeks of research, preparation and writing, all of which has to fit into the other work and stuff that consume my time.

The goal there is to get the two missing quadrants, the northeast and southeast, done along with the spring season overview and the 2011-12 snowmelt reports. All in time for the start of major tourist travel to the NP in mid-late May and into June before the biggest period of July 4th to the Labor Day weekend.

That's it for now. If you love winter, it's a great time to be there, and if you're not, then spring is just 2-3 months away.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

February Reports

The reports of the news, access, conditions and prospects for Mt. Rainier NP for February are available. February is pretty much the same as January in the NP, it's still winter and will be through March into April. The snow will still be falling and piling up as there already is at least 8 feet of snow above the 5,000 foot elevation, see the graph of the current snowpack below.

The road between Longmire and Paradise is controlled at a gate just east of Longmire. You can get the status of the road conditions for cars and the time when the gate will be opened from the NP's Twitter account.

Aside from that, it's just the continuation of winter, so go, play and enjoy.

Sun and Moon Information

I've updated the Sun and Moon information Web page for the sunrise and sunset with corresponding azimuth along with links ot the moon rise and moon set with the corresponding azimuth for Paradise at Mt. Rainier NP for all of 2012. I was late with January (sorry about that, but it's now there for the whole year. Each page prints or you can use to link to get the original information.

The times are relative to an level view of the terrain and the horizon, which means the times should be adjusted for local terrain and the distant terrain where distant mountains will cause the times to be later in the case of sun or moon rise and earlier in the case of sun or moon set. This is true for all of western Washington (there's a 8-10 minute difference where I live), and especially in Mt. Rainier NP.

Anyway, the information is there for your use, and as always, you're welcome to send me any questions, suggestions or problems with the Web pages or information, see contact Web page.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Topo Map Apps II

Update.-- Garmin updated their Basecamp software (free) with version 3.3.1. They solved a lengthy list of problems which include the stupid popup window when Time Machine backup ejects the disk image from the desktop. It doesn't even look for it now. This mean you can keep it open for the whole time you're working without being interrupted.

That said, however, everything else about this application remains the same, it's good, especially if you own a Garmin GPS unit, which I will sometime this year, but I wouldn't put it on the recommended list. I still find the display hard to get used to since I'm use to the look of USGS topo maps. I still hate Garmin's 2D and 3D look.

Original Post

I wrote a previous post (read here) where I expressed my views on the three topographic map software packages for Apple laptop or desktop computers, specifically National Geographic's TOPO!, Mac Pro GPS and Garmin Basecamp. Well, two months later has anything changed?

For one NG hasn't changed. It's still the same software as before but it runs under Lion (OS-X 10.7.2) the same as before, or at least the parts I use. It still only has one glitch, you can't keep or use it as an icon on your dock. You always have to start it from the Applications folder. I use XMenu which is easier to start apps.

Garmin updated Basecamp, but it still has the stupid glitch it adds unnecessary harddrives to the device field and then pops up window when they can't be ejected. This bug still includes iDisk and Time Machine. This is stupid and dumb as neither are input devices for Basecamp but it appears to be a lesser issue to the developers.

That said, I'm still not enamored with the maps and the lack of ability to flatten the 3D effect similar to NG or just regular topo maps. There is no way to turn this feature off. It's also weird to see the details turned into short straight lines. This is due to the underlying data and interprelating line in between but it's goofy looking.

And lastly, their user's forum, well, it's helpful but then so is a Starbuck gift card you buy for yourself. It's full of people posting questions and bugs and lots of reasponses but little real help in those I read (ok, like mine and a few others). You walk, or surf, away feeling it's a waste of time since the company doesn't seem to respond with changes, fixes, etc.

Mostly, though, with the forum, it can't seem to remember I'm logged in, so after logging it and trying to post or reply, it prompts me for my user id and password again, and I've tried three browsers (Safari, Chrome and FireFox). It's something in the user setup in the forum.

My view of Mac Pro GPS is still the same since there hasn't been an update. I really hate it can't remember the user settings for window openings (only map) and size (defaults to full screen). And loading 20 7.5-minute quadranges (Mt. Rainier NP) on startup is time consuming, you just still and wait. At least it has the setting to remember the maps, but that's about all it does remember.

In the end, my opinion is the same, NG's TOPO! is still the better choice. I've seen some other topographic map software packages for Mac's but I'm not interested right now to buy the app and their map set. Why they all format USGS topo maps different and unique to their app is understandable marketing but dumb for the consumer.

On another note I did try Trailrunner, which is free. It's not a topographic map application, more a sports recreation application but still I found it cumbersome to learn and you need to use a map Website ( to import a route, and that Website is worse because you have to register and using it, well, forget it unless you have a lot of patience to learn and work with it. Not fun or easy.

So, best advice, forget it. It also pops up a window for a donation for 2 minutes before you can use it. Not smart. I'm keeping it for now but haven't used it beyond trying to learn it and the other Website. It's probably a good app, just not user friendly.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Thank you NPS

For your morning viewing, the NPS provides Webcams for selected NP's around the country. All I can say is simply

Thank you very much National Park Service

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Missing the Point

Apparently gun advocates can't seem to understand people making the point about the killing of a NPS ranger in Mt. Rainier NP this last January 1st. The argument that some have put forth the thought returning to the Reagan era rules about guns in National Parks and Wildlife Refuges would not have prevented the gunman from his flight through the mandatory check and his shooting of the NPS ranger.

While they continually to make the point that anyone carrying a handgun openly or concealled with a permit is a Second Amendment right and "might" have helped, they forget that's all you can do in the NP or WR, carry it. Nothing else. You can not remove it from the holster. You can not use it in any manner, even in self-defense of another person or yourself, like in this situation. You can not carry it in a backpack to protect yourself in the backcountry unless you have a permit.

What the law would do is give the NPS rangers reason to stop anyone openly displaying weapon(s) in their vehicle and ask anyone they suspect has weapon if they have them, and if necessary, verify they are properly unloaded and then secured and locked in their vehicle. It also would have problaby given the rangers reasonable suspicion anyone avoiding stops or checks would have weapons, and treat them accordingly.

What we know is that none of the NPS rangers were armed that day because they had good reason not to be armed. Arguing to arm rangers just because isn't a reason to say it would have helped. The ranger was shot and killed sitting in her vehicle, so her carrying any weapon would not have prevented the situation.

She followed protocols to initiate a stop to check the driver for chains. The rangers chasing the gunman had no reason to suspect he had a considerable stash of weapons and ammunition until they heard gunshots, who by all reason, intended to go to Paradise where all the 100-plus visitors and 25+ other staff were in or in the vicinity of the visitors center.

What people who make the argument guns first don't seem to grasp that the NPS can't enforce such policy and practice. They now treat visitors with suspicion, but only as a threat if it's obvious they have weapons. Otherwise, they can't use them. And neither can any visitor carrying a weapon.

And even if they had, do you think they would have had a chance against this gunmann trained and ready to shoot and kill anyone in his vicinity? They wouldn't have until the gunman had killed or injured many of the visitors, staff and rangers. And armed visitors would have only added to the risk to others and rangers who wouldn't know who are the threats.

We saw what armed citizens could have done at the Tucson shooting when one legally armed man almost shot the two people wresting the gun from the actual shooter. He said later he decided not to use his weapon because he didn't know who to shoot. Imagine that at Mt. Rainier, armed citizens firing weapons and the NPS trying to sort out who's the gunman.

Imagine being a ranger trying to discern who to shoot at and still protect unarmed visitors. Imagine the public outcry if they shot a visitor in a case of mistaken identity. Blame the rangers would be the outcry, when it should be the blame the armed visitors acting recklessly and endangering other visitors. Rangers are trained for these situation, the vast majority of armed citizens aren't.

The reason to return to the Reagan rules is for the safety and security of all the visitors, the contract and NPS staff and the NPS rangers, not the right of a few who could care less about others and just their absurb right to needless and potentially harmful self-expression with weapons.