Thursday, November 22, 2012

Longmire to Paradise Road

The following is excerpts from the news release by the folks at Mt. Rainier NP, see announcement about the winter rules this year for the road from Longmire to Paradise. It is a significant change with the closure of the road on Tuesdays and Wednesday.

Here is the NPS' announcement as linked above.

"November's storms mark the transition from snow-free to winter conditions at Mount Rainier, one of the snowiest places on the planet.

Superintendent Randy King said "Mount Rainier provides outstanding winter recreation opportunities and has been doing so for over 100 years. It's a wonderful time to visit the park and the area, provided visitors come prepared for winter conditions. The recent, successful search for two overdue snowboarders above Paradise, and the tragic death of five visitors last winter, remind us that safe backcountry travel- whether going out for the day, or overnight- requires a high level of preparation, caution and knowledge.

The park transitioned to winter hours of operation and services in early November. The gate at Longmire is closed nightly through March to keep visitors and plow operators safe during road opening. New this winter and starting November 27, the road between Longmire and Paradise will be closed to public travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Longmire and the park will remain open seven days a week, barring major storm events.

We are strategically deploying available park staff and resources to provide access to Paradise Thursday through Monday, the five days of the week with greatest visitation," King said.

Visitation statistics show that Tuesday and Wednesday are, on average, the park's least visited days, with fewer than 60 visitor vehicles coming through the Nisqually Entrance on a typical day. By focusing staff on fewer days, the park will be better able to provide access and services during times of greatest visitation, including more consistent road plowing and emergency patrols for visitor safety.

The park is open for overnight winter camping with a valid permit seven days a week, but vehicle access will not be maintained from Longmire to Paradise on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Therefore, if visitors are parked at Paradise when the road closes on a Monday evening, they should not expect to be able to drive back to Longmire until the road opens on Thursday morning (weather permitting).

On Thursdays through Mondays, and every day during the Christmas holiday, the road from Longmire to Paradise will open as soon as the park's snow plows can make it safe for travel. In good weather the road may open as early as 7:00 AM, but in bad weather (or following a heavy snowfall) the road opening may be delayed to late morning or, in some cases, may not open at all. All vehicles are required to carry tire chains when entering the park. Road conditions can deteriorate quickly during the day and mandatory chain use may be required even for 4WD vehicles.

To better accommodate visitor needs and reduce energy costs, the visitor information center at Longmire will move across the road from the Longmire Museum to the historic Administration Building, in the space occupied by the Wilderness Information Center during the summer. Park rangers will be available seven days a week from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM to provide information on hikes, locations of interest, and interpretive map talks for visitors to the Longmire Historic District. Watch for more information on hikes and other exciting programs that will be offered at Longmire on Tuesdays and Wednesdays!

he Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise will be open on weekends and holidays through March. The Paradise snowplay/sledding area will open during the Christmas holiday provided snow depth is adequate.

Highways 123 and 410, and the Stevens Canyon Road east of Paradise, and the White River, Sunrise, and Mowich Lake Roads are now closed to vehicle access for the winter, but remain open to winter recreation.

Backcountry travelers should get an update on current and projected snow, avalanche, and weather conditions before coming to the park, and be prepared to survive winter conditions."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Winter Safety Tips

From the Tacoma News Tribune (article) about winter safety in Mt Rainier NP this winter.

"Mt Rainier Rangers remind visitors of winter safety tips"

"Following the rescue of two stranded snowboarders last week, Mount Rainier National Park officials are reminding winter visitors about the dangerous condititions they might face.

Winter at Mount Rainier is a dynamic and extreme environment that can become hazardous if you're not prepared.

When planning a trip to the park's backcountry in the winter, park rangers recommend following these tips:

1. Before you leave home, check and heed local weather forecasts, realizing weather can change for the worse in a very short period of time.

2. Know your experience and ability to survive in an alpine environment and don't exceed your abilities.

3. Always carry survival gear with you, including the 10 essentials. Take extra clothing and food in case you have to spend the night out.

4. Always leave word with someone on the specifics of where you're going and when you expect to be home. It is always the safest to not travel alone.

5. While electronic locators and communication can be helpful, they cannot always be relied upon in the backcountry.

6. Remember you need to be responsible for your own safety."

Let's be clear here, the snow young snowboarders were extremely lucky for one reason, their cellphone worked in the cold and there was cellphone coverage in the Paradise area (they were on the Muir Snowfield), otherwise, they had no overnight  or emergency gear, meaning no sleeping bags, no food, no stove, no clothes, nothing to survive beyond a few days.

Had the NP rangers not been able to talk to them on their cellphone to determine where they were dug in overnight, it would have been days longer before they were located and rescued, and probably longer than they could have survived without food against the cold. The young men can talk now about survival, but it wasn't them, it was the NP rangers and luck in spite of their failures to be prepared.

As for the recommendations, I can personally add this applies to any trip signficantly far enough away from the Paradise Visitors Center or any trailhead. I would also suggest leaving a note on the dash of your vehicle about your trip, meaning the route, destination and return time.

Thanksgiving Week News

The Thanksgiving holiday week and weekend are the busiest time in the NP in the fall, only eclipsed by Christmas and New Years holidays. This year winter has come early to the NP with snow in October that melted at all but the upper elevations early in November, but the the snows returned to stay.

There currently is over a foot of snow with considerable new snow coming early this week to increase the snowpack to about 2 feet or more with continuing cold temperature at the mid-upper elevations to ensure it will be there for the Thanksgiving Day weekend visitors.

Also, this means the road from Longmire to Paradise will be closed at the gate every morning until the NPS crews clear the road of snow. In addition, they will control access from the Nisqually Bridge to Paradise to ensure vehicles have the proper tires or chains. Remember your vehicle must have chains in case of snow emergencies.

The Jackson Vistors Center will be open from Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) through Sunday. Starting next week (November 27th) the road from Longmire to Paradise will closed Tuedays and Wednesdays through the winter except holidays (Christmas and New Years days). The Nisqually entrance will be open, but only to Longmire.

Remember if you visit the NP, please ensure your vehicle has all the proper winter provisions for emergencies, such as blankets, overnight bag (minimal clothes and supplies), food and drink, flashlights and batteries, etc. You may not need them but you'll be glad you did if you do need them.

That's the news on access and conditions. Have a good and safe holiday

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

November Reports

All the latest news, access and monthly reports for November have been updated and are now available  on the Mt. Rainier NP photo guide, which includes updates from the recent additions for November. November already has significant snow in the mid and upper elevations, down to 4,000 feet.

It's hard to know if the snow will last in the mid-elevations as winter storms can easily melt it and reduce the higher elevations snowpack, but it's fair to say snow has come early to the NP and will likely stay until the permanent seasonal snow in December.

I will be updating the Web pages which has the seasonal information for winter conditions. I'll post the announcement when these are available at the same photo guide. For now consider the NP in early winter conditions.

As for access, only the southwest entrance is open, all the others are now closed at the NP boundary, including highways 410 in the northeast and 123 in the southeast. Full winter activites won't begin until December, such as snowmobiles on the roads and the snowplay area at Paradise.

That's it for now. Enjoy your visit. Remember to have chains in your vehicle as it's been necessary to use them with 2-wheel drive cars already. Take extra food and water along with some blankets, etc. just in case you have to sit or wait in your car.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

NP Webcams

If you visit the NP Webcams Web page, you'll notice the Webcams at Sunrise haven't updated in awhile, like about two months. That's the Sunrise facilites have been closed for the season and I suspect the Webcams were turned off for the winter.

As much as we'd love to see winter scene at Sunrise, it's doubt they would work often enough to warrant the energy and resources to keep the working. They should return next spring, probably around May or June.

The Webcam at Camp Muir is also not working because, as opposed to the other Webcams in the NP which are indoors looking through windows, this one is on the top of the shelter and exposed to the elements, and again, it's easier to shut it down for the season.

I'm not sure if these Webcams will come back during the winter, and it's doubtful consider the time and people it takes to service them, but let's express our appreciation to the NP staff for their work to install and operate them.

We're grateful for helping visitors see the NP without going there and they give an excellent view of the weather and conditions at Longmire and Paradise.

Partial November Update

I have updated some of the news Web pages for Mt. Rainier NP, see the photo guide for "Latest News" and "Current Access" for information. The November monthly prospects report is being prepared along with updates to the winter season prospects along with the area reports for the NP.

I apologize for missing the October news and reports and the latest of the November reports, but sometimes, as they say, life makes the decisions for you that you can't change or fight. That's life. That said, here's some news to remember.

All vehicles are required to have chains when travelling in the NP. This includes rental vehicles, so if you're renting, make sure to ask and get chains if you plan to visit the NP.

The road from Longmire to Paradise is controlled by the gate east of Longmire and at the Nisqually Bridge. You can check the daily status at the NPS Mt. Rainier Twitter Account.

The Jackson Visitors Center at Paradise is only open weekends and holidays from now until May.

The weather will be the most variable during November from nice and sunny to cold with rain or snow. 

The trails below 4-5,000 feet will generally be snow-free except during storms. You can check the Webcams at Longmire to see the weather and ground conditions (at 3,000 feet).

That's it, more to come.