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      Posting these cat-cartoons-without-the-cartoon was a long journey that I don’t know if I’ll repeat soon again. A daily blog is tough … even when you have your material handed to you! But, I couldn’t have done it without the artwork … Continue reading →
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Posts Tagged ‘whiteout’

Climbing in a whiteout

Posted by joeabbott on April 29, 2018

I’m not sure what’s changed, but climbing in a whiteout is pretty disconcerting and I don’t remember it always being that way. Yes, I’m out less than I used to be but yesterday messed with my head in ways that have me pondering my capabilities in the mountains. Even with the GPS and all the right gear, the day wore on me in a taxing way. But, I was out, enjoyed the beauty of Mt. Rainier on one of her moodier days, and will share a little of that day with you.

Here are some pictures just out of the parking lot … we’d just strapped on our traction footwear and were ready to head in. The picture on the left is looking up at the Mountain … in the lower elevation we had about 500’ of visibility; not enough for route finding, but enough to get one’s bearings. The picture on the right is looking back to the parking lot. On sunnier days the Tatoosh Ranges is prominent and glorious from this vantage. See my On a clear day post for a little juxtaposition.


A bit later we arrived at Panorama Point; a spot so-named because you get great views all around. On this day, it was just Tim and me, posing for posterity:


A couple things to note … first, my GPS is pretty handy, because we were using it nonstop. Because I wasn’t able to take a step without knowing if the slope was up or down, I’d just pop it on to determine if we were on the same line we’d put in last weekend. Also note that you can’t see a thing in the pictures other than us. Even looking at the snow around our feet, you quickly lose the ability to discern details beyond 10’ or so and there’s no “horizon” in a whiteout.

After getting just beyond Panorama Point, we stopped. Most other people had turned around by this time and we were breaking trail. I was questioning my ability to get us safely up and down so we broke for lunch, enjoying a few nibbles while waiting to see if the weather would lift. About that time, a group of nine folks in high spirits tromped by us, happily chatting and moving as if they had zero cares. Tim and I shrugged and after about 5 minutes, we followed.

We made it about 1000’ in elevation beyond Panorama Point, just above McCure Rock and The Sugarloaf (we were about 7800’) when I expressed concern. As long as we were right on these folks’ trail, we were doing fine, but on our own, I was reduced to looking at the GPS, taking a dozen steps, and looking again. And while I had spare batteries, I noticed the cold was sapping the lithium batteries I’d installed just the prior weekend; I was already down to the last bar.

So, we turned back.

It was a shame as we were feeling strong, the day was a joy without anyone else (within sight) on the mountain, and we were making good time: we felt like we could have easily made our objective of Camp Muir. While the weather was actually kinda bad, it wasn’t terribly uncomfortable and I’d trade a little inclement weather for solitude any day. It was cold but not so cold our hydration tubes were freezing … it was cold enough that Tim’s spare water bottle shattered, though!


After turning back, we went about 10 minutes before the trail was completely lost. In addition to being in a whiteout, there was a slow pelting of snow and a good wind, leaving the trail to fill fill with snow quickly. So, I started marching us our dozen steps, checking the GPS, and continuing on. At one point Tim became convinced we’d come from the right, which sends alarms off in my mind. Of all the dangers that people fall into on this route, heading off onto the Nisqually Glacier (which is “off to the right” as you descend this route) is the main one that gets people hurt or worse. So while the whiteout was confusing me enough to question whether he was correct, I was adamant not to head too far to the right. So we stumbled on to the left.

DSCF1812In about 15 minutes after that, our troupe of nine high-spirited climbers were descending and marched past us. It seems a ranger heading down from Camp Muir had met them and stated conditions at Muir were just as bad; no better weather up high on the mountain. Once again we were swept up in their wake.

They stopped often, which was an annoyance, as I like to find a pace and just march on, but it appears they were having trouble with navigation themselves. The price of being able to march down the hill on autopilot was to allow those piloting the time needed to find a safe path back. Fair enough.

On the way down we hit two signs that things were going well … first, an actual sign and the second was more climbers. The climbers were hard to see, but you could hear them off in the fog. The thing I liked most about seeing them, is they were the first objects we could make out that weren’t within about 10’ of us. In the below picture, the few people you can see in the lower right are our “guides” on the way down; the new climbers are in the middle of the image, faint and in the distance.


So, as our visibility was extending a bit beyond our immediate circle, we knew we were getting closer to the parking lot. Soon we saw trees … another sign we were getting lower down … but I wasn’t able to spot Paradise yet. Our group of nine had stopped and we’d marched past them, so I was hoping we were still on track; funny how quickly you can question your own confidence. But, when I heard the distance scream of children I knew we were approaching the area where families will sled and frolic in the snow … it was only minutes before we popped out at the parking lot.

It was a good day from the point of getting out, putting in about 5 miles and 3000’ of elevation, but in the four times I’ve been to Rainier this season, I have yet to get to Camp Muir. There may be another try next weekend … let’s hope for better weather.

Thanks for dropping by.


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