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wayne

Rainier Avalanche

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Having been up that route a number of occasions I'm surprised how many people chose to push for the summit after last week's snowfall. That slide sounds huge. I have turned around clients below there before, much to their disappointment and my relief, because I was concerned about snow stability. Hope everyone makes it out okay.

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Sending thoughts and energy to those missing and those searching.

 

I've been saying for weeks that this spring's weather pattern has set us up for unusually high spring avy danger (for around here). Be careful out there, folks.

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A few weeks back we skied around Blanca lake. It was a spring like day, but we saw one large slab fracture on Columbia. I'd agree the weather patterns this spring after the winter before set up some unusual conditions.

 

One report mentions a missing skier on the mountain in the area where the avy took place and buried the climber :(

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Saw this earlier on the news, and while I know doing the armchair speculation thing is bad...it's first warm day after pretty much weeks straight of heavy precip at higher elevations, what were all those people thinking? I hope they pull out a miracle and find the missing guy, and all the searchers stay safe.

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Yes the weather this spring calls for much caution on all snow covered areas.

 

Be careful out-there everyone . . .

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A buddy of mine - well, a Facebook buddy and an old high-school pal I haven't actually seen in years - was on a team just below the avi. He saw it. He ran like hell. He felt the spray from it.

 

He's glad to be alive.

 

This was his first mountain experience. I haven't asked him yet whether he's gonna try it again.

 

 

I think I like climbing with my friends and little climbing club. If the conditions aren't right, we say "Let's wait till next week." My friend's been planning this all year, as have the guides, of course, and it was either go now, or forever hold your peace. Not that I'm suggesting the climbing guides would let that sort of pressure affect their go/no-go judgment. :-/

 

- rob

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...it's first warm day after pretty much weeks straight of heavy precip at higher elevations, what were all those people thinking?

 

Of the folks on the hill I wonder how many are "locals" vs visitors. Obviously, the missing climber is a visitor but how many others are as well. I would venture that many are visitors and have planned their vacation around a climb and thus go when the weather is good though conditions are questionable. The same happens with backcountry skiing after a good dump.

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...was on a team just below the avi. He saw it. He ran like hell. He felt the spray from it...

 

Any idea roughly where the avy occurred?

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NPS photo of the most recent slide.

"The climbers were on the Ingraham Glacier direct route at 12,500 feet when a huge slab avalanche took them out. The massive snow slide was between 3 and 4,000 feet wide and rumbled some 1,200 feet down the mountain side."

 

http://www.komonews.com/news/local/95695844.html

 

100605_rainier_snowslide.jpg

 

Looking up the slide area a month ago.

 

27981_571685525853_39203244_33308365_4923969_n.jpg

 

 

Not like this is any surprise as it has been snowing, raining, snowing for the last two weeks making the snow line unseasonably low and wet in the Cascades. Warnings were going out last weekend and continued to stay out of the back country and off Rainier.

 

This post is from May 31

 

"Snoqualmie pass has had serious rain almost every day for a couple of weeks now. It has been snowing on the summits there!

All on a rain soaked snow base. The kind of conditions that you get climax slides.

 

Consistant snow at 3500' and above in late May in the Cascades certainly seems unusual to me. As does good ice and mixed on the lower north faces in late May, early June. A NOAA forcast for 3 feet of new snow and strong winds on Rainier in early June after snowfall all this week?

 

All of which is why I made a point to mention it. Cascades are a little wetter and colder than normal for April, May and June this year imo. You don't normally get to climb water ice in late April on Snoqualimie pass. Imagine all the wind loaded pockets on Rainier after a week like this. Willi Unsoeld comes to mind but he was caught on Cadaver Gap in March.

 

May 24 2010 at 7000' on Goat Rocks which was posted in the link above. Better to give the mtns a few weeks and do some fun rock climbing while you wait."

http://www.nwac.us/media/photos/avalanche/2010/Goat_Mountain_Recent%20Avy_5-24-10%20J.%20Stimberis.jpg

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I was on the mountain Tuesday through Thursday during that hellacious storm, mostly couped-up in the Camp Muir shelter used by IMG; I was with IMG as a client as were 7 other climbers. On Wednesday morning an AAI group had attempted to summit, turned around, and were caught in an avalanche above Ingraham Flatts - they were swept 60 feet down the mountain-side; no one was hurt or buried, and they made it back to our Camp Muir shelter cold and shaken. Our IMG guides aborted our summit attempt and seemed somewhat surprised anyone would have taken such risks given the conditions above Ingraham Flatts, although they didn't openly express dismay, it was pretty evident to the rest of us.

Weather conditions that led to Saturday's tradegy mirrored those we experienced.

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I was on the mountain Tuesday through Thursday during that hellacious storm, mostly couped-up in the Camp Muir shelter used by IMG; I was with IMG as a client as were 7 other climbers. On Wednesday morning an AAI group had attempted to summit, turned around, and were caught in an avalanche above Ingraham Flatts - they were swept 60 feet down the mountain-side; no one was hurt or buried, and they made it back to our Camp Muir shelter cold and shaken. Our IMG guides aborted our summit attempt and seemed somewhat surprised anyone would have taken such risks given the conditions above Ingraham Flatts, although they didn't openly express dismay, it was pretty evident to the rest of us.

Weather conditions that led to Saturday's tradegy mirrored those we experienced.

 

Being new to this board and climbing, I apologize if this question is inappropriate, but....Was the group caught in Saturday's slide part of a guided trip?

 

I only ask because I am scheduled for two guided trips this summer. I read climbing forecast on Friday that would have definitely kept me off the mountain for the past few days. Would guides normally push clients to climb with the forecast that have been posted for the past few days?

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When going with a guided trip realise that the guide services cancelling will generally owe the clients a full refund. Get a client out of Muir and above 10K and they don't owe you a refund.

 

Imagine the pressure to make it above 10K with every client for the companies that have booked, been paid and spent that money many months ago when we get a prolonged session of bad weatehr like we have this spring.

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I was on the mountain the morning of the avalanche (guiding for Alpine Ascents). The climbers caught in the avalanche most certainly were NOT part of a guided group. In fact it was RMI guides who unburied the four climbers caught in it and led the rescue operation in cooperation with the climbing rangers. I spoke to several RMI guides afterwards about what happened. The guides at the scene had already made the choice to turn their summit bid around due to the sketchy snow conditions. They had left their clients at a safe zone on the Ingraham while they went uphill to dig some snow pits when the avalanche let loose.

 

Although I can't speak for everyone, I don't know of any guides that would "push" clients to climb in such conditions. Our Alpine Ascents group never left Muir for Ingraham Flats Sat because we guides were very aware of the sketchy conditions. We spent a lot of time explaining to our clients how bad things looked, and the avalanche only confirmed our judgement. I'm not sure why the private parties caught in the avalanche thought it was a climbing day, but to us guides who have seen the weather over the past week have been very wary of what appeared to be evolving on the mountain.

 

 

 

I was on the mountain Tuesday through Thursday during that hellacious storm, mostly couped-up in the Camp Muir shelter used by IMG; I was with IMG as a client as were 7 other climbers. On Wednesday morning an AAI group had attempted to summit, turned around, and were caught in an avalanche above Ingraham Flatts - they were swept 60 feet down the mountain-side; no one was hurt or buried, and they made it back to our Camp Muir shelter cold and shaken. Our IMG guides aborted our summit attempt and seemed somewhat surprised anyone would have taken such risks given the conditions above Ingraham Flatts, although they didn't openly express dismay, it was pretty evident to the rest of us.

Weather conditions that led to Saturday's tradegy mirrored those we experienced.

 

Being new to this board and climbing, I apologize if this question is inappropriate, but....Was the group caught in Saturday's slide part of a guided trip?

 

I only ask because I am scheduled for two guided trips this summer. I read climbing forecast on Friday that would have definitely kept me off the mountain for the past few days. Would guides normally push clients to climb with the forecast that have been posted for the past few days?

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Do you know this as a fact or is this just speculation on your own part? If it is speculation (which it is), then why spread misinformation? At that point you are not helping the person asking the question, just the opposite.

 

Just so you know, here is RMI's official refund policy (I looked it up myself). There is no stipulation based on getting above 10k:

Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. cannot guarantee that you will reach the summit of Mount Rainier. Weather, route conditions, your own abilities or the abilities of others may create circumstances that make an ascent unsafe, and you or your entire party will have to turn around without reaching the summit. Your program fee entitles you to one summit attempt of Mount Rainier on your specified dates. Failure to reach the summit due to a person's own lack of fitness or to events associated with mountaineering (such as weather, route, avalanche hazard, rescues, etc.) are not Rainier Mountaineering, Inc.'s responsibility and will not result in refund or reschedule.

 

If adverse weather or route conditions prevent your entire party from reaching Camp Muir, you will receive a $300.00 credit for another Summit Climb during the current calendar year. Individuals who are unable to reach Camp Muir or complete their program will not receive a refund.

 

FYI: I do not work for RMI, I do guide for a competitor, Alpine Ascents, who doesn't offer refunds for the reasons you speculate.

 

When going with a guided trip realise that the guide services cancelling will generally owe the clients a full refund. Get a client out of Muir and above 10K and they don't owe you a refund.

 

Imagine the pressure to make it above 10K with every client for the companies that have booked, been paid and spent that money many months ago when we get a prolonged session of bad weatehr like we have this spring.

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I've got to back up Denali, Dane.

 

No guide service - in my 12 years of experience - has a refund policy like what you spoke of. The guides are under no pressure to continue up in conditions that may be life threatening.

 

To respond directly to bp's question - it depends. It depends on the avalanche hazard below Camp Muir, which could easily have been managable (and I suspect it was, since the guide services made it to Camp Muir). Often times, guided groups have climbed in some really foul weather because with the appropriate equipment and experience of the guides, it is possible to do so. This is why non-guided rope teams should not follow guided teams up the mountain like lemmings!

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Take a look back at my original and unedited post..I said guide companies are under the pressure, not the guides. Different economics involved for employer (guide service) and employee (guide).

 

I'll assume (we all know how that works) that this is the RMI refund policy:

 

"If adverse weather or route conditions prevent your entire party from reaching Camp Muir, you will receive a $300.00 credit {no cash} for another Summit Climb during the *current calendar year*. (so do it by Dec 31) Individuals who are unable to reach Camp Muir or complete their program will not receive a refund."

 

So if i read this right... and you get to 10,000' or Muir @ 10,188, then there is no refund. Which is what I said but missed it by a 188 feet.

 

Do we really need to think very hard on this?

 

Rope team goes out in bad weather and if the guide can't make Muir with his rope then you get a $300 CREDIT on a $925 climb. I fully understand why a guiding business has this policy. Although I may not agree with it depending on the circumstances. If you guys can actually tell me with a straight face that you have never left Paradise thinking, "up to Muir and back, no way in hell we'll be going to the summit in this weather" then good on ya. Me...sorry... btdt and just don't swallow the party line.

 

Guides are cool, work way harder than what they get paid for, and seriously, no personal insult intended here. But I also have a fair idea on the economics of guide services and how refunds work.

 

I am not a guide but did play one on TV a time or two in several countries. When I know that any ascent of Rainier is going to be iffy from my desk 40 miles away I am not impressed when someone turns on to the Ingraham and decides to dig a freaking snow pit.

 

I am not trying to make this personal guys..but we all know it doesn't take much of a guide to get a party to Muir and onto the Ingraham without risking anyone's life in even foul weather. I also know that a good guide will bust their ass in any weather to get thier clients to the summit if they think it is safe.

 

More to BP's point. He has two guided trips scheduled this summer. And both will likely go perfectly if we have a normal summer. But even he knew (your client) you shouldn't be trying to summit on Rainier this week from the forecasts.

 

Stopping at Muir is easy to defend this week. Getting higher than Muir before turning around not so easy on this one. And leaving Paradise? I'll leave that up to the readers here. RMI IMG and AAI were on the mountain this week trying to summit. And sounds like guides from all three were on the mtn the day of the biggest avi with clients. I'll let someone else ask why they were there after Wedneday's slide.

 

Last I checked if you leave Paradise as a guide you get paid. If you could not or refused to leave Paradise you don't get paid.

 

Either way once the clients from RMI and IMG arrive at Muir (10,000') the monetary part of the contract is complete between GUIDE SERVICE and CLIENT. AAI has finalised their monetary part of the contract simply by leaving Paradise.

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I took the time to look up the policies of the three companies that have guiding concessions in Rainier Nat. Park.

 

http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/mountaineering-guide-services.htm

 

Trips cost between $900 and $1500 these days. And Travel Insurance does NOT cover the climbing portion of the trip last I checked so beware and due your home work. Rainier is second only to Chamonix on the number of guided days on the mtn. Make no mistake it is a business to those involved and the guides are on the tail end of that economically. Some things never change :) Pays to look around and to be an educated shopper.

 

RMI

 

"Summit Attempt:

Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. cannot guarantee that you will reach the summit of Mount Rainier. Weather, route conditions, your own abilities or the abilities of others may create circumstances that make an ascent unsafe, and you or your entire party will have to turn around without reaching the summit. Your program fee entitles you to one summit attempt of Mount Rainier on your specified dates. Failure to reach the summit due to a person's own lack of fitness or to events associated with mountaineering (such as weather, route, avalanche hazard, rescues, etc.) are not Rainier Mountaineering, Inc.'s responsibility and will not result in refund or reschedule.

 

If adverse weather or route conditions prevent your entire party from reaching Camp Muir, you will receive a $300.00 credit for another Summit Climb during the current calendar year. Individuals who are unable to reach Camp Muir or complete their program will not receive a refund."

 

IMG:

 

Offers a 50% raincheck if they can't reschedule you almost immediatly. Make the first day's high camp (Muir/Sherman or Hazard but basically 10K or a bit lower) and no refund is offered. Their web page and link is worth the read. They also offer some comments there on the way guides are paid and how that effects you as a client.

 

http://www.mountainguides.com/pdf/IMG-Forms-Rainier.pdf

 

 

I do guide for a competitor, Alpine Ascents, who doesn't offer refunds for the reasons you speculate.

 

Yep, your are right, unless AAI cancels, they don't offer a refund at all. Nice. Love to see the actual summit numbers compared against the attempts by all three companies.

 

AAI:

 

Rainier Cancellation/Refund Policy

Note: Alpine Ascents International highly recommends trip cancellation insurance for all programs. Due to the nature and heavy costs of government and operator permits, Alpine Ascents International must adhere to a stringent refund policy.

 

Each deposit, regardless of amount, includes a $200.00 non-refundable registration fee.

 

Payment Policy

 

Deposits are due at time of registration to reserve space on the climb. Please include with completed application form if you have not already submitted deposit by phone.

 

Each deposit includes a $200.00 non-refundable registration fee.

 

All balances are due 90 days prior to climb start date.

 

Payments can be made by check, money order, wire transfer or credit card (VISA/MC/AMEX).

Mount Rainier Program balances are automatically charged 90 days prior to departure date.

Refund Policy

 

$200.00 non-refundable registration fee.

 

Full refunds will be provided 90 days prior to climb start date.

 

50% refunds will be provided 60-89 days prior to climb start date.

 

No refunds will be provided 59 days prior to climb start date.

 

If Alpine Ascents cancels or reschedules a program, all fees are refundable and/or transferable.

 

 

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I think something is being lost in this conversation: the mountain experience. This seems particularly easy to overlook in the case of guided climbing. People naturally think of the summit as the goal and thus no summit = failure (therefore all this talk of refunds).

 

As a guide, even in the best of conditions I have never guaranteed any client the summit - there are just too many variables to do that, and we tell them that upfront before we leave Seattle. The guides that I have had the pleasure to work with at Alpine Ascents (and the company as a whole) stress educating our clients as to the unique and rewarding aspects of climbing in rare alpine environments. Our priorities are, in this order, 1) safety 2) a fun and educational mountain experience and 3) the summit. Many clients who have not made the summit, though disappointed, have enjoyed their trip because they have experienced something they'd never dreamed of before. Basic things like traveling in bitter conditions; staying warm; feeling the energy of a storm; breathing thin air at altitude; learning to use crampons, ice axe, and travel on a rope, sleeping in tents on snow; and, yes, learning that making the summit is more than hiring a guide and training hard! My clients from this last trip (which never left Muir) had such an experience.

 

As independent climbers, it is easy to take this for granted and focus on the summit as the litmus test for success, but for clients, this is all new to them. Think about your own first forays into climbing and remember what it was like to be in that wild and wonderful place.

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On Wednesday morning an AAI group had attempted to summit, turned around, and were caught in an avalanche above Ingraham Flatts - they were swept 60 feet down the mountain-side; no one was hurt or buried, and they made it back to our Camp Muir shelter cold and shaken.

I'm amazed that the guide services are able to bury attention to their accidents. If this had been a recreational club climb, the critics would be having a field day.

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I agree. My wife actually pointed that out to me this morning. Most that register as clients are thrilled to just make it to Muir. Which in decent weather is actually a casual 5 mile walk. Getting up at 1am and walking out into a storm at 10K can be a nice $1000+ learning experience worth every penny to some. Casual, properly prepared and deadly if you are not.

 

Win, win on everyones part to do so.

 

Trips are sold as "Rainier Summit Trips".

Better description taken from the refund policies of all three concessions involved would be "snow hiking on Rainier, summit optional". Book your date, pay your money and take your chances :) Kinda like Vegas actually but done outside as a mtn experience.

 

Honest, but not that catchy or such a great selling point.

 

I'm amazed that the guide services are able to bury attention to their accidents. If this had been a recreational club climb, the critics would be having a field day.

 

Agreed. Also have to wonder why the NPS doesn't have that kind of info updated daily on the web site. The funds from a single rescue would fund that 24/7 for a few years.

 

Then there is the "mountain experience" idea that gets a guided party to the Ingraham knowing they will turn around but with the private parties following. The inexperienced private party doesn't know any different and doesn't stop.

 

And another Darwin award is made.

 

And if the NPS wonders why the soloist didn't register maybe the dumb asses ought to look at the rediculious paper and time frame road blocks the NPS has for solo climbers. Not like they haven't heard it before and more than once.

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On Wednesday morning an AAI group had attempted to summit, turned around, and were caught in an avalanche above Ingraham Flatts - they were swept 60 feet down the mountain-side; no one was hurt or buried, and they made it back to our Camp Muir shelter cold and shaken.

I'm amazed that the guide services are able to bury attention to their accidents. If this had been a recreational club climb, the critics would be having a field day.

 

tomtom-

This, from denalidevo's first post on this thread:

...I was on the mountain the morning of the avalanche (guiding for Alpine Ascents). The climbers caught in the avalanche most certainly were NOT part of a guided group. In fact it was RMI guides who unburied the four climbers caught in it and led the rescue operation in cooperation with the climbing rangers...

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On Wednesday morning an AAI group had attempted to summit, turned around, and were caught in an avalanche above Ingraham Flatts - they were swept 60 feet down the mountain-side; no one was hurt or buried, and they made it back to our Camp Muir shelter cold and shaken.

I'm amazed that the guide services are able to bury attention to their accidents. If this had been a recreational club climb, the critics would be having a field day.

 

Many times the guides go out on a "summit bid" but they know that they will turn around long before seeing Columbia Crest. Just like somebody said it is an educational experience. If I dropped $1,000 and I get to Muir and my guides say "no go on the summit" i'd be a little pissed; but if at 1am we walk out of that hut in shitting conditions and I see why it is a no go then that is $1,000 well spent.

 

I've heard of groups walking over to the cleaver and turning there because that route was not in conditions... the guides new that because they maintain the route, but they still go out.

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