Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Notes from Nordic Patrol

Ever wonder what it's like to patrol one of the snowiest places on earth? Here's a great summary of what it was like last weekend, shared by a member of our Nordic Patrol, that captures both the highs and lows faced by some of our most intrepid volunteers.

Hello All Nordic Patrollers,

We had a great weekend of fun with 5 Patrollers showing up over our three days. A special thanks to Mindy Nichols, Tom Eckhout, Lisa Hertzog, and George Whyel.

On Saturday, we faced torrential rain and freezing levels rising to 7,000 feet. We broke into two teams: Mindy and Tom covered Zone B (Paradise, Glacier Vista, Edith Basin, Bundy's Run and 4th Crossing) while Lisa and I hit Zone A (Paradise, Devils Dip, Inspiration Saddle, Reflection and Canyon Wye).  During our morning GAR (General Assessment of Risk) briefing, we put in contingency plans to bail out if any of us got soaked.

As I climbed up Inspiration Saddle in the rain and wrung out water from my gloves every 5 minutes, I was thinking; how embarrassing, all of my gear has failed and I'm going to be the only one who needs to trigger our bailout plan. Time to go spend a few hundred at REI for some new Gortex.

Just as I was about to call the other team, Tom called and asked, "where's your location?" "I'm at Reflection Lake, do you want us to head up to Paradise?"  Tom replied, "No, we are at the JVC and are soaked!"  I replied, "Us too, see you at Canyon Wye in 40 minutes."

As Mindy and Tom pulled into Canyon Wye 40 minutes later, I raised my hands high above my head and wrung out a stream of water from my gloves. We all laughed.

We got back to the Longmire House at 2:30 pm and immediately pulled out the food. Lisa got chips and dip out while Mindy heated up a large pan of enchiladas made with verde sauce, black beans,and a hint of lime.  I found out that Mindy is a nutritionist and a great chef. I encourage you to sign up for any trips she leads. We had a great time eating, telling stories, and drying out.

The next day Lisa and I went up to the Paradise area and covered Edith Basin and the Skyline Trail while Ranger Jeff Gardner hit the lower marked trails at Reflection Lake and Inspiration Saddle. Above Paradise winds gusted up to 47 mph and low visibility. Lisa and I spent the day making visitor contacts to warn back country users of adverse conditions.

At Myrtle Falls, Lisa and I skied down to the bridge crossing the Paradise River and saw how the River was open and flowing fast.  On the bridge deck was a pile of snow at least three feet tall with a narrow track about 18-24 inches wide with a drop of 12-15 feet to the river bed below.

Two young women in their early 20's with no packs skied up to us and said, "Uh..., Do we need to ski over that?"  "Is that the way to get to the Nisqually Loop Trail?"  Lisa and I said "No," and gave them directions for how to get back to the JVC and find the Loop Trail.

Today, George and I drove up the road and broke out into sunshine at the "Oh My" curve with beautiful views of the Tatoosh Range.  In the Narada Falls Parking lot, we met a group of 12 headed up to the Tatoosh to carve some turns.  We had 20-30 cm of fresh powder on top of hard pack. As we skied toward Reflection Lake, we keep passing the groups. One of the young women, in her thirties, keep asking George questions. Though George was being helpful and fulling his Nordic Patrol duties, I suspect he was being "hit on" by this skier.

George and I spent over an hour having lunch at Reflection Lake in the sunshine before heading back out.

Come out and join the fun and help keep the public safe at Mount Rainier National Park. We have three openings next weekend with Ginnie Miller as the Lead Patroller and Dennis Dubois the following weekend also is looking for Patrollers.

Phil Hertzog

Update February 5, 2015:

Just for fun, I'm going to add a second report to the bottom of this one (rather than creating a new blog entry). Here's the report from Superbowl Sunday:

We had a very productive and fun weekend of Nordic Patrol on Super Bowl weekend. Patrollers came prepared to patrol the best snow cover in the state by day, and socialize by night.

Saturday – Eight patrollers arrived at the already overflowing Paradise parking lot under clear blue skies. After a beacon and radio check, our three patrol teams headed out and contacted over 150 visitors in the backcountry around Paradise.

Teams were selected and assigned to routes based on their pace, skill, and individual objectives. Three first-time patrollers were paired with veteran patrollers. Ranger Kraig Snure had no special assignments for us. Avalanche danger was low, temperatures were around freezing, skies were clear and visibility was perfect. Yes, perfect.

Team 1 patrolled Mazama Ridge from Fourth Crossing to Reflection Lakes. Team 2 patrolled Paradise Valley Road to Inspiration Saddle and continued to Reflection Lakes. Team 3 patrolled Alta Vista, Skyline and Edith Creek, and made the most visitor contacts of any team that day.

Team 2 spent some time on Paradise Valley Road helping visitors find the correct trailhead at Fourth Crossing. Several were turning uphill too soon, on the wrong side of the creek, which is still open and flowing. Team 1 contacted some large groups of snowshoers, including overnighters, who were vague about their destinations “up the ridge;” they may have been headed for the Paradise Snow Caves but did not want to say that to us.

Teams 1 and 2 observed snowshoers traversing the frozen surface of Reflection Lake without incident; there is open water near the inlet surrounded by thin ice. On the Inspiration Saddle route we encountered a couple in wet street shoes who weren’t positive about where they were parked, and a trio of overnight campers who seemed not to have received much guidance about where they should camp.

Sunday – Five patrollers arrived at Paradise to find only two other vehicles in the snowy parking lot. The NWS forecast for the day was rain at Paradise; however another forecast calling for heavy snowfall turned out to be correct! Ranger Jeff Gardner was not on duty Sunday. Avalanche danger was moderate, temperatures were just above freezing, winds were increasing and visibility was poor.

Team 1 and team 2 patrolled together to Glacier Vista. Conditions went from bad to worse. The skiing, however, had greatly improved over the previous day. About half of our visitor contacts were people who were hiking or skiing alone.

Meanwhile a chain requirement went into effect on the road. We returned to the JVC in the early afternoon as the snowfall was turning to rain. With Super Bowl kickoff time approaching, there were very few visitors left at Paradise.

The report concludes with an extensive description of various routes and their status, ranked by priority; a summary of snow conditions and the status of facilities; and a list of recommended action items, concluding with the following:

There is about 1 quart each of chocolate and vanilla ice cream in the freezer drawer. Recommendation: enjoy!

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