White Giant

Mount Rainier is the “big mountain” of the Lower 48, a white giant standing alone 14,000 feet higher than the sea-level city of Seattle, a mere 60 miles away. Mount Whitney may be taller, other mountains may be more photogenic, but up close, Rainier feels more Himalayan than American, what with its seracs, huge glaciers, crevasses, bad weather, and high altitude. Twenty-six glaciers cover the peak, adding up to a cubic mile of snow and ice. The mountain gets 50 feet of snow every year, and the average temperature on the summit during the warmest month, August, is a brisk 32ºF.

More than 10,000 people attempt a climb on Rainier every year, and at least half of them head up the classic, but far from casual, Disappointment Cleaver route, almost all on snow and ice. Day one is typically a five-mile, 4,700-foot hike up the Muir Snowfield to Camp Muir, a group of spare huts perched at 10,080 feet at the edge of the Cowlitz Glacier. Day two, beginning with an alpine start between midnight and 2 a.m., tackles 4,400 vertical feet of snow, ice, and rock to Columbia Crest, Rainier’s proper summit at 14,410 feet. The 10- to 15-hour summit day, climbing up 4,400 feet and then descending 9,000 feet back to the parking lot, is a huge day. It’s an achievement, and one that often whets the appetite for more—once you’ve sat down for a post-climb burger and a beer in the town of Ashford at the base of the mountain.

The cold way up

“Climbing ancient glacial ice under the stars is one thing, but to have the aurora dance over our heads at the same time was unbelievable,” photographer Paul Zizka says of this shot he took of climber Raf Andronowski and belayer Jeff Thom. The two were ice climbing under the aurora borealis on the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. “I arranged to meet at the cave with Andronowski and Thom, but arrived quite a bit before they did,” Zizka says. “While I was there alone the sky exploded. I crossed my fingers to have the show go on until the arrival of the climbers, and more importantly, I proceeded to scout out different compositions so that we could proceed efficiently once they arrived.”

Zizka’s preparation paid off. Once his friends arrived, he told them where to go to get the best image. “I’ve worked with these skilled climbers before, so they know what they need to do and are very good at holding still,” he says. “The climbing itself was also extremely challenging. Both climbers are very experienced and commented that the severely overhanging, extremely brittle ice afforded some of the hardest climbing they had ever done.”
Reblogged from National Geographic

Night time exploration

Beneath the stars, two scientific explorers descend into the icy depths of a moulin on the Gorner Glacier in Switzerland. The freshly exposed rock above the glacier on the left-hand side shows how the ice has melted under an increasingly warm world. These explorers are mapping the changes taking place beneath the surface. Their work must be carried out at night because high daytime temperatures create vast amounts of meltwater, making exploration difficult and dangerous.


Reblogged from National Geographic