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Entries By kel rossiter

Know Snow - Getting Under Winter’s Blanket

Before the big mountain bug bit me, I viewed snow as a blanket that came in the winter and lay quietly in place ‘til spring’s thaw. All that changed when I decided it wise to educate myself about avalanches. Taking part in the introductory Level 1 avalanche education course, I quickly learned how the snowpack, terrain, and triggers (like climbers or cornice falls) can transform that quiet blanket into a raging white dragon. Interested in learning more about this beast, I enrolled in a Level 2 avalanche course a few years later, and came to understand that each layer of snow that falls forms something of geologic record in that season’s snowpack: if the snow falls warm, that layer will stay warm for a long time; if hail falls, it can be evident in the snowpack months later. Even more incredibly—similar to plates of geologic sedimentary matter—that seemingly silent white winter blanket is often actively undergoing radical metamorphosis due to vapor and temperature differences in the layers. 

This February—with the support of the RMI Guide Grant—I participated in a Level 3 course.  It’s something of a graduate level course in the University of Avalanches: A rigorous curriculum that explores the intricacies of snowpack dynamics and the techniques used to assess how stable the snowpack is. Our course took place in the Wasatch Mountains and it began a few days after one of that area’s avalanche forecasters had declared it one of the weirdest snowpacks ever. An excellent classroom had been arranged!

A key focus of the course was learning to quickly identify weak layers in the snowpack and then to assess the structure of that instability. One aspect of instability has to do with the kinds of snow crystals in between the layers. A Cliff Notes summary would be: square ones are bad, round ones are good.  But how can you tell with something so small? Were they the good guys or the bad guys? First, I had to identify which layer to look at, a process of first poking the snow with my finger to determine layer interfaces, and then prodding it with a fist, four fingers, one finger, a pencil, or a knife to get some grip on the specific hardnesses.  Once all that was established, it was time to sort out the good from the bad.  Somewhat ironically, amidst all of the grandeur of the Wasatch, I was often peering into the little lens of a snow microscope looking at the edges of myriad little bits of snow to determine their personalities. 

Kel examines the universe of snowflakes with the hubble.   Jake Hutchinson/American Avalanche Institute

Ultimately, beyond peering down a microscope, knowing the snow is a very sensory experience, incorporating sight, sound, and touch in order to determine its stability: windslabs are often squeaky like styrofoam, while faceted grains bounce off a gloved hand and make for a poor snowball. Of course, once stability is determined, the sensory experience is the pure enjoyment—how well does it ski?  Through careful tracking of the Wasatch area over our week of study, we knew that north aspects were retaining the best snow. So, after our final exam, involving each person doing a complete analysis of the season’s snowpack and weaknesses, we gathered together for a final run back into the front-country.  We ripped our skins and then laid tracks down a beautiful bowl, each up us kicking up huge roostertails of powder joy—a reward for all of our diligent study.

Jake Hutchinson of the American Avalanche Institute demonstrates an extended column test.   Kel Rossiter

The pleasures of backcountry skiing and the benefits of big mountain climbing with skis are becoming increasingly known in the outdoor world and RMI is right out in front of the trend. Safely partaking of those pleasures and benefits involves really coming to know the snow.  While in its essence knowledge of the snow is like knowledge itself, where “The more one knows the more one knows they don’t completely understand,” coming away from the Level 3 avalanche course, I feel good in knowing that I’m keeping the learning edge sharp.  That sharp edge will aid me whether cramponing up alpine routes on Rainier or schussing down couloirs in the North Cascades. 

Mt. Rainier: August 12th Update

The Mount Rainier Four and Five Day Summit Climbs, led by Kel Rossiter and Ben Liken, reached about 12,300 feet before thunder and lightning forced the team to turn.  The team is safely back at Camp Muir and began their descent to Paradise at 9:00 a.m.  The skies are currently hazy with a fair amount of smoke in the skies from various wildfires in eastern part of Washington.  Geoff Schellens and the Expedition Skills Seminar - Kautz turned from their summit attempt yesterday at 13,300 feet.  They will finish their day of training and be back at RMI Basecamp later this afternoon.  The RMI Expedition Skills Seminar - Emmons, led by Eric Frank, checked in from camp this morning.  Their team is doing well, training today, and preparing for their summit bid in the morning.

Mt. Rainier: August 7th Summit!

RMI Guides Elias de Andres Martos and Kel Rossiter led our Summit Climb teams to the top of Mount Rainier this morning.  Their views spanned out to Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and other peaks in the Cascade Mountains.  Both teams began their descent after 8:15 a.m.

Congratulations Summit Climb Teams!

Congratulations on summititing Mt. rainier this am. I knew you could do it.

Posted by: Jeanette on 8/7/2015 at 12:41 pm

Mt. Rainier: Four Day Summit Climbs & Emmons Seminar Climbers on Summit!

The Four Day Summit Climb teams led by RMI Guides Eric Frank and Solveig Waterfall reached the summit of Mt. Rainier early this morning.  The teams enjoyed clear blue skies and warm temperatures.  RMI Guide Kel Rossiter led the Expedition Skills Seminar - Emmons to the summit via the Emmons Glacier route.

Congratulations to today’s climbers!

Congratulations to 313 AS Climbing! Great job Rob and team!  The team raised over $10,000 for the Seattle Childrens Hospital Uncompensated Fund!

Posted by: Rex Luzader on 7/3/2015 at 2:44 pm

Mt. Rainier: Four Day Summit Climb Teams Reach the Summit!

The Four Day Summit Climb teams led by RMI Guides Elías de Andrés Martos and Kel Rossiter reached the summit of Mt. Rainier this morning.  As of 7 am both teams were at approximately 13,400’ on their descent.  Elias reported clear skies and sunshine with a slight breeze and a very pleasant day.  The groups will return to Camp Muir for a short break before continuing their descent to Paradise.

Congratulations to today’s Summit Climb Teams!

Wohooo Sydney you did it!!  You amaze me everyday!  See you at the bottom.

Posted by: Cathy on 6/26/2015 at 7:56 am

Wow!  So impressed, so relieved, so proud of you, Chris, my amazing daughter in law!  You keep on meeting challenges with determination, grace and grit.  Congrats to you and Jasmine both.  Love you very much, DIL.  Mama Carol

Posted by: Carol Waring on 6/25/2015 at 5:34 pm

Mt. Rainier: Four Day Summit Climbs on the Summit!

Our Four Day Summit Climb teams led by RMI Guides Casey Grom and Kel Rossiter reached the summit of Mt. Rainier this morning just before 7 am PT.  Casey reported a little breeze and a cloud cap but overall good conditions.  The teams spent an hour in the summit crater and began their descent just after 9 am.  The teams will return to Camp Muir and then continue down to Paradise.

Congratulations to today’s Summit Climbers and Happy Father’s Day!

DR. GSD!!!

Posted by: Brian Andersen on 6/21/2015 at 6:19 pm

Wow Lauren!  You did it again!  Can’t wait to hear about your adventure!

Posted by: Grace on 6/21/2015 at 10:52 am

Mt. Rainier: May 24th Teams Summit

The Four Day Summit Climb led by RMI Guide Elías de Andrés Martos and the Five Day Summit Climb led by RMI Guide Kel Rossiter reached the summit of Mt. Rainier this morning. On the summit the team enjoyed clear, blue skies. The teams have left the summit and are making their way back to Camp Muir. We will see them back in Ashford this afternoon.

Congratulations to today’s teams!

If this is indeed the climb my Johnson boys are on, hooray. Glad it was clear for whomever it was.

Posted by: Barb Garner on 5/24/2015 at 11:19 am

Excellent!!  Clear skies and great memories

Posted by: Diane O'Connor on 5/24/2015 at 10:06 am

Mt. Rainier: May 18th Teams Summit!

RMI Guides Seth Waterfall and Kel Rossiter and the Four Day Summit Climb teams stood on the summit of Mt. Rainier this morning. The teams have been in and out of clouds this morning with a trace of new snow falling and calm winds. After spending some time on the summit, the teams are making their way back to Camp Muir before beginning their descent to Paradise.

Congratulations climbers!

Congratulations.  Look forward to my summit attempt sometime in 2017 or late 2016.

Posted by: Kevin Stone on 5/20/2015 at 8:34 am

Congrats Liz!!!!!

Posted by: Sara on 5/18/2015 at 8:37 pm

Mt. Rainier: June 27th - UPDATE

The Four Day Summit Climb Team led by Win Whittaker and Kel Rossiter climbed to Ingraham Flats this morning (11,200’), but due to snow, high winds, and poor visibility they were unable to reach the summit of Mt. Rainier.  The entire team is safely back at Camp Muir and will be starting their descent back to RMI BaseCamp shortly.

Congratulations to today’s Team!

John and Beth - you two are rock stars in my book!  Congratulations on giving it your best shot!!!

Posted by: Jlo on 6/27/2014 at 11:51 am

Chris/Brooke, still a kick butt accomplishment!!!  Can’t wait to see the pictures!

Love, Leonard

Posted by: Leonard on 6/27/2014 at 10:52 am

Mt. Rainier: June 21st Update

At 7:20 a.m. PT the Mount Rainier Four Day Summit Climbs led by Kel Rossiter and Zeb Blais were just about to crest the crater rim. They reported 10 mph winds from the north and perfectly blue skies. 

Congratulations to today’s summit climb teams!

Just want to acknowledge the great experience we had with our RMI guides. Zeb, Christina and Nick were absolute aces guiding us to the top. They were spot on from the orientation, training and especially through the climb. I can’t imagine a better team and thank them for a great experience. Hope we can all meet up again…


Posted by: Tom on 7/1/2014 at 5:08 pm

Yay, Daddy!  Did you have fun?
Love, Lilia and Nina

Posted by: Nina and Lilia on 6/21/2014 at 10:25 am

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