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Entries By mike uchal

RMI’s Solar Snow Melt System on Mt. Rainier

Camp Muir and the Cowlitz Glacier (Jon Mancuso)

Every summer, RMI climbing teams consume over 7,000 gallons of drinking water at Camp Muir, the primary camp on Mt. Rainier‘s Disappointment Cleaver Route.  For many years, melting snow in a large barrel heated by propane created drinking water for Camp Muir. We knew that there was a better way to provide drinking water to our teams and it just required a little bit of creativity, brainstorming, and initiative. Over the course of the 2012 and 2013 climbing seasons, a new solar thermal system was installed at Camp Muir. This system, designed to use environmentally benign and free solar energy to efficiently melt snow, provides drinking and cooking water for RMI climbers and guides at an elevation of 10,060’. The system was designed and built by RMI Guide and alternative energy professor Mike Uchal and his colleague Dr. Brian Raichle, who is a professor of solar energy technology at Appalachian State University. RMI Guide Cody Doolan also contributed with the design, installation, and maintenance.  RMI’s Solar Snow Melt System, part of our commitment to Responsible Climbing, reduces our environmental footprint on Mt. Rainier by minimizing the need to burn liquid propane gas in order to melt snow, cuts our operating costs, and reduces the environmental footprint of the helicopter used to transport propane to Camp Muir.

Diagram of RMI's Solar Snow Melt System at Camp Muir

How it works:

A small electric pump powered by photovoltaic panels pulls water from the burn barrel, a large barrel used to melt snow, uphill to a solar thermal collector. The collector, a conventional flat plate solar thermal collector is the kind that is typically used in residential and commercial domestic hot water systems. The water is pulled by gravity through the copper pipes in the collector and is heated by solar radiation before returning to the melt barrel. RMI guides keep the barrel fed with clean snow from the snowfields above Camp Muir and this snow mixes with the warm water and melts into liquid form. A controller turns on the pump in the morning and off at the end of the day when the sun goes down. Because the collector is uphill of the barrel, gravity drains water from the collector at night to prevent damage from freezing water. This system design eliminates any problems associated with overheating during late season conditions when solar energy can be plentiful and strong.

RMI Guide Mike Uchal showing the Solar Snow Melt System at Camp Muir to a climber (Mike Uchal).

How it performs:

On warm, sunny days at Camp Muir, typical in the late summer, the solar snow melting system heated the 30+ gallons of water in the burn barrel to above 100°F. That is nearly spa temperature! On cold, sunny days, often found early in the season, the system heated water to temperatures above 40°F - enough to effectively melt snow. Propane is still used during storms that last several days, when solar radiation isn’t strong enough to heat the collector, but the solar snow melting system dramatically reduced the amount of propane burned during the 2013 summer climbing season.

The solar collector at Camp Muir (Mike Uchal).
The system's stainless steel water barrel (Mike Uchal).

Anecdotally, before the 2013 climbing season the propane burner was running for around 3.5 hours per day to melt enough snow to provide drinking water for the RMI teams. During the 2013 climbing season, guides estimate that the burner was needed on average around 15 minutes per day. During the summer climbing season of 2013, we estimate the solar system saved approximately 250 pounds of propane, the associated cost of transport that propane, and 0.33 metric tons of CO2 emissions.

This project is part of RMI’s commitment to the outdoor community and environment as we work to reduce the environmental footprint of our climbs in order to ensure that many future generations are able to enjoy the same mountain environment that we enjoy.  The RMI Solar Snow Melt System is a great example of practices that can reduce a business’ environmental footprint and provide cost savings at the same time. By the end of its first full year at Camp Muir, the system paid for itself with savings in fuel and helicopter transport costs.  The next time you make it to Camp Muir, swing by the guide shack and check it out! The guides would love to show you the system in person.

Mike Uchal is a Professor of Alternative Energy at Appalachian State University and guides trips on Mt. Rainier and Mt. McKinley for RMI Expeditions.  Mike lives the mountain life, rock climbing, paddling whitewater, mountain biking, trail running, and skiing whenever he has spare time.

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)


Hello folks looking for the skills seminar this week. There was a posting yesterday but not under Rainier. The above link will take you to a great picture!

Posted by: Doug on 6/6/2014 at 4:13 pm

Hello Father/Uncle!!! Thanks for the Update! Glad to hear they made it and are back at Muir!

Posted by: Reecie on 6/5/2014 at 5:12 pm

Mt. Rainier: July 21, 2013 Summit!

The Four Day Summit Climb led by RMI Guide Mike Uchal and Five Day Summit Climb reached the summit of Mt. Rainier after a 6 1/2 hour ascent. Mike Uchal reports sunny, beautiful weather and a busy route. The teams are en route back to Camp Muir, and will be back at RMI Basecamp later today.

Congratulations to today’s teams!

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

That mountain looks soooo big from my easy chair on the patio where I lounge thinking about all of you, up on top.  I can only imagine the sense of accomplishment.  You guys are amazing!  Welcome back, and can’t wait to hear stories.

Posted by: maryann on 7/21/2013 at 8:17 pm

I am so excited that you all made it! Each of you has been constantly on my mind the last several days! I am envious, but so proud of what you all have accomplished! Welcome home when you get there! Your admirer, Mr. T

Posted by: Thom D. on 7/21/2013 at 4:03 pm

Mt. McKinley: Haugen & Team Back in Talkeetna!

Saturday, July 6th, 2013 at 1:50 a.m. PST
We made it!
We stomped a runway.
Ate breakfast.
Went like Vikings to raid a cache (unsuccessfully).
Made two hours of quesadillas.
Packed up camp for incoming airplane.
Listened as incoming airplane went away.
Made camp again.
Made dinner.
Packed up camp as planes came back.
Flew back to civilization!!
Welcome home!

RMI Guides Mike Haugen, Mike Uchal, Katie Bono and the RMI Summit Team 6

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Thank you RMI, Mike and team for keeping everyone safe and heading in the right direction! Congratulations to all! Have safe journeys home. Steve, I can’t wait to see you!

Posted by: Tania on 7/6/2013 at 3:53 pm

I spoke to Quinn early this morning when you made it down and he called again today. Thank you Mike and the team for taking great care of our loved ones. Have a great rest of the climbing season and God speed.

Posted by: George Landers on 7/6/2013 at 1:37 pm

Mt. McKinley: Haugen & Team Still Chillin at Basecamp

Thursday, July 4, 2013
It has been like a sunny beach vacation…except if it were sunny we would have flown far away from this particular snowy beach days ago. The snow keeps coming a bit harder and the forecast says through Sunday now. Could be worse; we have plenty of food, fuel, and great conversations!
RMI Guide Mike Uchal made almost five hours worth of pancakes in a continuous stream for most of the camp. We have a small backlog of climbers around us. There are not many new climbers in basecamp since the weather has prohibited much movement on the mountain from any of the different camps.

RMI Mt. McKinley Summit Team 6

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Hopeful for your getaway very soon!  Keep us posted.  Love, Mom and Dad Haugen

Posted by: Cindy Haugen on 7/6/2013 at 6:15 am

Missing you more every day. Good to hear your spirits are ok.  Can’t wait to hear that planes can make it in.  Got 3 holes in one today. Hug, mom and the guys. Ps did you put smiley faces on the pancakes?

Posted by: KAC on 7/5/2013 at 9:17 pm

Mt. McKinley: Haugen & Team - Ground Hog’s Day

Wednesday, July 3, 2013
We woke up today to more of the same conditions at McKinley Basecamp. At least with these conditions, there is no waiting around to see if we are going to fly. There is always tomorrow!
We took a walk down to the lower airstrip to stretch our legs a bit.
With plenty of food and gas, at least we are eating well! The morale is still good and the team is hanging in strong while missing our loved ones (and real food).

RMI Mt. McKinley Summit Team 6

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Happy 4th of July To Cindee and her team! Wishing you all a safe and restful return, beers and tacos waiting for you when you get back to SF:)

Posted by: Jennifer on 7/4/2013 at 10:55 pm

The other night I had a warm peanut butter pop tart with a scoop of ice cream and some chocolate syrup.  I feel sure that had pop tarts been included on this expedition, you guys would not still be snowed in.

Posted by: Lisa Mackey on 7/4/2013 at 7:01 pm

Mt. McKinley: Haugen & Team Remain at Basecamp

Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Still here in base camp in case you were wondering. It is snowing with poor visibility. There were some “sucker holes” in the clouds that gave us some false hope at midday today.
We did get out and get some exercise today. Everyone in camp that is waiting to fly got on their skis/snowshoes and stomped down a runway in the snow. We all took it quite seriously since we want the airstrip to be ready when the weather is good enough to fly!
Everyone is happy and healthy and ready to be off the mountain. Cross your fingers!

RMI Mt. McKinley Summit Team 6

P.S. Lance wants his girls to know he loves them and will be home soon.
P.S.S. Steve will call Tania, mom and dad, & Bill and Lisa as soon as he is off the mountain.

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

There is an insane amount of cold diet coke in the fridge. Just saying. Jack and I loveyou, Quinn!!!

Posted by: Liz & Jack on 7/3/2013 at 7:27 pm

Steve and Grasshopper,
Congratulations on achieving the summit! So happy you were able to persevere through. Thinking of you this holiday, stay safe. Working on sending clear weather your way:)

Posted by: Robin Biedrzycki on 7/3/2013 at 6:51 pm

Mt. McKinley: Haugen & Team Waiting for Flight to Talkeetna

Sunday, June 30, 2013
After waking up at 2 in the morning and making a massive push to get to the landing strip, we are stuck in freezing rain with no hope for a flight today.

Peter- Cannot wait to see my loving wife and daughter Maggie. Had a great trip!

Grasshopper- Dream realized. Love to everyone!

Cindy- Thanks for all of the great comments!  Maija, the Internet code is Zootrubie :)

Sandra- Cant wait for Thanksgiving in Hawaii!

Quinn- Save my seat on the couch. Give everyone a hug! See you all soon.

Lance- Cannot wait to see my three girls! Kisses to all.

Steve- To Bill and Lisa, where are the gluten free Pop Tarts? Tania, can’t wait to see you as soon as possible my darling!

Uchal- family : I love you all so much and thank you for the understanding and support. I can’t wait to see everyone when I get back. I have decided to leave NC this winter so I can spend more time in Roc City. Keep the couches open - I am coming home.

Katie- To Mom and Dad, love you and miss you.  See you soon!

Haugen- Love you Amber, Paris, Paige, Brigitte, Jack, Alex! I love you mom and dad and I for sure owe you a Halibut dinner!! Thank you all for the blog comments!

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Congratulations everyone especially Grasshopper!! So amazing to realise your dream! xxx

Posted by: Kate on 7/1/2013 at 9:03 pm

cannot wait to see lance either!!!!fridge is full. Brits are doing great at Tour de France.Come back quick to watch!xxxxxx

Posted by: elisabeth on 7/1/2013 at 7:12 pm

Mt. McKinley: Haugen & Team To Thicker Air

Saturday, June 29th, 2013
After a good sleep, we woke up and started packing. The goal for the day was to get as low and as far as possible to set us up for flying off the mountain tomorrow. The crux of the walk out is timing the walk out on the lower Kahiltna Glacier. We have to walk across this part while the snow bridges over the crevasses are frozen. This means a late night/early morning walk to the air strip. We made it all the way to 11k Camp so we are set up to walk the glacier at the right time…as long as we only sleep for two hours!
Wish us luck and good weather so we can fly tomorrow!

RMI Guide Mike Haugen and the RMI Summit Team 6

P.S. Grasshopper wants to thank Annie and Rose for the support and sacrifices!

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (1)

big concern from little calgarians: is there any chocolate left??

Posted by: elisabeth on 6/30/2013 at 4:35 pm

Mt. McKinley: Haugen & Team Summit!

Friday, June 28th, 2013
Summit Team 6 finally hit the summit! Second time is a charm.

We left camp around 8:45 this morning with perfect weather. As we got higher, Denali decided to challenge us again; this time with some wind. The wind was blowing very hard as we approached the summit ridge. We were all bundled up ready to get pummeled by wind on the ridge, but the ridge actually blocked the wind making the summit really nice! We stayed on top for quite some time before we headed back down into the wind for a safe descent back to 17,000 feet.

Time to get some well-deserved sleep!

RMI Guide Mike Haugen and RMI Summit Team 6

RMI Guide Mike Haugen calls from the Mount McKinley summit.

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Congratulations, Quinn, and the rest of the team!!! We’re so proud of you, what an amazing achievement! Have a happy and safe descent, you’re in our thoughts!

Posted by: Lauren & Adam on 6/30/2013 at 8:45 pm

Awesome job by everyone. Quinn, we knew you would summit no matter what it took. Have a safe 2nd half and look foreword to seeing you home soon. Love from Mom & Dad.

Posted by: George on 6/30/2013 at 12:34 pm

Mt. McKinley: Haugen’s Team Resting and Hoping

Thursday, June 27th, 2013
After our almost summit yesterday, we took today to rest up for another hopeful shot tomorrow. RMI Summit Team 6 is really a great group of folks. We got sooooo close to the summit yesterday and got shut down by terrible weather. We did not hear any complaining or what ifs… instead we heard about what an adventure the day was and started to plan for another attempt.

Keep your fingers crossed, say a prayer, or do some kind of a weather dance to help us get some good weather and another chance to summit tomorrow!

RMI Guide Mike Haugen and Summit Team 6

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

You’ve got this!  No matter what happens (and I m dancing like crazy here), this is an incredible adventure.  We are so impressed back here in the flatlands. Stay warm.  Thinking of you all, all the time. KAC.

Posted by: Kconstantine on 6/28/2013 at 9:08 pm

Weather dance has happened!  Climb on crew. . . .knock the beast off!!!!

Posted by: Mtn Mo on 6/28/2013 at 9:07 pm

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