When Elizabeth and David Krout of Seattle woke up Saturday morning at Mount Rainier National Park, they were excited to have a weekend of snowshoeing ahead of them.
They had arrived at the park on Friday afternoon, and since they had no cellphone service there, they didn’t receive any messages—including news that the U.S. government partially shut down late that evening.
In the morning, a barricade still blocked the road leading up to Paradise, which, at 5400 feet, is the park’s most popular attraction.
“I just assumed that the road just shut down because of the snowfall, and then they’re like, ‘oh no, it’s because the government shut down overnight.’ And I was like, ‘what?!’” Elizabeth Krout said.
That meant the Krout’s were stuck at a lower elevation, where there were only a few inches of snow on the ground.
“We’re not getting to go up into the park, up to Paradise and enjoy the wonder that it is,” Krout said.
Administration Vowed to Shield National Parks from Shutdown
In 2013, when the government shut down for more than two weeks because of a battle over funding the Affordable Care Act, there was a public outcry over the total closure of the nation’s national parks.
This time around, as Congress failed to fund the government because of battles over immigration, the White House said parks would remain open where it was safe to do so, although most staff would be furloughed and many services would be suspended.
But at Mount Rainier, even though the main winter entrance on the southwest edge of the park was open, the road leading up the mountain was barricaded at Longmire, just six miles inside the park.
When Mark Busey drove up from Graham, Washington, he thought it would be business as usual.
“We had no idea. We were not informed that there was any funding lost to the national parks. I don’t know what’s going on here,” he said.
The park’s Twitter feed and website were not updated until midday Saturday. The website now states that visitors centers, permit desks, and bathrooms are closed, and that visitors should enter the park at their own risk “as personnel will not be available to provide normal levels of assistance and emergency response.”
Closed to Climbing
The partial closure of the park also means that mountaineers heading to backcountry areas are out of luck.
That includes a small group of climbers who gathered in Seattle early Saturday morning to prepare for a week-long winter mountaineering course on Mount Rainier.
When they arrived at the offices of Alpine Ascents, the company leading the course, they found they were being redirected—to Mt. Baker instead.
Madhu Chikkaraju, a mountaineering guide for the company, said it’s been hard to get solid information about what is going on.
“It’s going to open up, it’s not going to open up,” he said. “It was a lot of unknowns.”
On Friday, park rangers informed the group that in the case of a government shutdown, the upper elevations of the mountain would be closed. Roads would not be plowed and only some emergency staff would be available. That’s when the company made the decision to move the course to Mount Baker, which is also federal land but which has backcountry areas that are more accessible than at Mount Rainier.
Tyler Landon had flown in from Canada for the course, unaware that a U.S. government shutdown was looming.
“This was news to me,” he said. “It was not on the Canadian news that I was watching at any rate.”
Landon had booked his trip about four months ago. He had never been to Mount Rainier and was looking forward to spending a week there in the snow.
“I definitely wanted to see it. I was excited to go to Rainier, so the change will be different,” he said.
Chikkaraju, the guide, said he remembers the disruptions at national parks that resulted from the government shutdown in 2013.
“It’s pretty unfortunate we keep going through this government shutdown thing in repeating patterns, but that’s the way it is and I hope everything works out,” he said.
According to guide Devin Bishop, the good news is that the shutdown did not occur during the summer high season, when thousands of climbers attempt to summit Mount Rainier. “If this happened then, it would be major,” said Bishop.
And for mountaineers, there is value in adapting to sudden change. Rahim Charania, who flew in from New Jersey, said the closure of Mount Rainier makes no difference to him.
“Let’s just get out there have fun. It doesn’t matter what mountain. A mountain is a mountain,” Charania said.
And there is one more silver lining. With park rangers now furloughed because of the government shutdown, no one is currently staffing the ticket booth, so entry to the park is now free.