By 9 a.m. on winter weekends, the Mount Rainier Nordic Patrol is loaded into a truck at Longmire and headed toward Paradise.
There, they spend the day marking or resetting the safest routes for the skiers and snowshoers. They also assist with educating visitors on safe terrain and appropriate and necessary gear. If a search or rescue is needed, the patrol is there to assist park rangers.
Phil Hertzog is often part of these small volunteer crews provided by the Washington Ski Touring Club.
The telemark skier has volunteered since the 2008-09 season. In 2012, he logged 120 hours.
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Hertzog, 60, teaches biology and advises the Green Club at Stadium High.
While there is plenty of work to do on Rainier during those volunteer weekends, Hertzog enjoys the experience. Plus, he says, “It’s not all work. We get in a few good runs. We always enjoy ourselves.”
Hertzog recently fielded a few questions about the patrol program:
Q: How did you get into this?
A: I had some friends in Olympia who were involved. They went out after the flood (2006). The park was closed, but they went out with a ranger to check trails and make sure the backcountry was in good shape. That’s what got me interested in it.
Q: What types of things do you typically do?
A: We will move poles (and signs that mark the routes) and we will move from that to our preventative search and rescue mode. We will find a lot of people out there who don’t know what they are doing or aren’t quite sure where they are at. And so we will give them directions and give them advice. … And a lot of people out there know what they are doing and we can pass along advice about where the good conditions are.
Q: Is there a mistake you see people make most frequently?
A: Just coming up without the right clothing. You’ll sometimes see people trying to hike the trails with sneakers and blue jeans. … We are there to educate them. Even though we work for law enforcement rangers, we don’t have any enforcement authority.
Q: How many volunteers typically work a weekend?
A: I’d say two to eight. But the last few years I think we’ve had the Seahawks effect. We haven’t had as many people out. But now that the Super Bowl run is over, we seem to be getting a lot of people, and I think we’ll be close to a full house. The park lets us use a house at Longmire and a 4-wheel-drive pickup truck for the weekend.
Q: What are the accommodations like?
A: The first floor we have two bedrooms with four beds, two in each room. Upstairs we have an open loft where we can put cots when we go over six people. And the loft has another room with two beds. … We have two bathrooms, (a kitchen area) and a really nice living room downstairs next to a flowing stream. I remember probably four years ago sitting there one night and seeing a fox just running by the house, heading down the stream. It was probably going to check the dumpsters.
Q: Do you typically get positive reactions from people?
A: Yes. People thank us a lot. When we were digging the poles out (on New Year’s Day) after a big dump, a lot of people came up and said, “Thanks for doing that.” It takes quite a while to yank up each pole so that’s pretty fun to have people say that.
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How to Volunteer
Mount Rainier’s Nordic Patrol needs snowshoer and skier volunteers, said patrol member Phil Hertzog. “Like many outdoor clubs we are getting older,” Hertzog said. “So we are definitely looking for new members.” Volunteers should be skilled in the use of shovels, probes and avalanche transceivers and should be able to take care of themselves in the backcountry. Visit the Washington Ski Touring Club website for information and to sign up. wstc.org