Scientist’s program details recent trip inside Mount Rainier ice caves

Scientist Matt Bachmann will share his findings on ice caves at the summit of Mount Rainier during a program March 20.

A researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey, Bachmann spent a week on the mountain in August 2014 to explore, map and collect samples from ice caves under the mountain's summit crater.

The team of volunteer cavers and other scientists planned to spend a week camped in the summit crater, but was met with howling winds, a lightning storm, several feet of snow and two cases of pulmonary edema.

After restructuring of rope teams and a quick resupply mission back in town, the team reached the summit on Aug. 15 and spent three days in the caves.

The ice caves are created by heat rising from the volcano that melts the underside of the ice cap that covers the 14,411-foot summit.

While in the caves, Bachmann collected gas samples from fumaroles — where temperature can reach 185 degrees F — that he will test to determine helium levels. Should the volcano’s magma start to rise again, a change in the gases, including helium levels, could be the first sign.

He also took water samples from a previously undiscovered lake below the crater surface.

A hydrologist, Bachmann works for the USGS Washington Water Science Center in Tacoma.

Bachmann will give his presentation, “Ice Caves of Mount Rainier: An Expedition Underneath the Summit Caldera,” as part of the speaker series held by the Tacoma Mountaineers.

The evening will begin at 7 p.m. with an orientation on the programs and activities the Tacoma branch offers. Committee members will be on hand to talk about activities such as climbing and scrambling, sea kayaking, skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, social and family activities, first aid, sailing, navigation and avalanche training.

Bachmann, who is a member of the Tacoma branch, will begin his program at 7:45 p.m. There will be a question-and-answer session at 8:45 p.m. The event will be at the Mountaineers Program Center, 2302 N. 30th St., Tacoma.