Climb: Mount Rainier-Gibraltar Ledges
Date of Climb: 3/2/2006
TR - Ptarmigan Ridge and Gibraltar Ledges attemps
I know its a bit late, but here it goes ....
The plan was to fly from Montreal to Vancouver on Friday evening, sleep at my friend's place and leave early in the morning for Mount Rainier. This way we would get as much time as a week off from work can get you for our climb, the Ptarmigan Ridge.
Of course, nothing went as planned !!!! To start with, they lost one of our bags during the flight to Vancouver ! Outch ! Isn't that every climber's nightmare ? Especially on a week long trip, you know you will end up spending the whole week trying to recover all that gear if they can't retrieve the &*%#$@ bag. Happily, they delivered the bag with all of its content the next morning around 10h00 AM. At 11h00AM, we were ready to leave for Rainier, only to find out there was a 90 minute delay at the customs !!!! And that is how our first cimbing day ended !!!
Happily, the rangers gave us all the instructions so that we could self register for our climb so we went straight for the Ipsut creek campground, camped in the car and started the climb right away the next morning. There was not enough snow for the first 500 vertical feet therefore we had to carry our skis on our back, adding to our already too heavy backpacks ! but our spirit was high ! We were finally starting our climb !
The hike/ski up to Ipsut pass went well, but when we got there, we lost the trail. We did not study the map properly and took an 180 degre turn from where the trail was trully heading, climbing toward Castle Peak instead of going up the ipsut pass. After a 2h of climbing, we realized that we were off course and manage to find our way back whitout losing too much altitude. Nonetheless, we had lost more than 2hours. First lessons learned of the trip: always take the time to study carefully the map ! When we reached the summit of Ipsut Pass, we did not have much daylight time left, so we decided to bivy there. The trail was not obvious with all the snow on the ground and we did not want to repeat our mistake and loose the trail a second time !
The next morning, it was raining/falling wet snow when we woke up. We figured that if we could gain some altitude, this wet snow/rain would turn into snow and it would be easier for us to stay dry. We did our best to follow the trail and although it did not follow what was indicated on the map, I think we managed to stay close to it most of the time and eventually reached Mowich lake . When we got there, my partner took the task of drying his sleeping bag + our down jacket (they had gotten wet from the moisture in the tent) and I went looking for the trail that goes up toward the Ptarmigan Ridge. BTW, can anyone tell me where that trail leaves the Mowich parking lot ? I saw part of a brown sign that indicated the start of the trail but never found the trail !!!!
Anyway, we told ourselves that if the weather was better on tuesday morning, we would find our way trough the woods as we did the day before and try to gain some altitude. If the weather did not improve .... we would go down as everything started to get wet ! Well ! this is a picture that was taken on Tuesday morning. I'll let you guess what was our decision !!!! Second lesson learned: down and west coast climbing don't go well together !
The descent was uneventfull and we even managed to drive back to Vancouver the same day. On Wednesday, while drying/cleaning our equipment, we started looking for something else to climb. We found a few interesting climbs and then started to look at the weather forecast for our final decision. It turned out our best chance of good weather was for the Mount Rainier area ... and that is how we came up with our plan to climb the Gibraltar Ledges. Leave Vancouver at 5:00AM, stop to register at Longmire at 10:00AM, start climbing at 11:00AM, reach camp muir early in the afternoon, have a look at the route and go to bed early. Start the climb around 5:00AM the next morning, go to the summit and come back to muir, downclimb all the way to the parking lot early in the morning and drive back to Vancouver in time for our scheduled dinner !! In order to complete that plan we had decided to go as light as possible. We did cut my 8.1mm 60m rope in two and brought only half of it with us, 1 ice axe, crampons, 2 snow pickets, basic glacier travel gear, 1 day worth of food, 1 day worth of fuel, down jacket, down "and finally dry" sleeping bag, mattress.
Again, nothing went as planned ! First, we woke up late, second we were searched at the border and had to sign papers testifying that we were not going to work in the USA (I guess people don't cross the border twice during the same week telling the officer that they will climb the same mountain ...) and third, I realized I had forgotten my skins back at my friends place .... I guess that's what happens if you drink too much wine at dinner the day before !! and ... on our way there we finally got our first glimpse at the mountain ... (that's day 6 of an 8 day trip ...hummmmm !)
There wasn't much coming out of the clouds but it was enough to get our spirits high. With all these events, we ended up starting our climb to Muir around 3:00PM and just to make things worse, followed the wrong tracks. We realized our mistake and corrected our heading with only a minor delay. Soon after we got back on tracks, the clouds started to go away and we finally got a clear view of the mountain as well as the Gibraltar ledges
The drawback of a late start is that we got to camp Muir way after dark and never got a good and close look at our route and ... it gets pretty cold up there at night ! I had waited too long before I did put my thicker gloves on and now had problems keeping my finger warm. Let's just say we were happy to slide in our sleeping bags when we finally got there !
The next morning, we woke up to a whiteout !!!!!! We figured that this was part of the moutain/winter weather and decided to set the alarm for every 30 minutes until it would go away. By 8:00AM our spirit was down ! We went back to our sleeping bags thinking we would not be able to go any higher. Happily, at 10:00AM I decided to have a last look and ... finally !!! we could see the sky ! We packed our bags, ate as fast as we could and started the climb. We did postholed all the way up to the Gibraltar rock. Sometimes it would only be 2 or 3 inches deep, but most of the time it was more like 2 feet deep. At least, the snow was stable and we did not see or start any avalanches. On the ledges, there was less snow. Actually, there was just enough to give you confidence and a good footing. The climb went slow but steady. Here are a few pictures we took.
When we reached the point where the ledges get larger (approximately 50 feet from the chute), there was a wind lip that had formed bringing the slope angle to a much higher value. We spent 15-20 minutes trying to find a safe way through it, but could not. We tried to use snow pickets to anchor ourselves, but the snow was too soft. We then tried a bit lower, but again did not feel comfortable. It was getting close to 3:00PM and we were still far from the summit. Since I had not been able to warm up my feets, climbing after nightfall was not a good option. Therefore we decided that this would be our highpoint for the trip and turned back. Not an easy decision, but the safe one !
Just to let us know that we had taken the right decision, 30 minutes later, the summit was all covered by clouds ....
Basic glacier travel gear, snow picket, a few nuts or pitons would have been great as well