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tomcat

TR : Rainier Gibraltar Ledges - Feb. 24-25

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catbirdseat, Oyvind, Duchess and I summitted Rainier via Gib Ledges at 2PM Feb 25th. The route is definitely in, and slopes seemed fairly stable. The snow conditions on the upper mountain are horrendous for travel, and we postholed (sometimes hip deep) all the way to the summit from Camp Muir. The ledges themselves were very soft (as was much of the snow encountered on the entire climb), and so was the upper Nisqually/Gibraltar chute. The chute was what we were most concerned with as far as avi danger. The chute had sastrugi lining both sides with loose, shallow sluff in the middle. We hugged the rock and cruised right up. We decided to descend the Ingraham Direct then we split off down through Cadaver Gap to save time.

 

Summit temps were a balmy 15 degrees with a calm wind (max 25MPH gusts).

 

Wear a helmet! I got plopped on my hard hat by a 2 inch diameter Gibraltar pumice bomb.

 

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Here is the detailed trip report.

 

Rainier Gibraltar Ledges, Feb 24-25, 2003

by Catbirdseat

 

I had been planning this trip for several months. After reading Mike Gauthier’s book, I decided on late February as being the most likely to give us a suitable weather window, as well as enough snow to cover the ledges. The trip was originally scheduled as a Mountaineers Club climb, but since I got only one person from that group (Oyvind), I the climb private and posted it on CascadeClimbers.com. Oyvind was an expert Telemark skier and ski mountaineer with several Rainier ascents. AlpenTom expressed interest a few days before the climb. This was to be his first Rainier climb. Duchess joined us only one day before. She was a NPS employee at Paradise with ten successful ascents and one previous attempt on the Gibraltar Ledges route which was turned back because of high winds. We were very glad to have someone along who knew the route.

 

Gibraltar Ledges was the route used by the first ascent party. The route begins at Camp Muir and goes straight towards the summit on the upper Cowlitz glacier, then past a rock feature on Cowlitz Cleaver known as the Beehive. At Gibraltar Rock the route follows a ledge system on the west side above the Nisqually glacier. Many years ago, the ledges were intact, and were the preferred summer route, but a portion fell away leaving a section of steep and loose rock. When covered with snow, this section is more easily negotiated. The ledges end at an exit gully of about 50 degrees, which is also part of another route called Gibraltar Chute. The exit gully leads to the saddle above Gibraltar Rock. From there, the route goes straight to the summit on the slopes of the upper Ingraham glacier, which has relatively few crevasses. Most people descend by some other route, usually the Ingraham Direct. The directness of the route has helped make it one of the most popular winter routes.

 

Since weather is so critical to a successful winter ascent, we had been studying the forecasts carefully during the previous week. It had been a winter if little snow and we were concerned about having enough of it on the ledges. I had climbed Rainier less than two weeks earlier with Marek and we had changed our route from the Ledges to Ingraham Direct (Ingraham Headwall) because from what we could see it looked like not enough snow. During that climb the snow was hard packed and the crevasses on the Ingraham were mostly filled and easily crossed.

 

Four days before the climb (Friday) it snowed 24 inches at Paradise with strong NW winds. It was still snowing lightly early on Saturday. Sunday the sun came out, but because of strong NE winds, no one reached Camp Muir, so we had no reports on conditions there. We were concerned about avalanche danger because, including Monday, our approach day, there would only be two or three days for snow settlement to occur. Tuesday had to be our summit day because the winds were forecast to lessen that day. Wednesday was too late because a weak front was predicted for to arrive that day.

 

Oyvind picked up Tom and I at 7:30 and we arrived at Paradise at around 10:30 where we met Duchess in the parking lot. Duchess told us that To_the_Top was also going to camp Muir that day with two friends. We were totally grateful that they left before us because they put in a nice set of boot tracks that made it a lot easier for us. We left Paradise at 11 with heavy packs. We were prepared for the predicted cold weather that we thought might be as low as 0 F at the summit. Also we were carrying second tools, at Duchess suggestion, in case we found the exit chute icy.

 

As we climbed to Panorama Point we caught gusty winds from the Northeast. It was strong enough that there was quite a bit of snow being transported. We were concerned about this because we were going to be on west-facing slopes at times and didn’t want to see them loaded the day before we’d be on them. High on the mountain we could see some spindrift, but not as much as expected. I have observed that east winds tend blow strongest at low elevations. By the time we reach Anvil Rock, I was lagging behind the others and noticed that most of the tracks were filling in. I arrived at Camp Muir at 5 p.m., about 30 minutes behind the others, feeling tired. It was windy, but not too bad, perhaps 15-20 mph. To_the_Top and friends were there and left shortly after I arrived. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t get Tuesday off from work; otherwise he too would have been climbing.

 

We had our meals eaten and our water melted by 7 that night and told jokes and stories for a couple of hours. Although it was about 15 F in the hut, we were all warm and cozy in our sleeping bags. Duchess told us about a recent trip to Wyoming where it hit -30 in the night, and how they couldn’t get moving until noon. I found out just how nice it is to have a pee bottle with you at Muir Hut when it is 10 degrees outside and windy! The only one who seemed to sleep well was Duchess. We knew she was asleep because she giggle periodically. She must have been having sweet dreams indeed. I had a mild headache and figured I was developing AMS, so at 2 am I took a Diamox tablet (125 mg). I actually fell asleep for a blissful two hours.

 

Tom woke us all at 4 am, on schedule. This being a winter climb we wanted to climb in the light so we could see and for it to be a little warmer in the sun. We weren’t worried about snow bridges softening in the afternoon as we might have in the summer; it just doesn’t warm up that much in the winter. We did want to get past the Ledges before noon when the sun swings to the west and loosens up the pebbles on Gibraltar Rock. It took us an hour and a half to get ready. A hot breakfast is de riguer in winter and putting on all the clothes, etc., takes a lot of time.

 

At the suggestion of Duchess, we opted to approach Gibraltar Rock on the East Ridge of Cowlitz Cleaver, unroped. It was a combination of hard snow and rock. We saw what looked like old boot prints in the places. Perhaps someone went up to check it out, but didn’t do the climb? There were no reports yet this winter of any ascent of the route. We passed left (west) of the beehive, which I found is actually a very small feature, a rock pinnacle of perhaps 30 ft in height. A drop off was reached where we rappelled 20 ft or so using an anchor we found there. From here we climbed snow just east of the ridge until we reached the notch where the ledges start. The snow was very soft. Sometimes the wind would pack it so you could walk on top, and other times it was a “wallowfest”. It all depended on the vagaries of exposure and aspect. We all tried to become experts at reading the snow surface for hard places on which to walk.

 

As we walked onto the ledges I couldn’t help but notice the icicles that were stuck in the snow like so many daggers. I also saw holes in the snow where pebbles, and occasionally larger rocks, had augured in. I remarked to my partners that we should keep moving. As one proceeds one goes from the south side to the west side of the formation where the danger decreases until later in the day. Initially, the ledges are wide and easy. There is a slope of about 30 degrees. Near to where the ledge narrows, we saw the heavy galvanized steel eyebolt that was pounded into the rock long ago. I suppose in the summer, one could rappel to a lower ledge, but we continued on unroped. Oyvind broke trail on the crux of the ledge, which was a 45-degree rubble slope with about 5 feet of loose snow clinging to the rock face at the top. I was a little sketched here because the snow was so soft that I felt my axe would lever out if I were to slip. It was clear that prior to the latest snowfall this section was not covered. After the crux we had to front point up about 30 feet and found a flat spot to take a break and rope up for the exit chute. Here we watched a spectacular avalanche come off the Nisqually Icefall below. Though we had two 50 m ropes with us, we opted to all tie in on one rope. The last 200 ft or so of ledge was pretty easy 45-degree snow slope, but exposed, so we chose to place 3 flukes.

 

There was one more shelf before the exit chute. We took a break and admired the blue ice cliffs of the Nisqually, which were directly across from us. We then studied the exit chute carefully. A friend of Tom’s partner’s roommate was killed on the exit chute in an avalanche. All they ever found was a boot. Oyvind thought that if we stayed as close to the rocks on the right as possible, the danger of avalanche would be minimized. I led the exit chute with our 3 flukes dangling like wind chimes. The first part was really soft and I could kick steps. I found if I got too close to the rock, I would wallow and get nowhere. After a short distance, the snow grew much firmer and I switched to front pointing using the pick in high dagger. I did not feel I needed the second tool, so it remained on my pack. I placed flukes every 100 ft or so. They went in with one or two blows from the side of my axe. I wasn’t at all confident about the flukes holding a fall. About 200 ft up the chute the angle moderated to 40 degrees and although the flukes were used up I was confident I could arrest if I slipped. Oyvind’s plan to stay right went out the window when I found the only firm snow on the left. Every time I went right I post-holed.

 

At the saddle, we could look upon the upper slopes of Rainier for the first time and see the seracs of the Ingraham Headwall. I located the rappel station we had put in less than two weeks earlier on the trip with Marek. It was only partially buried in snow. This was a nice place to take a break with nice warm rocks to sit on. Tom told me how easily the flukes had pull out when he pulled on the cable. I remarked that they were what are called “psychopro”- protection that offers psychological protection, but not the kind you want to fall on.

 

After discussing our options we agreed to do the rappel again on the way back and avoid the headwall. We decided to cache all unnecessary gear here. I asked Tom to leave behind the flukes he had pulled and the extra rope (with which he was more than glad to comply). I left behind my wands, second tool, GPS, down jacket, and a bag of food containing a bagel and two candy bars. We were barely under weigh when I watched two ravens make a beeline for my food. Rather than considering it loss, I thought of it as an offering to powerful spirits of the mountain. May they bring us good fortune!

 

Tom led us out on some wind scoured slopes. Wherever there was sastrugi, the surface was pretty firm, but anywhere the snow was smooth it would not hold any weight. At about 13,000 ft, we encountered post-holing conditions. After a while Tom gave Duchess a turn at slogging it. It was hard work just following. One had to lift his boot high with each step and put it in a hole. Our route trended to the right in search of harder snow. It stood to reason that with the recent winds from the Northeast, that hard snow would be found on the east side. When we saw the bergschrund above, we had to start going left. By the time we reached 13,500 ft, I was really getting tired. I think I had used up too much energy on the exit chute. I had to breathe twice with each step. Several times I had to ask the team to stop a moment so I could catch my breath. Oyvind led the final push to the summit. He actually seemed to gain in strength as he climbed. Later he told me he was really getting excited and happy to reach the summit and he was feeding off of this.

 

We couldn’t believe our fortune to find that the wind was less than 10 mph at the summit! It was 20 F, sunny, without a cloud in the sky. We could see half way into Oregon to Mt. Jefferson, which would never have been possible in the haze of summer. As it was 2 pm and we had 9,000 ft to lose on the way to the parking lot, we decided not to linger and headed down. We found that the soft snow was not as large an impediment going down as it was going up, especially where the slope was steepest. The saddle with our cached gear was reached in only 30 minutes. Using the second rope we rigged a double rope rappel using the same anchor as was used two weeks earlier. This consisted of a slung boulder backed up with a 36” picket. We were all off quickly and managed to dodge the open crevasse, which I had tangled with on the previous trip. After roping up again, Tom led the way and quickly got into snow so loose, he was in up to his hips. Fortunately it was only in that one place (hidden crevasse?) and we turned down hill and picked up speed onto the center of the Ingraham Glacier. Out in the open the wind had done its work and provided a decent surface on which to walk.

 

I had taken it for granted that we would return to Camp Muir via Cathedral Gap, but it was Duchess who suggested Cadaver Gap as a quicker way back. I remember looking up at it from camp and thinking how steep it looked. Tom was for it, because he didn’t like the looks of the icefall on the lower part of the Ingraham. The icefall didn’t bother me because I’d already been over it without any problems. What appealed to me about Cadaver was not having to go up hill at Ingraham flats. Even a little up hill sounded awful at his point. I’ll try anything once, as they say. We all agreed on Cadaver and Tom led us off to the right and above a yawning crevasse, after which we observed that there were no more obstacles between the gap and us.

 

After a quick break on the rocks above Cathedral Rock, Oyvind led us still roped down Cadaver. It was steep, but it had good snow for plunge stepping. Soon it turned very hard and each step required great care lest a slip send us tobogganing to the Cowlitz and an open crevasse waiting at the bottom right. Duchess had already slid into it once on a previous trip, and perhaps for that reason took her time going down. Tom showed remarkable confidence whereas I, whose crampons were balling up, even resorted to front pointing backwards for a couple stretches. I was amazed at how fast I could actually go ass foremost. Maybe it was because I was using muscles that weren’t tired – yet.

 

Unfortunately for us, the hard snow ended at the bottom of the slope and it was back to post holing all the way across the Cowlitz. Oyvind amazed me with his stamina. He led the entire way plunging in 12 to 18 inches with each step. Camp Muir looked so close you could reach out and touch it, but it seemed never to get closer. It probably only took 30 minutes, but it seemed like forever.

 

At the hut we met a lone skier we’d seen from above. Oyvind, ever the bullshitter, had said the guy would have dinner waiting for us when we arrived. Not quite, but he was pleasant enough. He was spending the night planning to ski the snowfield in the morning. We must have smelled pretty bad because he went outside in a down jacket to watch the starts and wait for us to leave. We spent more than an hour melting water and repacking our gear. Had I felt any worse I would have spent another night in the hut and hitchhiked home the next day. But I managed to pull myself together and trudged off with the others in the dark to Paradise and the cars. I was able to keep up at first, but I started to stagger below Panorama Point and Oyvind, bless him, stopped every so often so I could see his headlamp, although I am sure I could have eventually found the parking lot on my own.

 

I arrived at the car to find Duchess already changed. Tom let out a couple of blood-curdling screams when his leg cramped as he was getting his boots off. Duchess had the combination to the gate at Longmire, so we followed her down where she bade us pass with a curtsy. And there we parted with a farewell. I had commented earlier that with an Avatar like Duchess she should bring “class” to the team, and indeed she did.

 

In the warm front seat of Oyvind’s car, I would have loved to fall asleep, but our driver kept mentioning how tired he was, so Tom and I did our best to keep a conversation going so we could all get home alive. A quick stop at Wendy’s and we were good to go. Our day had begun at 4 am and we were snug in bed by 1 am the next day. Too bad Oyvind had to go to work “the next day”, i.e. in 7 hours.

 

We all were very pleased with how everything went: four climbers from CascadeClimbers.com who had never met throw together a climb at the last minute, nail a perfect weather window, work together well under difficult conditions and pulled off the first winter ascent of Gibraltar Ledges of the season. This was Tom’s first ever ascent of Rainier, done the hard way in winter, and my second winter ascent in two weeks by different routes. For Duchess, it was unfinished business completed, and for Oyvind, just a plain old good time.

 

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Well, ya already know it, but that rockband.gifs guys (and gal.) No matter how you slice it, it's a lot of work in the winter, and probably a lot of will power to keep moving through all that snow. bigdrink.giffruit.gif

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CatBirdSeat, the TRs keep getting better and better! I wish I could have told my boss to f**k off and come with you guys. Sounded tough but well worth it. What's the next climb for you and Oyvind?

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Jason, knowing you, you would have eaten that mountain for breakfast. It was well within your capabilities. The problem with winter climbs is you have to go on the weather.

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catbirdseat said:

 

I had commented earlier that with an Avatar like Duchess she should bring “class” to the team, and indeed she did.

 

 

Touch of "class?" More like touch of "gas!" smile.gif Thanks, gents, for putting up with it...

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it is said you used two 50, meter rope for rappel in detailed report above but what is actual length of rappel?

perhaps one russian length rope 70, m will work or one canadian length rope 60, m will work rather than your two american length rope 50, m?

i am russian canadian interested in climbing gib route with russian american friend who enjoys these american mountains as fun. your rappel interests us and we are wanting to now what size rope is need.

 

thank you much from Milosh K. Antonopov

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american 50? Canadian 60? Hmm... never heard of that... just thought it was ol' skewl 50... new skewl 60... new wave alpies 70... Hm.... if ya wanna come back to the mazza russia and climb elbrus tho' lemme know...looking for a 3rd...

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Duchess said:

 

Touch of "class?" More like touch of "gas!" smile.gif Thanks, gents, for putting up with it...

 

I am guilty myself .. as a matter of fact, I think I may have blamed you for some of mine. smile.gif

 

Nice TR catbirdseat .. you obviously have a much better memory than me!

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Miloshk_Antonopov said:

it is said you used two 50, meter rope for rappel in detailed report above but what is actual length of rappel?

Milosh, I believe that the rappel is close to 40 m, however you could probably downclimb from higher up and make it a 30 m rappel. That would put you right above a couple of crevasses, so you would have to be very careful. Your other alternative is to decend the headwall further to the east which is about one pitch of 50 degree downclimbing. There is one thin snow bridge you would have to cross on that route.

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A fine TR. I will use your info this March15-17. It will be the same and different.

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That was one of the hardest trailbreaking I have done to Muir. If it wasnt for my lurker friends (Kevin and Jim) it would have been harder.

That sunset up there was great and a kind NPS employee left us the combo to get past the gate.

Where did you guys park? It looked like we were the only car in the upper lot.

Nice TR

TTT bigdrink.gif

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We had white and green Subaru Outbacks in the Overnight lot. I thought we were parked right next to you. By the way, the post-holing higher on the mountain was far worse than anything encountered on the Muir Snowfield, I kid you not.

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I believe you, I have done my share of postholing, but most times I have been up to Muir it is windblown or frozen. It just took us almost twice as long as we hoped for. By your trip report it sounded really bad, was the Ingraham the same coming down (always easier to posthole going down) or was it more consolidated?

TTT

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Lordy, the Ingraham would have been almost impossible going up. I don't even want to think about it. In another week, it will be in good condition, if it doesn't snow any more.

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thank you to catbird for information on rappel this is very detailed and mark of a scientist!

 

fence sitter you are mistaking my joke on ropes and length of a mans thing. i am not in russia for over four years although my wife was recently in Ukraine with family. so i could not be third partner but climb is very good as you will see. good luck and peets vodka friend!

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