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[TR] Rainier - Gibraltar Ledges 1/18/2009

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Trip: Rainier - Gibraltar's Ledges


Date: 1/18/2009


Trip Report:

A little history:

Rainier seems to be a mountain that doesn’t like me. I have planned over 7 trips, been on the mountain 4 times, been above 9000 feet 3 times, and still have never summited. Reasons for backing off vary from the flu, a partner getting sick, nearly being struck by lightening, and topping out at Point Success in white out conditions (only 200 feet away!). I figured with such a track record, going for a ‘winter’ attempt on Rainier probably offered about the same chances of success.



We headed out from Paradise at about 10 on skins. We skinned all the way to Muir with the exception of one steep section before panorama point. As reported on the blog, the last 300 meters to camp Muir was filled with sastrugi which would be hard to ski down, but was fairly easy to skin up. We jumped in the Muir hut with about 20 other people, brewed up, and laid down to “sleep” (the first crews started going at about 11).


Summit day:

After a “restful” night inside the cabin at Muir, we got started climbing at about 4 AM. Already several parties had taken off towards the summit, and we could watch a couple of sets of headlamps bobbing up the slopes above on a variety of routes. The initial section of the route was uneventful; a long 30 degree slope with small steeper sections, a couple of rock bands, and one moat to cross.


The start of the ledge itself was very fun and easy. We were basically walking a sidewalk about one meter wide with a steep slope cutting off to the left, and a large rock wall to the right. The temperatures were cold enough that no rock was falling on us; however we saw plenty of evidence that the route takes its regular rock showers. After a few hundred meters, the nice ramp disappeared and the start of the steep snow traverses began. Both Stewart and I thought these were the crux of the route. Snow bands would be around 60 degrees and about 3 meters wide, and while the snow was in good shape, a mistake would have dropped you off a large cliff and into the Gibraltar chute below. We considered roping up at the point, but due to the great snow, we just kept on climbing through. After a couple of these snow traverses, we came to three small rock bands. The rock was loose third class and not especially hard, but since the rock was the infamous high quality volcano rock, you had to pay attention.


The next section of the route was fantastic! After another steep traverse, we came around to a 40-50 degree snow slope of perfect snow. We went up this slope for around 150 meters until the angle eased back and the snow formed into a series of channels. Both Stewart and I were starting to feel the altitude so these were a welcome relief: we could move up a channel for about 10 meters and there would be a small flat ledge to catch your breath. These continued all the way to the top of Gibraltar rock where the sun finally started to rise.


The last section of the route to the top was very chill, mostly made up of a long 20 degree slope to the crater rim. There were a couple of crevasses, but nothing that couldn’t easily be avoided or stepped over. We summited at about 10 under sunny skies and mild winds. The weather was so warm that I never had to break out my down jacket! It felt more like summer than January. The route had been in such perfect shape that we never roped up all the way to the summit (this would change on the descent).


We descended back to where the route intersected the crater rim, and started making our way over to the Ingraham direct descent. For the first 500 meters or so, there were no crevasses or steep sections. We could see that was about to change, so at a nice stopping point, Stewart and I roped up and continued on down. The descent route came down to near the top of Disappointment Cleaver, the cut over to Cathedral rock. There were a handful of crevasses that were fairly tame, and only one snow bridge that gave us pause. We slogged the rest of the way down to Muir to pack up for what was to become a long descent.


The original plan was to ski/snowboard back down to Paradise. Neither Stewart nor I were particularly skilled at skiing/boarding, but since the snow conditions on Saturday were so nice, we figured we could cruise down the easy sections. We knew the first 300 meters down from Muir was going to be icy with lots of sastrugi, but after that it should be great (we of course, were very wrong). This late in the day, the conditions were no longer nice to ski, and instead we found ice all the way down to Paradise. The last 300 meters was particularly painful as each step would be firm or have you plunging down to knee deep without warning. Stewart managed to get a small section of skiing in on the descent, but I found the boarding to be very hard with my large pack on.


Overall: Stewart and I had a fantastic time, enjoyed great weather, and a fun route!


Rainier in winter conditions:



Stewart on the way up to Muir:



Slog on and on and on:



Stewart taking a rest in the sastrugi:



The basic route:



Stewart on Gibraltar's ledge:



Sunrise at the top of Gibraltar's rock:



Taking a break at the top of Gibraltar's:



Other peaks coming into view:



Stewart on the summit:



Looking around from the summit:



Descending towards Gibraltar's ledge before cutting to the Ingraham direct:



Coming down the Ingraham:



Little Tahoma:



Our very weak attempt to ski down:



The joys of a late descent (but they still let us out):





Gear Notes:

30m 8mm rope, 2 screws, 2 pickets, 2 tools (not required, but made the route fun!)

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Cool to know that they opened the gate! It was a great day to be up there and snag a winter summit!





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Nice work, dudes - I don't know how I missed the obvious choice of going for the summit last weekend, and that route looks fun. I was skiing the Paradise glacier on Sunday and the conditions were marginally better than what you describe. I think with the heavy packs and climbing boots, the way to go would be to just boot it all the way.

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