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aviatorruss

[TR] Mt Rainier - Gibralter Ledges 12/29/2013

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Trip: Mt Rainier - Gibralter Ledges

 

Date: 12/29/2013

 

Trip Report:

We (Russ, Alex, Matt, Michael) made an early morning bid for the summit hoping the weather would hold. Unfortunately it did not and we decided to turn back and call it an unsuccessful winter summit attempt.

 

The Plan: For us (Russ, Alex, Matt) to meet at Longmire at 1000 on Saturday morning, register for our climb and proceed to Paradise and be upward bound by 1100. We would stay in the shelter at Muir on Saturday night and execute one of two plans based on how we felt on arrival and our best guess of weather. Option One was to wake up early on Sunday and go for it; Option Two was to use Sunday as a scouting day and acclimate a little, then get up early on Monday and go for the summit. We planned to retrace our route for the descent.

 

We were also going to meet up with Dave who was going up on skis and (a) trying for a solo summit on Saturday, (b) stopping short above Gib Rock, bivying and waiting for us to catch him to rope up with or (c] heading back down to Muir and going up with us when we left. He was on a different time line than us because he is an expert skier and MUCH faster than us boot-wearing-slow-pokes!

 

Execution: I got to Longmire at 0920 to find the Longmire Ranger station was closed and they moved the operations to the Jackson Visitor Center for the Holiday period (21Dec-1Jan). No biggie…I left a sticky on the window of the Longmire station and headed up the road. I parked and went to the visitor center and registered. While there I ran into Michael registering for his solo climb. Michael is from Germany and is visiting friends in Washington for the holidays and we talked about our trips and he decided he wanted to team up with us so he didn't have to go solo. No problem…although he wasn't familiar with the Gib ledge route; he had planned to do an Ingraham Direct or DC route. We studied up while waiting for the other two to arrive from Corvallis, OR and he got comfortable with the Gib Ledge route.

 

Michael left for Muir and we left about 30 minutes after him…it took us 4hrs50min to get there, coincidental with sunset. On the way we met Dave who was skiing down. He decided to turn at Muir since the skiing was crap and he felt he was off his time to make a car-to-car summit…and he didn't feel like staying the night. No worries…we pressed on. At Muir, Alex and Matt met Michael and we discussed our plan. Feeling really good we decided to go for it that night, waking at 0200 and starting at 0330. There was another team of two who would be leaving at 0400 right after us doing the same route. We were all in bed by 1900, some of us sleeping well (ME!) and some not sleeping a wink (Michael).

 

We left Muir at 0336 with clear skis and a slight to stiff breeze. We planned 2 hours to gain the ledges with a diagonal approach across the Cowlitz (see photo), another two hours to climb through them and two hours to summit. We left two hours of slop and planned 3.5 hours for the return back through the ledges…meaning we would be back to Muir before sunset, worse case. Conditions were great across the Cowlitz, although slightly icy in a few spots. Else, easily kickable all the way up. We entered the ledges feeling great and 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Then it happened…the wind started howling. Actually, it had probably been howling the entire way up the Cowlitz, we were just sheltered from it as it was westerly in direction. We really didn't like the looks of the ledges either…they looked kinda thin, however there was no rock fall as expected; everything is frozen up good. Running belays with pickets were useless given the snow conditions. So after 30 minutes of discussions…we called it and started back to Muir. We passed the team of two and gave them our beta, they pressed and eventually made the same decision, and returned in near zero vis as the mountain started to cloud up. There was also a Russian solo climber who turned as well. Closer to Muir we ran into another team of four who left Paradise early that morning. They were going for it, even though the conditions (vis and wind) were deteriorating. I'm not sure what happened…we left Muir before we saw anybody coming back.

 

So, 0-2 on a winter ascent…but with just a bit more experience!

 

(sorry, no pics of the ledges…it was too dark)

 

Beautiful sunset from Camp Muir

PC280044.JPG

 

Amazing Visibility…(left to right) Mt Adams, Mt Hood, Mt Jefferson, Mt St Helens

PC280045.JPG

 

Our German friend Michael and the route we took up the Cowlitz (red-orange barely visible)

PC280048_3.JPG

 

Retreating at Sunrise. Look closely for the lenticular just starting on Adams. This was just before the vis started getting bad ~11000'

PC280058_2.JPG

 

View back up the mountain from Panorama Pt. You can't see how windy it is...

PC280066.JPG

 

Gear Notes:

Standard glacier gear. We brought single mountaineering axe vice two tech axes…which was sufficient.

 

Approach Notes:

Paradise to Muir: We used crampons from ~McClure Rocks to Muir, although you could get away with just boots if you wanted to, as Michael did.

 

Muir to Gib Ledges: We roped up across the Cowlitz and through the ledges, although not required. All the snow bridges on the upper Cowlitz are solid…and roping through the ledges is optional based on personal/team preference. Snow was in good shape on the way up. It's thin through the ledges, and bare in places.

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I've found that clear weather is not enough in the winter on Rainier. As you found out, the winds matter a great deal as well. The forecasts I saw were calling for 70+mph winds on the summit for Sat/Sun/Mon so my group opted to go elsewhere closer to home (and still got screwed by the weather).

 

If you didn't already know, THIS is probably the easiest spot to check Rainier weather quickly.

 

Excellent effort though! Third time's a charm.

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Thanks Jason…you're correct! Winds have a huge impact on a successful summit. I use that forecast frequently and I was hoping to catch a break. Nope! That's what I get for "hoping."

 

I also supplement that forecast with a more detailed one from the NWAC.

 

I'll be watching for the next high pressure window…perhaps I can get lucky and if work, weather and partners line up, the third time WILL be a charm!

 

Cheers,

-Russ

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This was a fun trip despite the retreat. And I (Alex from Russ's TR) was able to add another unsuccessful winter summit bid this morning on Hood. Needed one more "fail better" for 2013!

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We really didn't like the looks of the ledges either…they looked kinda thin, however there was no rock fall as expected; everything is frozen up good. Running belays with pickets were useless given the snow conditions.

 

Russ, just so you know what to expect the next time, this is pretty standard for the winter. Most parties unrope and scramble the ledges as the snowcover is usually thin, the rock loose, the ice nonexistent, and any sort of protection problematic. The ledges are pretty easy (if exposed) scrambling/climbing though.

 

Still, often parties will descend a different way, depending on conditions. The ID is easier if not too broken or loaded with snow, but it is really hard to judge from above. We ended up wading down through spooky snow, and rapping off an ice bollard in the ID icefall - probably should have just backed down Gib chute and the ledges instead.

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With pictures like those, I'm not sure I'd call this an unsuccessful trip. Would love to join you guys if another window, with less wind, opens up.The sunshine in JTree was pleasant as a light breeze blew while I read your TR...

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Jason,

 

Thanks for the gouge…that was my first REAL look at the ledges up close. I had been up before but turned at the top of Cowlitz Cleaver.

 

Our plan was to down climb the ledges on the way back. If I had good data on the condition of the Ingraham, we would have descended that way. However, not seeing the conditions on the way up…I thought best to just descend the same way.

 

My gut is telling me one COULD descend the Ingraham and shoot Cadaver Gap back to Muir. The is zero chance of avalanche right now at Cadaver…of course that can change with the next storm. My concerns lie with the conditions of on the ID…just not sure.

 

By the way, does anyone use Cadaver Gap as a shortcut to the ID or DC in the winter time with low snow conditions like these? Just curious…

 

-Russ

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Yes, we came back thru Cadaver gap after descending the ID and it was easy and fast. I would think you could go up that way as well without problems, if the avi hazard is reasonable.

 

For us the problem with the ID was DEEP unconsolidated snow (thigh to waist deep mostly), and a very broken icefall. The snow was so deep that it made it difficult to weave around, and we ended up chopping a bollard and rapping off a serac at one point just to get the hell out of there. I'm still surprised that we didn't set off an avalanche. I think the ID typically gets very loaded after storms and it is so cold up high that the snow takes a long time to settle.

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We were the party of four coming from Paradise (Dan Aylward, Frank Huster, Joe Sambatoro, myself). We left at 3.30, got to Muir around dawn, past the party of four coming down, then a party of two with a soloist attached.

 

Got to the ledges with increasing winds and decreasing visibility. We traversed the ledges until we could see the Nisqually ice fall during periodic breaks in the snow. We gave up near 12,000' just before entering the last snowfield leading to the top of Gibraltar Rock.

 

Conditions were firm from the parking lot, we put on crampons to gain Panorama Point and left them on the whole way. The ledges weren't very icy, mostly frozen rock and dirt with bands of firm snow. While I suppose you could put in a picket here and there, but there isn't really any pro along the ledges and would recommend climbers be comfortable soloing moderate but exposed and loose terrain. We had two tools but each of us only used one; it wasn't very steep.

 

If high winds continue, I would imagine this route will stay in great, consolidated shape for some time. We have no idea about the higher reaches; if they're icy or neve, but we were prepared for late season conditions.

 

Here's a pic from near our high point to give you an idea of terrain:

http://ow.ly/sg0L5

 

More pix for route info in that gallery and some on my IG at @timmatsui ; aviatorruss and crew ended up in a few.

 

Best

T

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Victor and I summited November 24, going up and down the ledges. The upper mountain was in fine, direct shape even then. we simul-soloed from Muir to the summit and easily skied from the Columbia Crest to the top of Gib Rock, then downclimbed the ledges, skied from the top of the Cowlitz to Muir, and from Muir to the parking lot.

 

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Tim,

 

Glad to hear you guys made out alright. by the way…AWESOME photos…as in all of them. Now I see why you were hauling that mongo SLR camera…worth the weight when you get pics like that! Now I have photo-envy with my puny handheld point-n-shoot…hahahaha.

 

-Russ

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CC,

 

ok…so YOU'RE the one who I had heard about from somewhere…i.e. summiting Gib ledges around Thanksgiving (during that awesome high press window I assume). That was my inspiration to give it a shot.

 

Looks like this weekend would make for a descent weather window; unfortunately I'm saddled with other priorities. Seems it's always like that..

 

Cheers,

-Russ

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Thanks Russ. It's mostly about being willing to take out the camera when you see an image. I also used my iphone that day. Much lighter that the DSLR!

T

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