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[TR] Mt. Rainier - Gib Ledges Summit+Hidden Crevasse Bridge Collapse 1/29/2015

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Trip: Mt. Rainier - Gib Ledges Summit+Hidden Crevasse Bridge Collapse


Date: 1/29/2015


Trip Report:


This is actually a picture from a couple summers ago near Cadaver Gap from the Ingraham Flats, but I didn't take any pics this time so I wanted to post some visual of Gibraltar Rock. Click on the pic or here to see a time-lapse of the moon rising behind Gibraltar Rock on instagram.


This will mostly be a conditions/”interesting parts” report as I uncharacteristically didn’t take many pictures (long story). Some images mostly from my GPX tracks are at the end.


Up to Muir

  • I’ve been looking to do a winter Rainier ascent for a few years. This year I’ve been more hardcore about it than ever – asking everyone, every time a window opened up. Finally the window appeared and Dereck could move some things around to make it happen. A "window" for me = low summit winds, clear weather, green avy forecast as high as NWAC will forecast. Not trying to epic unless absolutely necessary.
  • Left work Thur at 1:30pm Jan 29 to get to Paradise before the gate closes (not a fan of gate hours in winter, especially in super clear weather!)
  • Cecil, Dereck and I started hiking just past 5:30pm. I was skinning up on skis, Dereck was carrying his snowboard, Cecil was towing his snowboard. The sun was just setting and the western sky was on fire with a surreal, vivid orange glow. In the future major brands will sponsor sunsets, our virtual contact lenses will project “tonight’s sunset sponsored by Tropicana” unless you pay a monthly fee not to have ads in your life or go rogue and off the grid.
  • Pack weights: Me: 39 lbs (plus skis on my feet and a liter of water, this included a DSLR and tripod). Dereck: 52 lbs (snowboard was ~12 pounds). Cecil: 36ish lbs + snowboard in tow.
  • Darkness fell within 15 minutes and the stars and moon were strikingly crisp and vivid against the blue sky. Weather was perfect – cool, no wind, good snow for skinning.
  • I took my skis off beneath Pan Face and hiked up to the top. A little icier but not too bad. No cramps required.
  • Cecil wasn’t feeling great, so he opted to camp on top of Pan Face and meet us in the AM at Muir to ski/board down together.
  • Dereck and I cruised up past Pan Point and I noticed there was far less snow than 2 weeks ago. Sections we skied down were now impassable due to rock exposure. What a winter we’re having. The snow was great though, a thin layer that seemed like it would fun to ski down tomorrow.
  • We passed a team of 2-3 around 9,000ft. The icier snow at this altitude was sparkling in the moonlight.
  • My original vision of being the only people on the mountain (you know mid-winter, weeknight) was further shattered when we arrived at the hut at 9:30 PMish to find it nearly full. A party of eight were making a Gib ledges attempt that night as well.
  • Party of eight woke up at 3:30 AM ish, Dereck and I at 4 AM. We took a long time to get ready as we still had to boil water (we didn’t want to wake everyone up the night before). I also had a crampon crisis when I couldn’t twist my Grivel G22 thumb screw to the right adjustment. We lost a lot of time on that, thank god for Dereck’s burly multi-tool which saved the day.

Up to the Summit

  • We finally left Muir at 615-630 AM! Oh well, it would be light soon and we’d see the route more clearly.
  • We cruised up to the ledges on amazing snow ranging from styrofoam-y to shallow powdery stuff, following the boot track of the party of eight (thanks guys!). We caught up with them in the crux ledges section where you can’t really pass. We hadn't come near a (visible) crevasse thus far.
  • Ledges weren’t too bad. I’ve heard a lot of different stories about them and wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Like any climb it’s very condition and climber comfort-level dependent. The party of eight had kicked good steps that we followed.
  • Here are the challenges of Gib Ledges from what I observed:
  • --If you fall the exposure is fast and fatal. It’s a moderately long “no fall zone” traverse.
  • --You can’t rely on any of the shitty, choss rock that makes up Gibraltar Rock to your right, even though it’s tempting to grab it.
  • --You’re directly under Gibraltar Rock, which along with the Cathedral Rocks is notorious for rock fall. I’ve see stuff come off of that thing and nearly kill people more than once.
  • --We had nice steps to follow for the most part in malleable snow. Hard ice and verglas conditions would def. require much more advanced confidence + skill.
  • For us, it was pretty straightforward. There was at least one frozen rock section that was a little nerve-racking as it was uneven, chossy, just awkward and right next to a cliff that will kill you, but it wasn’t too bad. My crampons weren't super solid on my ski boots. I couldn't figure out why, I had used them on Baker's North Ridge route and the combo had been rock solid. Now they were in danger of coming off in the worst possible place and I couldn't figure out why.
  • The exit ramp was steep but super easy due to the perfect snow conditions (Styrofoam-y or shallow powdery crust). Partway up the ramp my right crampon came off and I didn't even notice it. Jesus what a shit show for me, not good. I played around a bit with them and felt like they were now in a better state - no more issues occurred the rest of the trip.
  • We took the lead to the summit at the top of Gibraltar rock. We just b-lined it basically. It was nice to be climbing the upper mountain of Rainier with no boot pack to follow – quite the contrast to what you’ll find on the DC come June. There were no tracks, and no one ahead of us.
  • We crossed one large crevasse just above 13k. I couldn’t see an obvious/easy way to end run it. I inspected it in several areas, and found one longer bridge (10ft) over a gaping bottomless hole, but the bridge felt super thick and solid. I probed to find the lip edge, then Dereck belayed as I went for it. The party of eight followed just behind us.
  • Summit wind forecast had lowered from 30 to 20mph that morning, although you couldn't feel it until pretty close to 14k. We hit the crater rim at noon, downed some liquid and started cruising back down as we passed the party of eight. We needed to meet Cecil and make the gate by 5pm at the latest.

Down from the summit

  • The party of eight’s leader had noticed a massive, recent avalanche on the Ingraham Direct descent route after we topped out on Gib rock. We both saw it as a good sign that whatever was coming off had now done so. All three winter TRs I’d read on this site made the ID descent sound super straightforward.
  • We hung a left before the top of Gib rock and started heading down the ID. It was pretty steep, but the snow was soft without being too deep. I scouted, but didn’t see a clear path through the maze of giant cracks. We kept going assuming we’d figure it out, trying to pick the best line.
  • Several hundred feet down there was a slightly steep section just ahead. I couldn’t tell if it cliffed out in a massive crack, or was just steeper. I got closer and found that it was just a steeper section of snow from what I could see. No visible cracks or anything. A bit further right looked slightly less steep, but this section was good enough.

Bridge collapse

  • Just before the steeper section, there was a slight ease-off in steepness. I moved slowly across this section and was just about to plunge step down the steep section when the ground disappeared from underneath me, and I could just see a crevasse wall vertically panning as I fell.
  • It scared the shit out of me and I involuntarily yelled out a jumbled sound that loosely translated into “holy fuck”.
  • I was stopped about 10 feet down via a combination of Dereck’s self-arrest and a small ledge on the far side of the crevasse.
  • I was carrying a whippet and a leashed tool. The first thing I did was look down to see if I still had my whippet. I did but it had snapped cleanly in half. I climbed up with my whippet and tool, then looked back up at Dereck and asked if he had self-arrested. He said yes.
  • I immediately started analyzing how we were going to continue. I looked to my right, and just 10 feet over the crevasse widened significantly and appeared bottomless. Thank god I didn’t try to cross on that section. I looked left and the crevasse narrowed. I figured Dereck could cross there as I belayed. The area I fell was too wide to jump and there was a precarious 5 foot overhanging lip that on his side that I somehow didn’t break with my 210+ pounds.
  • Dereck eased across the narrower section as I moved down keeping the rope super tight. No collapse.
  • Dereck moving forward allowed me to see what was about 40 feet further to skiers left – a cathedral sized (read: massive) hole that was connected to the crevasse I visited. It’s size was humbling just to look at. It also connected to another crevasse system just below me with a noticeable dip in the snow where you could cross if you were brave. We scanned the rest of our options. Nothing looked clear – huge crevasses were everywhere with some precarious-looking bridges.
  • I didn’t understand the previous 2 TRs – which way did they take down? Either I was missing something or the mountain had changed significantly in a week. Maybe a mix of both. I do know a ton of rock had been freshly exposed above Pan Face in two weeks, maybe the ID started opening up significantly as well.
  • We made the call to go back up and descend the Gib Ledges. It was kind of sketch, but it was a sketchiness we knew vs. the unknown of the ID which looked torn up.
  • There was just no way after falling into that crevasse I was crossing anymore suspect bridges near these huge holes.
  • We had to re-cross the narrower bridge, on the way up – thankfully it didn’t collapse. You could look under it from my hole and see that it might collapse, but it didn’t.
  • We were a bit wasted by now and really worrying about making the gate, but it was best to just move and stay focused.

Down the ledges

  • The sun was shining, and that caused the snow on the gib ledges to soften and the danger of rockfall to increase.
  • We took each step thoughtfully. Some of the steps would slide out from slushy, loose snow. A quick look to the right at the consequence of falling reminded us to make each step count.
  • After clearing the sketch section up against Gib rock, we cruised down back to Muir in great plunge step-y snow.
  • I didn’t fall into any more crevasses.

Down from Muir

  • We reached camp just after 3pm. Cecil was there waiting, certainly wishing he would’ve drove separately by this point.
  • Cecil took off ahead of us on his board to try and have the ranger hold the gate, Dereck and I got to packing and getting some fuel in for the ride down. No time for rest due to trying to make the gate.
  • Dereck looked back up to the top of Gib Rock just as we were taking off and saw the party of 8 descending the ledges route. My prediction was that they would follow our tracks down the ID, see the huge hole and no further tracks, and backtrack like we did and take the ledges down. It appeared this was happening.
  • The lower mountain had changed since last night. It was now rock solid ice all the way to the parking lot. You could just barely get an edge in, and any fall would feel like landing on pavement (I took at least 2 spills).
  • Thankfully the only non-icy part was to skiers right of the Pan Face climbing route. It’s super steep, but it had great corn all the way to the bottom. If you stay right above Pan Point you can avoid all of the rocky sections that would require you to take your skis/board off.
  • Our quads were killing us, we had to stop every now and then to ease the burning.
  • We finally made it back to the parking lot just before 5:30pm, Cecil waiting, probably bored out of his mind right now. We threw our shit in the car and took off immediately.
  • Someone had tipped us off that you can ask staff at the Longmire Inn to unlock the gate for you. This worked. The front desk loans you the keys after taking down all of your info. I wouldn’t advise relying on this as they’ll probably stop doing it if people abuse it, but in our case we just missed the cut-off due to lost time and the unexpected incident on the ID.


This was my eleventh Rainier ascent and finally my first time in Winter. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that crevasse fall, glad to be alive. It could’ve been much worse if I had tried to cross just 10-15 feet more to my right. Dereck would’ve been lower at that point, more in-line with me horizontally, and there wouldn’t have been a ledge to help break the fall. Probing with my whippet may have helped, but it wasn’t super obvious there was a crevasse here. Plus in the soft snow probing can feel like there’s a crevasse everywhere, and it's not practical to continuously probe throughout a climb.


Anyway it was a really great climb. Perfect weather, great snow conditions, minus the crevasse fall everything went smoothly. Big thanks to Dereck for the catch.


About 9,000ft and 7 (?) miles up. Could it be only 7 miles as my GPS shows? The DC usually shows 9 miles. Does the Gib Ledges route in winter really shave 2 miles? It is much more direct...




From Muir up.




Tip: The secret to getting past this middle Gib Ledges crux section is to either jump several hundred feet in the air or free solo up the face of Gib Rock then immediately come back down.




Where the bridge collapsed (just below the top of Gib Rock) and we retreated after seeing no obvious way through the ID. The upper bridge was solid (around 13k).




Parking lot selfie around 530 PM Thursday.




Muir around 3pm Sat. after coming back down the Gib Ledges route.




My whippet snapped cleanly in half during the crevasse fall.



Edited by lukeh

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Great trip report and congrats on #11! I was leading the group of 8 and will post a separate trip report which will be mostly pictures...I can't really explain conditions any better than you just did. I also have a couple of pics of you and Dereck on the way up the ledges/chute.


And yes...I saw your tracks down the Ingraham and started to follow. I was concerned because it didn't look as straightforward as depicted on previous TRs. I only made it down over that edge a few feet and saw your tracks back out. I immediately reversed up an out. I wasn't looking forward to down climbing the ledges with this group...but we SLOWLY made it back down to Muir safely.



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Thanks Russ - nice meeting you on the mountain - congrats to you and your team for getting to the top. Glad you guys made it back through the ledges safely, the snow was def. getting softer and more precarious. Yeah the ID kind of looked like a mess. Maybe in firmer snow with less of time constraint and not having just fallen into crevasse we would've tried it :).


Looking forward to seeing your pics.

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Yikes. I was wondering if the thin snowpack was making for dangerous travel conditions on the big glaciers. Thanks for the report, and I'm glad you made it off safely.


You probably already know this, but you can order a new section for the whippet from BD. They're quite reasonable.

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Thanks Jason - actually my whippet was recalled by BD (the whippets with notches on the pick were recalled) so I think I can just get a brand new one if I send them the photo.

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Thanks Jason - actually my whippet was recalled by BD (the whippets with notches on the pick were recalled) so I think I can just get a brand new one if I send them the photo.


They only recall the top 1/3. You break the top section in half and send them the picture and they send you the replacement top section. I got mine with a really fast turnaround time.

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Thanks Dave - well I'll see what they can do for me. I love the whippet so it's getting replaced immediately.

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jesus. i'm glad things went as well as they could have with that fall. we definitely had to navigate around crevasses but nothing stood out to me as particularly worrisome last week. maybe things can just change that fast.

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Thanks for sharing Smoots - prob explains the Ingraham getting worse phenom. Def. was also apparent above pan face.

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I wonder if the crevasse you fell into was the same one we jumped a month ago in mid-December? That was the only visible crevasse that we crossed on the upper Ingraham, just below the Cathedral Rock saddle.




I've had a lower section on the new carbon fiber whippet snap too. I wish Black Diamond would have stuck with aluminum - the older one aluminum ones were actually lighter, and would bend instead of snap.

Edited by Alex Leone

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well contrary to wildsnow's write up in late 2013, the BD 'carbon' whippet upper is aluminum still. just the lower is carbon. to clarify. The picture above appears to show snapped aluminum. they still sell a two section aluminum one for $99 what weighs an ounce less than the 3 section 'carbon' (that's only 2/3rd carbon at best). unless you really wanted a 3 section pole not sure why you're disappointed with BD.

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Three section one packs smaller and while it's strapped to your pack is less in-the-way than the two section whippet. It also noticed the carbon was heavier, but the smaller collapsed length trumped the one ounce difference.


I've not had any problems with any my whippets, except for the pick which was recalled.

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Alum is actually 2oz lighter per BD spec and $40 cheaper. Another case for the alum is that collapsing/expanding 2 vs. 3 sections is faster. Personal preference though in the trade-offs - the collapsible height diff is significant (~1ft). I've used both alum and carbon treking poles and broke both. Most of the time once the alum is bent it's not recoverable in my experience so an argument for carbon which is usually lighter. The irony in the whippet case is that the carbon is heavier presumably due to 2 section joints vs. 1.

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