Gibraltar Ledges Route Conditions - June 25th
"Still Hanging in There"
After returning from a beautiful summit day via the Gib Ledges route, we're happy to report that the route is still "in". With the freezing level beginning to rise, however, it's hard to say how much longer it's going to stick around as a viable route this season.
Starting from Camp Muir, the lower portion of the route ascended the steep slopes of the upper Cowlitz glacier, which was interesting, with roughly one-foot-tall neve penitentes littering the slope and an easily avoidable bergschrund.
Once at the notch, below Gibraltar Rock, we stepped into the shade of Gib Ledges proper and scurried along the ledge system like two rats running for cover in the woodshed. The lower portion of the route consisted mostly of loose rock with some snow and ice mixed in. Although we were concerned about the potential for rock fall this late in June, we didn't experience even as much as a pebble coming down from above. Future concerns may be more about the snow that is left on the route beginning to pull away from the rock underneath, which would signifigantly add to the pucker factor on the traverse.
From Camp Comfort at the top of Gibralter Rock to the summit was straight forward glacier travel that eventually hooked up with the upper portion of the Disappointment Cleaver route. (see photo below)
This image is from Greg Moo of sunny Sequim. Greg soloed the route on Sunday June 15th. He reported that "the route was straightforward and it never felt sketchy. Additionally, there was no rock or ice fall that I noticed."
With new snow, Gib Ledges remains appealing into late June.
Fresh new snow allowed climbers to access the route more readily. The following are some route conditions sent to us from the previous weekend.
Three of us plodded our way up Gib Ledges over the weekend and found the route to still be in great shape. Most of the ledges were snirt or ice. Some of the exposed sections of the ledges were covered in 2-3ft of loose, wind deposited snow from the Friday/Sat storm; but the traverse out and up Gib chute was nicely consolidated and easy going. After a break atop Gib rock, we took a largely straight line to the summit with only minor crevasse detours before connecting up with the DC at about 13,500. One of the folks in our party started to experience AMS at the crater rim, so we skipped out on the summit ceremony and high-tailed it down the DC—only seeing a few parties headed up.
The snow conditions on the way up made for very slow going. From Camp Muir to the connection with the DC, we plod/swam/wallowed through snow that varied from Styrofoam (rare) to knee-thigh deep sugar encased in a breakable crust (common)… We encountered some isolated wind slabs on the way from Muir to the Ledges (Q2 shears, 4-9 inches deep), but the conditions were otherwise pretty safe—just slow!
Easy steep kickstepping up the Cowlitz Cleaver from Camp Muir brings climbers up to the start of the ledges. The Gibralter Ledges are still in good shape thanks to the cold and snowy weather we have been having. Exit up the top of the Gib chute and around to the topside of Gib rock to Camp Comfort, still very straight forward on 45 degree snow. As the snowpack gets thinner around the the end of the ledges watch out for the moat as you leave Camp Comfort. Climbing is quite direct up above; ascend the Nisqually/Ingraham glaciers, avoiding crevasses up to the crater rim.
~ Phil Edmonds
May 31 – June 1
Here is an update on the route from a climbing party that went up last weekend.
My brother and I climbed Rainier via Gibraltar Ledges May 31 - June 1. We mostly stayed on the Cowlitz Cleaver before being forced onto the Cowlitz Glacier 200 feet below Camp Misery. Directly ascending the Cowlitz Glacier would likely work equally well at present. The entrance to the Ledges was straight forward, as were the Ledges. There was minimal snow, but enough to make travel easy. Rather than ascending to the upper Ledges, we stayed low and then climbed up to exit the chute -- easy kick stepping up the chute. With the continued cool weather, the route will likely be good for several weeks to come.
Memorial Day Weekend brought variable weather and variable climbing conditions. The following is a good description of the weekend's conditions.
Great Climbing in Gib Chute...
We got a predawn start and walked up the Nisqually by the light of headlamps. The bergschrund at the base of the Gibralter Chute is still able to be crossed in at least two places. The bridge we chose was very narrow, but we easily scrambled across un-roped. Conditions on the chute were perfect; A firm layer made for an easy approach without post-holing, while the fresh snowfall gave secure footing without having to front-point or kick in. As I climbed, I took into consideration the hard underlying layer, fresh snowfall, and 45 degree slope. I voiced concern about avalanche danger; my climbing partner countered that light snowfall was insufficient to do more than slough a little. Within three steps of his statement he released a tiny slide that posed no danger, but certainly some irony. During the extent of the climb we only heard one distant rock fall coming from the far side of the Nisqually. At the top of the chute, however, there was one ominous boulder that looked as though it was frozen in motion during its slide down a smooth slab. Above the chute, the glacier travel was simple with the crevasses posing no significant hindrance to our route to the summit. The greatest challenge was the poor visibility at the summit. Inside the crater I became disoriented and lead us in circles. My climbing partner had retained his sense of direction and was able to find the top of the Disappointment Cleaver route. With visibility severely limited we decided to join up with the only other team that reached the summit that day. They had just climbed the D.C. and remembered some of the twists and turns to get us around the crevasses and back onto the surer footing of the cleaver itself.
May 27th - Another independent report
The route seemed in OK condition with only a few spots melted out on the ledge. This was our first time on this route and our third time on Mt Rainier. We left Muir at around 11pm and were on top or Gibraltar Rock by 6:30am. It took a little while for us to find the actual start of the ledges but once we did, the rest of the way was obvious. Sometime before the sun came up something big came rumbling off of Gibraltar but we couldn't see enough to tell where it came from. When we got to the top of Gibraltar the wind was high and the temps were low and so was our energy so we opted for a traverse across the glaciers to descend the D.C. route. This worked well and the snow bridges were in great shape. The trail on the DC was well packed and it only took a few hours to get back to camp. It didn't look like fun to try to descend on the Gib Ledges route.
Saturday night two climbing rangers reconnoitered the Gibralter Ledges climbing to 11,900 ft. before turning around. Leaving at midnight they encountered punchy snow and warm temps before passing the Beehive at 10,800 ft. and gaining solid neve snow conditions. At 11,300 the snow gave way to loose scree and talus at the base of Gibralter Rock.
Following the west side of Gibralter Rock the Ledges were almost completely bereft of snow making for easy scrambling. It appears that this past winter's high wind conditions have stripped the Ledges of almost all of its snow until one reaches the Gibralter Chute bergshrund. At 11,900 after a quick two hours of climbing the two rangers turned around before committing to what appeared to be the technical crux of the route: a short section of third class scrambling before gaining the upper Gibralter Chute.
~ Joe Franklin
Find more 2008 reports in our Gibraltar Ledges archives.