Gibralter Ledges and Gibraltar Chute - 2009

Gibralter Ledges and Gibralter Chute -

July 8th

Climbing rangers climbed the ledges on the morning of the 8th. The climbing on the Cowlitz up to the notch before you gain access to the ledges is direct yet not competely without routefinding. The ledges are almost completely devoid of snow now and from Muir the rockfall sounds significant. Above Gibralter Rock find your way through the upper glacier towards the summit. Most parties will descend the DC later in the day to avoid the rockfall hazards occuring in the midday sun. The ledges could be passable but only on a very cold night.

July 1st

A climbing ranger climbed Gibralter Chute and reports that the Chute is in decent condition. To approach the route from Camp Muir descend and traverse down and around the Cowlitz Cleaver and routefind your way through a series of open crevasses to the base of the chute. The stern warning to note is the rock fall hazard throughout the entirety of the route and the continuous danger of icefall from the the Nisqually Icecliff. The slopes right now don't reach more than 65 degrees and are sustained only for a very short distance-there is no ice. The chute may ice-up and could potentially provide an interesting later season climb. Climb at night, the dangers are very real.

Mt. Rainier Climbing Rangers

June 29th
Rangers climbed Gib ledges a couple times this last week. All in all the route is very direct and it is in good shape. The climb up to Camp Misery is still all snow, but from there to the ledges exit at Gib Chute, all of the snow has melted leaving the ledges themselves snow free. This does not make the route any harder, just a little looser.

From Camp Comfort trend up and a little left around the Ingraham Icefall; then directly up to the crater rim. Only one small straightforward crevasse crossing between Camp Comfort and the top. Gib Ledges is a much faster than the DC right now. In fact a variation of the DC splits off from the top of the Disappointment Cleaver to Camp Comfort. This can be a nice way to come down, but watch out below the icefall.

June 4th
Climbing Rangers Philippe Wheelock and Rachel Mueller climbed Gib Ledges - traveling from 5 to 11 a.m, round trip, using the Ingraham Direct for descent. (Gib Chute appears to have seen significant recent icefall/avalanche activity, as evidenced by the debris at the base of the chute.)

Using the direct approach to the base of Gibraltor Rock on the snow, the team was able to navigate around hazards. Judging from the earlier trip reports mentioning the alternate approach using the rock ridge, the snow approach continues to be more direct and perhaps easier to navigate, even as the season progresses.

The conditions on the ledges themselves were quite different from the previous trip report. While the ledges were passable with scrambling and little technical climbing, there was very little snow. Climbers who attempt this route should be comfortable soloing loose and sometimes icy 3rd class terrain as there are no real gear placements available, along with significant consequences of a fall.

As the route rejoins Gib Chute, the snow was a welcome break from the ledge traverse. There are no tracks up high, so be prepared to do your own route finding as you make your way through the upper mountain to the summit (although if you trend to your right, you will eventually join the standard route).

While still an enjoyable climb and a speedy path to the summit, this route is definitely in late-season conditions.

May 18th

Ascended Gib Ledges with a party of 4 over the weekend. The weather and conditions on route were superb...minus a little wind above Gibralter Rock. We chose the direct line from Camp Muir to "the notch" where the Gib Ledges route really starts. As conditions deteriorate, this may not be the best choice, but for now it is very straightforward and a good warm up for the steepness encountered later on route as Gib Ledges meets up with Gib Chute.

The snow conditions crossing the ledges were in impeccable shape allowing for solid footing, straightforward route finding, and in general a good time. Once linked up with Gib Chute the snow conditions turned more powder-like, calling for a little more attention and energy but still easily navigated.

We reached Camp Comfort at the top of Gibralter Rock just as the sun began to rise (which is why I have no pictures from the route itself, sorry) and the wind began to howl. Although it was a straight shot from there to the summit, this area of the upper mountain tends to be less protected from the wind compared to the D.C. and Emmons routes. So, it was full puff and goggles as we marched up and into the 35 mph wind the remainder of the way. There were several other parties climbing behind us (see post below) that all made the summit as well. We left camp at 2:30 a.m. and reached the crater rim around 7:00 a.m. Although the direct start from Camp Muir is significantly steeper and perhaps more exposed, it does appear to cut off a lot of time.

All parties used the Ingraham Direct for the descent.

(thanks to River, Lynn, and Crystal for another summit)

Below is another trip report that was sent in detailing the Beehive approach variation for the route.

…A quick note about our trip this weekend (5/16-5/17) because the ledges were in excellent shape for us. Snow was mostly firm. Kicking steps sunk 6-9" on average with an occasional soft area which was harder to set a step. A party of 3 and my party of 2 took the ridge past the Beehive before getting to the ledges. I'm not sure if we were off route or didn't understand the route. We thought there was a way to hike past the Beehive but the obvious route took us onto the Beehive where we found a new-looking rappel sling which we had to utilize to get down (15' rappel). There was no obvious climb around once on this part of the ridge. A party of 4 and a party of 5 took the direct route up the snowfield facing Muir so there is now a boot track in. The ledges have plenty of coverage and the snow on them is icy or firm. Above the ledges it was about as windy as predicted (40 mph) and besides fighting the wind the snow was firm and easy travel. This was our first trip on this route and we loved the simplicity and directness. We left from Muir at 12:30 and the trip to the crater rim took 5:45 hrs. including 1/2 hour messing around trying to get off the Beehive. We think all the other parties mentioned above made it too. All parties we saw on the descent used the standard route which is wanded and joins up with the Ingraham just above Disappointment Cleaver. - Michael (and Brett)

May 16 2009

Here is a route report from last week:

We were up on the mountain last week when that snow storm hit the region. We were stuck in Camp Muir for 4 days since visibility was less than 20 m and wind was so strong that even getting to the solar toilet was quite an expedition... Finally the clouds moved away on Thursday and the wind got quiet in late afternoon. So we decided it was our last chance for a summit attempt before heading back down to Paradise and fly home.

We left camp Muir at 00:00 with an almost full moon and a sea of clouds below. Gibraltar Ledges is the route we had chosen. We had tracked the first couple of hundred meters east of Cowlitz Cleaver in the basin so it went fast for this part. But then we hit the snow pack that had formed during the past days and we realized that snow had accumulated much more than we expected.

The leader had snow up to the hips which made our progression much slower. This lasted for a while in the steep section above 10,500', then snow became occasionally more packed and easier to travel before reaching the actual "Gib Ledges" just below Gibraltar Rock. But it took us nearly 4 hours just to get to the ledges 'entrance'! And the ledges were not any better. Thigh to hip deep snow turned our progression from slow to very slow. And at one point, we took the wrong ledge going down instead of going up on what appeared to be a very exposed route. But after climbing back up we realized that following the Gib Rock wasn't that bad and that it was actually the good route. We did put a wand on the upper ledge so people don't get fooled by our tracks going down. Still, snow was a problem and fatigue started to make its way in our bodies. We thought of going down via Gibraltar Chute, but the sun had already started to hit the Icefalls so we decided to keep going.

The fairly steep section just on the right of the icefalls had much better snow conditions so vertical progression got better. We finally arrived on top of Gibraltar Ledges at 8:45 a.m. on a beautiful sunshiny day. But it had taken us nearly 9 hours to get there, which was way over our expectations. We kept going up for another 2 hours to reach just above 4 000m. But the leader had to shovel its way in the snow... Lets just say it wasn't much of the nice glacier icy conditions expected to make it to the summit... At the pace we had set, we estimated that we probably still had over 4 hours before reaching the summit... or even more. After all the effort we had put to get up there, we finally decided to turn back down. We went down via Ingraham Flats. The steepest section just north of the Gib rock was quite a pain in the ass to get down again because of the snow depth. It was just like quicksand. But the rest of the Flats were much easier to travel.

Navigation through the crevasses is still all right, but it will probably become tricky soon if the sun keeps shining like it did on that day. We stayed on the south side of the Flats and followed the rock cliff which was much quicker than going all around the crevasses on the north side. I believe it's still the fastest way to get down to the Cathedral Gap. Conditions are still relatively safe on this route and following the rock is the most direct way. We finally arrived to Camp Muir at 14:00.

We didn't make it up to the summit, but Gib Ledges is such a great route that just to make it out in the conditions we had was an awesome feeling. The route had tracks for the week-enders that were going up to Camp Muir as we skied down to Paradise. With the great weather on Saturday, I hope our tracks helped someone to get to the summit. Happy climbing!

Don't have any pictures yet. Too bad. Maybe next week.

Gibralter Ledges and Gibraltar Chute - March 30th

On a recent trip to Camp Muir I snapped a couple of photos of the ledges. The Upper Cowlitz seems to be low on snow this year with icy patches poking out already (see photo to right). The Gib ledges themselves still seem to have a lot of snow. The upper chute looked a little rough (see photo below). Definitely be aware of avalanche conditions on the exit ramp of the ledges. The snow has been wind beaten to a firm surface which makes for great cramponing. Recently the clouds seem to be staying below 8,500' making for warmer and sunnier conditions on the upper mountain during the day.

Check out a trip report below for more info.

- Thomas

(Photo taken from Muir Snowfield)

This trip report of an ascent via Gib Ledges and descent by the DC was sent to me by Brittany Buckingham and Jiri Richter. Thanks! - Stefan


The weather forecast last week was hard to ignore. Unsure what the snow conditions would be Brittany and I opted for an easier route than the last time. Thursday felt almost like a routine - get a coffee, drive to Paradise, register, sort gear, hike to Camp Muir.

In the public shelter we ran into a team of three from Pennsylvania who were planning to attempt the same route. The next day we left the shelter at 3 a.m. about 1 1/2 hours after them. The snow was in great styrofoam-like conditions except for a few spots where it was less consolidated and where it was nice to follow somebody else’s tracks. Unfortunately they made a mistake and started heading to the ridge crest leading to the base of Gib Rock too soon. I yelled but they were too far to understand so it was our turn to be in the lead. We checked the snow conditions on the ledge and it looked better than before on my previous two climbs. We decided to stay roped since it seemed possible to use pickets for protection in the exposed spots. I placed one at the end of the ledge. From there it was easy step kicking up the chute to the top of the Gib Rock. We took a longer break there and chatted a little bit with the Pennsylvania folks who caught up with us, the only three other people we saw on the upper mountain that day .

The last stretch walking up the higher mountain feels endless, the monotony of which was interrupted only once by a crevasse that 1)I almost fell into, 2)my partner fell partially into, and 3) the last person on the second team fell completely into. I guess some of the bridges formed during the last storm had not had time to strengthen sufficiently. Shortly after this we finally spotted the exposed rocks of the crater rim which we reached with a great joy.

Crossing the crater I felt tired for the first time that day so half way to the summit bump we shed our packs and made the final few step lightened. The second team lost some time extracting their last person from the crevasse and arrived to the summit about 30 minutes after we stopped screaming trying to see if anybody would hear us back in Seattle.

It was 10 a.m. and the wind picked up. We decided to descend the DC expecting an easy walk off. The other team decided to follow us although their original plan was to descend Gib Ledges. Soon we found out the DC route is not all that obvious without the fence made of wands, yellow snow and lines of people in summer. Getting to the top of the cleaver was not without a short scenic detour but we got there in reasonable time.

Climbing down the cleaver was OK. Getting off the cleaver was not. We down climbed one steeper section, but it didn’t look right although I felt it looked familiar. We climbed back up, did some traversing and looked for alternatives. From one vantage point it looked like back down was a nice ledge heading in a promising direction. At this point the second team decided to do their own route finding and headed in a different direction. We went back down to where we were before and started traversing towards Ingraham Glacier to where I expected to see the ledge. The ledge was not a ledge but just a continuation of the steepish snow slope with some exposed rocks in a line. From above this made an impression of a flat ledge. We considered just going back to the last spot where we were sure we were on the route but if you’re exploring one option it’s good to explore it until you’re sure it’s not an option. We kept traversing until I finally spotted a short gully exiting on the Ingraham Glacier. It was good to be off the cleaver. The other party was descending the cleaver using a snow ramp a bit higher in the active zone of the ice fall. We yelled at them to make sure they knew we were down and that there was an alternative way for them to get down if they decided to follow our tracks. After that we walked back to Camp Muir without looking left or right. We got there at 5 p.m. Winds at Camp Muir were averaging 50 mph at that time and the upper mountain was swallowed by clouds. It was good to be there safely. We decided there was no hurry and spent another night at the shelter.

Next morning the winds were averaging over 60 mph looking at the NWAC telemetry data and the visibility was gone. We thought it would be a good idea to rope up for the hike out and also pair up with other two guys who got to the shelter on Friday and were planning on heading down in the morning as well. The hike out was made possible only with the two GPS devices with waypoints our hiking rope team had available. We unroped at the top of Pan face where the wind was lesser and the visibility better. I could also finally switch to ski mode and enjoy fresh powder to the parking lot which we left around noon in the direction of burgers at Copper Creek Inn.

Below is a trip report from Matt Clifton and Stewart Matthiesen who were nice enough to email me just after their climb of Gib Ledges. Sounds like a fun trip!


Approach: We headed out from Paradise at about 10 a.m. 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 p.m.).

Summit day: After a “restful” night inside the cabin at Muir, we got started climbing at about 4 a.m. 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" volcanic 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 summitted at about 10 a.m. 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 for our 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, then cut over to Cathedral Rocks. 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 either 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!