Camp Muir and Muir Snowfield - 2009

Muir Snowfield - September 23rd

Bring your crampons and trekking poles, since conditons are slick, icy, and crevassed. The photo to the right shows the upper part of the snowfield. Camp Muir has been very quiet lately, so if you want some peace and quiet and don't mind stepping across a few open crevassses, come on up.

Muir Snowfield - September 12th

The new snow from last week's storm has all but melted out and while most of the larger crevasses are still filled in, the snowfield remains icy and hazardous and no longer offers 'blower pow.' Enthusiasts looking for 'turns all year' showed up in droves on Friday and Saturday, but unless they were looking for a cheap base grind, were (I hope for their own safety) sorely disappointed.

However, access to Camp Muir is marginally safer than it was two weeks ago and plenty of day hikers took advantage of cool temps and clear skies to see the upper mountain blanketed in clean white snow. Come on up and enjoy beating the crowds and keep an eye out for fresh blueberries along the way. Just make sure you are prepared for glacier-like conditions above 9000 feet. Crampons and trekking poles are strongly recommended.

Muir Snowfield - September 9th

New snow on the snow field has made skiing a possibility. With warmer temps the new snow has turned into an isothermal slush plate. Not great for skiing, but turns are there. Obvious dangers include crevasses (glide cracks) which have been dusted just enough so they aren't visible from above and sun cups/bumps which didn't get covered. The snow didn't fall evenly and 'blanket' the mountain, but was smeared onto it by windy weather. There are some areas with great snow followed by areas which didn't receive any new snow. Good visibility and a partner are a must.

The climber's route to Camp Muir still follows the right side of the snow field - within 50 meters of Anvil Rock. With the stormy weather don't depend on the climber's trail or wands for navigation. The new snow started sticking right around Pebble Creek. Expect to see drifts of up to two feet deep.

September 5th

Rain has continued to deteriorate the snowfields conditions over the last few days. Climbers will encounter slick ice just beyond Pebble Creek. There is significant precip in the forecast. This snow will conceal crevasses and increase the risk of crevasse falls. Those choosing to travel to Camp Muir should be prepared for all the risks of glacier travel, and carry appropriate gear.

The public shelter at Camp Muir remains open. It seems it is time to remind climbers that there is no trash pick-up at 10,000 ft. "Pack it in pack it out" still applies. Climbing Rangers removed about 30 lbs. of garbage form the shelter this week. This is your building take care of it and leave it better than you found it, like David and Eric from Beaverton, Oregon did. These two climbers packed out 20 lbs. of trash that was left in the shelter by others. Thanks guys!!

Muir Snowfield - September 2nd

Crevasses are still growing larger on the upper snowfield. The icy sections are also becoming more extensive, so be careful on the snowfield this time of year. Pleasant weather can deteriorate quickly and navigation will be extremely difficult.

A few skiers (three) have been hiking their skis to about 8400 feet and making brief descents back to the rocks at 7600 feet. Lots of suncups make the skiing desperate, but if you need to make turns every day of the year, it can be done.

Be sure to read the posts below to get a feel for how the snowfield has been changing.

August 25th

"Snowfield" is not the best word to describe this area right know. Above 8000 ft. the Muir snowfield is a dry glacier, meaning there is no snow on top of the glacier ice. Hikers traveling to Camp Muir should be prepared to deal with all the risks of glacier travel; open crevasses , ice, route finding, etc... The Climbing Rangers would suggest all those hiking to Muir wear crampons and have either an ice axe or trekking poles. The snow bridges covering the crevasses are becoming weaker each day as the afternoon sun bakes the snowfield. Numerous travellers have punched through these thin snow layers that overlie the large holes below. Be mindful that there are numerous paths currently and that just because others have walked there does not ensure your safety or that of your party.

August 12th
Muir Snowfield
Numerous crevasses have begun to open on the snowfield below Camp Muir between 9,200 and 10,000 feet. Although some of the known crevasses are wanded, the intense heat has been melting out the snow bridges faster than wands can be placed. The current trail travels over bridged cracks that are up to six feet across. Use extreme caution as you move above Moon Rocks on your way to camp. The recent rains have melted out a large amount of the snow above 9,000 feet leaving behind exposed and slick blue ice that requires crampons for secure footing.

Camp Muir
Muir is a hopping, bustling alpine camp these days, particularly on the weekends. Here are a few suggestions and reminders for your visit.

For you day trippers:
- We do have bathrooms at camp with hand sanitizer. That said, if you like toilet paper, you'll want to pack it with you.
- There is plenty of snow, but no water at Muir. Bring plenty of it with you or pack a stove to melt water. A jetboil or reactor stove is a great investment for this!
- The winds can put a chill on even the warmest of days, so pack for cooler and windier conditions as you gain the ridge of Camp Muir.
- Although standing wands may look unnecessary in clear conditions, they provide a visual cue in poor conditions. Gather wands not being used 'til your heart is content, but please leave the wands marking the bootpack as you found them.

For you campers:
- Did we mention wind? The winds can blow big time! Whatever your tent anchoring style of choice, be sure to put plenty of effort into it. We saw half a dozen tents blow over while their residents were busy climbing. Snow anchors, anyone? These are effective, lightweight options for staking out your tent in the snow without tearing down the rock wall. (For a poor man's snow anchor, grocery bags are an option.)
- Melting snow? Take a moment to consider how clean you'd like your water to be. Uphill? Good. Untracked snow? Also good. Between your tent and the one next to it? Hmmm. On the hill where people bootski down to their tents? Not so much. One great place we see folks use is on the snowfield side of the camp, just below Muir Rocks.
- Sleeping in the Public Shelter? There is no maid service and the public shelter is a great example of the golden rule. Pack out your trash, keep it quiet while people are sleeping, and cook outdoors when the weather allows. Did I mention packing out your trash? This includes food, fuel bottles, broken gear, ... you get the idea.

Check in with us at the Ranger Hut and say hi! We love to hear from you about your experience.

July 29th

The recent spell of beautiful weather and high temps have brought many visitors out to recreate on the Muir Snowfield. Most of the snow patches on the trail to Pebble Creek have melted out considerably. The snowy sections that remain have well-worn trails through them leading back to the melted- out path.

After crossing Pebble Creek, the trail up the Muir Snowfield to Camp Muir is very well trodden. Currently the path is snow the entire way to camp and none of the crevasses on the upper snowfield are currently open. Be aware that with these increasing temps that the route is melting quickly and the possibility of those cracks opening is rapidly approaching. Hikers continue to carry skis and snowboards up to Camp Muir to attempt sliding down the large sun cups that exist in the upper two-thirds of the route. Current conditions lend themselves much better to standing and seated glissading. (Our own high camp maintenance guru Ted made the trip from Camp Muir down to Pebble Creek in 22 minutes, boot skiing the entire way.)

July 25th

Some major snow patches still exist between Paradise and Pebble Creek. Though most of the trail is melted out, hiking boots are still recommended over sandals.

With the nice weather lots of people have been making the day hike to Camp Muir. All of the snow on the snowfield is consolidated so there is no need for snow shoes or skis. On hot days the snow can get mushy and hard to walk uphill in. Also, at night, the snow solidifies and can become slippery to the point of needing crampons. Make sure to be down off the snow before it's dark if you don't have crampons.

Sunglasses and sunscreen are a must, especially for younger kids. Make sure to have a sunhat, plenty of SPF 30 or above, and dark-tinted shades for everyone in your group while on the snowfield. All the sunshine is nice, but even day hikers can get burned quickly at higher altitudes.

July 15th

The route up the snowfield is in good shape! The trail up to Pebble Creek is roughly 60% melted out, and snow is melting rapidly around Moon Rocks. Although the weather has been excellent recently, remember that white out conditions on the snowfield can develop with little warning. Always carry an extra layer and be prepared to retrace your steps through clouds.

People are still hiking skis and snowboards up to Camp Muir. The snowfield is becoming fairly sun cupped, but decent snow conditions can still be found along skier's right where there is no boot track. Be careful no to ski too far to skier's right as you could end up in the Nisqually.

June 25th

The route up the snow field is still slightly changing. Please be aware and stay off the fragile meadows as they begin to melt out. A little dusting of fresh snow has visitors bringing out their skis and snowboards again.

The toilet at Panorama Point is open. There seems to be a marmot who lingers in and around the toilet. Please do not feed or let the marmot into the toilet - shut and latch the door after using the bathroom.

The wands to Camp Muir are still not reliable. Make sure to bring your own form of navigation for stormy weather. The consolidated boot pack from all the climbers has made the approach to Camp Muir easier and faster - no need for flotation these days. Only in the afternoon on hot days do boots penetrate to ankle depth. Come on up and enjoy the views of Mount St. Helens.

June 17th

Summer has arrived on the Muir Snowfield. The route is still primarily snow from Paradise to the base of Panorama Point. Some trails have melted out between the base of Pan Point to Pebble Creek. Please stick to the NPS wanded route and established trails to protect the emerging meadows. Less trampling now equals more flowers later in the summer. Above Pebble Creek the route is entirely snow and weaves its way around small rock islands. These islands are home to many delicate flowering plants, mosses, and lichens. Please take your rest breaks on snow to avoid disturbing these fragile communities.

The snowpack has consolidated significantly in the last week. Hikers will find a beaten path to Camp Muir. Skiers and boarders will find suncupped snow on most of the snowfield.

As the snow on the rockbed of Camp Muir melts out, the paths around camp are easier to navigate. Please use caution on the Cowlitz, as you are camping on a glacier. Although you're next to the ridge, a crevasse is beginning to open up.

The public shelter and bathrooms are open. The rangers will be on staff every day the rest of the season (except during emergencies and training). Please stop by the Ranger Hut, the stone building on your left as you enter camp, if you have any questions.

June 6th
While Paradise is swathed in clouds and mist, Camp Muir is a great place to be. It is often above the marine layer that rises from Paradise to 7500-8000 feet. At Muir you may experience sunny skies and at the right time, have a great view of the full moon!

The approach from Paradise to Camp Muir is still snow, with the exception of Panorama Point to Pebble Creek. While snowshoes may not be too common this time of year, skis or a snowboard provide a speedy descent back to Paradise (just don't forget to wax up!).

As the snow on the rockbed of Camp Muir melts out, the paths around camp are easier to navigate. Please use caution on the Cowlitz, as you are camping on a glacier. Although you're next to the ridge, a crevasse is beginning to open up.

The public shelter and bathrooms are open. The rangers will be on staff every day the rest of the season (except during emergencies and training). Please stop by the Ranger Hut, the stone building on your left as you enter camp, if you have any questions.

May 27th

The approach to Camp Muir is still almost entirely on snow. There are some barepatches melting out in the Pebble Creek area. Most people are foregoing snowshoes at this point as the snow pack continues to firm up. The route is also very well traveled and most are not straying too far from the solid boot pack. Skis and boards are still good options as well, but you'll want some warm warm wax for the lower half. The snow has been very sticky below 6-7'000 feet.

Wands are becoming prolific on the snowfield and below this year again. Please pick yours up on the descent. Also remember to follow the summer trail as closely as possible from snow patch to snow patch below the snowfield. This way we can avoid erosion and damage to the plants in this fragile ecosystem.

Camp Muir is in good shape. We are continuing to work on ice in a couple of the toilets. Hopefully one or two more will be open this weekend. The rangers will be on staff everyday the rest of the season except during times of emergency work and some trainings. Please stop by if you have any questions. The public shelter is filling up now on the weekends. Please remember it is first come first serve so bring a tent.

Camp Muir and Muir Snowfield - May 16th

Another small storm cycle rolled through early this week adding more snow - about 10-15 inches. With recent sunshine the boot pack up to Camp Muir is back in place, but you might consider snow flotation for travel off the beaten path. This weekend is turning out to be great weather - come out and enjoy the new snow! As temperatures rise be aware of the increased chance of wet snow avalanches in steeper terrain, like that surrounding Panorama Point. There have also been reports of people leaving trash at the public shelter again. Please take down everything you bring up.

The wands to Camp Muir are not placed periodically enough for accurate navigation. Remember to bring your own map/compass/altimeter or GPS and extra batteries. Enjoy!

May 1st

During a cloudy and snowy midweek, the snowfield was quite socked in and challenged trekker's navigational skills. Yesterday brought clear skies to the area with a few climbers heading up on summit attempts. The route to camp is wanded only minimally. The wand spacing is too far for cloudy conditions. Plan on using altimeter, compass, GPS, and a map to safely maintain your orientation.
Snow conditions are fairly consolidated at the moment with most climbers using skis or boots to climb the snowfield. Snowshoes have not proved to be of much help.

April 13th

Camp Muir was quiet over the weekend. Only one group of four climbers made it up for the night. Many day-trip backcountry skiers were seen crushing it. The route to Camp Muir still has not been wanded.

The snowfield received almost a foot of new snow over the last two days. Ski penetration was 4-6 inches this morning. Boot penetration was about knee to mid-thigh in depth - in other words it's hard to get around without some kind of flotation. With the cooling temperature trend snow layers have been adhering nicely, reducing avalanche danger.

Also, a friendly reminder: The public shelter is first come, first serve. There is currently snow/ice on the floor of the shelter (it's not heated), but the wooden bunks are clean. Always bring some form of personal shelter along (tent, bivy, shovel) just in case the shelter is full or you don't make it up all the way to Muir. Enjoy!

March 30th

The snowfield was great for skiing today. The upper slopes (8000-10,000 feet) were mostly wind packed powder and the lower slopes were mostly powder. Watch out for thin sections near Pebble Creek and Panorama Point where a few rocks are still sticking out. Neither the winter route nor the summer route to Camp Muir is wanded. A few sporadic wands have persisted through the high winds, but these do more to confuse than to direct. With more snow in the forecast, this next week should continue to produce great conditions.

Ingraham Direct - 2009

Ingraham Direct - June 25th

The DC is now the preferred standard route from Camp Muir. All the wands and ladders have been pulled off the Ingraham Direct. Hindrances on the ID including large crevasses that run all the way from Gibraltar Rock to the Disappointment Cleaver and ice fall potential from large seracs looming high on the mountain have climbers avoiding this route.

June 4th

Climbing Rangers Philippe Wheelock and Rachel Mueller descended the ID in poor weather (near white-out conditions). While the team found the bootpack and wanding barely solid enough to follow, parties descending only minutes later (in white-out conditions) found the descent challenging and disorienting.

This is one of the great paradoxes of climbing on Rainier - in good conditions the route is clearly laid out in front of you; but in the blink of an eye, weather can move in that paralyzes experienced climbers who had ascended the route hours earlier. A GPS with pre-set waypoints or breadcrumbs to follow can be worth its weight in gold in conditions like these.

Despite predictions that this route would be out of shape quickly due to the warm temps, guided parties are still using this route regularly to ascend from Camp Muir.

That said, this route has crevasse hazards to navigate - snow bridges, gaps, and some minor climbing (or downclimbing, depending on your direction). Suggestion: Use that down time at Camp Muir to practice your crevasse travel and rescue technique at Camp Muir before making your ascent!

The icefall debris continues to lay in the path of the route, so please move quickly when traveling in this zone.

May 31st

An ascent of the Ingraham on 5/29 saw conditions of the route deteriorating due to recent stable, warm weather. Crevasse gaps are widening throughout the route and numerous new smaller cracks are appearing above 11,000 feet. With some notable larger gaps above 12,000 feet.

Sometime on either 5/27 or 5/28, a large serac collapsed above Ingraham Flats, scattering a large amount of debris throughout the area and across the route. To cross this section of the route, rangers stayed to climber's left of the debris and ascended until a direct traverse across the debris could be made to minimize exposure to more ice fall.

But, the "summer" Disappointment Cleaver route will likely become the predominant summit route up the mountain in the coming week or so as the Ingraham Direct deteriorates further and traffic on the route drops off.

May 27th

The Ingraham saw more ascents this last week than any other route on the mountain. The three guide services as well as most private parties were using this route from Camp Muir. It is proving to be very direct with quick ascent times being recorded be most groups.

The traverse across the Cowlitz is fast and crevasse free and at the moment. Watch out though, some climbers have literally had to dodge rocks on the eastern half in the hot weather. From the flats the route ascends straight up the glacier (slightly left of center) to the 12'000 foot level. From here it makes an ascending traverse
right until you are a few hundred feet above the top of the cleaver. Watch for an area of ice fall in this traverse. The route from here to the Columbia Crest is relatively direct.

There are many large crevasses in the Ingraham Direct. And, with the heat and snow conditions as they were for memorial day weekend, climbers were punching through holes every day. Two falls resulted in injuries, one at around 12,300 and one in a steam cave on the summit. The crevasses may prove to be too open and too wide for most people to continue using this route by this next weekend. The guide services were already making plans to use the Disappointment Clever a couple of days ago.

Make sure to check in with the rangers at Camp Muir for the latest and don't forget your helmet.

Ingraham Direct - May 17th

This weekend seemed to be the official start to the climbing season on Mount Rainier. With warm temperatures and clear skies, there were numerous summits from both Gib Ledges and the Ingraham Direct (I.D.).

The conditions on the I.D. were just about perfect over the weekend with full snow coverage. The snow actually extended from Camp Muir all the way to the summit minimizing the hazards of rockfall and awkward cramponing up the normally loose rock chutes under catherdral gap. Once past Cathedral Gap, the route wanders up through the icefall of the Ingraham until reuniting with the standard Dissappointment Cleaver route at the top of the cleaver itself. From here the route zigs and zags its way to the summit avoiding most crevasse crossings and steeper wind exposed pitches .

Although there were a few obvious snow bridges to cross throughout the route the most eminent hazard was the potential for icefall from the top of the Ingraham Glacier... so be sure to get an early start.

The Camp Muir scene was also in full swing this weekend with a plethora of skiers and boarders making the hike as well as sunbathers and photographers. Currently, all systems are go at Camp Muir including the opening of the Public Shelter and additional outhouses.

See you on the mountain...

Ingraham Direct - May 13th

We had only a couple climbers summit again early this last week. Reports of deep unconsolidated snow were turning climbers around. Climbers without some type of snow flotation were reporting post-holing up to mid-thigh at 12,750 above the cleaver. After a couple of climbers punched through to the top the going was easier.

The glacier itself is still in decent shape. The route does not end-run many crevasses making for relatively quicker access to the upper mountain. With all this new unconsolidated snow remember to be aware of larger avalanches. This next weekend of better weather looks to be a great time to be up on the route.

April 13th

Over the last week eleven climbers were successful on the ID. All climbers were using Cathedral Gap to access the Ingraham Glacier. The snow conditions were variable - soft grainy powder in some places and wind-swept packed snow in other places. Careful of wind swept snow masking crevasses. Climbers reported the upper part of the route to be in solid shape.

March 30th

Bands of rock and avalanche debris in Cadaver Gap seem to be indicating that Cathedral Gap might be a better approach up to the Ingraham Flats. Not many parties this spring have attempted this route yet. Enjoy the solitude!

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!