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NWAC Avalanche
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| | |-+  28-30 Dec 2012, Gibralter Ledges, Mt Rainier
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Author Topic: 28-30 Dec 2012, Gibralter Ledges, Mt Rainier  (Read 1893 times)

Posts: 180

28-30 Dec 2012, Gibralter Ledges, Mt Rainier
« on: 12/30/12, 09:53 PM »

Gibralter Ledges – 28-30 Dec

The goal was a summit ski descent via the Gib Ledges, the standard winter route.  Partner would be on snowshoes, and this would be my first time with a mixed snowshoes-ski party … more on that later.  The plan was an overnight at Muir, summit with second night at Muir, then back down on Sunday. 

The trip stated late when the gate at Longmire did not open until 11am, another reason that trips out to Mt Rainier are generally more of a hassle than is worth it.  Anyway, we were able to use this down time to get all the gear packed and sorted so we could take off as soon as arriving at Paradise.  Upon taking off from Paradise Austin (on snowshoes) was keeping a good pace, and I felt good about our speed.  After a short while we generally got slower and slower, and it wound up taking us nearly seven hours to reach Muir.  Great powder the whole way; a guy on a very unique snowshoe ski hybrid was leading the charge and turned around about a mile shy of Muir.  We were the first of two groups to arrive Friday night.  The weather Friday was bluebird and perfect.  There was some sluff avi activity by the Turtle Snowfield, the Fuhrer Finger, and off the Nisqually.  Austin dropped a ski pole and opted not to backtrack down the slope to retrieve it, so I gave one of mine to him since he needed every equalizing advantage for speed.  We made a campsite at Muir instead of taking refuge in the shelter to experience the full effect of winter.  SpO2 Friday night was about 83%. 

Saturday started off pretty late, with the idea that our speed would not be too slow and that a descent in the dark would be acceptable.  This plan would give us a full night’s sleep, plus maximize what little acclimation would occur overnight.  We headed up the Cowlitz at about 8am; budgeting about 2 hrs to the ledges, 1 hr for the ledges, 1 hr for the chute, and 2 hrs for the final snowfield to the summit (6hrs) with about 3 hrs of fluff before sunset.  I felt this timing to be a little on the slow side for a ski plan, which I thought might be appropriate for a ski and snowshoe group – I was wrong, big-time wrong.  We ended up taking a little over four hours to reach the ledge system (noon); and then after a long break moved about a third of the way across the ledge system by 1pm; with some quick math my estimate was about half of the actual time which meant summiting at about 8pm vice 2pm.  After some chit chat about the situation we decided that it would be best to head back down to Muir and call it at that and made it back to Muir by 3pm.  I broke trail cutting switchbacks up the Cowlitz all the way to the ledges; this may have been the wrong route selection, possibly heading along the ridge more climber’s left might have been better, but at the time it seemed you would be taking the same angle and similar distance.  Weather started okay on Saturday morning, nothing great but nothing too bad; some wind but nothing your goggles and gor-tex can’t handle.  I was able to use skis all the way to within about 100 feet of the ledges; when on ski crampons and balancing my way across final 100 feet of hard snow and ice part of my crampon broke (evidence discovered later) and I immediately started the accelerate down the slope.  After about 100 feet I was finally able to arrest my fall with a single whippet (Austin had my second one).  The avi conditions on the Cowlitz seemed calm: the slope appeared to be stable, no crack propagation, a breakable wind crust on top of powder made for slow and painful travel (at least for non-skiers), and frequent isolated columns yielded nothing of significance.  On our way down the conditions deteriorated into a white out, and the skiing was not very enjoyable – in good visibility the Cowlitz would be a great 1500 feet of steep skiing. I stayed in my tent Saturday night, but Austin decided to head to the shelter.  The freshly fallen and wind deposited snow forced me to shovel snow from away from the tent twice. 

Sunday started early enough to ski down at sunrise.  SpO2 Sunday morning was 91%.  The Muir snowfield was a mixed bag of powder pillows and breakable wind crust, probably pretty good shape compared to what it could have been.  It made for sections of forgettable skiing and sections of outstanding turns.  Saw a couple of groups on Muir snowfield, one was just out testing their gear another was on their way to Muir and then the summit.  The weather was excellent.  I was able to scout a couple super steep ski runs that I will have to take a look at from below before dropping in.  The Fuhrer Finger across the Nisqually looked like a stellar route; the Turtle Snowfield also appears to be a great line with lots of smaller lines below it; the Gib-Nisqually chute (once crevasses are a little more filled in down low) also appears to be a stellar big route. 

Other items of note:  I was the only person of at least ten who were heading for the summit on skis, I was very surprised to see such a high number of snowshoers going for the summit, especially with a high camp established only at Muir and not any higher.  I was also very surprised at just how slow snowshoeing is, I had never been a part of a group with snowshoers and after this experience I don’t think I will ever try it again.  Skiing is just so much faster and so much easier.  Even though the summit ski descent did not happen many valuable lessons for future climbs were learned, and it just leaves the summit open for another attempt.  All cooking was done inside the tent, using a jetboil SUMO, we used about 4oz of an 8oz canister.  This was Austin’s first winter climb, my first winter climb besides Japan and the Northeast.  The Nisqually River is close (if not ready) to be skied down to the bridge, giving 10k vert from the summit. 

I'm having trouble figuring out how to add the pics to this site ... I did get them on CC though -

* DSCN5529.JPG (223.42 KB, 800x600 - viewed 467 times.)

* DSCN5575.JPG (204.34 KB, 800x600 - viewed 470 times.)
« Last Edit: 12/31/12, 10:41 AM by dave095790 » Logged
Amar Andalkar

Posts: 1227

Re: 28-30 Dec 2012, Gibralter Ledges, Mt Rainier
« Reply #1 on: 12/30/12, 11:28 PM »

Thanks for the rare winter-season Rainier TR and the useful conditions report on the upper mountain, Dave. Any photos?

Just a few comments regarding budgeting time. For any given party and set of snow conditions, the time from Muir to the summit will (in general) always be greater than from Paradise to Muir, usually about 30-50% greater. It's a useful rule of thumb for calculating one's expected time to the summit, given the time it took to get to Muir.

So a party that makes it to Muir in 4 hours (a typical time on skis with overnight packs) would expect 5-6 hours to the summit with day packs. Those would be typical times if skinning up the Ingraham Direct or following an established bootpack, and times would increase if snowshoeing up the ID or postholing up Gib Ledges. So 7 hours to Muir implies more like 9-12 hours to the summit, which is about what you discovered for your pace.



Posts: 2316

Re: 28-30 Dec 2012, Gibralter Ledges, Mt Rainier
« Reply #2 on: 12/31/12, 08:12 AM »

Dave,  Thanks for sharing the Mt. Rainier trip. Everybody is back and wiser.

I enjoyed your Mt. Tuckerman Ravine tour.  Reminds me of 30 years ago. Wink
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