Earlier this month I decided it was time to tick Mt Rainier off of the bucket list. While I had never been past Camp Muir on the mountain taking a “standard” route to the top really didn’t seem to inviting. As a result my friend Paul Byrne and I targeted the Gibraltar Ledges route for the ascent and the Gibraltar Chute for the Descent. For those we are not familiar with the mountain, this was the first ascent route used and the “standard” winter route.
We departed from Paradise at about 5pm for Camp Muir. The skin to Muir is casual (4500 vertical) but casual. The only crux were the warm temperatures. We arrived at Camp Muir at about 8:30pm cooked some dinner and found a spot in the public shelter to get some shut eye before an early morning departure the next day. **The public shelter is a great option but does get crowded on weekends and during the peak climbing season. I highly recommend bringing some ear plugs!
At 2:30am our alarms went off, we make some breakfast, melted some water and got our gear together and were on the trail by 4am. With the moon and clear skies we didn’t even need headlamps. With temps getting below freezing that night we used crampons to ascend the Cowlitz Glacier to the base of Gibraltar Rock and kept them on to cross the ledges. Conditions on the ledges were a mixture of snow and rock. Technically nothing over class 3 but there is fairly significant exposure on your left the entire way. The rock is not “bomber” so use caution when grabbing onto it for a hand hold and keep your eye out for falling rock.
At the top of Gibraltar Rock (12,600’) we navigated the cracks on the upper Nisqually Glacier and met up with the standard DC route. For this section we used skins with ski crampons all the way to the top.
Once you reach the top you are rewarded with views of Mt. Hood, Adams, St Helens, Baker, Glacier Peak as well as the rest of the Cascade Range.
For the descent we skied the upper Nisqually Glacier following our skin track to the top of Gibraltar Chute. Once at the top of the Chute we were welcomed with corn snow from 12,600’ all the way down to the base at about 9,800’ The steepest section is a maximum of 50 degrees but is probably mid 40’s sustained.
**Note: keep on eye on the sun and time. Rock Fall is common on Mt Rainier and the entire chute is exposed to rock fall from Gibraltar Rock or ice fall from the Nisqually Ice Fall.**
At the base of the Chute watch out of the Bergschrund. We had to navigate some avi debris from a recent wet slide. We also saw multiple car sized rocks come off of the mountain so keep an eye out.
Once at the base of the chute we tossed our skins back on and made the quick ascent back to camp muir to get our overnight gear. From Muir we skied back down the Muir snowfield and were treated to corn all the way back to the car. Well it is nice a mellow it is still nice to ski come low angle corn.
Here is an overview of the ledges and chute descent.