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About Us > Adventures > Mt Rainier Winter 2003

Mt. Rainier, March 1-2 2003

Mt. Adams at Sunrise from Cowlitz Glacier on Rainier

Using a trip report from the Feb. 24-25, 2003, ascent of Mt. Rainier via the Gibraltar Ledges route (south side of the mountain from Paradise via Camp Muir), a group of 7 of us set out to try the route March 1-2, 2003. Saturday was picture perfect, calm and sunny, with spectacular views. There hadn’t been much snow through most of the mild winter, but there was enough that had accumulated over the past few weeks for us to use snowshoes. There were a few people heading up just in boots, though they were complaining about postholing in places.

The gate at Longmire (just inside the park entrance) did not open until 9:25 a.m. and we were told at the Museum (where we were waiting to get our winter climbing permits) that we had to drive on up for permits at the Jackson Visitor Center near Paradise – but they didn’t open until 10 a.m. Subsequently, we were unable to head up from the cars until about 10:45 a.m., a little later start than we’d anticipated or wanted for a winter attempt. But with such beautiful weather, we rejoiced that we were there at all and headed up in the snow, having set our altimeters for approximately 5,400’ starting elevation.

After we’d gained about 1,500’ elevation, one of our strongest team members (and most familiar with our chosen route) decided he was going to have to turn back due to an unusual sciatica flare-up; he unpacked group gear he was hauling and passed it to those hiking close to him; the rest of us up ahead waited until the whole party could regroup and repack. Fortunately we had a few radios among the climbers and were able to communicate that information to each other. I encountered another friend of mine from a different team who seemed to be having a bit of trouble from AMS (acute mountain sickness) which was triggering a mild asthma attack, so we assisted her by taking on some of her group gear and sent her back to the cars, promising to tell her party what she was planning on doing.

Subsequently, we reached Muir a little later than anticipated, but fortunately there was nobody else using the hut--so we moved right in, changed into try warm clothes, set up our sleeping areas, and proceeded directly to boiling water, rehydrating, and cooking food so we wouldn't use precious energy clearing tent platforms. It continued to be clear, calm and still Saturday evening with a beautiful sunset and bright, starry skies.

There were a total of six groups planning to try for the summit: 4 hoped to go up via the Gibralter Ledges (GL), and one via the Ingraham Direct. Two members of our party (both climbers who knew the GL route) had to leave the climb at the last minute, so rather than choosing the more difficult and unknown GL, we thought we'd strike out on our own and try heading up Cadaver Gap toward Ingraham Direct, which meant we'd be breaking trail part of the way.

At this point our goal was simply to see how far we could get before the anticipated storm front would come in -- would it be noon? 3 p.m.? 6 p.m.? At 3:30 a.m. Sunday when we woke up, we could see the earliest GL team heading toward the ledges; it was still calm at that hour, and perfectly clear. Two members of our remaining group of six stayed behind in the hut, so a few minutes before 5 a.m., 4 of us headed for Cadaver Gap.

The new snowfall was perhaps a foot deep, though in places it was merely 1-2 inches where the snow had been scoured away, and where spindrift had collected we were moving through knee-deep or greater snow. Near the top of Cadaver Gap the wind had scoured most of the snow away, and as we made our way up through the ice blocks the sun came up casting a beautiful glow over everything. STILL no wind. We approached a steeper portion of Cadaver Gap about 2/3 of the way up, at about 11,200', on front points and high dagger, and the spindrift started swooping down from the upper part of the mountain, right into our faces. It was 7 a.m. and the storm had struck.

Within minutes we'd downclimbed to the deeper, softer snow and cast glances up and left to the GL route to find one team of two making their way quickly down the mountain and a team of 3 retreating left rather than right -- everyone was heading back. There’d be no summits that day, nor the rest of the week as a powerful storm came in to blanket the Pacific Northwest with several feet of new snow. It continues to amaze me how the Mountain can go from peacefully still to hostile in merely minutes. By the time we retreated to Camp Muir the winds must have been gusting 30-40 mph, with clouds in the valley moving quickly uphill, and spindrift whipping around everywhere.

Even as we quickly packed within the confines of the hut, we could hear the winds picking up minute by minute. After we'd packed up and started heading down (around 9 a.m.) we encountered white-out conditions from about 9200' to just below Panorama Point. Some of us opted to use crampons going down the now-icy approach to Panorama Point (from new precipitation Sunday morning over melted snow Saturday); others downclimbed (or, more like it, downslipped) in their snowshoes. By the time we returned safely to the cars it was raining; only two other pairs of skiers had been heading up, along with an RMI group starting a winter mountaineering course, but nowhere NEAR the hordes up there on Saturday. All in all it was a grand winter adventure, and fortunately, with no statistics for the evening news.



Ellen points toward Camp Muir on approach


Rich and Doug take a hydration/snack break en route to Camp Muir.


Courtenay 15 minutes from Camp Muir.


Leonard approaches Camp Muir; Adams in the background


Setting up winter camp sites at Camp Muir as the sun begins to dip behind Mt. Rainier


Gibralter Ledges route at dusk.


Tent tucked into snow/windbreak walls


Sunrise and Adams profile, Cowlitz Glacier about 10,800' headed for Cadaver Gap


Spindrift begins to whip around just before 7 a.m.


Cadaver Gap at about 11,000'


Retreat from Cadaver Gap as the winds begin in earnest; Courtenay and Ellen


The front is here! Spindrift engulfs Gib Rock.


Retreat to Camp Muir.


Courtenay back at the cars; winds left their mark on our hats, packs and goggles.



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