Rainier – Gibraltar Ledges (Gib Ledges), February 2005
Team: Ben Leishman, Gary Hehn, Tom Ryan
The weather had been stellar, but as the sun was setting one could see a bank of clouds had formed on the western horizon. We melted extra water so that we wouldn’t have to do it when we got our midnight wakeup call. Tom suggested that we try burying it in the snow to keep it from freezing as the temperature was around zero degrees f. The tactic worked, when we got up we only had to heat it up a bit before putting it in our packs.
The full moon cast eery reflections off the crusted snow on the Cowlitz Cleaver as we made our way up the glacier from Camp Muir towards Gibralter Rock. It gave the illusion that the snow was being illuminated by an orange- yellow light from beneath its surface.
The weather didn’t hold! When we got to the top of the Gib Ledges clouds were forming around us. We worked our way up the upper Gib Chute just about when white out conditions developed. It came on really fast. At that point we knew we had to concentrate on getting off the mountain. We performed a rising traverse over to the Ingraham Glacier at just over 13,000′.
We had decided to descend the Ingraham direct route; we didn’t want to descend the Ledges as Ben wasn’t feeling very good. We started going by Tom’s GPS when I scored pay dirt by spotting one set of crampon tracks. We followed them and they lead to more tracks, at times quite difficult to follow, but eventually they lead us to the section of the glacier just above Ingraham flats where we lost them in blowing snow. We followed Gib rock at that point to Cadaver Gap where the white out conditions ended. With Ben not feeling well we decided to walk out via Ingraham flats.
We had ourselves quite an adventure; a nice thing to have when everything works out in the end. But, quite sobering when you imagine how easily things could go wrong.