Trip Report    

Winter Scramble - Cowlitz Gap & Rocks (winter)

A spectacular November day in Mount Rainier National Park.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Continuous snow from the Paradise parking lot. We were able to walk without snowshoes on the road until the Skyline Trail, where we put them on. On the ascent, we crossed Stevens Creek twice, with a couple people getting their feet and gaiters wet. On the descent, we avoided water crossings completely by traversing further west.


When I sent out the trip planning email on Wednesday of this week, I was pretty skeptical. The weather forecast showed an 80% chance of rain starting at 10 AM. The Longmire gates had just started to close from 4 PM to 9 AM, giving us a pretty short window for our summit. I'd set this up as a good scramble for people just getting into winter scrambling, and definitely did not want to make anyone feel rushed, so I made sure everyone knew that there was a chance we wouldn't make the summit, either due to poor weather or simply not being fast enough to summit before the gate closure. I went from around 17 people on the wait list to having a few open spots the morning of the trip. There were a lot of last-minute cancellations, and a lot of folks on the wait list either had made other plans or didn't get back to me in time for me to offer it to anyone else. Such is the way things go sometimes.

When I arrived at the Nisqually entrance, the weather forecast showed sun! What a dramatic improvement from the forecast earlier in the week. We met up at Longmire at 8:30 AM and did our pre-trip discussion and other preparation there. By the time we were ready to go at around 8:45 AM, the gate was already open. The skies were blue with some clouds, and I'd watched the temperature steadily climb from around 32 degrees in Eatonville to around 44 degrees at Longmire. Could we have lucked out with a temperature inversion?

We departed Paradise at 9:22 AM and made good time down the road to the Skyline Trail, where we donned snowshoes. We were able to follow decent snowshoe and ski tracks along the Skyline Trail and Paradise Glacier Trail. We crossed Stevens Creek at around 6200', where I have crossed in the past. Unfortunately, the snow bridges aren't in yet, so it involved a minor jump from a snowbank onto a rock that not everybody made cleanly. But we all had gaiters on, and nobody got too wet, so we continued. We had to cross again higher up, with a very similar outcome. 

The ascent was pretty uneventful from there. The last 300' or so is very steep, and only mostly snow covered, with some exposed rock. We put on helmets but kept our snowshoes and trekking poles out. We reached the summit around 1:30 PM. The cornice is already forming, but there is still a lot of exposed rock, which we made sure to stay on.


At around 2 PM, our expressed turnaround time, we started our descent, this time without snowshoes or any other traction, and with ice axes in hand. We were able to glissade maybe 200' total, which was good practice for the folks on the trip who were relatively new to scrambling. We stayed above our earlier creek crossing and were able to avoid them altogether on the descent. We put snowshoes back on after the steepest part of the descent was over and we started postholing again.


We arrived back at the Paradise parking lot at around 4:15 PM, and the rangers were already using bullhorns telling people to leave. It turns out that this time of year, the gate to Paradise closes at 4 PM, but the exit gate closes at 5 PM. We made it back to Longmire at 4:52 PM and were definitely not the last party on the mountain. 

I couldn't find any trip reports on Cowlitz Rocks in November, either on this website or any of the other usual suspects. It was definitely in good shape. I'd recommend checking it out. 


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Tobias Bajwa
Tobias Bajwa says:
Nov 20, 2023 11:33 AM

Daryl and I got inspired by your trip listing. We initially wanted to sign up but the waitlist was already 5 people or so deep a minute after sign-up opened, thus we decided to do this on our own. We went up on Friday and I guess that you saw our snowshoe tracks. On the way down we followed the skier's tracks whom we met earlier. Looks like they broke through a snow bridge with their skies, so yeah, the bridges are definitely interesting this time of the year. Really awesome snowshoe trip, one of our favorites, so thanks again for creating the inspiration :)

Sherrie Trecker
Sherrie Trecker says:
Nov 20, 2023 05:28 PM

That's great! We did see your snowshoe tracks and could tell that they were relatively fresh... you must have had even better weather than we did on Friday!