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Trip Report    

Winter Scramble - Cowlitz Gap & Rocks (winter)

A clear, crisp wintery day with blue skies, a mild breeze, and captivating snow covered landscape made for a successful summit and an all-round gorgeous day in the mountains.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Roads clear. Snow starts with Paradise Valley Road. Weather was predicted with freezing level around 5,500' and rising to 8,000' in the afternoon. It was sunny with only some high hazy clouds to the south. Light wind. Snow was a breakable crust on top of dry snow. Breaking through only dropped a few inches. Sometimes it was possible to stay on the crust for 10 steps or more, other times it was every or every other or third step. 

The plan was to arrive at Longmire by 8:30AM, consolidate cars, maybe conduct our pre-trip meeting and be ready for the gate at 9AM, or earlier if we were to be lucky. The gate closes to downhill traffic (currently) at 5PM so that means driving down by 4:30 at the latest. I think we were all excited for the trip because everyone was early. Most of us, extremely early! Maybe it was wishful thinking the gate would open early. It didn't!

Cowlitz Rocks, a Rainier 100 Peak, and a beautiful one that, some consider it an "A" peak in the list, is less than 8 miles round trip and about 2,400' gain. But don't let the mileage and gain fool you in the Winter. Some of us have in the past. Trips are confined to the 9AM to 5PM window, sometimes shorter, and snow/weather conditions. 

We were fortunate to get a great weather day and good snow conditions. 

Our plan came together and we headed up to Paradise. We were walking by 9:30AM. We opted to carry snowshoes. The temps were warmer than the day before when Jerry Stein led a group up on Friday. Upon emailing Adam Dodge who was on that trip, and getting some snow beta, we felt it wise to plan for soft snow. 

We ended up booting the entire trip. We made Mazama Ridge in about 40 minutes, our pace a little higher than advertised, but everyone was doing fine. We took a very short break and adjusted layers.  


It was a  breakable crust that sometimes broke through and sometimes didn't.  Just when you think  you might get a few steps - nope!! 


We decided to stash our snowshoes in a shallow moat next to a big rock about mile 3, at 6,400'. It was 11:15AM.  

We crossed Steven's creeek around 6,800'. Crossing creeks is never trivial, but this crossing felt about as good and safe as any could. Shortly after crossing the creek we stashed our poles and donned our helmets, ice aces, and crampons for the final 500' of climbing which was steep but not overly so. We were walking on snow covered rocks so careful attention was needed.


Crampons and ice ax provided a level of security. We encountered  few intermittent spots that were very firm and icy.


We made the summit at 12:30PM.

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There was a chilly breeze to start but when it died down it was quite comfortable. We enjoyed the summit for 30 minutes and headed down. A couple of us found deeper pockets in the snow near buried rocks.





Back at our snowshoes we switched back to poles and boots. There was still a firm crust of snow that behaved about the same as our ascent. Back at the cars at 3PM. 

Really couldn't have asked for a better day.