The West Route to Gilbert Peak (aka Mount Curtis Gilbert) is decried by some as loose and dangerous, but our group of eight found that careful route finding (aided by watching the goats, who've been passing this way much longer than we have), will get you to the peak safely and without undue exposure to party-inflicted rockfall danger.
Look carefully at the two photos in the Beckey guide. You will see both the upper and lower west routes marked on the photo from the SE. But if you look at the photo from the north, there's a little upside-down u-turn arrow at the upper saddle, and no line coming down from Goat Citadel which is the upper line taken by those who don't like this side of the mountain! This report describes in detail the lower (7500 ft traverse) variation.
Hopefully this route description will help those interested in climbing the mountain from the west, so they can return from the experience with something nice to say about it rather than griping about the loose rock and maze of gullies!
Three miles south of Packwood or 10 miles east of Randle on US Highway 12, turn east on FR 21 Johnson Creek Road. Continue 13 miles to left turn onto Chambers Lake Road branch FR 2150. Continue about 3 miles to either of two trailheads, one for Snowgrass Trail no. 96 and the other for 96-A which intesects it within a couple hundred yards.
Hike 4 miles up trail 96 to the cutoff trail 97 (not shown on USGS quad map) to the south, which intersects PCT trail 2000 in about 1/2 mile. Continue on southbound PCT (actually travelling easterly here) about 2 more miles to Cispus Basin. There is an established camp site in the trees just above the PCT where it crosses Cispus River (really just a creek here!), and a couple of other smaller sites further up the basin if that one is occupied, although the one above the highest grove of trees (ca. 6700 ft) has scant water by mid-August. This approach hike is on pack trails with little grade throughout.
The route with less loose rock traverses at 7500 ft, BELOW the pink line overlayed on this picture. Photo credit: Klenke - used with permission
Red is via Goat Citadel, Green is 7500 ft traverse
The pink line on this photo goes all the way to the basin between the Horns and Goat Citadel. Climbers are frequently lured to go up when going across is the safer route, and that seems to be the case for the west routes on Curtis Gilbert. Instead of going all the way up to the high basin, traverse the band of white aggregate, lower snow patch (if there!), toward the notch behind the black prow (point below the "or" in "Little Horn" on Klenke's pic). The latter half of the 7500 ft traverse follows a
reasonably well-defined goat path. This avoids the broad loose gully to the upper basin and the scree descent (ascent on the way back!) at the SE base of the Goat Citadel. You will come out at the 7600 ft saddle 1/4 mile S of the Citadel, behind the larger black buttress on the picture that is intersected at the top by the pink overlay line.
First half of 7500 ft traverse Team approaching the key notch behind the black prow, about 1/2 way across the traverse. Scrambling on the white band of aggregate.
Taking the 7500 ft traverse assures that your party will be at the same elevation during most of this traverse, except for the initial gully entrance getting up to the white band. This reduces exposure to party-induced rockfall. The key to the route is to follow the white aggregate band, which is solid and easy walking or scrambling. This white band points directly to the promenent notch behind the black prow, and that is your first objective. It is about 1/2 of the way across the traverse, just after passing through a gap behind an impressive white aggregate pillar, and it also marked by a small top-heavy needle near the gap that is visible from either direction. The white stuff is probably an old pyroclastic flow, and most (no guarantees!) of the rocks and nubbins are glued in as well as any climbing wall, and the material is nicely abrasive for good traction. This is the key to the route. We were lucky enough to see the herd of 30-40 goats taking the route ahead of us while we sat at the 6900 saddle from Cispus Basin. Although a few of the adventursome teenagers wandered into more exciting territory above or below the main line, the bulk of the herd went for notch. That was good enough for us to follow.
Second half of 7500 ft traverse
Turning the corner of the white rib
From the black prow, the view further east to the larger black buttress across two major gullies looks intimidating, but don't be fooled, its not that bad! And the two major gullies heading up toward Goat Citadel may look inviting - but don't go up! Although the short wall up to the 7600 ft saddle across the way appears steep from here, it is a piece of cake, the route being slightly hidden behind an intervening buttress. The goats have been doing this longer than we have, and they have a nice path across these gullies and at the base of the far cliffs. They've also knocked a lot of the loose stuff away! The trickiest move on the whole traverse, really one of the few class 3 moves on the entire climb, is just below the gap at the black prow, crossing a small white rib. Descend from the notch to an ample ledge and make one scramble move with a scant handhold. If you don't like this, fight the gully scree (one at a time, please!) just a bit lower to get around the base of the rib.
After the white rib it is pretty clear navigating on the goat path, and you'll see a few cairns as well (we built some). Continue to the base of the steep cliffs at the far (east) side of the two big gullies you'll cross from the black prow notch. The final 100 feet up to the 7600 ft saddle behind the black buttress is reasonably solid rock.
From the saddle, follow your nose to the summit across the broad sandy saddle and up the right side of the ridge. A bit past the rib with a window, head up some distinctive layered rock with green lichen that leads to the final gully.
Success! Final gully to summit.
Although by granite scrambler's standards, climbing on any volcanic remnant seems like a life-threatening adventure, if you climbed any non-glacier routes on volcanos, this really isn't all that bad. The initial entrance to the route is in the same "loose ugly" class as the Cathedral Gap scramble on Rainier's popular DC or the drop from Camp Curtis to the Emmons on Rainier's NE side, but after that just stay on the damn trail and try to enjoy a little reasonably firm scrambling now and then!
Helmet!!! No route on this side of the mountain should be attempted without cranial protection!
If climbing before August, an ice axe is probably required to cross some snow chutes.
Random spire on the 7500 ft traverse - Adams in the background Photo credit: Andrew
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