The Gmoser on Mt. Louis, Another Bucket List Alpine Climb

~ By Jonny


Before I ever got into climbing, Mt. Louis was always one of the top mountains I wanted to someday stand on the summit of. It is a pretty famous mountain in both climbing and non-climbing circles due partially to its prominence above the valley floor, and also due to the fact that all routes require technical rock climbing skill and gear. Despite standing at a relatively modest elevation of 2,682m (8,800′), the summit requires a long day and over 5,100′ of elevation gain from the parking lot, and the easiest route still is roughly 15 pitches of technical rock climbing.

Louis comes into view along the Edith Pass Trail

The Gmoser route is definitely one of the most popular routes on the peak. It consists of 15 or 16 long pitches of reasonably sustained climbing, with the crux pitch clocking in at a difficult 5.9. Almost all pitches are close to 60m in length, and most of the belays are bolted. Particularly the first half. This route is definitely not a sport route though, requiring significant route finding and lots of hunting for gear along the way.

The dramatic north face of Mt. Edith

In preparation for what will hopefully be a year full of alpine climbing, we decided a good way to get into shape is to get on a real alpine route as early in the season as possible. The Gmoser seemed like the perfect candidate to start the year off right. And we definitely made the right choice! What a spectacular (and long) route.

We ended up sleeping in a bit, as we were a little bit underwhelmed by the weather forecast which was calling for possible rain or thunder storms. We decided to go for it, knowing that if things took a turn for the worst, we could bail anywhere on the lower half of the route without too much fuss. We were originally hoping to be in the parking lot by 5am, but humming and hawing over the weather didn’t have us getting there until around 7am. Not exactly an alpine start, but we managed to make the best of it. In hindsight, our lack of an alpine start made for a very long day, for a number of reasons, but it certainly wasn’t the end of the world.

1.5 hours of hiking took us to the base of the Gmoser where a number of parties were on the route just ahead of us. Once again, a lack of an Alpine Start put us in the firing line for flying rocks, and ended up making us wait at times for a slower party just ahead of us. On a positive note, route finding was easier as we had the benefit of people before us figuring out the route 🙂 It helps on a route this large to get a sense of where you need to head next… it’s never quite as obvious as you might hope!

As the day progressed, the weather held up extremely well, despite a bit of cloud forming in the mid-afternoon. By the time we hit the Kain Route, it made sense to just go for it and finish up! At some point, it just makes sense to go up and over the summit, than to try to backtrack. The climbing itself was pretty straightforward. Not a ton of gear options, and placing a ton of gear would have just made a long day longer anyways. Plenty of good pro where the climbing does get difficult though.

Pitch 10 of the Gmoser Route on Mt. Louis

The crux pitch(es) both went down without any problems at all, although Jolene did feel a bit off on the first crux… fortunately it passed, and everything else was super fun and straightforward… albeit a lot longer than it seemed it would be! It turns out that the top half of the mountain is still roughly… half the mountain 🙂

The crux pitch of the Gmoser Route. A stunning 5.9 corner

A late start did give us one amazing reward… summit-ting just 15 minutes before the sun set! We touched the cross on the summit just after 9pm in the fading daylight, lucky enough to spend one of the most serene few moments in the mountains i’ve ever experienced. Barely a breeze, and perfect light. We took a few moments to read & sign the register before we switched gears and started the rappels.

Jonny coming up the final ridge to the summit of Mt. Louis

Incredible light on Mt. Louis Summit

Jonny & Jolene on the summit of Mt. Louis

The Louis Rappels have a reputation for being rather tricky, and we were definitely kinda apprehensive about the fact that we were starting them in the growing dark. Fortunately, we had a good description, and it ended up going off without much of a hitch. We managed to get down the rappels in around ~2 hours, and started the very long descent. Fortunately, we had a full moon that night, which made up for the unfortunate fact that both our headlamps were dying, and neither of us had the forethought to bring extra batteries. Oops… I guess live and learn on that one!

Incredible Light from the Summit of Mt. Louis

Many (many) hours of tired, thirsty slogging later, we finally made it back to the car as it was starting to get light again, sometime after 3am. There’s something a little bit spooky about hiking through the forest in the dark in the middle of the night. Especially when the trail you are on has a “Grizzly bear” warning sign posted at the start of it. At least we had bear spray!

Fortunately no glowing eyes were seen on the trail, and we survived the whole outing only a little worse for wear, more than made up for with ear-to-ear smiles at finally ticking off the incredible Mt Louis. I think both of us can’t wait to get up that peak again soon… Homage to the Spider next?

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