Tahoma Glacier Route Conditions - April 2
Hike the Nisqually Road to the Westside Road, and up to Fish Creek, which is three miles up the Westside Road. Depending on conditions, you may need to ford or hop across rocks to get across the obstacle of this creek. Continue up the severely washed out road until you hit the old Tahoma Creek trailhead. Consider traveling the creek bed, which may be easier. Now Tim Ryan's route report begins:
TAHOMA CREEK TRAIL: From the trailhead, there is windfall covering the trail for the first 0.2 miles. Beyond this the trail is completely covered in sand and rocks and then washed over a section perhaps 60 yards long.
At this point on the way in, we opted to follow Tahoma Creek, rather than search for the trail in a woods full of blow down. Traveling on snowshoes, we followed the north side of the creek to an elevation of 3900 feet, where we made camp. At first, we were hampered by thin, rotten snow between some of the larger rocks on the bank. Not evident from the surface, we would break through and stumble. As we gained altitude, this tendency subsided. Unable to continue like this due to the course of the creek, which completely cut off our path, we decided to look for the trail up above us in the woods. To our joy, we found the trail in generally good condition and easy to follow to the junction with the Wonderland Trail. There was enough snow to warrant snowshoes.
WONDERLAND TRAIL TO TAHOMA GLACIER: The Wonderland Trail was in good traveling condition, save two or three sections of windfall. Above 4800 feet however, the trail was lost under the snow on a switchback. We then bushwhacked along the side of Emerald Ridge, eventually following a gully at treeline (perhaps the Wonderland Trail buried under snow) to the saddle in front of peak 6037.
TAHOMA GLACIER: From the saddle, we roped up and traveled north onto the Tahoma Glacier. On the glacier, all but the largest crevasses were completely snow covered. The snow was firm and travel on snowshoes was quick and easy. Between 6000 and 7000 feet, we generally stayed to the right. Above 7000 feet, we traveled more or less up the center of the glacier, avoiding the ice falls and few large crevasses. We made camp at 8800 feet.
Monday night, it snowed about a foot. This coupled with high winds canceled our summit bid for Tuesday morning. Tuesday, was spent in camp, resting and improving our windwalls to deal with the constantly changing wind direction. Though windy, Tuesday was warm and sunny, and we got our first good look at the route.
Wednesday morning was calm and cold and we left for the summit at about 3:30 am, hoping to arrive at the steep section above 11400 feet at dawn. The snow was hard and travel by moonlight on snowshoes made fast. We crossed two or three crevasses, marking them with wands, while climbing the left side of the glacier. Arriving at the steep section, we switched snowshoes for crampons. There was some windloading of snow on this slope, with a windslab a few inches thick in many places, though other areas were blown clean down. We were able to kick step up most of this without difficulty, save a few areas where the windslab was covering unconsolidated powder. Above 13000 feet, the terrain leveled off and we climbed directly to the summit crest.
SUMMIT: Above 14300 feet, there was windblown rime snow covering the rocks with a strange brittle shell. Trying to climb, we continually punched through this to the rocks that were a foot or two below the shell. Also, immediately upon reaching the crater rim, the wind picked up force. Reaching the high point on the crater rim, we quickly snapped a few photos before descending. Below 14000 feet, the wind abated and we climbed down to our camp
I must here admit that in retrospect, having examined our summit photos and consulted our map, I do not believe that we reached the true summit. I think the true summit lay 200 yards to the east and perhaps 70 feet higher than where we stopped climbing. Due to the wind and fatigue, I did not however mark the high point of our climb on my GPS. Furthermore, my climbing partner has a different recollection, and remains convinced that we did indeed climb to the very top. (BLOG PUBLISHER NOTE: Who really cares? You guys did a GREAT JOB!!)
DESCENT: On the climb down there were three separate avalanches off the icefall on the right side of the steep section of the Tahoma Glacier. Furthermore, the windslab we had climbed up was poorly bonded to the underlying layers of consolidated snow. We could also hear the boom of avalanches in the Sunset Amphitheater and see small sloughs coming off both the Tahoma and Puyallup Cleavers. Most of these were small slides, triggered by rock or ice fall. We saw no slab avalanches high on the mountain. Nonetheless, as it was already afternoon, we climbed down the steep section from 13000 to 11000 feet as quickly as possible. Switching back into snowshoes, we strolled back to camp, noticing that several of the crevasses we had crossed that morning had opened nicely in the heat of the day.
Further into the descent, we stayed on the Tahoma Creek Trail as much as possible. There were six or seven sections of windfall that could be crossed directly or circumnavigated. There were also two or three sections of trail that were washed out. This combined with the snow, made finding the trail again mildly difficult. At lower elevations we traveled without snowshoes. Above 4000 feet, we wore them. Photos by Tim Ryan.
For more information about previous attempts and route conditions on Tahoma Glacier, check our our achieved information on the Tahoma Glacier climbing route.