Tahoma Glacier Route Conditions - July 7th
This report with photos was contributed by Scott Kindred.
We climbed the Tahoma Glacier and descended the DC on July 5-7. To do this, Tony dropped Tom and me off at the Tahoma Creek trailhead, then drove back to park the van at Longmire, where he then rode his road bike back to the trailhead. We expected the West Side Road to be paved and didn’t really think about the 800 feet of vertical Tony would have to climb on his bike. That gave Tony a nice pre-climb workout. Photo of Scott on Emerald Ridge with Tahoma Glacier behind.
I had decided to climb with lightweight hiking boots, which worked to my advantage on the trail to Emerald Ridge. The Tahoma Creek trail was is better-than-expected condition with excellent flagging through the washed out areas and almost all the blowdown cut away. Where the trail intersected the top of Emerald Ridge at 5,600 feet we decided to continue up the ridge over some easy rock scrambling rather than drop down on the glacier. Photo: Tahoma Creek approach (note lack of trail).
This option worked out pretty well since it saved us from losing elevation and was a pretty good transition onto the glacier. We followed the obvious ramps on the climber’s right side of the glacier to our camp at about 8,300 feet.
Around 8:30 that evening we were surprised by a team of 5 climbers ascending the route. Turns out they had left their tents at about 9,500 feet and climbed the route several days earlier, expecting to down-climb back to camp. That climb, however, ended up being much more difficult than anticipated and they instead decided to descend to Muir rather than down-climb the Tahoma Glacier. We met them as they were climbing back to retrieve their gear. Talk about a major bummer! When I asked them about the route they told us of challenging crevasse navigation, a 50-foot rappel to get around a big crevasse, and a section of 60 degree ice. Hmmm… that didn’t sound right. We thought, “Maybe they just messed up and got off route. Maybe they’re just not very experienced.” Let’s just say that our respect for their abilities would grow over the next 24 hours.
At our first camp, we also discovered that it’s very important to shelter your stove from the wind. It took us three hours to melt six liters using a gas stove that has always worked well in the past. At this rate we would not have enough fuel to complete the route. After considering our options we decided we ask the other team if we could have their extra fuel, so that our climb would more likely succeed.
The next morning we slept in to 4:30 before breaking camp. Given the navigation challenges that we expected, our plan was to navigate in the daylight rather than dark. Last year we wasted several hours in the dark trying to find the repel point on the Kautz Glacier route and we didn’t want to repeat that experience. Furthermore, we didn’t want to wake up the other team too early since they would be sleeping in and we really wanted their gas.
We arrived at the other team’s camp around 6:00 and begged for fuel. They were very forgiving of the early morning wake up and graciously gave us half a bottle. All I can say to these helpful climbers is thank you very much. May good karma follow you on all your future climbing adventures. In addition to the fuel re-supply, their description of the route allowed us to avoid the aforementioned rappel.
We climbed onto a ridge that headed up the glacier (this ridge is apparent on the topo map). The previous climbers had continued up the ridge because it appeared to offer a crevasse-free route compared to the center of the glacier. Somewhere above 10,000 feet however, their progress was blocked by a huge crevasse that cut across the ridge. This was the point where they had to rappel to continue. Based on their info, we found a place around 9,600 feet to navigate off the ridge and down onto the center of the glacier. It was a bit tricky given the big crevasse that bordered the west side of the ridge, but doable.
We continued up the center of the glacier avoiding many crevasses and snow bridges. The snow ranged from hard to slightly soft and provided excellent cramponing. We stopped at 11,000 feet to make more water. This time the stove worked like a charm and we had another 6 liters in about an hour. We decided that the poor stove performance the previous evening was due to inadequate protection from the wind. The slopes in the 9,000- to 12,000-foot range were variable in steepness and seemed to max out in the 40-45 degree range. Here's a photo of Scott and Tom around 11,500 feet.
At 12,000 feet the slope steepened. We could see old faded steps from the previous party that went straight up the slope. Warm temps over the previous days had actually lowered the snow around the footprints so the footprints stood out in relief. Using two pickets for a running belay we did an upward traverse across an approximate 50 degree slope to a possible crevasse crossing. We encountered a short section of “white ice” on this slope before reaching a flat spot. (“White ice” meaning refrozen snow that you could penetrate about 1-2 inches with your ice axe and crampons.) We then debated whether to continue to our right across a rather shaky looking snow bridge and more 50 degree slopes with a huge gaper below or head left up a short section of 55-60 degree slope and no gaper below. We could see what appeared to be faded ski tracks on the slope to the right, suggesting the snow bridge was possibly more passable when it was skied 10 days previous. We decided to head left. Tony led and placed the two pickets for a running belay. The steep section was probably about one hundred feet of elevation that ranged from soft and stable snow to white ice. Tony wished for a second tool on the ice. With my lightweight hiking boots and aluminum crampons, now it was my turn to wimper. I comforted myself with the hope that the pickets would hold if things went bad. Things didn’t (thankfully) and I reached the top of the crux with no issues except tired calves. At that point, it was clear that the good samaritan climbers had provided us with accurate route information. Here's a photo of Tony and Tom on the steep section.
We continued up a continued steep (40-45 degrees) slope with crevasses on both sides that appeared to join above. Based on the previous trip report, we figured we needed to be further right and eventually found a snow bridge that crossed the crevasse to the right. Here's Tony leading across the snow bridge.
This worked out well and we continued up the 40-45 degree slope. The crevasse navigation continued to be interesting, particularly given the warm afternoon temperatures and soft snow. Although the soft snow provided secure footing, we did have to post-hole in places and some of the snow bridges were fragile. We often employed boot-axe belays across the bridges for security. This turned out to be a wise practice.
Somewhere around 13,000 feet, Tom set up a boot-axe belay so I could test a thin snow bridge. Keeping the rope tight and holding it with my right hand, I moved onto the snow when suddenly the bridge gave way beneath me and I was swinging in the air. My right hand was still holding the rope and my head was above the level of the crevasse. By digging my crampons into the icy sidewall of the crevasse and a helping hand from Tom, I was able to swing my leg up and over the edge of the crevasse. As we stood there panting, Tom reassuringly pointed out that, “Hey, those boot-axe belays really work.” It was the surprise in his voice that bothered me a bit.
The slope eased off around 13,400 feet and we headed for the top. Although there are a few small crevasses in this area of the mountain, we figured the snow bridges were bombproof and just motored along towards the top. Somewhere around 14,200 feet we passed about 100 feet west of an open crevasse. I was in the back with my head down slogging when I heard Tom (middle of rope) yell out only to see him sunk into the snow up to his pack. He had broken through a crevasse and all that he felt was air below his feet. Leaning forward and sinking in his ice axe, he was able to extricate himself quickly. Tony had crossed this area without problem (he’s about 30 pounds lighter) and there was no sagging or other indication that the snow bridge below… This was a good reminder for everyone.
We reached the summit at 7:30 p.m., after a very long day. We encountered really strong winds and figured that the crater would offer some amount of protection from the wind for camp. After exploring the west crater (no shelter there), we headed to the east crater and an abandoned site with snow walls. We enlarged to site to accommodate our tents and discovered that shoveling at 14,400 feet is not like shoveling closer to sea level. Tom melted snow while Tony and I crashed in our sleeping bags. We woke up to the first climbers entering the crater at 6:00 and headed down to Camp Muir. Here's a picture of our own little crater in the crater:
All in all, an excellent climb with just the right amount of challenge for us. The lack of people (except friendly souls with extra fuel) and moderate challenge makes this route special. I think we took the best route but it’s not certain how much longer it will be feasible given the current warm spell. If you approach from the Puyallup Cleaver, follow the skier’s advice and cross onto the Tahoma at 8,000 feet. It doesn’t look real good at 9,800 feet with steep snow and gapers at the bottom.
Jordan Lipp contributed this report on the Tahoma Glacier. We've been short on west side-of-the-mountain updates, so this report comes at a great time.
Last week (6/24-26) two of my friends and I skied the Tahoma Glacier. I thought I'd pass along this information and a couple of photographs for the climbing blog.
The route was in great shape. We came in via St. Andrews Park and up the Puyallup Cleaver, which I would not recommend right now. We ascended to about 9,000' on the Cleaver before we decided that it was not passable, and skied down the Cleaver to about 8,000' (near Tokaloo Spire) where there was an easy descent onto Tahoma Glacier. It was an easy skin up the Glacier to 10,000'. We climbed mostly up the center of the glacier. Both the center of the glacier or far climber's right were in great shape. The climb above 10,000' was also straightforward. We climbed on the climber's left side of the glacier on the steeper section. The Sickle also looked good. (photo looking down- glacier)
Skiing from the summit was quite straightforward. We followed our ascent path down to 8,000', and continued skiing on the Tahoma Glacier to almost the toe of the glacier at 5,600' where we were only a couple hundred yards from catching the Wonderland Trail (near Emerald Ridge, opposite of Glacier Island). Photo looking up glacier, note ski tracks of ascent/descent line.
I think that for the next few weeks, the way to climb the Tahoma Glacier is to ascend the center or far climber's right up to 9,500', then ascend the climber's left side between 9,500' and 13,000'.
Another quick note, the snowbridge from the Puyallup Glacier to the Tahoma Glacier below St. Andrews Rock looked passable, but not in good shape. Further, we saw a decent-sized avalanche triggered by icefall on the climber's right section of the glacier on the steep section (photo of avalanche off Tahoma Cleaver).
Thanks Jordan for sharing a great route report and selection of images.
For more information about previous attempts and route conditions on Tahoma Glacier, check out our 2007 archived information on the Tahoma Glacier climbing route.