It is almost "The Fourth," but the skiing is still hanging in there on the north-facing slopes of the Tatoosh Range! Access to the upper bowls around Castle Peak and Pinnacle Peak is a little bushwhacky just above the Reflection Lakes parking area. Plan on a mixture of hiking, booting, and skinning to reach the goods. Once you're up there the views can't be beat. Get here quick though, the suncups are building and the scree slopes are melting out fast!
On June 17, 2009, climbing rangers Philippe Wheelock and Rachel Mueller climbed Sunset Ridge, accessing the route via the Westside Road. While conditions were poor and navigation required significant reliance on their GPS, the team summitted on their third day and descended via the Disappointment Cleaver the following morning.
As with previous years, the Westside Road is closed and hiking is required for ~3 miles before accessing the S. Puyallup River cutoff at Round Pass. The ~1.5 miles to the S. Puyallup River camp is on rock and dirt, but the trail is washed out in places.
After crossing the S. Puyallup River, expect to do some postholing and to cross an avalanche path (several times) as you switchback and make your way up to the ridge below St. Andrews Park. Bivies as you rise above St. Andrews are plentiful, but expect to shovel out a tent platform and melt snow for your water.
The trip from the Puyallup Cleaver to the base of Sunset Ridge crosses two glaciers. The first, the Puyallup Glacier, is a wide, flat bench with solid footing and straightforward navigation. For the second, the South Mowich Glacier, expect to cross some bridges and look deep into some impressive crevasses as you make your way below the rockfall and avalanche debris of the southern edge of Sunset Ridge.
For bivies along this section of route, there are some options at or around 9200'. The ridge between the glaciers could be an option (the team saw elk tracks from here!), but an even better option is probably the ridge on the north side of the Sunset Ridge.
The bergschrund crossing was full value, with unconsolidated snow and deep postholing - super fun! (Above the bergschrund there are some other bivy options, most notably between 10,200' and 10,300'.) The route includes some enjoyable climbing through snow gullies and some ice.
At 12,500, the guidebook references being forced onto the Mowich. The rangers transitioned just below this altitude and traversed below a rockband that probably could have been avoided had they stayed on the ridge a little longer (a little better visibility would have seriously helped at this point!).
After some steep climbing on the Mowich Face, the ridge is gained again. To reiterate, with poor visibility, to call the GPS "handy" would be an understatement.
Another low visibility routefinding note... from Liberty Cap to the summit crater, it's probably a cakewalk in clear conditions (a long cakewalk, but straightforward). In whiteout, stormy conditions, the fall line off Liberty Cap will draw you toward the Tahoma. You'll want to fight gravity and stay left. Perhaps an extra waypoint on the summit shoulder would help you stay clear of this 'terrain trap' of sorts.
Steve Cizik, Matt Riegner, Brandon Chalk, J. Weingast, Ryan Aldrich, and Nico Cizik climbed the Tahoma on June 12th through 15th. Here is their trip report:
After checking in at Longmire we parked along the Westside road and began our climb. We decided to leave the snowshoes in the car after talking to the ranger at Longmire. This turned out to be a wise decision. We found the Tahoma Creek Trail just as the Westside road began to switchback. The first quarter mile of the trail was washed out but clearly marked with colored tape. Other than that, the trail was relatively easy to follow all the way to the junction with the Wonderland trail (suspension bridge) where we stopped for lunch. The Wonderland Trail became snowed out around 5000ft. however it was relatively easy to find our way to the top of the Emerald Ridge and our first camp at about 6000ft.
From our first camp, we entered the toe of the Tahoma Glacier with ease and began our climb up the lower section. The snow was soft but easily packed so there was no need for floatation and we were all very glad we didn't carry our snowshoes this far. It was around 1pm when a thunder storm moved in very quickly leaving us exposed and in danger. Not a good feeling when all the metal gear on your pack starts to buzz, so we decided to set up our second camp at 10,000ft. Once the storm passed, Steve and I did a scout mission to find a route through the ice fall and seracs above. This ended up saving us at least and hour of route finding the next day.
Roped up and climbing by 4am. Thanks to our route finding the previous day we knew to work our way to the far (climber's) left side of the glacier before hitting the steep head wall at 11,000ft. From there we zigzagged up the center of the wall (35 - 45 degree slope) then traversed to the right below the seracs above to reach the snowfield on the right side of the glacier at 12,000ft. We reached the top of the glacier at 9am where the bergschrund seemed to extend the entire length. We chose (what looked like) the most solid snow bridge and began to cross. Steve crossed first without a problem, followed by Matt. Just as he made it to the other side, the entire snow bridge collapsed bringing with it about 5 feet of the ledge and Matt into the crack. Luckily we had him roped up on both sides and the debris from the bridge wedged itself in the crack making the fall light and allowing Matt to simply walk out the other side. This was by far the scariest moment any of us had experienced on a mountain. There were maybe two other options to cross which were sketchy at best. We chose the best looking one and finally got everyone across. From there we took a short break and ascended to the 1400ft. to the summit by noon. We set up camp in the crater to shelter ourselves from the wind and enjoyed the good weather while on top.
Woke up around 6am as the first guided group made the summit. We met our other team (ascending DC) around 9am and hiked all the way out to Paradise via Disappointment Cleaver.
Trip report from Jiri Richter:
James Hamaker, Thomas Baron and I climbed the Tahoma Glacier on Mount Rainier on May 22nd - 24th. Expecting challenging snow conditions we brought 2 pairs of skis and one pair of snowshoes. Also because the Westside road is still closed we added another half day to our plan and left on Friday at noon. After registration at Longmire we parked the car at the gate and started hiking up the road around 4:30pm. The road is snow free but the parking lot is still snow covered. For approach we chose the early season variation via the old Tahoma Creek trail. The trail is well marked and joins the Wonderland trail in about 2.2 miles. We followed the trail until it got lost under snow and then went cross-country in the direction of Emerald Ridge where we set up our first camp as the light started to dim. The elevation was about 5,000 feet.
Next day we went up the glacier travelling on skis and snowshoes having the vast lower Tahoma Glacier to ourselves.
Lower Tahoma Glacier
By noon we were at 10,000 ft. It was too early to stop so we started speculating how far to go. We decided to go to the top of the steep section between Tahoma Cleaver and Sunset Amphitheater. Snow started turning into slush and going got slower and harder. The intense sunshine and increasing altitude were not helping much either.
Upper Tahoma Glacier
By 12,000 feet all we wanted was a safe flat spot to set up a camp. We found one 2000 feet higher on the col between Point Success and Columbia Crest around 8 p.m.
On Saturday we didn’t get out until the sun lit up our camp. We packed and from there it was a short walk to the true summit.
We descended Ingraham Direct which is the route of choice for now. I hitched a ride from Paradise back to the car and went back up to get the guys and gear. By 4 p.m. we were enjoying some real food at Copper Creek.