Sunset Ridge - 2009
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.