Tahoma Glacier 2013

July 4

Thanks for this report from June 21-23. Thanks to Obadiah Reid for the beta and photos.

Long, scenic, challenging, seldom climbed; the Tahoma Glacier on Mt. Rainier has all the attributes

that attract me to a route. But could we do it with only one solid day of good weather in the forecast? Rain Friday morning, clearing in the evening. Clear Saturday. Storm rolling in Sunday. I was not optimistic. (This happens a lot! Don't get downhearted before leaving - CR's)

Car shuttle to Paradise set up, we were hiking by 07:00, about an hour later than planned. We departed up the Westside road in mist and intermittent rain. 2800 feet under our boots, 11610 to go!

It rained all morning; not merely misting, but pattering, soaking, rain. Still, as with Sahale, the forest was amazing. We probably could have made better time if Ethan and I were not constantly lagging behind to try and capture the beauty surrounding us. Hopefully with a camera!

At least in my memory, the scenery made up for the misery. We didn't want to stop for anything. It was too cold to stop moving, and too wet for us to want to break out any of our insulating layers.

We hit snow on the switchbacks up to Saint Andrews park, and bid farewell to trail. But as we reached the 5-6,000' level we began to break out of the mist. Shortly after cresting the ridge that becomes the Puyallup cleaver we even saw The Mountian. Massive morale boost. Stoke! 

The clearing weather energized us. The worsening snow conditions sucked that energy out nearly as fast as it arrived. Snow conditions moving up the cleaver were poor. On the Puyallup glacier they were soul crushing. We roped up and headed out onto the glacier at about 7800', somewhat above Tokaloo rock. The glacier surface alternated between knee and shin deep mashed potatoes, with a weak breakable crust about 8" down making the difference from step to step.

Our goal had been to camp near 9200' on the cleaver, but the snow conditions combined with our somewhat late start dictated a lower camp. At ~19:00 Ethan made a heroic push, kicking steps for the last several hundred feet up to a promising col where we settled in for the night at just 8800'.

The long brutal approach to our high camp convinced Jim and Melissa that they'd had enough. No interest in climbing another 5600' the following day. They kindly lent us some ice screws and their SPOT beacon, and we all went to bed.

Grace, Ethan, and I moved out from camp the following morning around 04:45. Snow conditions were still not ideal on the Puyallup glacier, and I was thinking we might have to turn back. Then we dropped over the ice ramp at 10,000' onto the Tahoma glacier and everything changed. A cold wind was blowing off the summit ice cap and sweeping down the glacier. We were on perfect styrofoam neve all the way up until things softened a bit above 13,500'.

Immediately, the weaving began. This is a big broken glacier, even in June, and it took quite a lot of attention to keep us moving without a dead end. Still snow bridges were plentiful and strong, and we made good time.  Our route weaved up the center-left of the glacier, avoiding the huge debris zones to either side that are swept by serac fall from twin ice cliffs above.  Around 12,000' we came up to a large cravasse, and made a tricky move across a soft snow-bridge, over the opposing lip (5' up), and up the steep slope above. 

We had observed that (a) the huge cravasse evident at around 13k might not go, and (b) if one could enter the Sickle (gully on the left margin of the face) high enough it would be possible to avoid any objective hazard from the obvious ice cliff. So we swung left from above the big cravasse and entered the Sickle at a point were a big ice arete protected us form the main ice cliff. From there we rapidly made our way up to 13k, where the angle eases, and took a long break.

After 2 hours of snacking and melting snow, we were off again, trudging for the summit. We spent a very short time on the summit, which was shockingly cold after our long hot trudge to get there. We reached 13k right at noon. We didn't summit (14,410') until 17:20.

Having spent the previous two days in pristine wilderness, the DC route was a bit shocking: an 18-inch deep trench marked out by wands and fixed ropes. Still it was nice to have for the descent. We made camp at Ingraham flats just after sunset (21:00), where Grace had the pleasure of removing someone's poop from our tent site. This happens more often than people realize. When you leave your poop it's not just rangers that have to do the dirty work. Thanks Melissa.  - CR's

We got moving around 10:30 in a complete whiteout. An hour's trudge down the trail brought us to camp Muir where we had a leisurely lunch. Then we bombed down the Muir snowfield with several good glissaids, making it to Paradise in just an hour and a half.

Overall this was a fantastic route. By far the coolest glacier climb I've done in the Cascades. On par with the Bravo Glacier on Waddington, but with MUCH better snow conditions than when Jim and I attempted that.

Gear: We carried a picket each, and five ice screws. I used one picket as running pro above our tricky cravasse crossing, and one screw as a quick anchor on the ice arete, but otherwise the pro was not needed. Grace and I each had a second tool, Ethan only his mountain axe. The ice tool was very comforting geting over the tricky cravasse, and useful in the Sickle. Not necessary, but I think they sped us up, and led me to place less pro. I'd probably bring the same if I had it to do over.


January 21 

 

During our recent spell of high pressure a group of local climbers made a rare winter ascent of the Tahoma Glacier and ski descent from the summit. Thanks to Doug Daniell for the report and photos.


I climbed and skied the Tahoma Glacier with a group of four from Seattle on January 19-21. I wanted to share some conditions information and beta for a winter approach from the west side of the mountain. We began our ascent on the 19th from the Westside Road closure near the park entrance. We were able to skin from the car (~2150') although coverage was a few inches at best. We eventually joined Tahoma Creek and except for a few creek crossings found easy travel. Camped to the west of Glacier Island on a calm, mild night. On the 20th we skinned up on firm snow to the glacier, passed a few icefalls on the right, and then traversed left at 9K to a smooth ramp that led to camp at 10K. Enjoyed a beautiful sunset and alpenglow on the slopes above.


Sometime before 5am on the 21st we roped up, dropped down to the north to avoid some looming seracs, and then navigated crevasses and ice debris to the base of Sickle. We decided on this variation to avoid what looked like large swaths of glare ice on the main Tahoma. In the Sickle we found good travel on shallow wind-packed powder and firmer styrofoam, with patches of ice globs especially higher on the route. Beautiful Rainier shadow at sunrise though we remained in the cold ourselves. Brought pickets/screws but none were used. Definitely not a route to tackle with much avy danger - saw lots of evidence of sluffs and maybe a well-weathered crown or two. The rest of the way to the summit was a slog as usual. Great views from Jefferson to Baker, though the Puget Sound was covered in fog and clouds. 

The ski down was a hodgepodge of snow conditions - terrible off the summit, some nice smooth patches below Liberty saddle, fun steep skiing through the Sickle, thousands of feet of wind-effect down the glacier, and then occasionally breakable crust down to the creek. Three of us completed the full descent and one had a major binding failure high on the route that entailed lots of walking and some improvised ski-strap solutions to get out by 10pm.