Tahoma Glacier 2014

July 11

A team of climbing rangers had an opportunity to get on one of the earliest (1891) of the Rainier routes to be climbed, the Tahoma Glacier, on July 10th and 11th. It is a spectacular place in a remote wilderness setting. We actually climbed The Sickle variation, which did not see it's first ascent until 1958.

Midway up the Sickle
The Tahoma is the largest glacier on the west side of Mt. Rainier. It spills dramatically between the Sunset Amphitheater and the Tahoma Cleaver. The west side is one of the more remote areas of the park. With the Westside Road being closed about 3 miles from it's start, the alpinist cannot get very close to their objective before they must travel by foot. There are a variety of ways to approach; this time of year it is common to gain Emerald Ridge (to near 5,600) via the South Puyallup River and Wonderland Trail. From there one can traverse and climb up to the Puyallup Cleaver, gaining it where it makes sense between 7-8,000 feet. Then follow the cleaver to upper St. Andrews Rock at 11,300. This is the typical high camp.

St. Andrews Rock and lower Tahoma Glacier
The crux of the route right now is probably getting from St. Andrews rock to the Tahoma Glacier proper. The photo at left shows the terrain one would need to cross to get from St. Andrews/Puyallup Cleaver to gain the bottom of the Sickle. A team traveled through here about a week ago. Our team was able to utilize a training mission with the military that put us just past this terrain where we began our climb.

We easily gained the Sickle (a relatively smooth arc of snow that climbs the north side of the glacier), at 11,500'. The Sickle is in good shape right now. Plan to move quickly as you are exposed to objective hazard in this area. The Sickle makes a dog-leg left turn at the top (12,600) and gains broad slopes that lead up to Liberty Saddle. The exit currently goes through a gap between two seracs, about 30 feet wide. Teams sometimes place pickets for protection as needed through here.

Exiting the Sickle near 12,500'
Once on the summit, teams have many options. One could descend the way they came, or run a shuttle ahead of time and descend the Disappointment Cleaver route, which would be faster than going back the way you came. If you choose the later option make sure you are familiar with where to gain the DC.

The whole package of the Westside routes, the beautiful approach, the seclusion, the truly wild location, the engaging scenery and climbing, make for an amazing experience that is highly recommended. Like all Rainier routes, conditions get more challenging as we get into late summer, so get after this one soon! 

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June 5

This should be good for a while! Ski conditions on this side of the mountain appear to be excellent.