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|TrailConditions||all snow with obvious path|
|Mailed to WacList||06/28/2010|
|Little Tahoma Peak
Route: Little Tahom via Summerland|
Party: Toby Young, Jaga Pamula
Dates: June 26th-27th, 2010
Jaga and I successfully climbed Little Tahoma at Mt. Rainier Nat'l Park this past weekend. The approach was through Summerland and we camped near the Fryingpan Glacier at about 7,650 feet (UTM 10T E 0601330, N 5190098). We left camp at 4:20 AM and followed a well established boot path to the notch separating the Fryingpan from the Whitman Glaciers. That notch is at 9,100 feet. From the notch we traversed across the Whitman until beneath a fairly wide slope that ascends to within 300 feet of the summit. The angle of the slope varies, with the steepest being probably 40 degrees, maybe a few degrees more. Again, we followed a well established boot path. At 10,300 feet there is a bench and is a good place to rest if desired. At 300 feet below the summit we crossed a rocky notch then ascended a different snow field. At the top of this we transitioned onto rock and scrambled to the summit. The last 20 feet is a high angle 3rd class scramble. The holds and steps are good but don't fall. One can rappel from the top if desired.
Travel is all on snow from Summerland to the summit sans the last 50 feet. There are no crevasse issues to be concerned with at this time. In fact, we went without the rope for the descent.
I had e-mailed a few WACers earlier in the week looking for a couple interested people for a try on Little Tahoma. Most had other plans already, unfortunately for me. But Jaga came through and was eager as always. The plan was nothing spectacular or new: hike into Summerland, ascend to the Fryingpan Glacier and make camp. Then climb Little Tahoma the next day via the standard route. By last Thursday the weather forecast was looking very positive for Rainier and in fact we ended up with two days of nothing but blue sky and sunshine, warm temperatures, and little wind.
Our first stop was the White River Ranger station to obtain the necessary government mandated permits. The Ranger on duty at the time was David Gottlieb, whom we learned within about 5-minutes 1) enjoys speaking with anyone wishing to climb on Rainier; 2) has a less than favorable view of the law enforcement side of the National Parks system; 3) does not care for the administration side of the National Park System; 3) maintains a blog on his climbing in Nepal (http://www.climbnepal.blogspot.com/); and 4) drank a fair amount with buddies at a bar the night before. He also provided useful information about the number of other parties also heading to Little Tahoma. Specifically, a group of 8 had left before us and another large group had left much earlier for a one-day ascent. The point being: there should be good steps in place. That turned out to be mostly true as some boot paths had been used for descending as well as ascending. The Horror!
We were on the trail a bit after 10 AM. At the moment, the trail is pretty much snow free for close to 3 miles. Beyond that, it is more snow than dirt but there is never a concern of not being able to follow the well packed boot path. Where the trail breaks out of the trees and the Summerland area begins, I was struck by how much snow still remains. More exactly, there is nothing but snow. The snow along Fryingpan Creek is melting quickly enough but the terrain to the south is all snow and plenty of it.
We took a very leisurely 1-hour break in Summerland to eat, determine out route to Fryingpan Glacier, and generally enjoy the weather. It was gorgeous to say the least. Not to cold, not to warm. We did spy a larger group ascending to the Fryingpan glacier that appeared to be not moving. We would learn later that this was a BoeAlps group. At least one person in their group turned out to not be comfortable on steeper snow and dealt with it by not moving much at all. More on that later.
Jaga and I decided to follow the same route as he BoeAlps group. It is certainly the quickest and most direct to our destination. There is a bit of a steep traverse but the steps were good. The only real danger to this path are some cliffs, which if you slipped and did not arrest quickly you would tumble over. So don't slip!
We made camp at about 7,650 near some exposed rocks. The tent was pitched on the snow and the rocks used for cooking and lounging. Camp coordinates UTM 10T E 0601330, N 5190098 In the late afternoon several skiers past by, enjoying the softened snow. Close to 7 PM three rope teams of three also came by, probably the one-day ascent group Ranger Gottlieb told us about. Given the time they started and the current hour, those folks had to be dead tired. And they still had about 5 miles to go to the car. After having made numerous liters of water and ate dinner, the alarm was set for 3 AM with an intention to leave camp at 4 AM.
We left camp at 4:20 AM. While boiling water for breakfast, a mouse climbed right up on my leg. Scarred the hell out of me and I sent that little rodent flying with one sweep of a hand. Guess those rodents think they can do anything by virtue of living in a National Park.
Yaga led out following the well established boot path. The snow had frozen sufficiently to allow us to walk on it without punching through but also to not need crampons. The best of all worlds - it was like walking down a sidewalk. The notch (9,100 feet) separating the Fryingpan from the Whitman glaciers was reached in a tad over 1 hour. There are no crevasse issues at this point in time. The BoeAlps group was ahead of us and in the interest of keeping us better separated we spent 30 minutes at the notch. The temperature was quite pleasant, actually, making for a nice little wait. Also, for reference, this notch has several bivy sites, two of which are large enough for a reasonably sized two person tent. Coordinates of the notch UTM 10T E 0599463 N 5189273.
Crossing the Whitman Glacier and ascending the slope was uneventful for the most part. On the traverse I did manage to get hit in the right leg above the ankle by a softball sized rock. I heard it rolling about 2-seconds before impact. While that was a drag, what annoyed me the most is that the area is not littered with rocks in the least bit, leading you believe rock fall danger is minimal. But this one rocks does roll and I happen to be in its fall line for the one or two seconds it takes to step though that fall line. What crappy timing!
We reached a bench at 10,300 with the BoeAlps group not to far above us. Despite our efforts to keep some distance we had actually closed the gap. So we sat at this bench for an hour (it was roughly 7:30 AM at this point). The slope to reach this point is straight forward enough, nothing real technical. The slope angle is somewhere in the low 40 degrees at the highest (the majority of the time it is lower), and no crevasse issues to be concerned with. In fact, the Whitman Glacier looked smooth as can be.
The second to the last rope team in the BoeAlps group was again moving very slowly. One person seemed to just not move any longer. Jaga and I pondered if perhaps there was something about that spot causing a delay. After an hour of sitting, watching, and sunning ourselves, we concluded we really should finish this thing off. We donned crampons and headed upward. The steps are fine at first. Once the slope reached its steepest (and where that person had been stalled), however, the main steps were really nothing more than a trench over a foot in depth. Looks like the line had been used for ascending and descending at some recent point. I suspect this is what the BoeAlps person was having trouble with - moving upward in a deep trench. Next to it, however, was a fresh set of steps the other BoeAlps people made and this made the going very pleasant from that point forward. Thanks guys!
At the top of the slope we met-up with the eight-person BoeAlps team. The route from here is to cross a small (rocky) notch then ascend the next snow slope up and to the left. At this point we are about 300 feet from the top. The BoeAlps team had one 3-person rope heading up but they were stalled. The last person on the team was hesitant to move higher. In her own words, "I want to get to the top but I'm scarred to descend. I'm freaking out here!" I suspect perhaps this was the person we saw lower down and stalled on the slope. What appeared to be the leader of this group made it clear that they were turning around. Such a pity given they had just 300 feet to go. Why not have the strongest people in the group continue up and those who could not or did not want to continue could wait? Well, it wasn't my call to make but I could tell there were some disappointed looking faces in that group.
We dispatched with the last snow slope and moved onto rock. Just 50 feet from the top. The rope was dropped and crampons removed. The last 20 feet is a high angle 3rd class scramble. The holds and steps are good but don't fall. One can rappel from the top if desired. The summit register is one of those metal boxes provided by the Mazama's. This one has "1960" stamp on it. Every time I see one of those metal boxes and think about the folks who lugged the thing up there I reached the same conclusion: "Yeah, they were tougher back then." Actually, is 50-years sufficient enough time to describe it as "..back then?"
With the weather sunny, the temperature warm, and zero breeze, we lounged at the top for 90 minutes. With lots of daylight left and no competition for the summit, what's the rush? It was a pleasant time to say the least.
The descent was uneventful, which is how I like descents to be. The snow all the way back to that notch and the Fryingpan Glacier had softened significantly. That made for some crummy post-holing. Well, I post holed. Jaga more glided over the top. A couple glissades helped me out in that department. The BoeAlps team was leaving their camp when we past by them. Jaga said she heard someone say something about this having been their second attempt.
Back at camp we began to pack. I melted more snow for water on the hike out. A bit of a breeze had kicked up at this point. That helped dry out socks, gaiters and pant legs. I got a short cat nap in the sun. It was awesome. We had observed several groups descend by crossing Mean Crest. We decided to give that a try and I certainly recommend it versus the route we took up. For one, you are off the glacier. For another, the run-outs are very safe - no cliff bands to worry about.
Once we hit the trail proper I annoyed myself by constantly checking the GPS for the number of miles remaining. It was much like being on a road trip and constantly asking yourself, "are we there yet?" You just want to smack yourself. But soon enough we were at the car with dry clothes and beer. And with a successful summit done, the beer always tastes better despite being only mildly cold. But, oddly enough - and I did not plan it this way - it was Rainier beer.