The forecast for Saturday seemed to be rather indecisive as we examined the possibly of attempting our first alpine climb earlier last week. Rain was projected for the entire day, then rain with lightning, then rain only in the afternoon… and then finally, on Friday evening rain was absent all together. Excited with our luck, Eric and I packed our gear!

The Tooth is a rock peak near Snoqualmie Pass. It can easily be completed (only a 3 mile approach) and great early season summit. The South Face is rated 5.4, easy but very popular. In fact, it is so poular that chances are there will be at least five other parties on the wall! The route is also infamous for rock fall. With these two things in mind, Eric and I woke up at 2am! We arrived at the Lower Alpental/Snow Lake Parking area (NW Forest pass Required)  a little before 5:00am. It was drizzling (the mist was very moist) and clouds hung low concealing the peaks. We gathered our gear and were on the trail by 5am, ahead of all the other parties we hoped.

We appraoched via the Snow Lake Trail, just across the street. The track was still covered in snow with the exception of a few bare spots in the first quarter mile. Many folks had previously been on the trail before and the snow was nicely packed down. There are several area were snow melt in running beneath the snow pack making for very unstable footing. Listen carefully for the sound of running water and snow cracking. Cross one person at a time. There are several areas where there are snow bridges over creeks as well. I suggest just crossing over the water. Eric attempted to cross a bridge and it broke. Luckily he didn’t get too wet as his gore-tex boots did its job!

After several creek crossing we began to pass across several large gulleys. They were full of avalanche debris. None looked fresh though. NWAC had issued a statement the previous evening that there were no special warning, but to keep an eye out of avy signs (pinwheels, whomping, etc). We saw no signs of danger, but crossed these fields quickly.

There was supposed to be a signed junction on the trail after 2 miles, but of course the sign was covered with snow. We examined our topo map and decided that the tracks were indeed heading in the direction of the Source Lake Trail. There were no track going toward Snow Lake. We arrived at the edge of a large basin. Snow Creek laid still mostly frozen at the bottom of the steep slopes. We decided the slope angle warranted a change in gear. We strapped on our crampons and switch from poles to our ice axes. We traversed the upper slopes of the basin and then stayed beneath the rockly cliffs. we then followed the second chute after the cliffs steeply up. The Rest step and french techniques came in handy in this area. It was tiresome, but much better that grappling with the talus and scree that laid beneath the snow (this is a benefit of climbing early season here).

After the hill fooled up with several false top outs we found ourselves in another basin. Before us on the right stood The Tooth… or the base of it. We couldn’t see the top due to the mist. We continued climbing up the basin. We saw a group of three ahead of us heading up Pineapple Pass in the far distance. We assumed they had taken the shorter, but less popular approach through the valley.

The Tooth’s South Face is accessed via Pineapple Pass, the second notch to the left of the climb.It was easy to locate, but of course it was also very steep. As we neared the final portion of the approach we noticed a group of about ten folks about .25-.5 miles behind us. We front pointed up keeping an eye on the party and moving efficiently. We didn’t want ten people kicking rocks down on us!

At the Pineapple Pass we removed our crampons and slightly descended about one yard or so and followed the trickly scramble across base of a small tower. It looked like it was a rock scramble, but it ended up being mostly on steep snow, so i would recommend leaving on the crampons. However, there was such a well defined kicked our staircase on the steep sections downward that it would not be bad judgement go without the spikes. After traversing the scramble we climbed up again to some rock and to the base of the South Face,

A gentleman with a radio was there by what ended up being a very long top rope setup. He informed up that the group of ten behind us was the Washington Alpine Club Basic Climbing Students. They were going to climb the Tooth via the top ropes they had set up. He informed the instructors of our presence and, as was polite, told us to set up and go first. They would wait for us to finish the first pitch before sending up students and stay behind us.

Eric and I began our gearing up process. There are two rap option on the route, it is polite to rappel off the North Face when there is another party instead of the climbing route, but they instructors told us not to worry and rap the South Face. We gladly accepted, happy to be able to leave our heavy packs at the base and ascend with our summit packs.

Eric pondered out loud “I think i can leave some food at the base. I mean, there aren’t going to be any chipmunks up here this early season.”

Not 2 seconds after this statement a chipmunk ran by, happily anticipating his next meal! Eric glared at the little critter and pull all his food in his summit pack!

We headed to the base just as the students arrived. I led this first pitch. It is about 100 ft. I admit that I ran out most of the route. I Placed about three nuts, one cam (DMM Dragon 0) and slung a horn & tree. There are a few sections where you can make the climb harder than 5.4 by going slightly left or right. But mostly it was blocky, easy climbing with one small crack section (which I detoured around and did a friction variation instead). Along the way I passed a tree with rap webbing on a ledge. This is not the first belay spot. The end of the first pitch is at the second tree with rap slings on a larger ledge. I planned to skip the first belay and climb the 60ft second pitch. However, the budging ledge just above the belay spot started to cause some rope drag. Looking up at the next section, I predicted that it was the crux section. I did not want to be dragging rope ont he crux and my rack was looking sparse. I put two slings on a solid horn and called off belay.

I belayed Eric up facing outward, a rare treat. Eric and I swapped gear and he began pitch 2. He was in mountaineering boot (I had on my rock shoes)  and the delicate crux moves resulted in some ungraceful climbing techniques as a result. However, he soon found his rythem and disappeared behind a bulge. I belayed out more than 60ft and was informed by the instructor just below me that he’s heard on the radio that Eric was combining the 2 & 3rd pitches. I got over the crux much with much more grace with my rock shoes. Eric placed 2 hexes, a # 3 DMM cam and about 3 nuts on the second pitch. Pitch 3 is actually a 3rd class scramble so no gear was placed. I did have to cross a snow pile in the rock shoes which was chilly!

There are two 4th pitch variations. The top rope for the Washington Alpine Club was on the flake leading straight up to the summit. An instructor on the summit asked if we’d mind taking the other variation known as “The Catwalk” over to the left so they could belay students up. We didn’t care either way.

I led the final pitch slightly up the wall and then mantled onto a six inch ledge. There is pretty much no gear on the “Catwalk” traverse. But it is easy climbing as the wall had good slots for handholds as you inch across the ledge. Little chance of falling. I placed gear at the end of the traverse before climbing the final blocky section. There is was appears to be a cam and tricam wedge into the rock near the summit. I climbed into the slings, there is no chance of removing them!

The sky that had been clearing in tiny, short lived patches suddenly began to clear. When Eric arrived at the top the views expanded. We could not make out Rainier as the clouds were still low, but views of the nearby ranges were clear and gorgeous! We took some photos had lunch and identified surrounding summits with our map. The it was time to rap.

All the rap station on the South Face are on slung trees. The webbing was acceptable for us upon examination. We rapped the 4th pitch. Down climbed the scramble 3rd pitch and then did two more raps to the base. After chatting with the instructors on the bottom and sharing some jokes, we scrambled back to Pineapple Pass.

Perhaps the best part about snow climbing in the glissade descent. We glissade down Pineapple Pass and then most oc the way back to the Source Lake Basin. Instead of returning the way we had come we followed the valley to the right toward Guye Peak. We were curious about the alternate approach.  There were footprints here from the students so it was easy to find our way. We arrived at the upper Alpental Parking area at around 5:15 and followed the road to the lower lot to our car…. exhausted by exhilarated! Let the alpine climbing season begin!

Rack: Full BD nut set, DMM Cam 0,2&3, WC Hex 4,5,6

 

 

 

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