The Tooth, Mount Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest
Even at 7am, I hardly expected us to be alone on one of the most popular trails in the Alpine Lakes. Even less did I expect us to be the only party on, perhaps, the most popular multipitch rock climb in Washington. I had been told that climbing the Tooth was a sort of rite of passage in Washington, and it was high time that I was fully initiated. Along with South Early Winter Spire and Ingalls Peak, The Tooth makes up a triumvirate of alpine rock climbs, at least for the Mountaineers. We left the Snow Lake trail and headed off toward Source Lake, with The Tooth finally coming into view, easily spotted as the prominent peak to the right of a big, massive pass (Pineapple Pass).
September 2, 2006
We slowly worked our way around the rubble field lining the head of the valley holding Source Lake and climbed up into the basin below Pineapple Pass, following a well cairned climbers track. The four of us put our helmets on, still amazed that no one else was around on such a gorgeous day, and headed up to a prominent notch in between The Tooth and Pineapple Pass. From the notch, an easy traverse led around to the base of the Tooth and the start of the climb itself. Eric, aka Bruce, led up the first pitch, which took up an entire 60 meter rope, though the pitch could easily be split into two. TJ, aka JT, followed up, with Susan, aka Lisa Bob, following directly behind him, placing gear just as he cleaned Eric's. Over the radio clipped to my harness, I heard Lisa tell me I was on belay and could climb at will. As I broke down the anchor and made myself ready, a single climber approached, put on his rock shoes, and went directly up the face on his own. Some day, perhaps.
The first pitch went quickly, with the hardest part being to remove a nut that Lisa Bob had placed inside a devious crack. Unfortunately, I found that the 2.5 liters of water that I had brought with had shrunk to one liter, courtesy of a small hole in my water bag. I quickly chugged the remaining water and belayed Susan as she moved quickly up the short, scrambly second pitch.
My friend Tom had told me The Tooth was a real peach, but I hardly expected the climb to go so smoothly, with big hand and foot holds everywhere. The third pitch held a bit of excitement, with a narrow ledge traverse called the Catwalk. I turned the radio on and sung a line,
"...I'm too sexy for my car, too sexy for my car, too sexy by faaaar."
I could hear peals of laughter from the top, which I arrived at shortly, grinning from ear to ear.
Although I had been up to lofty perches in the Alpine Lakes before, somehow the view from the top of The Tooth seemed more magical than anywhere else I had been. Even I-90, snaking its way over the pass, seemed like a work of art, crying out to be captured on the CMOS sensor of my camera.
We didn't linger long at the top, despite the beautiful weather, as we had four rappels to do to get down to the bottom of the base of The Tooth. Susan and Eric rigged a handline to help JT and I get down to the first rappel station, and then quickly built an anchor and set up the rope.
After a brief bit of coaching, Eric dropped down fifteen meters and held the rope for me when I followed. Working slowly, but quite safely, the four of us rappelled our way down the face of the Tooth, thankful that no one else was climbing on this gorgeous day: The rappel route and the climbing route overlap almost entirely.
After a bit of difficulty getting the rope to come down for the last rappel, we made the last drop back to the base of The Tooth and collected our gear. Two climbers approached just as we were leaving, amazed, as we were, that there were so few other climbers. It was now past three, and I had been without water on a warm, sunny day since 11 am. But I didn't really notice my thirst too terribly much. I was riding a wave of euphoria from the climb, which had gone so well, and everything seemed to be magical. Thirsty? Outstanding! Tired? Outstanding! Hungry? Outstanding!
From Lakewood, drive I-5 north to State Highway 18 and follow this to I-90. Head east on I-90 to exit 52 (marked as "West Summit") and get off the interstate. Make a left and drive past the Pacific Crest Trail parking lot, following the road all the way to the Alpental parking lot. You'll need a Northwest Forest pass or something similar (Golden Eagle Passport works) to park here. Pick up the Snow Lake trail on the other side of the parking lot and follow it as it climbs gently to a trail junction. Follow the left fork (heading to Source Lake). Hike along the trail for about half a mile to a stream gully. You should be able to see the Tooth and Pineapple Pass from here. There are no cairns here. Cut cross country across rumble piles heading toward Pineapple Pass (very prominent). You'll eventually pick up a climbers trail and cairns to guide you up and into the basin below the Tooth. Hike up generally stable talus toward the pass, but do not ascend to it. Instead, head for a prominent notch to the left side of The Tooth. From the notch, traverse around on a climbers track, scrambling up and down, until you reach yet another notch, where you'll find some slung boulders and old graffiti. You can climb The Tooth in three easy pitches, the first one being a full 60 meters. The second two are short. The climb is easy, with big hand and foot holds just about everywhere. The hardest move is about ten meters off the deck and is about a 5.4 move. Tall people will have no issue with it. From the top, rappel down in four stages from the obvious trees. Car to car took almost 12 hours, but could certainly be done in a lot less time.