The Tooth, Mount Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest
Almost all of the below photos were taken by Joel.
June 2, 2007
The Tooth is our local climbing prostitute, where it seems every one has either their first rock climbing experience, or their first alpine leading experience. It was my first rock climb last September, and today it was my first leading experience. Joel and I met in Federal Way at 5 am to try to get a jump on the hoards of people that we knew would be on the Tooth: Weather had been excellent for almost the last two weeks and today was supposed to be equally gorgeous. After a stop in North Bend, we arrived at the Alpentel parking lot, sorted gear, and were hiking up the snow by 6:40. Eschewing the trail for a more direct snow line, we made rapid (and sweaty) progress up the Source Lake drainage, with Chair Peak looming in front.
Climbing higher on mostly good snow (only a few sinkers), we topped out quickly into the snow basin below Pineapple Pass and grunted at the sight of ten climbers moving slowly toward the Tooth. Joel set off in full pursuit, hoping to pass them up before they reached the Tooth: With a party of that size, if they didn't let us climb through, we'd be sitting and waiting for hours. We had big plans for the day: Climb the South Face of the Tooth, descend, and then climb the more challenging Southwest Face. Waiting four hours to start the South Face wasn't much of an option. Moving about as hard as we could, Joel managed to catch the party just as they reached the notch leading around the Tooth to the start of the climb, but I was still a minute back. Joel is pretty fit.
Fortunately the big group was actually two big groups from the Washington Alpine Club and the Mountaineers. Joel knew the leader of the Mountaineer group and we were able to climb in front of them. The WAC group was planning to drop a series of top ropes and the first lead group allowed us to climb behind them. Not too much waiting. We geared up quickly and I was on lead in the alpine for the first time shortly past 8 am.
I had climbed the Tooth in mountaineering boots and found it fun and easy. In rock shoes, even with putting in protection, it was just sheer fun. No worries about falling, no climbing difficulties, and there was always something to use. I got delayed behind the WAC leaders a few times, which wasn't much of a problem as they were fun to talk to. I stretched the rope out and ran about 50 meters up to just below the summit before setting up a belay and bringing Joel up. As the Catwalk had climbers on it, I took the most direct route I could up to the summit, passing a slightly hollow, balancey flake that had a stuck 0.75 Camalot inside it, and rocked on up to the top.
Joel seemed to hang or pause on the rope for rather a long time as I belayed him up. This seemed strange to me as Joel is a far better climber than I and I had no problems with the route. When he emerged on the summit, the mystery was explained. I had climbed off route, despite the stuck cam. The stuck cam was marked with yellow tape, which Joel's gear is marked with. He had been working on the cam for sometime, thinking it was his (I was using some of his gear).
We were on top a little after 10 am, smiling and chatting with the other climbers that had reached the top. One adventurous duo had climbed through and were planning on dropping down and traversing over to Chair. We rested on top for a bit, then carefully rappelled down past the WAC and Mountaineer climbers to retrieve our packs and begin the second climb of the day.
We dropped down from the start of the South Face route and traversed around on snow, in our climbing shoes, to three open books (dihedrals). All would work but the first and third seemed best. We decided on the third open book, geared up, and I led out on the first pitch around noon. Unlike the South Face, the Southwest Face is relatively unclimbed and the route up isn't obvious. After some stylish chimney action (despite there being no chimney in sight), I moved back onto the face and then into a body sized crevice that wasn't super-much fun. I brute forced my way out and back onto the face, where I saw the line I should have taken: Stay left of the crevice!
I was tired and had been on lead for an hour, so I pulled up short at a big belay tree and brought Joel up. I had take a circuitous route and rope drag was rather horrendous. Also, by stopping at this tree instead of running up another 20 meters, I added a pitch onto our climb. Although everything I had done was perfectly safe, there were much better options out there.
Joel came up quickly and we swapped gear for his lead. Off he went, leaving me in the shade of the belay tree for an hour with an excellent view of Mount Rainier and Little Tahoma, and lots of ants, for company. Unlike the South Face, this route was silent. Joel built a hanging belay and signaled for me to come up. The second pitch was much more pleasant than the first because Joel had followed a good line, whereas I followed a crappy one. Route finding is key, not just climbing ability. I reached Joel, hanging off the face of the mountain on a four point anchor, and swapped out gear once again. I was hot, tired, and thirsty, having brought not enough water for the weather, when I set out to lead the third pitch. Rather a lot of excitement at the start, as I had to begin by traversing right around Joel and then stepping around a rather airy, unprotected corner to get into another body sized crack where I could finally get a cam in. I worked up the crack, not finding much protection. Frustrated, I pulled myself out of the crack and onto the face, moved up a bit, and then finally got a piece in.
Once out and onto the face, progress was more rapid, with better protection and plenty of holds to use. A few loose rocks provided some grunts from me, as grunting was about all that I could do with the energy I had left. I topped out onto a plateau after about 25 meters and was a little unsure of where to go. I had built horrendous rope drag into the system.
I should have gone directly up, but instead chose to traverse to the right. Eight meters later I found myself standing next to a belayer on the South Face route. Tired and a bit frustrated at my consistent route finding errors, I set up a belay and brought Joel out of his hanging belay. He had been hanging for 90 minutes in an Alpine Bod. If you've never been in an Alpine Bod before, imagine tying a long belt around your legs and waist and then hanging in it. Not comfy at all.
Joel came up to find a clog on the end of the route. People were rapping and climbing all over the place. He took gear and led out, weaving his way through traffic until halted by a tentative, first time rappeller. He waited patiently for ten minutes as she came down fifteen meters, then sprinted up through the rock to the notch, put me on belay, and brought me up. I was tired enough that I actually had to rest every few moves on this last pitch of the day, but made it up in fifteen minutes and celebrated by drinking down my last half liter of water. I had had 3 liters of liquid, an energy bar, and two packets of goo since 5 am. It was 4 pm when we topped out and by 4:10 we were heading down, having teamed up with Laura and Scott, two independent climbers, for a long double rope rappel down the face. A last, single rappel got us to the base of the climb, from which Joel and I quickly scampered out to retrieve our gear from around the corner. Traversing on snow, without our ice axes (which were with our packs!), was an interesting way to end a long, very fun day.
I was tired and very thirsty, and had reached that stage of weariness where one is no longer hungry, even though the belly is empty. I was dirty, coated in sweat, and could feel the burn of the sun upon my face, neck, and lower arms. All I wanted was gallon of gatorade and a soft bed, but we still had to get out, sort gear, and get back the Sound. But I was filled with joy at what we had done today. Not only had I gotten in my first full lead, but I had gone up a relatively unclimbed, technical route, swinging leads as we went. The full alpine experience, complete with traversing snow in rock shoes. Yes, the Tooth had given up her secrets for the small price of sweat and effort.
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. In early season, just head straight up across snow toward Source Lake and climb into the basin below Pineapple Pass (there will be loads of tracks). Once snow is gone (i.e, late June), you'll want to take a trail instead. To do so, 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 for about 30 meters. Above you you will find the start of the South Face of the Tooth. Scramble up until you reach the notch, where you'll find some slung boulders and old graffiti. This is the start of the South Face route (standard one). You can climb The Tooth in three easy pitches, the first one being a full 60 meters. The second two are short and can be run together as a single pitch. 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. Most of it is 5.2 or so. Bring a 60 m rope and light rack with a few nuts and maybe a cam or two. From the top, rappel down in three or four stages from the obvious trees. From the start of the climb expect a climb of 2-5 hours depending on party size and efficiency.
For the Southwest Face route do not ascend to the start of the South Face route. Instead continue around the side of the mountain for another 20 meters or so until you come to three open books (dihedrals), all of which are fairly low angle. You can take any of them, though the first and third are probably the best options. We climbed the third book. The first pitch runs up to a prominent tree marked with several slings and rap rings. Beware of rope drag on the first pitch and try not to get sucked into the big crack. Staying left of it would be more pleasant than what I did. The pitch, as I did it, runs about 5.6-5.7 and isn't super easy to protect (small or massive cams, a few nuts, small tricams). Either belay from the tree or stretch the rope and continue up to a slight plateau where there are more belay options. For the second pitch, continue up easier climbing from the tree skirting past a brusy area with some slings around a large shrub, gaining a slopey crack (about 5.4-5.5 climbing) and either build a hanging belay (if you're out of rope) or continue up, gaining another big, hard to protect crack that you can run up to a blocky plateau about 25 m below summit. The big crack is a little hard to protect and you'll have rather a lot of air under your feet, but the climbing isn't super hard (5.6-5.7). Again, beware of rope drag. When you plateau, continue climbing directly up instead of traversing right. Build a belay at a tree just below the catwalk. For the fourth pitch, finish on the South Face route. The climb takes about 4 hours. Bring a rack with a few nuts and a lot of cams. Small TCUs worked really well and there are some places where a big #3 or #4 Camalot was useful. Many of the main cracks are flaring.