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Ian Lauder

[TR] The Tooth - NE Slabs 02/27/2020

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Posted (edited)

Trip: The Tooth - NE Slabs

Trip Date: 02/27/2020

Trip Report:

 

I’d heard of the ice route on The Tooth over the years and had always wanted to do it. 

 

 

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Originally, we had a party of 4 which turned into a party of 2. In hindsight that was for the better in the end (see Pitch #2 below).  Adding one person for a party of 3 or 2 teams of 2 would have added too many extra hours to the day.  And everyone would have had to be okay with (see Pitch #2 below).

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I put 40m in the pic but it may be more like 30m for the distance between the stubby tree and the BD spector.

After having done Chair Peak the week before we figured we would have similar snow conditions (lots of fresh new snow for most of the route with some buried ice).  But knowing the slabs were 50-70 degrees were not sure how much would have held on those slopes.

We had some beta from Jim Nelsons book and some trip reports which were few and far between.  Most talked about (see Pitch #2 below).

We had a good weather and avi window for about one day this week, so we decided to take a run at it mid-week.

3am alarm. Set off all the smoke alarms in the condo burning my breakfast sandwich (Nest app wouldn’t load fast enough to silence the alarms).  It was a really good breakfast sandwich too, burnt cheese adds a nice flavor.

Pick up my climbing partner at 4am, and we’re hiking in from the Alpental trailhead by 5:10am.

Decided to stash poles and snowshoes at the base of the fan a couple hundred feet from the start. Turned out snow was good for a boot path up the fan and made a belay anchor with a horizontal deadman off to the left of the 1st pitch.

My partner led up the first pitch.  I called out where to look for pro placements in the rocks from where I saw them in previous reports, he didn’t find any.  Just pounded in a couple pickets on the way up.  No ice to be found for screws.  We ended the first pitch maybe 20ft below the “belay alcove” mentioned in other beta with a nice 3pt anchor in the rocks.

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From there I started up Pitch #2 which I had read about could be runout without much in the way of pro. One trip report had mentioned 30ft of runout.  If you ever read that beta just change 30ft to 30m.

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Got a nice cam in right above the anchor.  Instead of starting the traverse I decided to go straight up to where it would normally start and had to carve my way through a snow flute all the way up since it had the best footsteps I could find.  Not much in the way of ice, and what little there was turned out to be kind of brittle.  About 20ft up and off to the left of where the alcove should be dug out a rock and lucked out that it had a crack for small cam then a few feet away another nice place to slot in and set a BD Specter (basically a piton shaped like an ice axe pick). 

Then it was time for the meat of Pitch #2.  Looking across and up at a couple stubby trees I could make out a red webbing anchor and it looked like a bit of a break in the steepness on the way (which was still in the 50-60 degree range).  So, I headed up and over one painstakingly slow step at a time.  Keeping my weight over each tool pushed into snow and one foot as equally as possible gingerly kicked in each new boot step.  Sometimes I got a good step kicked in sometimes it was just a toe.  Never had solid tool placements.   Any stick attempts just bounced off rock up high but was able to push the heads in and down into snow enough they would hold.  An hour later let out a whoop when I got a sling around the first small snag about maybe a 3rd to a half rope pitch away.   Then an easy section straight up to a big belay tree.   And having monopoint crampons for the mixed sections (which wasn’t really necessary in the end) didn’t help with the traverse.

So, Pitch #2 was a long 30m traverse across a 50-60 degree sketchy slab with no pro at all till the spector about 20ft above the belay behind me.  This is the crux of the climb and the snow/ice coverage is the determining factor if the climb is doable or not.  And anyone leading it should be comfortable with a runout traverse.   A follower still has to deal with an unprotected traverse but at least may have a bootpath to follow in.

After that mental ordeal Pitch #3 was more straight forward.  Other beta says to go up to a tree on the ridge but the coverage on the slabs got too thin so I went right have popped over the ridge at a small notch in the rock that just needed a mixed move to get over.   

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Pitch #4 was some mixed moves across easy mixed snow and rock (you could make it easier by dropping even lower and walking down and then back up in a snow field).  We stayed high then moved over to some big trees and up to a tree for the belay.

Pitch #5 was straight up back onto the ridge proper and to short rock block ~10ft high) that took some easy mixed moves.  Once on top of that you can lower down into the notch to a belay tree.

Pitch #6 was the 15ft rock step in other beta.  This took some easy mixed moves finding hooks in the rocks and snow/marginal ice) and back on the ridge proper to a giant block (it happened to have a cordallete around it).   Lowered down this to another notch and setup a belay.  This was a really short pitch due to rope drag through the snow.

Pitch #7 walked around the corner of this notch and you can see the summit block which is a full 70m pitch away of easy traversing and a few easy mixed moves.

By 4:30 pm we reached the summit (about 7.5 hrs for the pitched climbing).

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After some much needed food we looked over the snow covered edge and realized we should rappel to what normally would be the 1st rap station going down the basic south route).

4 more raps later and in the dark (there were some rope management issues on the way down with  a knot stuck in cracks between ice and snow and a saddle bag gone wrong).  Next time I’m bringing the rope throw bag (which this time got left behind at the gear stash accidentally).

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Rapping down the gully wasn’t going to work, its just a giant cornice right now and the anchors are buried).  So we walked around to Pineapple Pass.

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Pineapple Pass had a huge cornice and lip on it that was a bit of drop, not feeling like lowering down over the edge we rapped off a webbing sling that had been setup on a tree. 

So 6 rappels later we’re back in the basin and walking back to our gear stash.  Mostly the snow had firmed up so we stayed high on the basin wall and wrapped around the edge of The Tooth and only got into a short section of thigh deep postholing.  After grabbing snowshoes and a quick break it was an easy out to the parking lot by 9pm.

16.5 hours car to car.  About half for the climb and half for the entry/exit/rappels.

I’m giving this a 5 star just because it pushed my limits for runout sketchy slab climbing and was a cool overall alpine experience and I got more mixed climbing in on this route than I’ve done to date.   But Pitch #2 sucks.   Maybe you’ll get lucky and have some good ice for a solid connection to the face but still don’t expect you’ll get any pro placements in on that traverse.  I would also give it a 1 star because I’ll never do it again because (see Pitch #2 above), then again I've said that about a few climbs I'd never do again that I've done again.  Not without a good covering of ice on Pitch #2 though.

Gear Notes:
3 pickets (used all 3), 4 ice screws (pointless extra weight), cams .2 to #2 (used them all), nuts (tried to set one, didn't cooperate), Black Diamond Spector (my favorite placement of the day before Pitch #2).

Approach Notes:
Easy snowshoe trek following the uphill ski tracks in to the basin. Soft snow getting to the base of the fan where we stashed gear.

Edited by Ian Lauder

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Both times I've been on it p1 and p2 were funky aerated ice. Couldn't protect it with screws either time except at the very top of the fan where the ice was the thickest. Not much in the way of rock pro on the right hand side going up except for some small stoppers or knifeblades. Another option for p2 is to continue straight up (staying in the dihedral) from the belay cave after p1, may offer more chances for rock pro.  I thought the 15' mixed step at the notch was fun but short, wish it went on a bit longer. Despite the very runout nature of this climb I think its pretty enjoyable and offers a better mix of climbing than doing the south ridge in winter. Nice work!

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I did really enjoy it overall despite feeling really hung out there by the time I was halfway across the traverse with only small footholds in a thin crust.  I was eyeing that dihedral but wasn't sure about it, and once I started across the traverse I didn't want to backtrack. 

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