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Tahoma Glacier Route

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We did the Tahoma Glacier June 30 - July 3. After many unsuccessfull attempts in the past, everything came together - good weather, good glacier conditions, and good planning.

The route is not especially difficult technically - we had 5 pickets and 2 screws and only single tools - but is committing.

Due to the afternoon sun softening the route, we choose to camp on the summit and descend via Muir. This option is not usually considered by most parties (and is not mentioned in the guide books) but is really the most sensible thing to do (IMHO).

Our Route was as follows.


Day 1: From the closure point on the West side road at 2900 ft (3.5 miles from jct. with main park road,) walk the old road bed approximately 3.8 miles to round pass at 3900 ft. Take the South Puyallup (alias Round Pass) trail northeast for 2.1 miles to South Puyallup Camp at 4000 feet. Take the trail fork to the north to St. Andrews Park, another 2.5 miles. Leave the trail after the switchbacks just as it does a long traverse north (at 6000-ft level) and head right up steep heather slopes to bench at 6300-ft elevation (GPS 10T 0586887E 5186308N). 5 Hours from cars.

DAY 2: From camp, ascend snowfields and ridges northeast, passing Andrew on its south side (steep traverse), to the crest of Puyallup cleaver just below Tokaloo rock. Pass Tokaloo on the south and continue up the crest to a notch at 8000 ft (10T 0589365E 5188208N). Follow the Puyallup glacier around the north side of the large rock buttress on the cleaver at 9063 ft (stay well down on the glacier). Return to the cleaver at 9200 ft to a good camp on a large sheltered bench/bowl (10t 591018E 5188834N). 5 hours from first camp. You can also camp another 500 feet higher on a small, exposed flat spot overlooking the glacier. 5 Hours from low camp.

Day 3: Left at 5:30 AM. Ascend the large snowfield above camp to about 9900 ft (10T 591490E 5189003N). Diagonally descend several hundred feet of steep sidehill onto the Tahoma glacier on a smooth sidehill. Good cramponing in early morning, but dangerous in late afternoon! Ascend the glacier (lots of snow bridges) mostly on center-left to 11000 foot level (10T 592544E 5189137N). Some routefinding required thru the large ice blocks to a relatively smooth and level part of the glacier. At this point either the "Sickle" to the left or the main route thru the center could be done. We choose the center because it looked safer from icefall. There is an obvious "S" shaped track through the center. It probably averages 45 degrees in the 12000-13000 ft vicinity. One 100 ft pitch of ice was encountered around 12000 ft (10T 0593000E 5189230N, approx) that required cuting some steps and a couple of screws to pass a rounded serac. Above was steep, sticky snow (due to a recent storm that dumped a coupe of feet). This is over an icy layer, so some potential avalanche danger (though none seen that day). After 13000 ft, the slope leveled off, but snow worsened (very serious crampon balling up). We reached the base of the summit (14350 ft) and set up camp on a good flat area east of the radio tower. Wind 10-15 MPH and 30 degrees. 11 hours up.

Day 4: Packed up. Summitted (5 min from camp), and descended via DC and Muir.

6 hours down.


Comment: If not for the fresh snow, the route could have been a lot icier. If I was to do it again, I would bring at least one ice hammer for the leader and 4 long screws. Under those conditions the "Sickle" might be easier, as it has a shorter steep section. Later in the season snow bridges melt out, making routefinding in the lower glacier more problematic or impossible.

Our party was pretty strong (4 persons). I have previously climbed Liberty Ridge (2X) and found that this was quite a bit easier, except for much more crevasse problems. Carrying full packs (40 lbs) obviouly slowed us down, but I think the trade off is worthwhile. Tahoma gets full afternoon sun and descending unstable snow and crossing soft snow bridges seems unwise. Starting in very early (1 AM) might be possible if one could navigate the lower glacier in the dark.



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