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[TR] Tumtum Peak, Mt. Rainier National Park, 4678ft.- North Ridge 9/2/2006

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Climb: Tumtum Peak, Mt. Rainier National Park, 4678ft.-North Ridge


Date of Climb: 9/2/2006


Trip Report:

Anyone who has been up to Paradise or higher reaches above on the south side of Mt. Rainier (a.k.a. “Raindawg”), and has taken the trouble to gaze west, will have no doubt admired a tall, striking conical peak off in the distance. It looks kind of like Mt. Fuji, except not as big and it’s green, but apart from that, it looks kind of like Mt. Fuji, you might say. The peak is known as “Tumtum”, an onomonopedic word in Chinook jargon for the beating of one’s heart; the effect it probably had on the native population when they admired its beautiful yet intimidating flanks. “Tumtum” is rarely climbed, but on Saturday, 2 September in the year 2000 and 6, me and my buddy Dwayner set out to scale this mighty mountain via its menacing north ridge.


The starting point was the Kautz Creek parking area just a few miles within the Park boundary. (A cute and cheerful rangerette at the Park Entrance examined Dwayner’s annual Raindawg admissions pass and nodded her approval. “No, thank you”, we would soon reply…”we don’t need the complimentary maps….we know the roads like it’s our own neighborhood and we’re here to climb something that isn’t on your tourist-oriented brochure: Tumtum Peak.” “You guys aren’t….no you couldn’t be……Dwayner ‘n pope?”, she asked with a teasing blush. “That’s entirely too correct!”, I replied. She quickly wrote down a phone number on a small slip of paper and asked us to call her in Ashford on our way home. “Enough of the jibba-jabba!”, yelled Dwayner, “we’s gots a peak to climb!” Dwayner grabbed the phone number, wadded it up and threw it in the back seat, where it landed in a pile of dozens of others. “Focus, now, pope…focus!” he admonished as we left the entrance booth. A glimpse in the rear view mirror revealed our little rangerette leaning out her window and giving a tiny little wave as we sped away for bigger things to climb. I could read her lips: “please, please be careful, my men”.


As I sorted through my gear at Kautz Creek, Dwayner put “Funkytown” in the CD Player and proceeded to do The Robot in the parking lot. It only took a few moments before I, too, was seduced by this infectious music and joined him for a heartily recommended warm-up. (Note to Jens: warm-ups such as The Robot might assist in reducing climbing injuries.)


Gotta make a move to a

Town that's right for me

Town to keep me movin'

Keep me groovin' with some energy


Well, I talk about it

Talk about it

Talk about it

Talk about it

Talk about, Talk about

Talk about movin


Gotta move on

Gotta move on

Gotta move on


Won't you take me to



In each of our lives, we have our own “Funkytown”. Funkytown, in this particular case, would be no other than Tumtum Peak!


Armed with a map, compass and GPS, we headed up the Kautz Creek trail full of anticipation as the giant west face of our target loomed to our left. Crossing the creek involved a trek across a log bridge over rushing brown waters to the trail that continued up along Tumtum itself. Having plotted GPS coordinates based on a topo map, it would be necessary to hike to around the 3200 ft. level and then begin a lateral, ascending cross-country trek to find a broad notch that would takes us to the summit slopes. Being new to the GPS, it was interesting to find that it proved utterly useless in the thick, tall old growth forest, although for whatever reason, the altimeter on the devise seemed to function. “Old growth forest”, we yelled enthusiastically, “right on! Woo-hoo!” as we gave each other several rounds of high-fives. A couple of female hikers on the trail approached us to ask us if everything was O.K. “Old growth forest!”, we yelled again and as if by instinct, they knew exactly what to do. Several more rounds of high-fives ensued and then they parted company; they: heading up the trail to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, and we: heading off the trail to find the north ridge of Tumtum. As the hikers left, I noticed that they had dropped what appeared to be a gum wrapper. Indeed it was, but this was no ordinary gum wrapper….it was a gum wrapper with a phone number! “Put it with the rest and let’s keep moving!” demanded Dwayner, as I shoved it in my bulging back pocket.


The upward traverse to the southwest was quite steep and eventually we reached a kind of ridge top but not the saddle the map showed. The GPS continued to provide us elevations so we kept hiking up this ridge until we reached and even broader saddle. This was it: the staging point for the higher reaches. With thickly wooded slopes, it was difficult to see the giant summit pyramid through the trees, so we worked on the assumption that continuing uphill would eventually bring us to the top. It did, but not without the necessity of noting oddly-shaped trees and mossy rock formations for navigational landmarks. We would need them because, you see, it is one thing to climb UP Tumtum Peak, and it is quite another to descend its generally homogenous slopes to find oneself back on the trail, epic-free. No doubt there are piles of bones to be found along the slopes of Tumtum, the remains of thousands of years of summit aspirants, some who may have actually survived the trip to the top, only to become perilously lost on the descent. Dwayner and I discussed this on one of our brief water breaks. “Hats off to those mighty pioneers!” we agreed as we removed our hats and engaged in a brief. Solemn moment of silence in their memory. Yes, there are many ghosts on Tumtum Peak, and that beating heart you hear tum-tumming in your ears might not be from exertion, but may instead be wandering spirits warning one to take heed, lest one join their company.


The final slopes of Tumtum are steep, slick with pine needles and fallen debris and relentless. Gradually, we spied a glimmer of light that seemed to taper off…”Ahoy!”, I loudly declared, “the summit must be near!” The once broad slope now tapered to a point and a cliff appeared to the east. Soon the sides dropped off on all sides. We turned on the GPS and with a clear sky above, the expensive gadget finally worked and confirmed for us what we already knew…we had reached the summit! Tears welled up in each of our eyes. Dwayner will never admit it, but he turned away and put on his sunglasses. Overcome with emotion, his only response to me was “Change your Pampers, you big baby!” I would have at least appreciated a big alpine hug but I understood his position: save that cryin’ strength for the descent, and should we become lost, those tears might have been better spent on water rationing.


We dangled our feet over the edge of a cliff and I whipped out some sardines in mustard sauce and some kippered herring. Dwayner had a can of those li’l Vienna sausages. They never taste good at sea level, but here, several thousand feet above the floor and with fresh air floating everywhere, canned fish and processed meat taste like hor d’oeuvres straight from the kitchen of Mr. Wolfgang Puck himself!



Wolfgang Puck: "Taste this!"


By the way, there is something very special about the summit of Tumtum Peak. I will not share this with you. Those who have been there will know. The knowledge of this phenomenon will remain a secret and will separate those who have climbed the peak from the many wannabe’s, faux-contenders and poseurs. This is something you will have to discover on your own. I must admit that I did not believe Dwayner when he first told me about this; something he had heard from a friend. Who could image such an experience!


The descent involved steady footwork and our trekking poles prevented many a long tumble. The landmarks observed on the way up guided us to the saddle, but from there it was all by compass. Dwayner says he knows a guy who claimed to have climbed Tumtum in the winter. Its long steep slopes would be quite arduous on snowshoes but the descent would be greatly simplified by being able to follow one’s own tracks in the snow back to the trail. The compass along with the altimeter did the job and we reached the trail not far from where we had left it earlier that day. Dwayner and I sat on a log and had more snacks. We didn’t need to say a thing. We just sat there with wide grins across our faces that could only mean one thing: we had climbed Tumtum Peak!


The hike back to the cars was uneventful and we headed out of the Park to Ashford to celebrate with some cold ones at the giant Whittaker climbing complex. A buxom bar-maid ran up to our car. “Are you the guys who just climbed Tumtum?”she asked with excitement in her voice. “Everyone is talking about it!” They must have been tipped off by the rangerette. Dwayner stared at his feet but I would not feign such modesty. “Why yes, miss, that would be us”, I said with my thumbs placed through my front belt loops. She squealed at the news. “Come to the bar!”, she insisted, pulling both of us by the arms. “Big Lou says ‘water those boys down with what they’re having”, she informed us, and we did. The beer selection wasn’t bad and as we relaxed with our drinks, van after van arrived to unload their cargo of RMI-guided summit climbers. Many appeared haggard and worn-out but nonetheless straggled over to our table to congratulate us. A small child came up to us and asked for our autographs. Now while Dwayner might be used to this, I am not. “Would you like it in print or cursive?”, I asked the young man. Dwayner snatched the paper and pen out of my hand. He quickly scrawled the words, “I am a Jack-Donkey” and handed it to the boy. “Now go find your parents!” he ordered as the kid ran away.


I could go on and on about the events of the rest of that triumphant day: the doughnuts, the spicy chicken wings, the girl who sat on an inverted barstool and spun….but it would only pale in comparison to our big mountain adventure. As we approached Tacoma, Dwayner and I summarized the whole experience by agreeing that the world can really be simply divided into two kinds of people: those who have climbed Tumtum Peak, and those who wish they had climbed Tumtum Peak. Indeed it is a rare and humble privilege to belong to the few in the former category.



Gear Notes:


Trekking Poles

Map and Compass

Useless GPS

Canned Fish

Li’l Vienna Sausages

Nerves of Steel

Great Will to Succeed



Approach Notes:

Look at a topo map. Trail and then cross-country.

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By the way, there is something very special about the summit of Tumtum Peak. I will not share this with you. Those who have been there will know. The knowledge of this phenomenon will remain a secret and will separate those who have climbed the peak from the many wannabe’s, faux-contenders and poseurs. This is something you will have to discover on your own. I must admit that I did not believe Dwayner when he first told me about this; something he had heard from a friend. Who could image such an experience!


I am happy you enjoyed the holiday spirit! wink.gif

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Dwayner and Pope...the two most unwanted people at the Pube Club? I don't think they'll be there. Send me $20 and I'll get you both autographs.


Pube Club:




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Good TR, Pope. I've always wondered about this peak. It looks like an old cinder cone covered by forest - although I know it's non-volcanic. This is the kind of stuff good memories are made of. Dad comes home tired, happy, and alive. thumbs_up.gif

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