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Val Zephyr

[TR] Mt. Rainier - Tahoma Glacier- Sickle variation

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Trip: Mt. Rainier - Tahoma Glacier- Sickle variation

 

Date: 6/24-27/2015

 

Trip Report:

I recently finished graduate school and am taking a couple of weeks off to regain my sanity with some quality climbing. With this sort of free time, I could finally try a longer route on Rainier. Brendan and I chose the more remote Tahoma Glacier route with a carry over to the DC. High pressure was firmly in place, so we had a great opportunity to camp on the summit of Mt. Rainier as well.

 

With time to spare, I took a more relaxed approach on this trip by hiking into St. Andrews Lake the first day and camping. I recently realized that I had never camped alone in the backcountry, so one of my goals for my time off was to do just that. I was imagining pristine meadows, time to wander around and take photos and relax in the sun. Instead I found bugs; so many bugs. I think that the better option would be to camp higher up on the ridgeline toward Tokaloo Spire. I hadn’t seen any water source yet besides the lake and the ridge looked unlikely to have water from my vantage point below, so the lake seemed like the safer bet. The next day on our hike to high camp however, we passed gorgeous bug-free ponds with amazing views.

 

Camping at St. Andrews Lake:

P6243280.jpg

 

Better camping on the ridge above St. Andrews Lake:

St_Andrews_Park_pond.jpg

 

We stayed on or just right of the ridge crest past Tokaloo Spire, then on or just left of the ridge crest along the Puyallup Cleaver up to the base of Lower St. Andrews Rock. Past Tokaloo Spire there was no more signs of human boot tracks, but plenty of goats. Maybe the goats were using old human paths in the snow? We soon noticed that the goats were better at navigating the terrain than us. Whenever we veered off of the goat track, we would soon find out that the goats knew of some unforeseen obstacle and had taken a better (more direct) line than us. Eventually, we just decided to follow the goats. The lower glacier was too broken up to access below Lower St. Andrews Rock so we continued up the lower St. Andrews on our goat path. The path was often a well-marked trench right on the ridge crest filled with goat shit. The goats seemed to know where to go though so we continued climbing through this alpine barnyard. The goat track took us right to our high camp at 10,800’ between Lower and Upper St Andrew’s Rocks. Why do the goats frequent this spot?!

 

Lower Tahoma Glacier is out for the season:

P6253300.jpg

 

Climbing up and over lower St. Andrews Rock:

P6253302.jpg

 

Our route-finding goat at 10,800’ just before high camp:

High_camp_goat.jpg

 

High camp:

P6263311.jpg

 

The climbing to get to high camp was definitely more exposed than I had anticipated. We were both really hoping that we would find a way up the broken up Tahoma Glacier the next day, but there were still a lot of unknowns. We hadn’t seen the crevasses behind Upper St. Andrew’s Rock, so didn’t know if we would be able to access the Tahoma Glacier that way either (which was our last chance to access the glacier at this point). We could see the main route, but there were substantial looking cracks on both the Sickle and the main Tahoma Glacier. We had picked out two potential lines, but weren’t sure if either of them would go. We got moving at 5:45am and figured that we would either get through the difficulties by the time that the sun hit the glacier, or we would dead end somewhere halfway up and have time reverse our path before it got too hot.

 

The upper Tahoma Glacier:

P6253304.jpg

 

We nearly bailed getting around Upper St. Andrews Rock. We finally found a path through that required briefly entering a rock fall prone area just right of Sunset Amphitheater. We moved fast and were back out near the center of the Tahoma glacier. Firm snow made for a calf-burning ascent up the main glacier. We found a steeper ramp left that would put us on the Sickle above some of the difficulties. Climbing in the Sickle was still steep, but was easier than the central Tahoma Glacier because the snow was much more featured in the Sickle, providing excellent rests. Thankfully, the cracks that we had seen in the Sickle were small enough to be stepped over. We were clear of the rock or ice fall hazards by 9am and were just left with the slog up to the summit. Brendan kicked steps all the way up to the top and I still had a hard time keeping up with him. He was handling the altitude much better than I. We hit the summit at 12:15pm and didn’t see a single person up there. In fact, I hadn’t seen anyone (Besides Brendan) in two days.

 

Looking back at lower and upper St. Andrews rocks from the center of the Tahoma Glacier. Our route onto the glacier was just to the right of this photo:

P6263313.jpg

 

Climbing in the Sickle:

P6263315.jpg

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P6263318.jpg

 

Summit!

P6263322.jpg

 

We made camp, napped and then started exploring the summit ice caves. Brendan was looking for plane wreckage and a lake that is reportedly up there, but all we found was garbage and blue bags. Some of the rooms were quite warm and steamy and the drips from the roof provided a great water source that saved us from burning up all of our fuel to melt snow.

 

Camp in the summit crater:

P6263342.jpg

 

Ice caves:

P6263331.jpg

 

At 8:20 we made another trip over to the summit for a spectacular sunset.

P6263350.jpg

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P6263367.jpg

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P6263389.jpg

 

Lingering at 14,400’ proved to be more difficult for me. I’ve summited Rainier 5 times prior to this and have always slowed down at around 13,000’ but have never felt sick. I didn’t get any sleep on the summit. I had a nagging low grade headache and by midnight or so was quite nauseous. We thought about packing up and leaving the summit during the night, but I never felt like I was in danger. I was just annoyed that my body wasn’t cooperating with me. At 3:30am we heard the shouts of the first people I’d seen in 3 days. A team of 12 had just summited. At 4am another team arrived with fireworks. The DC route can be ridiculous. We packed up at 5am and began our descent down the DC. It was a stark contrast to the isolated Tahoma and was both entertaining and frustrating at times. The traffic jams at crevasse crossings could last 20-30 minutes before you can find an opening to get through. We were still happy for the easy descent provided by the guide services though. There was a wide trail all the way down the mountain and crevasse crossings that would have been show-stoppers for us on the Tahoma now had ladders and hand-lines for easy travel. We were down to Muir at 8:30am where my appetite had returned an we were ready to break out the stove for a morning coffee before our final descent to Paradise.

 

Morning on Rainier’s summit:

P6273391.jpg

 

Hiking down the DC route:

P6273395.jpg

P6273396.jpg

P6273399.jpg

 

The climbing rangers at Paradise helped us out with a pen and paper for a NEED RIDE sign to get back to our car at the West-side road. It worked great. We had a ride in 10 minutes. Thanks!

 

Edited by Val Zephyr

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Great trip and some spectacular pictures!

 

My theory on the goats- minerals.

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Awesome report detail and love that sunrise shot (along with the others of course).

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Great! I've been curious about this route for the last year, and after reading your report, I really want to try it.

 

Obligatory "any ice" question: Any ice in the Sickle? Supposedly the route features icefalls.

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I once descended via the Sickle after climbing Mowich Face, and made the traverse over St. Andrews Rocks. I would not recommend this. Very scary, with hundreds of seracs overhead in sunlight on the Sickle, and the 'Rocks were not friendly either.

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Minerals was Brendan's goat theory too.

 

MattP is right about the rocks and seracs. I would absolutely plan on a carry over.

 

There was only hard snow, no real ice climbing was needed in the Sickle. We brought screws, but only ended up placing a couple of pickets on the steeper leftward traverse into the Sickle.

 

I liked the route overall. I think that Rainier is generally chossy, so expect some of that. But this was a more varied and interesting route than the other standard routes that I've done so far.

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