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[TR] Mt. Rainier - Tahoma Glacier - Sickle variation 7/4/2015


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Trip: Mt. Rainier - Tahoma Glacier - Sickle variation


Date: 7/4/2015


Trip Report:

Last week Kevin and I climbed Mt. Rainier by the Tahoma Glacier route. This is a climb I began thinking about over a year ago and it has come to mean far more to me than an ascent of the mountain. My sister Lauriel passed away last year after a long battle with brain cancer, and I put this climb together as a benefit to raise money for brain cancer research. I got 4 of my close friends to sign on with me, set up a fundraising page through Crowdrise and got busy preparing. Our itinerary would put us on the summit on July 4th but the low snowpack this year had us concerned. Our calls to the rangers inquiring about route conditions did not inspire confidence. It was not until 4 days before our planned departure that a trip report appeared on CascadeClimbers by Val Zephyr describing sporty conditions but a route that her and Brendan were able to make go. Unfortunately our team of 5 was hobbled by injuries and we lost 2 members before leaving town, but on July 2nd Kevin, Sandy and I set off. We left a car at Paradise, checked in with the rangers and headed up the Westside road. We followed the Wonderland Trail and turned off after 8 miles to a camp at 6,200 feet, just above St. Andrews Lake.





We got an early start the next day, but something was not right. Sandy, who we have long considered to be more machine than man, was really dragging. He had been fighting a GI bug and was very depleted. We stopped at around 7,500 feet, just above Tokaloo Spire to rest and weigh our options.





Sandy did not want to jeapordize our summit opportunity and made the difficult and selfless decision to turn back. Kevin and I had a soul-searching talk about our commitment, motivation and willingness to proceed as a team of 2. The route looked pretty gnarly and we both have families. We decided to push on and reassess as we went. We came upon a goat path that Val had described and followed it along the knife edge of the crest of the Puyallup Cleaver. This terrain was sketchy as hell - loose, steep and unstable.






We found it to be quite unsavory but the goats did not seem to mind.




It was very slow going with lots of dead-ends. The cleaver became impassable and we dropped down onto the Puyallup Glacier. It was super hot and lassitude set in. We plodded along but stopped after 14 hours at 9,700 feet and set up camp well short of our goal.





We continued to debate the merits of pushing forward and the real possibility that we might soon not be able to reverse course. We talked about why we climb, my sister Lauriel and our sponsors for this climb. We agreed to push on a little further and see.

We slept through the alarm on summit day and our lingering uncertainty kept us moving kind of slowly. The terrain seemed to dead end again at upper St. Andrews rock. We reversed course yet again and dropped back onto the Puyallup Glacier, skirting north around upper St. Andrews rock. We stopped to brew up at 11,400 feet where we were finally able to see our way onto the Tahoma Glacier.





It was almost noon and we would be in the thick of things way later than we wanted to be. From here the Sickle looked heinous, but we thought we could see a way to stitch together a path up the Tahoma proper.






We moved quickly through an area of heavy rockfall under the edge of the Sunset Amphitheater but did not make it far up the Tahoma before being stopped on the far right side by an unseen gaper around 12,000 feet. We made a descending traverse leftward and gained the base of the Sickle around 11,800. Heavy packs kept us from moving as quickly as we would have liked through this terrain of steep ice and teetering seracs.













We finally popped out of the Sickle around 12,800 feet and entered the relative safety of the broad summit slopes where we were finally able to relax. We were beat and prepared to dig in anytime but still had hopes of gaining the crater for a summit bivy. We took turns kicking steps and moved slowly upward, finally gaining the crater rim at 7:30pm on July 4th.

We had beautiful views from our camp.






As we were getting ready for freeze-dried lentils we suddenly saw a lone figure across the penitentes on Columbia Crest.






Amar came over and hung out with us until night fell and we settled in to watch the fireworks. We saw an awesome display from Olympia to Bainbridge Island before crawling into our sleeping bags exhausted.

Amar had been up there for 2 days and advised us to wait until around 10 before heading down the DC to allow the guided parties time to get back to Muir. So we slept in and had a leisurely morning before crossing the crater over to Columbia Crest. It was a very emotional experience for both of us. This trip had been all-consuming for the last few months, and we had worked so hard to get here and exposed ourselves to hazards in a way we had not in the past. It felt like we were really laying it all out there but were somehow watched over and protected. We were motivated to dig deep when things looked grim by the force of a power greater than ourselves. I sensed that connection up there - the brotherhood of the rope - that allowed me to give up everything I had, trust implicitly in my partner and try as hard as I could. It is a rare thing, and precious.


At the very summit I left my sister Lauriel's ashes. Now I think of her whenever I look at the mountain.





It looked like September on the DC on the way down. We crossed over 5 ladders, one of which shifted on Kevin when he was halfway across, nearly pitching him into the abyss. We had a leisurely 9,000 foot descent to Paradise, arriving at 7pm. We drove down to the Westside road where Sandy was waiting for us. He was overjoyed to see us arriving from there rather than the trail back from the Tahoma. We stopped at the Wildberry restaurant where Kevin relapsed on my Summit Burger after 20 years of vegetarianism.







If interested, here is a link to the website for the fundraiser:





Gear Notes:

Ice tools were essential at this time on the Sickle as there was a lot of really hard ice. We brought 3 pickets, used none of them and placed one ice screw.


Approach Notes:

We followed the description in Gator's book, along with the beta from Val. Her TR provides excellent detail.

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Nice trip report, Keith, it was great meeting you and Kevin up there. Fun to hang out with you both and watch the fireworks too.


Thanks again for your work resetting that ladder near 13200 ft on the descent, and for your very kind offer to let me rope up with your team if the descent got too sketchy for my comfort level.


I posted a long trip report over on TAY a few days ago:

July 3-5, 2015, Mount Rainier, 4th of July Summit Crater Camping via Disappointment Cleaver



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congrats n' condolences


"wise sir do not grieve

for every one of us living in this world

means waiting for our end

let he who can achieve glory before death

when a warrior is gone

that will be his best and only bulwark"

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Excellent trip report. Congrats again on pulling off this trip in these conditions. It sounds like things got quite a bit more spicy since we were there. With these added challenges you certainly got a full value trip, the kind that you won't soon forget. Thanks for posting!



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