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[TR] Puyallup Cleaver / Lower Tahoma Glacier - 5/1/2016

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Trip: Puyallup Cleaver / Lower Tahoma Glacier -


Date: 5/1/2016


Trip Report:


Dereck skinning up the Puyallup Cleaver on Mt. Rainier's remote west side last weekend. Not only did we see a total of zero people the entire time after leaving the road, we saw zero signs of people having been out here. I really love this side of the mountain, so remote and beautiful. We saw what appeared to be bear and cougar tracks. No human footprints were seen anywhere.


Photo/caption-based conditions report for the Puyallup Cleaver/Tahoma Glacier on Mt. Rainier, May 1st.



This would hurt a little going up, but 3.5 miles of coasting downhill would be worth it. If I were to do this again, I would wear my ski boots on the way up. Less weight on my back pushing you into a shitty little seat. And/or I would get a super padded seat just for this.



Love the Westside Road's burnt-out, destroyed aesthetic.



I blasted through this creek at full speed on the way back, making it all the way across. My lower half got soaked, but it was worth it. About a half-dozen salmon got caught in my spokes.



Tokaloo Spire behind us as the sun sets on the Puyallup Cleaver.



This is the stuff they don't teach you in contact-putting-on school - how to put fresh contacts in the morning with dirty fingers using your cell phone's selfy camera.



The overhanging, visually spectacular walls along the Puyallup Cleaver.



Not sure what Dereck was doing here, but he needs to wear brighter clothing/gear. This is the point where dropping down onto the Puyallup would probably have been much smoother climbing with less gain/loss vs. staying on the cleaver. You can no longer drop onto the Tahoma until much higher as it cliffs out along the south side of the Cleaver.



Thunder followed by a whiteout for an hour or so on the lower part of the Puyallup Cleaver.



A little scale on the Puyallup Cleaver. The frozen surface would scrape off as you skinned over it, sending thousands (millions?) of tiny pieces of ice down the length of the slope, creating a really unique, almost alien sound I wish I would've recorded..



Wet slides were everywhere. Shortly after this section it became high noon, the pinwheels started, and it was time to get off the steeper, wet-slide prone slopes. We had a bit of close call taking the the lower part of the cleaver by crossing the worst wet-slide-prone slope during the worst time. I regretted crossing it after each step sent large pinwheels and roller balls down the mountain.



Sunny and steep behind me, with a deadly run out over cliffs onto the Tahoma Glacier. Plus it appeared that if we continued and took the ridge--which was 300 vertical ft above--there would be a huge drop before lower St. Andrews Rock. It seemed likely it would cliff out, and we'd need to camp up there vs. descending a wet, steep slope that could easily slide. I was up for trying, Dereck wasn't as psyched. I was OK calling it due to a variety of factors. We both agreed that we should've come straight up the Tahoma from the moraine instead of the Cleaver if we wanted less uncertainty/more efficiency. Or dropped onto the Puyallup Glacier a bit further back to avoid this section. Or have started the day earlier to avoid the wet side risk factoring into certain terrain choices. Or taken an e-bike up the Success Cleaver, then snorkled over to the Tahoma in the late afternoon, deep wet snow. But I dunno, I'd had a great time just getting out and wouldn't mind getting my Monday back due to workload stress. I was fine transitioning and cruising down at the time. Even the rest of the day. But as I look back now, I think continuing up the route was more important than I let on at the time. We could've started back up the Tahoma Glacier once we dropped onto it and still probably made a 10k camp by late that afternoon, which would've put us in a position to summit and take the awesome-looking line on the south end of the glacier the next morning. Thankfully the Westside of Rainier is probably going nowhere, and will wait indifferently for our return earlier next season.



Awesome corn cruising down the Puyallup until a drop-in point to the lower Tahoma Glacier, where hidden crevasses waited for us in the wet, soft snow. You forget about the 3-day pack on your hips when this much fun is involved. Before we left the Westside road Dereck had pulled me aside and said "Listen man, I need you get at least one shot of my oiled up calves on the cleaver. It would mean a lot to me." I thought it was weird/creepy, but here's your pic Dereck.





Somehwere on the lower Tahoma looking up. Faster ascent path for this route would've been to head straight up this way (probably left of the ice cliff in front of us).



Back onto the Emerald Ridge. We were happy to see that you can just walk right across this scree-d out ridge. From above we assumed it looked too steep/instable and we were going to go below, then up it.




Getting desperate to stay on the boards, we finally give up right around here, which actually wasn't too far from the S. Puyallup bridge where we had crossed on the ascent.



Interesting rock pillar formations on the approach near the South Puyallup River, which includes some beautiful wooded landscapes. The approach is longer for this climb, but it's not ugly. I remember sitting down near the bridge over the S. Puyallup River waiting for Dereck who had accidentally left his whippet 1/4-mile back at a break. It felt really peaceful to sit and listen to the river and the sounds of the forest. I was calm and happy. Earlier in my climbing experiences I probably would've been exhausted, in low spirits. It was a nice realization that time and experience can allow you to enjoy the mountains more. You know how to pace yourself. You know how important fitness and proper training contributes to more enjoyment of the experience. You have a better understanding what to expect so you aren't surprised when things are harder or take longer than anticipated. I felt a natural high just sitting there in my ski boots, watching the light filter through the forest onto the long trail ahead. I had also just eaten an expired Chocolate Outrage Gu so that could've also been producing a psychedelic effect.









A little bit of snow before Round's Pass. This is a fake picture of me pretending to work my way through the snow. In reality the bike wouldn't go 2ft. in this shit snow with a 55lb pack at that low angle.



The second best way to cover the last 3-4 miles on a splitboard/climbing mission (cell phone pic from Dereck).



Before the washout on the Westside road, which entailed walking 50ft in the river bed (ie almost not worth mentioning). We were just up on the little mountain you see in the background. Or I guess we're on it now too. I guess we're always on our own little metaphoric "mountain" come to think of it, aren't we? (I'll pause here while everyone nods earnestly at their phone or computer screens).




The orange represents the route we should've taken. Both the Sickle and the right-side of the Tahoma looked like they had crevasse-free passages. The green line was going to be our decent line.



Our actual decent line from the base of the Tahoma Glacier back onto Emerald Ridge, picking up the Wonderland Trail again, which was mostly buried in snow. We had a blast boarding down the Wonderland Trail area, skirting through trees on thin snow - shooting across 1ft-wide sections of snow over creeks in no-fall zones. Dereck was a little bit more committed to this style than me (and a little better at it).



Our plan was to take this exit ramp off of the lower St. Andrews Rock. You can also see the paths up zoomed in a bit.




GPS tracks of our ascent (left) and descent (right). I started the GPS late, so add some more Westside road in there at the bottom. It's depressing to look at this and see how much further we could've gone. And by depressing I mean "not that big of a deal I have nothing to prove I'm just trying to have fun". And by "not that big of a deal I have nothing to prove I'm just trying to have fun" I mean depressing.



Route from the S. Puyallup River bridge. Route was snow covered across the bridge all the way up. We b-lined it up after abandoning a disappearing trail, then had to move left as it cliff'd out before taking the ridge near St. Andrew's Park. A little bush-whacking was involved, not much. Def. wet slide potential near the top, or glide avalanches maybe (there was recent evidence of both).




Where we turned around, in a small moat on the south side of the cleaver. We would've needed to take the top of the ridge as traversing wet, steep snow with that run out didn't seem wise. Was probably a 40-45 degree slope (guess).

From our vantage point it looked like the ridge might cliff out further up. It looked like a major elevation drop before St. Andrews Rock. We'd be forced to backtrack in even wetter snow, or camp on the top of the ridge until the snow hardened that night. Turns out it does go (received some post-climb beta from an expert).



We crossed a bunch of cracks on the lower Tahoma before getting off on the Emerald Ridge. Fun tech boarding from there down the buried Wonderland Trail.



Keeping speed and holding breath over a bunch of soft bridges on the lower Tahoma after coming off the Cleaver. The large rock section you see us skirt was covered in snow/ice (cliffy-bergshrundy).



We should've taken this dip back onto the Puyallup, which was shaded (north aspect), had less elevation gain/loss, and no deadly cliff'd run outs.





Gear Notes:

I tried my 2oz Sawyer mini water filter for the first time. Works great, $20. Worth a look if you're still lugging around a heavy pump filter.

Edited by lukeh

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Thanks Kraken. A lot of these are just iphone pics, but my main camera I've been using now for the past year-ish is a Sony A7RII.

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The A7RII.......sigh. Is it as good as I've read, or at least comparable to your 5dmkIII?


Excellent report as usual Luke! I love the humor, seriously (esp. the greased calves).


I also need to get back to that side of the mountain, thanks for the reminder.


Curious why you didn't cut the corner on the trail up Tahoma Creek?

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Thanks Josh, Jason. Jason the Sony is a little smaller, and generally a little better than the 5D MKIII. But the main difference is the EVF they have on these mirrorless cameras now. They let you get just the right exposure before you even press the button vs. using the inaccurate light meters, blowing highlights, then re-taking.


The only reason we didn't take the Tahoma Creek trail was uncertainty. I had spent time on the Puyallup Cleaver a few years ago and knew the St. Andrew's Park approach a little better. I kept picturing some crazy impassable moraine with waterfalls and cliffs that would force us to turn around before we even got started had we gone the Tahoma Creek trail. Now I know that's not the case and it's more direct and easily goes. I guess there could be some challenging washouts on the south side of the Emerald Ridge though? We couldn't see that area. I also didn't mind seeing those cool pillar formations near the S. Puyallup R. campground.


I think next year I'll def. try again and go up that way. Maybe a little earlier so there's even more snow on the descent. Trade-off for earlier I suppose is the Westside road will be closed earlier and add 3 miles, plus snow will likely cover it sooner making it not bike-able, but probably too low angle to really ski.

Edited by lukeh

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