A Bad Idea?It was friday afternoon and I was getting ready to dismiss my class of third graders to go home for the weekend. I was telling the class to stack their chairs and line up when I got a brilliant idea... go home, pack some gear and climb the tooth tonight, sleeping on top! Yeah, everyone climbs the tooth all the time and it's always crowded but it rarely gets climbed at night (and I know because I've climbed 4 routes on it at night and have never seen another team). So as soon as I left school, I called Chico (cascadian) and told him my idea. He said he was going to Leavenworth to climb the next morning but said that as long as we were in North Bend by 8:00, he was game for the climb. I assured him we'd be back in plenty of time as I pulled into my apartment and started packing some gear.
One overflowed toilet and an angry landlord later and I was on my way to pick up Chico, later than expected.
We arrived at the Alpental parking lot around 9:30 started cramming gear into our backpacks. Since I was rushed to get out of my apartment before it was dark outside I just threw everything into my trunk and left, it was a mess.
Around 10:00 we left the parking lot and started up the south side of the basin since there was still plenty of snow to cover the brush. Now, we decided to bivy on top of the tooth because we had an unusual streak of warm and clear weather, which we were very grateful for, until the post-holing began. Luckily we brought the snowshoes which we put on almost immediately. I had slept about 5 hours in the past 3 days so I was already a little fatigued at the trailhead, but when we took a wrong turn off the boot-path too soon I started to die. We cut up towards Great Scott's Basin too early and were quickly forced to traverse steep mushy snow with moats EVERYWHERE. I felt like I was in the middle of an icefall on a glacier!
We carefully weaved in and out of moats hoping to come out alive! We both had ice axed but didn't pull them out and just used snowshoes for balance instead. It felt like 50 hours of moat crossings, collapsing snowbridges and steep traverses before we came to the entrance of Great Scott's Basin. By the time we arrived I was exhausted and wanted to call it quits and bivy there, but Chico insisted we make it to the top! I don't even remember the slog of the basin or the scramble to the base of the climb. All I know is that we were going up a bowl of snow with a 70+ degree warm wind blasting our faces. I've been on some miserable climbs, but for some reason, this climb of the tooth (the easiest climb in the area) was terrible. I think we had more moats to cross before the climb began. When we got to the base of the technical climbing, I drank a liter of water and ate 3 bagels.
Food and water didn't help my sleep deprived and worn out body, yet I volunteered to lead the first pitch thinking I could just fly up it really fast and make the misery go quickly. I ran out the protection and placed a piece ever 20 meters or so combining the first tow pitches of the climb.
By the time I reached the belay I flopped on a "flat" rock and set up an anchor while lying down and belayed the same way. When Chico arrived we pulled the anchor and both soloed the next pitch to the base of the catwalk. Chico had never climbed the catwalk before so I let him lead it. He said it was spooky at night with an almost full moon lighting up all the trees 400 feet below. But like he always does, he pulled though and led the pitch flawlessly getting in one piece after the airy traverse. Finally, we were at the top. It was 3:30 am and it had only taken us 30 min to do the technical climbing. That meant it took us 5 hours to do the approach (I'm telling you it was MISERABLE). Now, I had told chico that we would be in North Bend by 8:00 am, but our late bedtime started thoughts of sleeping in. Before we went to bed, Chico said, let's just sleep in and I'll make sure to get up and call my friends to let them know I won't be going. We turned in about 4:45 after eating too much mountainhouse chicken and rice.
Now one would have thought the night would have flown by quickly being how tired I was. But we had wisely decided to set up our bivy on the VERY top of the Tooth where everything is sloped just enough to make your sleeping bad slide off it's pad. That meant all night Chico and I felt like we were going to fall off the east face of the mountain (thats a 500+ foot drop). I built an anchor to hold us in but it just made sleeping more uncomfortable.
Well, the night was restless and an hour and a half after I first shut my eyes I was woken by the sound of shifting rocks. I opened my eyes to bright sun and Chico on the phone with his friends. After he told them he wasn't going to join them, the plan was to go back to bed. But for some reason neither of us could get back to sleep. Being the smart one's we are, we ate some dry bagels, stared into the distance at nothing, took a few pictures then packed up our gear.
Now, if we would have just left as soon as we realized we weren't getting any more sleep, Chico could have easily made it back to go climbing at Leavenworth. But like I said, we were smart and did nothing for over an hour and a half then started moving. So began the rappels!
We thought we were free and clear... it was sunny, warm and we could see where we were going. We were fueled up and ready to get out. What could go wring right??? Well, the rope got caught on the first rappel off the top and required prussik climbing to retrieve it. After that, we started running into party after party trying to come up as we wanted to get down. Usually, people are nice and take turns, one party up then one party down. But this day the climbers going up were adamant that they owned the mountain and had the right to go up before we got to go down. I guess that's what we get for climbing the tooth. Anyway, we set up out own rappel anchors and made it down to the base of the climb and started to set the first rappel from pineapple pass. Unfortunately, there was an ice block about the size of a refrigerator teetering on one little corner waiting to fall down the couloir below... our rappel route. To make things even better, the rope was going to rub the teetering edge the whole time, especially when we pulled the ropes. Anyway, to make a long story short, the next 15 minutes were unnerving as Chico first went over the edge and found a ledge out of the possible path of destruction.
As I went over the edge next to the ice block it made a cracking noise and I thought I was going to die. Thankfully it was just the rope cutting deeper and deeper in to the 2' corner it was resting on. I went quickly but gently down to the next rappel, finally breathing when I reached safety. For the rest of the rappels, we stayed to the right side of the gully making our own anchors. Arriving at the snow in Great Scott's Basin was a huge relief and we knew we'd be alright... even though we had to post hole back to snowshoes, and slog out of this slushy mess.
On the way out we looked back and stared at the tooth... we both agreed that it was too bad it wasn't this epic every time we climbed it!
At the bottom of the basin we realized we had a quarter mile of glissading awaiting us! Off went the snowshoes and on went to rain pants!
We both crashed into moats during the windy glissade and ended up basing ourselves with ice axes and whatnot. Basically, our same luck was continuing, the simplest things were slapping us in the face. Nonetheless we made it to the packed boot-path and had an easy hike back to the car, then an easy drive home and an even easier time going to bed.
Sometimes...I just laugh thinking about this trip. I've climbed this rock so many times. I've run up it in running shoes alone, hauled my 60 year old dad up it, climbed it in a full on winter storm and NEVER was it this ridiculous. I love that the mountains will always beat the crap out of us in the end. I love that even the most simple things can become a great adventure! And, I love that there are people who are willing to join me on ridiculous adventures!
just for those who are always wondering...We climbed the south face of the Tooth and this is the gear we took...
5-6 stoppers (BD 6-12)
3 hexes (BD 7-9)
4 friends (1, 1.5, 2 and 2.5)
7 single slings (WAY TOO MANY)
4 double slings (TOO MANY)
I don't know why we took so much gear...