Little Tahoma wasn't so little after all

Page Type
Trip Report
Washington, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jul 1, 2014
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82.95% Score
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Little Tahoma wasn't so little after all
Created On: Jul 13, 2014
Last Edited On: Jul 13, 2014

When I finally get around to posting stuff

The sun was already up at 5:45 when our group met at the park-and-ride. That was me, Elaina, Cameron, Bryan, Rob, and finally, our fearless leader Stephen. We carpooled in 2 vessels to Mount Rainier National Park, purchased our climbing permits, and there met the seventh and final member of our boogie, the young and scrappy Justin. After getting excited by the free blue bags on offer, we stepped outside the hut, from where we could see our object in the distance. Little Tahoma. Didn't look too far. I remember, long ago, being disbelieving when I was told that little tumor on the side of Rainier was actually considered the third tallest mountain in Washington. This then, I suppose, was my just desserts for my judgmental past.

We stepped over the piddle that was Fryingpan Creek, and we were on our way by about 9 in the AM.
Rainier Forest
On our way. Cameron and Elaina ahead
 The forest was lovely, and the temperature was good enough, in that we weren't sweating to death. And, since the pace wasn't deadly either, I had time for reflection and meditation, a good start to a big alpine climb.
Summerland Trail
Little Tahoma ahead! Somewhere...

The slopes were relatively moderate, and the trail was none too aggressive either. I looked at the slope gently rising above us, and thought about the fact that these slopes rose and rose, almost without interruption, for 10000 feet, nearly 2 vertical miles, before starting down again. The thought made me dizzy, so I returned my mind to the cheerful day. Despite the moderate rise of the trail and the moderate pace of the group, we made good progress by rarely stopping, and soon had gained about 4 miles and dispatched some 1-2 thousand feet. At this point, we saw our prize rising again ahead of us, closer now. It would rarely leave view again, an excellent motivator.
Summerland Trail
Trees are dropping away beneath us. Soon there will be none left!
Little Tahoma
Our fearless leader contemplates the big Little
We popped out of the trees into beautiful meadow that wasn't perhaps as beautiful as it could have been, obviously having just melted out. (Though we were treated by seeing the meadow turn from mostly brown to lush green by the next evening, a scant 30 hours later, incredibly.)
Pushing onward through a snowfilled glacier near the end of its useful snowfilled life, we reached wondrous Summerland.
Little Tahoma climb
Don't fall through!
Little Tahoma
The view ahead
White River valley
The view behind
We were treated to a view of the White River valley we'd just crawled out of. At this point, our fearless leader engaged in some routefinding to find our way to Meany Crest, because, of course, none of us had been here before, and we didn't know exactly where Meany Crest was.
Little Tahoma
We thought it might be this thing on the far left
So we zigged and zagged across the snowfield above Summerland, before eventually deciding it must be the heinous-looking club of decaying rock directly above.
Meany Crest
It's the lump on the right. It can be reached by heading almost directly upward from Summerland, little traversing required.
Meany Crest
Almost there, we're over the first lip, and just have to climb the bowl
We got over a lip, thought about whether we might camp there, and then decided the real crest must be elsewhere. So we climbed the bowl reaching over us, and reached what is undoubtedly Meany Crest at a spectacular, humongous campsite with a windbreak.
Meany Crest
Our campsite
It was only about 1:30 by this point, so we had plenty of time to melt water, shoot the shit, and soon have dinner. I even got to see what I think might be Mount Rainier.
Little Tahoma, Mount Rainier
Only 2.2 horizontal miles now
We knew the day would be long tomorrow, so I got to bed before 7, soon joined by Bryan in the tent. We had hours of sleep, or at least what we called "sleep", although in practice most of this was just resting with our eyes closed until the sun finally went down, and then again when the night winds picked up and made real sleep impossible.

The climb

I was having hot breakfast, so I was up first, rolling out of bed at about 1:30 AM, and was treated to a full palette of stars and strings of headlamps already well on their way up the Emmons Glacier. Unfortunately, the night doesn't really come together in the camera. I tried to take pictures of the stars, and only got the flash illuminating some dust in the wind. Needless to say, this was an incredible, incredible morning, one that gets inside you, infuses you with its glow and its magic.

Soon, of course, we faced the more mundane concerns of roping up and everything, but we set off by about 2:50 AM. 
Little Tahoma
Roping up

Our fearless leader led us up on a traverse over the Fryingpan Glacier, and for the most part, I believe, the route finding was fairly easy. Only once or twice did we get stopped by a true, gaping crevasse, and have to belay across a snowbridge.
Progress was slow, but my interest was more than sated by the heavenly rumor of the sun's distant arrival in the east. Upon frequent stops I'd take a bite of a Clif bar, and futilely try to capture the magic in film, before simply reveling in the sheer joy of being alive in so inhospitably beautiful a place on this earth.
Rumors of the sun
The sun is approaching, still far off. You can sort of see some peaks, like Stuart, backlit by the glow
The Gap
Crossing the rock gap to the other side of Little Tahoma, where our route went.

We got to the gap between Little Tahoma and another crest, where our route went, and there we had our first break of the day, and saw our first sun.

The red sun rises
More Sunrise
More sun rising

From the gap we continued up the head of the glacier, where it got steep. Our tireless leader, a fearsome sight to behold, kicked steps for the group and picked the route, which gave me, near the rear, plenty of time for drinking in the sights of an unfamiliar mountain. 
Going up
Trying to get past a crevasse up there on the steep glacier
Mount Adams
Adams and Hood wink at us from a distance

We got up to a shoulder of Little Tahoma at the top of the snow, where we took off the ropes and studied our route the rest of the way up the peak, which was only a few hundred vertical at that point (out of over 7000 we did in total). We believed we were making excellent time at this point, so we breaked some before heading up again.
Dissapointment Cleaver
Disappointment Cleaver on Rainier
Little Tahoma
We went right up the snow finger in center into the rock gully

We chose an odd route, up a snow finger into a rock gully, rather than going further to the right to check the route, but we didn't feel like roping up again, and the route we chose wasn't exposed to a long fall, whereas the other prospective route was.

Little Tahoma
Uh Oh

After a sketchy transition to rock, nothing was left but rock scrambling. We took off crampons and were optimistic of continuing to make excellent time like we had been. Uh oh. Suddenly problems started occurring, rapid-fire. The rock, true to the Cascades volcano reputation, was heinous. Touch a rock, even look at it with a weird look, and it was liable to go whizzing down the mountain to cause many injuries while you screamed yourself hoarse shouting "rock! rock!".
Route finding, as well, was strange. In the end we just kind of had to follow the path of least resistance, and even that had several forays into dead ends, as well as plenty of struggling up through the scree. The group got spread out, and eventually our leader got ahead, and me and Cameron caught up to him at the last exposed notch before the summit. The rock was easy and relatively solid, compared to what we were used to, but very exposed, so our leader set up a handline on lead, while Cameron belayed and I spotted. Echoes of our leader's "fuck YEAH, mothafucka!" bounced off all nearby mountains.
Little Tahoma summit
Fearless leader is fearless on summit
Little Tahoma
The route up
Tender Footing
Final handline
Summit celebration
From left to right, Justin, me, our fearless leader, Elaina
Over the Edge
Cameron tempting fate
Little Tahoma summit
Summit views
Little Tahoma
Cool ridge
Little Tahoma
A perilous drop to a perilous glacier
However, our route finding to the summit and slogging up the scree had taken hours and hours, so we had to set down soon. Progress down the scree was a bit swifter than the way up, even given that we knew the route this time. In the rock gully sketchy transition to snow down near the shoulder, we took advantage of an existing rappel anchor there to ease our progress. I donated a sling to the pile of manky old ones, and we rappelled off our glacier ropes.
Me rappelling off the summit scree pile
After that was over, we roped up again and made mercifully swift progress down the steep glacier, plunge stepping down, went over the notch, and only had a few route finding issues on the other side before we found camp.
Tired as I was, the mountain had one last wrinkle: my tent was gone! Though we'd staked it down and put it in the lee of the windbreak, when we got back, it was gone. I found the rain fly and ground tarp, towards the edge of the crest. The tent was gone, presumably gone over the edge. I looked hard our whole way down, I never saw any sign of it. Which surprises me even in retrospect that a tent with 2 sleeping bags in it could get that far, over rocks, to go over the edge of the cliff. After that point, I have no way of knowing what happened to it. The lesson: collapse your tent and weigh it down with rocks if there's both any chance of wind and any chance it might be blown anywhere unhappy. I didn't expect this, because I was focused on other things at 1:30 AM, mostly the mountain I was about to climb. The expensive lesson will not be forgotten.

In the end, summit day took about 17.5 hours from getting out of bed to getting back to the car, where we could finally start the most dangerous part of our journey: driving 7 exhausted climbers home on the busy roads.



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Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis - Jul 13, 2014 3:25 pm - Voted 9/10

Great trip!

Looks like you guys enjoyed yourselves. Good to hear there's a belay sling up there. Bummer about your tent though.


MountainGazer - Jul 13, 2014 3:41 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great trip!

Thanks! It seems like every trip I do, I only understand more how unprepared I am for the mountains. The conditions are way different than I expect, or, lo and behold, it turns out my tent blew away. But if the mountains were predictable, that would kind of take the air out of the adventure.

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