Little Tahoma, Elevation 11,138 feet
May 24, 2001
The summit of Little Tahoma after we climbed and skied it. Our ascent is in red and or ski descent is in green.
It's over. School that is. 4 years at UW has come down to this. I imagine that most of my friends are out partying but I honestly don't feel like there is much to celebrate. Climbing and skiing Little Tahoma in a day though, I'll drink to that.
I had been keeping an eye on the opening date for the White River entrance for several months. It was scheduled to open Monday, May 21st but I figured they might push it forward since it was such a low snow year. Then I realized that the park service is not very motivated (having spent many hours waiting at Longmire for the road crew to clear a couple inches of snow). It opened on schedule which was good because the weekend crowds would have to wait. I had Thursday off and convinced Troy to ski Little T with me. I also considered leaving Wednesday night to climb/ski the Emmons but I didn't know what shape the route was in so I decided to be lazy and hold off.
Troy and I left Seattle around 5am on Thursday morning. We avoided the morning commute and made it to the trailhead by 7am. There were no cars when we got there but one rolled in as we were about to leave. One of the benefits of weekday climbing is being alone on a popular route with excellent weather. The weather was excellent and we could tell that those people weren't going very far so we were content.
We started in our ski boots which was probably a mistake because the first several miles was mostly bare trail. There were a few patches of snow but it wasn't until we crossed Fryingpan Creek that the snow was good to go. We put on our skins because we were postholing pretty bad. Some of it was fresh but most of it was the unconsolidated base starting to thaw.
Troy putting on skins below Summerland.
It took us about an hour and a half to reach the basin below Summerland where we broke free from the trees. We ended up skiing straight towards the base of the Fryingpan Glacier. There were a couple steep sections that we walked but we put our skins on as soon as we reached the flatter section where Meany Crest meets the Fryingpan. We continued on the glacier towards the saddle. There were a few open crevasses but we weren't too concerned about not having a rope. It seemed unlikely that we'd break through on skis and we both knew the route pretty well.
It took around 4 or 5 hours to reach the saddle. We packed our skis up and began hiking towards the summit. I was glad we brought skins because I would have hated to posthole the entire Fryingpan. There was a least a foot of new snow that had softened up to provide a good workout. I sunk a good 6" with each step.
We decided to try a different route that followed the east ridge of Little T rather than climbing directly up its south face. We were a little concerned about avalanches and this route provided less exposure. It turned out to be an excellent route. I'll definitely go this way from now on because it's shorter and you also avoid the crevasse exposure at the base of the south face.
Troy topping out on our new route. The saddle is right behind him and the Fryingpan Glacier is to the left of the ridge.
Troy resting where our route intersects the south face.
We took a short break before finishing the climb up the south face. I considered traversing the face to get to the west side which is where we normally climb up but I was concerned about avalanches. The snow on the south face was deeper and less consolidated. I chose to stay on the east side next to the rock. The problem with this route was that there was a considerable amount of rockfall coming off the trashy summit. We were fortunate not to witness any action but the area that we were climbing was littered with rocks. We made it to the top of the south face and decided to ski down the remaining 50ft or so to get to the chute that led to the summit.
I put on my skis and tried to cut the slope but I only got it to sluff. The second sluff triggered a wet snow slab avalanche about 200ft below me. I had never seen anything like it. A wet snow slab avalanche triggered by sluff? The thing was actually quite large and it continued all the way to the base of the south face jumping a few crevasses in-between. Troy was pretty freaked out but there was nothing to worry about since we were on top of it. I was glad that we didn't traverse the face somewhere in the middle or we might have gone down with it.
Troy on top of the south face where we put on our skis to ski down to the chute. Notice how deep we were sinking.
We skied down to the chute and left our skis at the entrance. A bit of mixed climbing led to the rocky summit traverse. This was my fifth time on the summit in less than two years but it was still an incredible feeling to be there again. This was Troy's first time so he was pretty stoked. The tales of loose rock are exaggerated. We both felt comfortable, even in our ski boots.
I opened the summit register and found that we were the second group to sign in this year. Another party climbed it a couple weeks earlier all the way from HW410. I was more surprised to see that only two groups signed in since our one-day climb/ski the previous August (see Little Tahoma, Summer 00). Also, the register was pretty much full so if any Mountaineers are reading this, you might want to get another one up there before the old one gets too cluttered.
We spent about 15 minutes on top. It took us about 7 hours from the trailhead. I took a few photos of Rainier's summit and even saw a few ants descending the Ingraham. The Emmons didn't look very appealing and I was glad to have bailed.
Troy on the summit ridge. The trailhead is somewhere near the end of the riverbed seen in the valley below.
The summit of Rainier in case you are wondering what it looks like on a low snow year. The Ingraham and DC don't look all that bad to me.
We hiked back down to our skis and started skiing around 3pm. We were cautious on the first few turns because there was still a layer of unconsolidated snow but things were cooling off in the shade and we felt safe once we reached the slide path. We ended up following the route that we came up because we didn't want to get swept into a crevasse by our sluff or another slab on the lower south face. The skiing was excellent and we ended up climbing a peak just east of the saddle for a much better ski down the Fryingpan. Troy was a little hesitant to have to climb another 500 vertical feet but I told him it was worth it. Traversing from the saddle looked like it would be more of a pain.
A look back from the peak we climbed just east of the saddle. You can see the slab avalanche that we cut off on the way up. You can also see some of our ski tracks on the snow slope to the right.
It extra climb was definitely worth it. The ski from the tip of the Fryingpan to its base is one of the best that Mount Rainier has to offer. It's not very steep but it's long and smooth. I took one last photo and we hammered all the way to Fryingpan Creek. The slopes above Summerland were a bit of a pain because they were steep and unconsolidated. We cut off a few slides. Things improved down low but the snow was a little sticky.
Troy skiing on the upper Fryingpan.
It appeared as though nobody had been above Summerland since the road opened. Today we were the exception. Skiing off the summit of Little T on a day like that was well worth the 8 miles of trail that separate the seasons. We made it back to the truck at 7pm, just under 12 hours round trip. There were no other cars so I had even more reason to give thanks.