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| | |-+  June 5-7, 2003, Mt Rainier, the Tahoma traverse
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Author Topic: June 5-7, 2003, Mt Rainier, the Tahoma traverse  (Read 3918 times)

Posts: 2088

June 5-7, 2003, Mt Rainier, the Tahoma traverse
« on: 06/08/03, 06:11 PM »

Bruce Goodson skis the Tahoma Glacier. Photo by Carl Skoog.

My interest in Rainier's Tahoma Glacier was aroused in 1996 when I skied a high level orbit around the mountain with Bruce Goodson and my brother Carl.  I admired the glacier pouring over the breach between Sunset Amphitheater and Tahoma Cleaver and tumbling to the valley thousands of feet below.  The setting seemed more like the Alps or B.C. Coast Mountains than our humble Cascades.

The following year, in May 1997, Aaron Horwitz, Rob Gibson, and Darrel Howe skied the Tahoma Glacier from the summit, the first party to do so that I've heard of.  Aaron described the descent as "Some good, some really good...some bad, some really bad.  All in all a great ski." They found excellent snow near the 14,400-foot summit, ice between 12,500-12,000 feet, where they had to remove their skis, and a broken section between 11,000-10,000 feet where they skied roped together.  Aaron said they skied to almost 3000 feet for a total of nearly 11,500 vertical feet of skiing.

A month later Bruce, Carl and I approached the Tahoma Glacier from the West Side Road, riding mountain bikes up the gated road and carrying short summer skis.  Our attempt was foiled by deteriorating weather and frightening snow bridges, and I was impressed by how much work it was to approach the mountain this way.  Later I learned that Aaron's party had traversed over the summit from Camp Muir to ski the Tahoma.  That sounded like a much better plan than our approach and I put the trip on my to-do list.

Last Thursday, June 5, Bruce, Carl and I skied to Camp Muir.  We packed light for a summit carry-over, hoping to traverse the mountain and ski the Tahoma Glacier.  With a forecast of high freezing levels, we decided to spend a second night on the mountain at St Andrews Rock.  Our idea was to ski the upper glacier in the afternoon when it had softened, then bivi to allow the broken lower glacier to refreeze, avoiding the "some bad, some really bad" conditions that Aaron had found.

We had the Muir shelter to ourselves Thursday night and got moving around 5:30 a.m.  Friday after a good night's sleep.  I started on skis using harscheisen, while Bruce and Carl carried skis and wore crampons.  At Ingraham flats we roped up and I decided to continue skiing as long as it seemed reasonable.  We followed the established route up the Ingraham Direct, with me leading on skis and Bruce and Carl following on foot.  Thanks to our late start, the sun softened the snow as we went.  I was able to ski all the way to the crater, which we reached around 11 a.m.

We rested out of the breeze, then skied to the summit after noon, where we met a climbing party from Liberty Ridge and a ski party from Emmons Glacier.  Around 1 p.m.  we started skiing down to the saddle between Columbia Crest and Liberty Cap.  The top was lousy skiing, with big sastrugi, but fortunately little ice.  Once we reached the 13,600 foot saddle and turned west, the skiing became very good.  As we neared the breach between Sunset Amphitheater and Tahoma Cleaver our anticipation grew, since we could only guess at what lay below.

We began linking turns down The Sickle, the curving gully at the north edge of the glacier that drops from about 13,000 feet to 11,400 feet.  The steepest part of the gully was hidden below two seracs that we later called The Pearly Gates.  Fortunately, when we arrived at The Gates, we found no cracks below and good corn snow in the 35-40 degree gully.  We gaped at enormous ice cliffs looming on either side of the glacier.  There was no danger from those cliffs, but there were enough smaller seracs near The Sickle that I was eager leave it as soon as possible.

At the bottom of the gully, we maneuvered around some crevasses that I feared might block us, then traversed north to the saddle next to St Andrews Rock.  Here we found a safe, spectacular bivi site.  We snoozed away the hot afternoon in the shade of my Zdarsky tent, stirring only to glance up at avalanches that thundered from the 200-foot ice wall at the top of Sunset Amphitheater.

On Saturday morning, the sun hit our bivi around 8 a.m., but didn't warm the west-facing glacier until almost 10.  We had lots of time to study routes down the lower glacier.  Around 10:30 a.m.  we traversed back onto the glacier and entered a central depression that we hoped would lead us through.  This was the best skiing of the trip--firm corn snow and intricate route finding, flanked by crevases and seracs the size of office buildings.  We eventually worked left to the edge of South Tahoma Glacier, dropped down the gully that splits Glacier Island, and traversed moraines below the Tahoma Glacier snout to the trail.  We traded ski boots for tennis shoes and hiked to our second car on the West Side Road, arriving around 4:30 p.m.

This was a satisfying trip, with significant mountaineering problems, but a relatively unhurried pace.  Dropping onto the Tahoma Glacier without pre-inspecting it this season caused us some anxiety.  But our itinerary gave us time at St Andrews Rock to sort out our options and wait for snow conditions to improve.  Thankfully, the weather was bombproof.  I recommend Rainier's Tahoma traverse as a first-rate ski mountaineering trip.
« Last Edit: 07/23/12, 08:54 PM by Lowell_Skoog » Logged
ron j
TAY Moderator

Posts: 2602

Re: June 5-7, 2003, Mt Rainier, the Tahoma travers
« Reply #1 on: 06/09/03, 01:48 AM »

Very nice report, Lowell.
Well written and very informative.
Thanks for sharing your classic experiences with us all.

"When I stop having fun I'm turnin' around"
"Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." - Niels Bohr
"If a given person makes it a priority not to die in an avalanche, he or she stands a very good chance of living a long, happy life in the mountains." - Jill Fredston

Posts: 361

Re: June 5-7, 2003, Mt Rainier, the Tahoma travers
« Reply #2 on: 06/09/03, 10:45 AM »

Congrats Bruce, Carl and Lowell.  Yet another extremely impressive achievement!
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