Route: South Face
Difficulty: 5.4 YDS
Pitches: 2 (usually 3-4)
Location: Snoqualmie, Exit 52 (~52 miles from Seattle)
This past weekend was the third time I’ve climbed The Tooth, which, as the title suggests, is an incredibly easy trad climb close to Seattle. We left early since it was Memorial Day and this is a very popular route, getting to the trailhead at around 6am to head up.
First, I must say, we were unprepared for the snow conditions. Not dangerously, but we were inefficient and slow on the ascent. I had only hiking boots, David only his approach shoes, and neither of us had ice axes. With it being almost June and the amazing hot weather we’ve had lately in Seattle, we didn’t suspect there would be snow starting at the trailhead. But, there it was.
Normally, the summer trail takes you about a mile through the forest, wandering along some relatively moderate waterfalls and over streams that can easily be jumped across. Eventually, it spits you out among the scree above Source Lake, where you must find your way from rock to rock, through patches of trees, and up to Pineapple Pass while trying to stave off the heat potential sunburn.
We took the usual Snow Lake approach, since that is the summer route, and it is almost summer. Once we spotted Source Lake, we headed west below cliffs with the most magnificent waterfalls pounding down them—a major difference from the usual summer conditions. I have never seen so much water on my way to climb The Tooth before, even with the snow blanketing the ground. In fact, I had told David before we left for this particular trad climb that we should bring extra water because it was going to be hot and probably very dry that day. Clearly, I should have checked someone else’s beta for the snow conditions.
Finding and navigating ourselves toward the gulley was actually easier with the covering of snow. We looked up at the gulley to Pineapple Pass and knew how unprepared we were, with our feet soaked and our hands cold from falling repeatedly into the slush. Heading up to the start of The Tooth seemed daunting, but we chose an easy goal—the flat spot just below the final gulley/scree field—and made our way carefully onward.
There, we stopped for some trail mix and surveyed The Tooth. I must admit, seeing the amount of snow and knowing how difficult it would be to traverse in the afternoon heat made me want to turn around and head back to Seattle. Screw this trad climb, I’d done it before anyway. But David hadn’t, and we were already basically there. So we pushed on, kicking steps and swooping ahead of another rather large group who had made their way up to climb as well.
We spotted a few sets of skis that someone had stashed below the scramble up through to the final notch and made a note to climb this again next spring with our splitboards for an easier descent (and probably an easier approach as well). At the base of the first pitch of the trad climb, there were already two other parties ahead of us. We took this time to rehydrate, pull out our harnesses, flake the rope, and lay out my shoes to dry.
I’d never done it before, but we managed to split The Tooth into two pitches instead of the 3-4 that I’d done previously. The most “difficult” moves were in the beginning, but they are easy to manage. We brought 7 slings, which seemed to be just enough to climb up about 200 feet and build an anchor. I used almost an entire rope length, making the first anchor just past the final rappel station (the first that you pass when climbing), and on a comfortable spot next to two large trees.
Rope drag was pretty bad, but communication was fine. A group ahead of us used radios to talk between rope teams, but even a full 60 meters ahead of David, we could still hear each other clearly. After I brought him up to me, he climbed up what was now the much shorter second pitch and pulled me up to the top at the first rappel station (final that you climb past). We dropped our rope there since the teams behind us were pretty well behind and we weren’t planning on staying at the summit long, then we scrambled to the top.
After a few summit photos and a reapplication of sunscreen, we spotted a few interesting peaks and shot some bearings with my compass which we have determined to look up later. (I’ll post results once we figure it out). Although this trad climb was fun and ego-boosting, much like R&D, this was probably my favorite part of the trip. It amazes me, as a climber, adventurer, and generally curious person, that I have developed the skills and have the resources to allow me to look at a peak and figure out what it is. Sometimes it takes a lot of asking around or google-fu,
but it is totally doable to look at something and decide:
“Hey, I’m going to climb that someday”.
And that’s when the fun starts: having a goal, a destination in mind, whether it is something to mountaineer, to trad climb, or even just scramble up, knowing how to navigate and route-find can open up so many doors that I would have otherwise thought difficult or impossible.
After taking our bearings and pictures of the peaks as they coordinated with them, we drank our water and headed back down to make our way toward Seattle and, more importantly, beer.
I must say the descent was much easier than the approach since we were able to glissade a good portion of it from the notch back into the basin. From there, we did one of my favorite things to do in the snow—plunge-step/run back to the car. We took the Source Lake trail, the one that we’d done once before last winter on our splitboards, and the trail that we should have taken as the approach to The Tooth.
We saw several skiers on the way down, and I must admit I had adventure-envy, especially when I saw how well they glided compared to my chaotic sliding down the mountain. But we made it, safe and warm, back to the car.
What Worked Well:
The two other times I’d climbed The Tooth, it was in late summer without a hint of snow anywhere. Heading up in late spring was much more efficient, and would have been even more so had we had appropriate footwear and, at the least, a trekking pole.
- Linking Pitches
My reasoning for using a full rope length when I led the first pitch was to improve efficiency. There was a group of four behind us waiting to begin climbing and I had taken enough time trying to build up my courage (as I usually have to when trad climbing) during the first crack. From there, it was easier to carry that momentum upward. Cutting down on the number of anchors to build, as well as having to take in less slack when putting my second on belay, really kept us ahead of the parties below us which ended up being beneficial for both us and them.
What to do Differently:
- Taking Skis/Splitboard
This will definitely be happening next time since it would absolutely double the amount of fun offered on this climb. As I said before, we were a bit unprepared for the snow pack and having more appropriate snow traveling gear would have saved us a headache going up to The Tooth.
Although I’ve done this trad climb several times, I will still probably do it again, with a few modifications. (There is more difficult climbing along the East Face as well). It is definitely one that I suggest to beginner climbers the most, as it is an incredibly easy trad climb close to Seattle, where most of my climbing compatriots reside.