American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Washington-Cascades, Little Tahoma, North Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1960

Little Tahoma, North Face. This peak, adjacent to Mount Rainier, is pyramid shaped and composed of disintegrating volcanic rock. The north face has long been considered a suicide route. Few climbers have seriously probed for a way up, since the steep, 2000-foot rock- and snow-banded slopes have borne the stigma of rockfall in the extreme. On Monday, June 22, after five years of planning and observation, Gene Prater and I left the shelter at Summerland at midnight, and in the light of a brilliant full moon, ascended Meany Crest and traversed to the notch between Little Tahoma and Peak 8849. Already roped, we donned crampons and descended the steep ice and snow to the Emmons Glacier. We had some trouble reaching it over a large moat. The shattered condition of the glacier slowed our ascent, and we finally crossed a large crevasse at 9000 feet to avoid further loss of time in route finding, a maneuver involving some delicate ice climbing. We arrived at the base of the prominent ice and snow slope on Little Tahoma’s north face at 4:00 a.m. Having had previous experience with rockfall, every precaution was taken to minimize its dangers. We had selected our time carefully, taking advantage of a recent snowfall and prevailing cool weather. After close scrutiny of the intended route, we were relieved to see no sign of the usual dirty streaks from rockfall. We turned the left (east) end of the schrund by climbing 60 feet up a vertical cliff of loose, rotten rock, then continued to the right on a fragile snow ledge extending back to the main slope, the most delicate pitch of the climb with little or no protection for the leader. We crossed the ledge on all fours to lessen the strain. The climb continued up the left side of the steep, hard-crusted snow slope to the base of a prominent rock band which crosses the face about midway to the summit. Traversing to the left, with this rock band affording protection from the rockfall, we reached the snow terrace above by a break in its eastern end. We traversed upwards to the eastern end of the rock band immediately below the summit cliffs, then through a gap to the narrow snow ledge extending along the base of the summit cliff. At this point, at 8:00 a.m., because of extreme fatigue and the hazardous condition of the rock in the last 300 feet, we decided to forego an attempt on the final slightly overhanging pitch. We traversed downward on the upper Fryingpan Glacier on the east side of the peak to the standard route, which we ascended to the summit.

David Mahre, Yakima Cascadians

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