Trip Report    

Basic Alpine Climb - Unicorn Peak

Tacoma Mountaineers Basic Alpine climb of Unicorn Peak and a spur of the moment West Unicorn Peak

  • Road suitable for all vehicles

New experiences in familiar territory.

June 9, 2021, Tacoma Mountaineers climb of Unicorn Peak and the seldom touched West Unicorn Peak being the highest and second highest points in the Tatoosh Range. 

Our team of six strong consisted of myself, Sarah Holt, Sara Palmerton, Rudy Sevoyan, Will Ward, and Joe Ernst. The forecast was for mostly cloudy skies with a chance of sun breaks for the day which had improved over pending precipitation cycles from the days previous. Departing Snow Lake trailhead at 0745 it quickly became clear that the approach was going to be most complex length of this climb. This trip would result in my sixth summit of Unicorn, but this was by far the earliest I had attempted this route with the most snow I had seen in this area. The trail is still well under snow at every section, which meant we would be taking the scenic Spring route. The abundance of snow coverage made for interesting navigation with flat, open patches of snow being tempting for easy travel but not always leading in the correct direction. Being the climb leader I fought to balance ease of travel with efficient navigation, but for the most part the hike in was not overly complex, it just wandered a bit more than I had anticipated.


Reaching the Snow Lake basin we got our first proper glimpse of the summit and the first chute. The entire basin around Snow Lake is still well under snow and made travel extremely easy. Snow conditions did not warrant crampon use at any point during the day, even to ascend the Snow Lake chute or the Unicorn Glacier. 


The team made impressive short work of the Snow Lake Basin chute. We did not hear or see any signs of running water, undercutting, or concerns of moating. There seemed to be a stable layer of styrofoam underneath a five to six centimeter surface layer that took a step very well which made for booting conditions as fast as you could keep up. Upwards and onwards!


Our surprisingly favorable snow conditions continued as we reached the upper basin below Foss, Unicorn and West Unicorn where the talus and scree fields still had fantastic coverage. I have only seen this basin in its Summertime conditions so it was really something to cruise through this terrain without slipping, sliding, scrambling, and avoiding the general shenanigans of cascadian scree surfing. The team's spirits were appropriately high, they were getting all time conditions!


Ascending the Unicorn Glacier was as straight forward as you could ask for. I turned to Sarah and told her how much I was wishing for my skis! With consecutive days of rain in the forecast the soft and punchy snow is about to receive an unfortunate crust, but it was good while it lasted. We reached the saddle atop Unicorn Glacier and trended left up the normally scrambly section to reach the summit ridge, but there was only one very small rock step to navigate. The snow led right up to the hillside and was firm enough without too much punching near the rock. The short slope above the lower scramble was also in fantastic condition with a bit more consolidation, but still far from crampon-worthy. Boots, axes, and poles were more than sufficient.


Favorable snow conditions continued up and across the summit ridge, all the way to the base of the summit block. The east facing slope off of the summit ridge was somewhere in the 40°-45° range and was worth slowing down for as the runout was a direct shot down over the cliff bands leading out towards Stevens Peak. We reached the summit block at 1100 about half an hour ahead of schedule and the sun had finally broken through the morning clouds to greet us. Splitting up into two teams of three, Sarah and I lead two different routes up the summit block: she was keen on the 5.6 donning rock shoes, and I put up the fifth class route around the corner. Both routes were mostly clear of ice and snow with a few lingering icicles on the 5.6. Sarah and I converged at the summit from our respective routes and it was clear Sarah had had a much colder time with the rock than I did, though I opted to scramble in my glove liners. Sarah belayed off of the old tree and I made use of the newly set anchor on the south facing rock horn. Thank you to those who left behind new rap rings and new tat. The tree has been cleaned of all preexisting gear.


Our team reached the summit in high spirits and clearing skies just in time for Washington's crown jewel to show off. We enjoyed the summit and a few celebratory photos before congregating around the quick rappel. The anchor is worth inspection as always, but especially since this is a newer feature to be rappelling off of. The tree seems to be in reliable condition to belay and rappel off of, but with the tat and rap rings already in place we opted to inspect and utilize the existing gear. 


After all had safely and successfully rappelled we enjoyed our puffy-clad lunch in the sunshine, collected our gear, and followed our boot pack out. Upon reaching the upper slope on the reverse side of the summit ridge we descended with an unobstructed view of West Unicorn. With spirits high, weather looking dependable, and being well within our scheduled window, I put it out for group discussion to go make a run of it up the east slope. The team was up for extra credit, so we went exploring. Every time I have been to the saddle I make a note of it to "go check it out one of these times" but just had not gotten around to it, mostly because the route looks like vertical wet heather and some less than desirable scrambling. This time with fantastic snow conditions and ample coverage was just the right time. This was the team's first time up Unicorn Peak, so it was pretty special that they got to double down and summit both peaks in a single go.


We traversed the saddle and to the base of a short rock step before gaining the hanging snow field. We walked the lip of the glacier (where later in the season it becomes a gaping moat), which was consolidated enough, but after a second look from above we decided to not cross off of the rock the same way on our way back. We got up onto the toe of a protruding rock feature, dropped packs, and made the short sprint up a perfect snow ridge. Reaching the summit ridge we were greeted with good rock and a good amount of exposure. The short jaunt out to the high point on the summit ridge offered a better perspective of the Unicorn Proper summit block which we had just come from. 


Now with the last of the vertical gain behind us for the day we began our continual downhill retreat to the parking lot. The snow was soft and hospitable for boot skiing, plunge stepping, and glissading. The team adopted a variety of descension techniques and made quick work of dropping back to the Snow Lake Basin. The hike out involved a similarly wandering route but went quickly enough. 

I cannot say enough about this team. Everybody maintained a fantastic pace throughout the day, high spirits, thoughtful and safe climbing techniques, efficient execution of all our necessary tasks, and kept the stoke high from car to summit to car. I would be stoked to have Sara, Rudy, Will, and Joe on any future climbs.

A special thanks to Sarah Holt for her trust, encouragement, flexibility, and support in posting, planning, and mentoring this climb. We both share a special appreciation for the Tatoosh range and I could not have asked for a better mentor leader for this route. Her experience, confidence, and expertise were greatly appreciated on this climb. Thanks for letting me take the reins!