Trip Report    

Intermediate Alpine Climb - Little Tahoma via Paradise

Great day out on the flanks of the "mother of waters". We headed out to Little Tahoma as a party of three for some skiing. Ended up being a 13h36 c2c day with a little shy of 17 miles of travel and 7.6k of vertical gain. We took the "low" route for easy glacier travel. No summit as we turned around ~100ft vertical shy of it due to the advanced hour, our level of exhaustion and the fact that the remaining choss looked utterly unappealing in ski boots. Great continuous skiing was had on the Whitman glacier.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles

We headed out to Rainier National Park on Tuesday as a party of three to take advantage of a weather window and attempt to climb Little Tahoma while getting some good turns in the process.

In researching the beta we found two main routes that people take to climb Little T from Paradise: a "high" route described in amongst other places the Volker book (tour 67) and a "low" route that the TAY people seem to prefer. The high route starts out like an ascent to camp Muir before crossing over to the Paradise glacier and then traversing around 8600ft across the Cowlitz and Ingraham glaciers before landing on the upper reaches of the Whitman glacier. The low route starts by heading out towards the Golden Gate then ascending towards Cowlitz Rocks before dropping onto the lower reaches of the Cowlitz and Ingraham glaciers. Finally one ascends to the foot of the Whitman glacier and follows it to the top of Little T.
While the higher route involves some serious glacier travel, the lower route is much less committing and offers excellent continuous skiing. One can ski continuously from as close to the summit as one dares (11,106k) all the way down to roughly 6.2k feet. The drawback of the lower route is that it is much less direct, incurring additional distance and more elevation.

We met up in the Paradise parking lot around 6:30am, geared up, got our self-issued permit and discussed objectives for the day. We settled on the lower route mainly due to the appeal of not doing roped travel and extended skiing down the Whitman. The skinning started just before 7am. The weather started out a little gloomy with mist/light snow and thick cloud cover.

We made quick progress and reached the Cowlitz Rock saddle at ~7100ft around 9:15am for our first break and transition of the trip. By then the weather had started clearing and visibility was much better with only a few clouds left lingering above us. We enjoyed our first turns of the day and quickly reached the base at around ~6200ft.

A dirty snow finger took us off the glacier toe, through a moraine and around some cliffs, starting our ascent towards the Whitman glacier. The sun was now really starting to come out and hit us hard. We had all dressed expecting strong winds and chillier weather. We took our next break at ~10:30am around 6800ft and took the opportunity to lose our base layers.

From there we had a choice to make between which slope to ascend that would deposit us on the Whitman glacier. We had the choice between a less direct but also less steep left-hand (west) option or a more direct but steeper shallow gully to our right (east). We chose the mellower left-hand side variation but remembered the gully one for the descent. We took another break around ~7480ft at 11:15ish to cool down and let a team member catch up.

From there we followed the mellowest line that curved right (east) onto the Whitman. Once on the glacier we curved towards Whitman Crest, following mellow terrain on the right hand side (east) of the glacier. We took our next break around 8475ft at ~12:40pm.

From there we kept the same bearing and ascended until roughly 9k where our route met up with the one coming from the Sunrise/Fryingpan Glacier approach. At that point we took a sharp turn west-ward, crossing the glacier towards a nice shelf sitting at ~9.6k which we reached by ~2pm. We let our third team member catch up and then decided that they would stay behind while two of us would make a bit for the summit. We ditched our skis and associated gear but took out ice axes and put on crampons. We carried the rope, harness and other climbing gear with us.

We left the shelf a little before 2:40pm. From there a straightforward snow slope took us up to another snowy shelf around 10,350ft. From there we alternated snowy slopes with short exposed rock scrambling sections until we ran out of snow just below 11k at roughly 4:30pm. The summit was in full view above us but we were tired, it was late and the remaining distance looked like uncomfortable choss which we chose to forgo.

We quickly turned around and reunited with the third party member at 9.6k by ~5:20pm. We took a breather, re-assembled our packs and transitioned to ski-mode. We launched around 5:40pm following a much more direct line than on the ascent. At around 7.8k we elected to ski down the steeper more direct line mentioned earlier as opposed to our mellower ascent line. We hit the moraine just above our low-point of ~6.2k by 6pm. There we took off our skis and booted back down the dirty snow finger we had ascended in the morning.

We put our skins back on to cross the toes of the Cowlitz and Ingraham glaciers back up to the saddle by Cowlitz rocks. Those slopes already were back in the shade and the snow was firming up. We used ski crampons and booted the last ~100ft to the saddle. We transitioned at the saddle around 7:30pm, sitting at ~7.1k. We skied until a low point of roughly ~6.3k where we donned our skins one more time to the top of Golden Gate sitting at roughly 6.4k which we reached around 8:20pm.

From there we skied to the parking lot by roughly following the Golden Gate/Skyline trail. We reached the parking sitting at roughly 5.4k a little after 8:30pm.

This concluded a 13h36 c2c outing of ~16.5 miles with cicra 7.4k of vertical gain.

A note on gear: we carried a 60m rope, avalanche gear, glacier gear as well as ice axes, foot and ski crampons. Given the conditions we encountered we elected not to put on our harnesses and rope up at any time.