Little Tahoma (11,138ft)
April 9-10, 2016
Eric, Aaron, Tyler, Ana
The weather was forecast to be sunny all weekend so I abandoned plans to go rock climbing east of the crest in favor of getting high in the mountains for good views. The highest mountain in Washington that I’d not yet climbed was Little Tahoma, a peak next to Mt Rainier, and that sounded like fun. Little Tahoma is known for having loose rock at the summit, and it seems like the ideal time to climb it would be when it is mostly covered in snow, which is about this time of year.
Saturday morning we all four piled into the subaru with skis loaded in the top carrier and drove 2 hours down to Rainier National Park. From the Paradise parking lot we loaded overnight and glacier gear on our backs and started hiking up towards Camp Muir. Tyler and Ana had fancy backcountry ski setups that they could skin up the mountain with, but Aaron and I had to carry our skis on our backs.
The hike up was extremely crowded, with at least several hundred people skiing or hiking up towards Camp Muir. The sun reflecting off the snow made it seem like summer outside, which is probably why there
were so many people out. After a few hours we diverged from the main route to Camp Muir just under Anvil Rock and started traversing right towards Little Tahoma.
After some debate we decided to pitch camp on a flat rock outcrop just below Anvil Rock. With a few hours of daylight still remaining Tyler and I hiked up to Camp Muir at around 10,000ft and skied back down to our camp around 8,500ft.
That night we all agreed it got down much colder than the predicted 34F, and I at least woke up cold at 2am in
my bivy sack and couldn’t get back to sleep. I tried eating chocolate chips and doing situps, but the only real solution would have been to bring a warmer sleeping bag.
By 5am we all woke up and started traversing the Cowlitz Glacier around sunrise an hour later. We crossed through a small icefall and then ascended briefly to a notch in a ridge below Cathedral Rocks. We then crossed the Ingraham Glacier and ascended to a notch in another ridge coming down from Little Tahoma.
By now the sun had risen and the temperature was getting uncomfortably warm. I can’t imagine how hot this trip must be in the summer, with a hotter air temperature compounded with all the sunlight reflecting off the snow, hitting you from all directions.
We next traversed the Whitman Glacier and started ascending up towards the summit of Little Tahoma. Surprisingly there was a party of four skiers high above us bare-booting up the steep snow towards the summit. I hadn’t found any reports of any party climbing Little Tahoma before late May in the past, so hadn’t expected to see anybody else here. Perhaps they didn’t expect to see us either.
We stashed our snowshoes in the snow at the base of the steepening section, and soon met up with the boot path the skiers had kicked out. Two of the skiers had turned around and descended back down the Whitman Glacier, but the other two looked to be gunning for the summit.
Eventually we reached a small level section at the base of a cliffy rock band, and Tyler stashed his skis here. We followed the boot track up steepening snow weaving through rock bands, until the snow finally disappeared as we gained the summit ridge.
The other two climbers had ditched their skis here and were belaying each other over the short exposed rock section to the summit. I arrived first and rested on the summit ridge to give them time to enjoy the summit and return. The summit was pretty exposed and only big enough for a few people at a time.
To the north a cliff dropped down 2,000ft to the Emmons Glacier below, near camp Sherman. Looking west toward the summit of Rainier I noticed about 15 climbers ascending the Ingraham Glacier, nearing the summit. It was 12:30pm by now, and definitely a busy day for Rainier for this early in the season. Come June, though, and I bet there will be hundreds of people on the mountain every day.
After the other two climbers descended I led 30 meters across the small exposed rock notch to the summit and set up an anchor to belay everyone else over. Since the summit was so small I belayed each person over then back, so it would never get too crowded.
The summit was pretty interesting, because the rocks had apparently been struck by lightning and had smooth black streaks on top that looked like obsidian.
I checked the summit register and our groups were the first up since July of last year! The summit averages about 10 ascents per year based on the register, so orders of magnitude less popular than Rainier.
Ana belayed me back from the summit, and we quickly descended back to our snowshoes. We retraced our route back to camp, this time avoiding the icefall area that would be less stable in the afternoon sun. By 5pm we reached camp and donned our skis for the descent back to Paradise.
This was my first time skiing the Muir Snowfield, and it is extremely fun. It’s very wide, and not very steep, so you’re free to choose from many different fun lines back to the trailhead.
We made it back well before the gate closed, and drove back to Seattle that evening.