The original plan was to climb the northeast buttress of Chair Peak but it was too warm lately and had recently snowed a good bit. So the steep North Face of Chair was not in shape. Michael and I switched our plans to “The Tooth”. Either way, I was happy; I hadn’t climbed either and was looking forward to a technical climb be it snow, ice, or, in this case, rock.
We arrived at the trailhead at a little before 6am and ran into Dan Smith and his climbing companion Chris who had ideas of climbing either Chair Peak or the northeast slabs on The Tooth. So, the four of us began hiking up the valley heading towards Source Lake. The morning was quite overcast. Actually, in reality, it was forecasted to be a great day. We just happened to be hiking in legendary Snoqualmie Ice Fog.
The hike up to the Tooth was really pleasant, especially in these winter conditions. Upon arriving at tiny Source Lake we ran into another party of four who were also heading up to the Tooth. Beyond the Lake, a broad open slope appears. This is the area that guidebooks warn of avalanche danger. Everything seemed in decent shape today and we continued up. We eventually turned hard left and began heading back south in the opposite direction ascending rapidly. At another high slope we ran into at least two other parties. Dan and Chris began heading off in their other direction and Michael and I, moving pretty fast, past the other parties nearby.
After crossing a small ridge and hopping into a gully with a creek running through it, we finally came upon Great Scott basin at the base of The Tooth. As we crested the lip of the basin, we passed the first party that set out to climb the Tooth. This was a group of four of the “Mountaineers” club with whom we had some interesting conversation throughout the day.
We were nearing the edge of the fog as we looked up and noticed the blue sky breaking through. I had never been here before and Michael was wondering exactly where Pineapple Pass was through the soupy fog. He asked the leader of the Mountaineers group who replied, “Not gonna tell you. You should have studied the map before coming out here.”
Well, we were both incredulous at this response and only after a few moments realized that he was serious! Anyway, there’s a lot more to this story but too much to go into for this trip report. Well…anyway, that didn’t really help the reputation of the Mountaineers.
Finally, we indeed broke out of the fog into brilliant sunshine and were able to see the route. A sun warm wind blew down on us – in contrast, it felt like we were suddenly in the Bahamas! We had passed the Mountaineers group and soon the trail ended and we began breaking trail up to Pineapple Pass. We worked really hard to break trail trying to stay in front of the group of Mountaineers knowing that we could move much faster up the route than they could – two people verus four!
Pineapple Pass is a tiny little pass. We stopped here to take off our snowshoes. We continued down the other side and then began climbing up the final snow slope to the base of the rock climb when suddenly one of the Mountaineers, taking advantage of our broken trail, began racing us up the slope for the rights to start first. Well, we won!
Well, this was the first rock climb I’d done in over a year but it felt pretty good. The Tooth is not a hard climb at all. We climbed a little corner (for lack of a better word) on the upper part of the face that Michael rated at 5.5; the standard route is 5.4. There was one step on the first pitch that was the hardest for me and I had to commit the faux pas of using my knee to get me up and over a particular move – I just couldn’t bend my leg far enough to reach a step and the lower ones were just too small for my heavy leather hiking boots. Oh well – at least I wasn’t wearing plastic mountaineering boots!
The second pitch was an easy, somewhat airy pitch. Pitch three can be done without rope completely – it’s 3rd and some easy 4th class. But, it’s more work to take the rope off. The crux pitch is the fourth and final pitch. This pitch was easy for me; I guess I was getting my climbing legs back! We ended the pitch at a little crux bouldering move that I led to short third class scrambling to the summit!
We spent plenty of time on the summit eating, drinking, and taking pictures. We then rappelled down the entire route to the base of another little spire we decided to climb “Baby Tooth”, or so we called it. It’s the little spire right next to Pineapple Pass and the one directly behind you when you’re climbing up the Tooth.
We climbed the little point in a single pitch that consisted of only steep snow and a little bit of 5.0 rock right at the summit. The summit was really cool – very small, just enough room for two people. This was a great place to take pictures of the Tooth from, although you’re so close to the Tooth that it’s hard to frame the entire peak.
While sitting on Baby Tooth, we heard a loud crack and then a rumble – a small avalanche broke loose across the basin to the east. I was surprised how much noise was generated by such a small amount of snow!
Anyway, this was a great day in the mountains: a fun climb on a cloudless, warm day in January!