East Face
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The Tooth, East Face

Saturday, July 15, 2000

Once again I set off with my trusty partner Jens. This time we were both hurting for sleep. For my part, the Indigo Girls concert at the Pier the night before and our 5:00 AM departure time from my house meant that I snuck in about 4-1/2 hours of sleep. No matter, I thought, easy approach, 5.7 cruise. Will I ever learn?

After loading my car and our coffee cups, we left my house around 5:15 AM. We walked away from the lower Alpental lot (3 cars there) and headed up the Snow Lake trail (highway) about 6:15 AM. After the Thompson, West Ridge footwear debacle the week before I opted for boots. Jens, the eternal optimist was in his approach shoes again.

Looking up at the the East Face of The Tooth

Lots of coffee sped the hike in. Even with me taking pictures and both of us scoping the route with binoculars, Jens set off on the first pitch at 8:10 AM. The lower section of the route follows a series of ledges in a broad gully to the foot of a large, low angle slab that splits the East Face. Jens was somewhere out of sight near the foot of the slab when the rope came taut. I broke down the belay and we simul-climbed, as planned. As I neared the middle of the slab he called out "On Belay!". I soon joined him at a nice Cascade tree belay just above the end of the slab.

Jens at our first belay (end of pitch 3)

He took the pack and I took the rack. As we'd just dispatched 3+ of the six pitches in about twenty minutes, we exchanged comments about "cruising the route". This, as we were to learn, this is an observation most wisely made at the top of the climb.

The first 20 feet of the next pitch was steep, but blocky with good handholds. Above it reverted to heathery benches. In proper "John Long" form, I threw a sling over a horn even though the terrain was easy. Better safe than taking an unexpected 60 foot force-factor two fall. Above I could see that the fun and games and ten minute pitches were coming to an end. A deep chimney loomed over me. "Better get a couple good pieces in before that thing", I thought. As I neared the chimney the dearth of pro became disturbing. Now I was glad to have that horn slung, even if it was 50 feet below me. In the depths of the chimney I spotted a wad of slings. I yelled down to Jens that I though I'd make a belay there. Much to my relief, I found two good cam placements below the slings. Unfortunately when I reached the slings I found that they were threaded around what is best described as a chock-pebble. It was only slightly larger than a baseball and appeared to be hand placed. YUCK!

Looking down the chimney I decided that I'd clip them anyway and continue on in search of a better belay. The route moved right onto a face to avoid a roof just above my chock-pebble. The moves were probably no harder than 5.7, but given the quality of the gear below me, they had a decidedly serious feel. Ten feet of face climbing led to a four star belay: Three equalized pieces and a flat rock for my butt. Whew.

Jens made short work of the lead I'd worked so hard on and led on past. The route went back left, over the top of the chimney on nice, airy mid-fifth moves. Just 30 feet from me he hollered that he'd found a belay and was bringing me up to avoid rope drag above. This turned out to be his best decision of the day.

At the belay I joked that it was my turn to lead, even if his pitch was only 30 feet. Letting him lead on turned out to be my best decision of the day. We were once again at the base of a chimney. This one terminated in a blocky roof about 30 feet above us. Jens led off and, just like me at the last chimney, he was forced right onto the slab. Unfortunately for him, he hadn't found any pro when he reached the 5.9 move 25 feet above me. A few mildly tense minutes passed while he finagled in three pieces that he judged as "crap" ( I later described them as "not all that crappy"). Mental, if not physical, support in place, he made the 5.9 move over the top of the slab. Fifteen seconds later he called down that he had reached the second crux of the route.

Jens working the crux on the sixth pitch

The next exciting moment came when I heard him yell "SLACK!!". I was pondering the four foot loop of rope hanging in front of me and wondering what he meant when I heard the large rock impact above me. I instantly went in to the "turtle" position, head down, bent over, and tucked into the rock as much as possible, until I heard the rock hit again far below. It is amazing how much "ROCK!!" can sound like "SLACK!!".

Eventually the rope stopped moving and Jens yelled down that I was on belay. It was interesting that I could hear what he was saying more clearly when it echoed back to me from across Great Scott Bowl. 

I started climbing up the chimney. This turned out to be quite sporty, as the pack I was carry prevented me from turning in either direction until I had stemmed up and had 15 feet of air below me. I was then able to turn and properly address the face described three paragraphs above. I also looked down at the ledge I was standing on and was horrified to see that it was, as Jens had said, littered with a half-dozen football-sized loose rocks. All teetering directly above my cozy belay stance below. It is important to have a partner who doesn't knock much shit down! Cleaning the "not all that crappy" pieces was not a problem, nor was the 5.9 move, thanks to the security of a top rope.

What Jens had described as the "second crux" was yet another chimney, this one shorter, ending in a wedged-in rubble pile. I admired Jens' lead as I saw that his next piece of gear was a cam at the top of the chimney (remember the three pieces that were below him? Hint: Crap). Transitioning left under the overhanging rubble and out of the chimney was the crux of the route for me. For what it is worth, I'll call the three moves solid 5.9. There were lots of good holds, I just couldn't use them because they weren't attached to anything. I was also afraid to yard on the members of the rubble pile, for fear of bringing the whole thing down on me. So it was thin edges and slopey feet there for a bit.

Past that Cascade gem, it was just another 50 feet of easy ground that ended directly on the summit. It was 11:10 AM. Three hours after we'd started the climb. Jens was living large with bare feet and a bomber belay. I sat down and enjoyed the view of Granite, Kaleetan, Bryant, Hemlock, Snoqualmie, and Guye Peaks nearby, and Rainier, Baker, Glacier and Stuart in the distance.

Rainier and the East Ridge of Granite Mountain from the summit

To add just a bit more adrenaline to the day we decided to solo down the South Face route. I'd climbed it once in the summer, but I didn't make the traverse across the Catwalk then. Fourth class, but so much air below! Just above Pineapple Pass we both took a turn trying to score a booty-cam that someone had irrevocably wedged into a bad placement. A short scramble around the corner took us to the descent gully, where we ran into the first people we'd seen near the route all day. The Tooth free of climbers on a sunny Saturday in July? Yep, and I have no idea why.

We retrieved our gear from its hiding place in the Bowl and made fast tracks for the parking lot. It was about 1:45 PM when we strolled in. I didn't count but I bet we saw at least 35 people on the Snow Lake trail. About 150 cars littered the parking lot. A change of shoes, a couple beers. Another beautiful day, another great climb.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

This is a good climb. I'd do it again.
Becky calls it 5.7 Grade II/III. Hmm, let's compromise at 5.9 Grade II.
It's loose up there folks, take a helmet.
It is possible to avoid the more difficult upper pitches by escaping left onto the south face just below the first chimney.

Looking for something harder? Part way up the low angle slab there may be a route up the huge dihedral into the green/yellow rock. Looked like a finger crack to me. Has it gone yet??

The unclimbed (?) dihedral


This page was last edited on Tuesday, August 30, 2005
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