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The Tooth

Alpental Valley

September 13, 2008

All photos courtesy of the Melinda Sproch Collection

Earlier this Spring my friend Andrew Marvel and I tried making an ascent of the Tooth only to be turned around at Pineapple Pass by heavy snowfall from a late spring storm. We returned to finish the job in late Summer when there was nary a snowflake to be found. Kim and our friend Melinda Sproch also joined us on this classic climb.

Knowing that we would have company on this popular climb on a Saturday we left Seattle around 5am and started hiking from Alpental around 6:15am. I'm always puzzled why the main Alpental parking lot requires a Northwest Forest Pass (Double Tax! don't buy them!) in the summer, but not during the ski season. Hmmmm... To avoid having to fight another ticket we parked down around the corner below the nice "Welcome to Alpental" sign.

We hiked up the Snow Lake trail and soon had views of Chair Peak and Bryant Peak. There were a few high clouds and we were sprinkled on a few times, but no serious precipitation fell. We left the Snow Lake trail and continued straight on the Source Lake overlook trail and stopped for a bite of food at the top of the boulder field above Source Lake. Melinda shared some of her molasses breakfast muffin (?) and Andrew shared some of his smoked salmon which he had smoked just the day before. I offered to share some of my Tri-berry GU and Builder Bar, but everyone politely declined.

We made our way down the boulder field to the snow finger which was still pretty big. Since we all didn't have sturdy boots and ice axes we hiked down and around the end of the snow. Once on the other side we made our way into the trees and bush whacked our way to the climbers trail. I had promised a little bush whacking, so I was glad to make good on it!

We made our way up the trail, across gullies, through forest and finally arrived at the base of the upper basin. This was Melinda's first trip to the Tooth so we explained how in the springtime the entire basin is covered in snow which makes for much easier travel.

As we hiked up through the boulder field below the Tooth, we could hear voices coming from above. Up until this time we thought we would be the first on the route. Oh well! We scrambled up the notch to Pineapple Pass and then made our way down and around the other side. Things looked much different from when Andrew and I were here last May. At the notch below the route we met a friendly Mountaineers party. Kim and I told them how the Tooth was one of our first climbs when we were taking the Basic Class back in the late 20th century. ;)

We put on our harnesses and flaked out the rope as the last two Mountaineer rope teams started the first pitch. We decided that I would lead up with Kim on one rope followed by Andrew and Melinda on the other rope. To offset my heavy 10.5mm 50m rope, I had pared down my rack to 5 stoppers, 3 tri cams, and about 7 runners.

It was great to be climbing with Kim as it had been some time since we had been on a rope together! I joke with Kim that while she looks like she has just trained to run a marathon, in fact she is a slug. Slug is probably -no definitely- the wrong word, but what I mean to say is that she is a mutant and can climb Mt Rainier off the couch. It's a compliment!

The party in front of us was progressing steadily, but were in turn slowed by the party in front of them. So to help get Andrew and Melinda moving I built a gear belay just below the slung trees at the end of the first pitch. Here is where our party had it's only casualty. My beloved pink .5 Tri-Cam was mistaken left behind and picked up by a soloist (yes, while we were backed up on the South Col, a soloist passed us all, topped out and rappeled back down) thinking it was booty.

I didn't realize the loss until part way up the second pitch when I realized it was missing. I called down to Kim to ask if she still had it on her and she told me she thought it was a fixed peice. Melinda has swapped leads with Andrew and was leading up and called down to Andrew at the belay to see if it was still there. Sensing my distress, Melinda said, "I don't think I should tell you right now. Andrew said the soloist cleaned it as booty." Challenger, Slesse, Bugaboo Spire, Stuart...the list goes on of summits this little pink tri-cam had seen. I was pretty pissed that it had been left and that no one had spoken up when the soloist cleaned it, but in the end there was nothing I could do about it. I apologize to Kim, Melinda and Andrew for stewing about it for the next pitch and a half. When I bring 8 pieces of gear total, I don't exactly have enough to give away to soloists.

Anyway, I placed about three pieces of gear over the next remaining two pitches partly because the climbing was easy, partly because I didn't wan't any more of my pieces left, and partly because there were two fixed cams on the cat walk.

We all made it to the top and hung out enjoying the views. Melinda and Andrew did a great job of swapping pitches for their first alpine lead climb. We met a party of two who we partnered up with to join our ropes for the rappel as they had a 50m rope to match mine for the double rappels and Andrew had his 60m 9.8mm. We made a single 60m rappel from the top, then scrambled down about 20 feet to where we made a double 50m rope rappel to the base of the climb.