Kyle and I were practically gleeful with our early morning start. We had gotten up at 4am to climb The Tooth and zooming up I-90 towards it in the early morning dark of summer felt amazing.
For our one year anniversary we had decided to do an alpine climb in Snoqualmie Pass. It would be our first alpine trad climb with just the two of us. We would be the only ones on the climb. Or we hoped so. The Tooth is a really popular alpine trad route thanks to its low grade, easy access and relative proximity to Seattle. As we pulled into the parking lot there were already a couple of other cars there. “When did these people leave Seattle?!” Kyle groaned. I reminded him that this was also a trailhead for the popular Snow Lake and that people were probably camped at the lake. That didn’t stop him from taking off towards the trailhead at a light jog.
The trail up to snow lake is lovely. Nicely graded, smooth and mellow. About two miles in a sign marks a split in the trail and we headed to the left on the Source Lake Trail. Using Gia GPS we were easily able to find the turn off and began to traverse across the boulder field. The boulder field continued in a number of different iterations, some steeper than others until we crested a ridge and a wide basin opened up in front of us, The Tooth looming over it at the far end.
Our next objective was to gain Pineapple Pass. Between us and the pass was a LOT of boulders and some snow. We tested the snow, still too hard, so we stuck to the boulders, hopping our way up the basin as the grade got steeper and steeper. Towards the top the boulders went away and we scrambled up solid rock to the top. From there it was a quick traverse down and around a gendarme and back up to the notch below the start of the climb. We were staring up at the South Face of The Tooth – or Das Toof as we kept shouting.
Down climbing the rock towards us were two trail runners that had passed us on the trail earlier. We had assumed they were running to Snow Lake because of the size of their packs. Of course now we realized they were just serious badasses. As we roped up we all stood around and chatted and they gave us their beta – turns out they come out and do the climb at least twice a week before going to work. If only we can be so cool some day.
In a matter of minutes the trail runners were out of sight and earshot and we were suddenly alone. Just us and The Tooth. I was all racked up, pro hanging from my harness like ornaments on a Christmas Tree, and staring up at the pitches ahead of me. Kyle had flaked the rope out on the ledge below the route. I scrambled over to him and tied in. We checked each other and then began the laborious process of trying to figure out where Kyle should stand to belay.
I clearly needed to go under the resting boulder and up the ramp to the crack but then the rope would be threading it’s way under the resting boulder and Kyle didn’t like that. I convinced him to crawl under the resting boulder but he was uncomfortable leaning against it, imagining it shifting when it probably hasn’t shifted in a hundred years. I got up to the bottom of the first pitch and was standing, completely secure with my first piece in with Kyle being a grump below me, worrying over his belay stance. I ensured him I was stable if he wanted to move. He slithered back under the rock and then stated again how much he didn’t like the rope going under the resting boulder. Classic. I asked, “On belay?” and when he assured me I was I started climbing.
The climbing was easy. None of the pitches are harder than a 5.4. Finding a stable stance to place gear was easy and each stop felt extravagantly sturdy. I kept climbing until I found a boulder wrapped in slings and clipped in my personal anchor. I yelled down that I was off belay and started setting up our ATC in guide mode to belay Kyle up to me. This was a process we repeated three times. Kyle led the next pitch and then I led the last pitch to the top. It was our first summit, just the two of us, in a long time and it felt great. Plus, we still hadn’t seen anyone else on the mountain!
We only spent a couple of minutes on the summit but it was gorgeous – views for as far as the eye could see and a huge, snowy Mount Rainier far in the distance. After having a snack we decided it was time to head down, certainly the crowds were already coming up the route and we were going to have to rappel around them and share belay ledges.
We rappelled off the third pitch without incident and scrambled down to the tree anchor for the second pitch. Right as I was pulling myself over a dead tree on my way to the anchor an ear splitting roar hit me. Even though I knew instinctively it was a low flying jet I ducked and gasped anyway. Kyle whooped as we both watched it shoot over our heads. I grumbled as I locked my PA around the anchor, no one needs any extra excitement when climbing.
Rappelling off the second pitch was more exciting than the third. It felt like we were aiming for a smaller target and off to the right was a big open space. Even though I wasn’t going to swing over into the abyss I felt like I was and I could feel that I was physically leaning away from it. Soon we were both down at the boulder anchor and getting ready to pull the rope which is probably the most tense part of any climb. There had been a lot of different rocks and cracks for it to get stuck in. A couple big tugs later and the rope was sliding down the rocks above us until… it wasn’t. We both swore. I volunteered to go unstick it.
With a sigh I tied into the loose end of the rope and Kyle belayed me up to where it was stuck. Luckily it had gotten wrapped around a jutting rock right above the belay ledge so it was an easy save. I down climbed back to our belay ledge, reminding myself that our trail runner friends gad down climbed the whole thing so I really had nothing to be proud of.
The last pitch had even more rope traps than the first and I rappelled it with a knot in my throat, imagining what climbing and down climbing it would be like if the rope go stuck. I had a plan for saving the rope before I even got to the bottom. Kyle was back at the base of the route soon enough and we both watched with trepidation as the rope fell out of the sky. It kept coming and coming and we hollered with joy as we watched the end drop over the last ledge and land in a pile at our feet. High-fiving and kissing we stood there looking around, patting ourselves on the back, realizing we were still alone. We had climbed The Tooth and we had enjoyed the whole mountain, all to ourselves. It was with full hearts that we climbed down Pineapple Pass, boulder hopped back to the trail and zoomed past the many hikers headed to Snow Lake on our way back to the trailhead.
What a perfect day. What a perfect climb. What a perfect way to celebrate each other and the incredible partnership we have formed and continue to grow.
P.S. Did you think I was just going to write a post out of the blue and NOT apologize for taking such a big break between posts? Think again. I am so sorry. So much has happened and I haven’t been writing. This is partly due to the fact that I got a new job early spring and that, combined with BOEALPs, made my life a little too hectic for some of the luxuries. I was really just trying to stay afloat. Things are still crazy but I think I am finding more rhythm and cadence as I work through transitions and have started to carve time out of my life for some of the things that matter most, like writing.
So stay tuned – I have a whole backlog of blog posts that have been conceived of and need posting. Hopefully I can get around to them in an orderly fashion and catch you all up on what has been going on in our lives over the last couple of months. Plus, make sure you are following us on Instagram if you have one – we will be doing a gear give away here in a couple of days!