Solo camping on the Tooth

July 17 (Sat) - 18 (Sun) 2004

I hadn't been camping in ages. And I don't mean bivying. I mean camping: where you have time to enjoy the view, and a cushy Thermarest and sleeping bag on a flat patch of ground. In the morning, you can again take your time because you don't have 16 hours of climbing to accomplish.

So I went camping. I wanted something not too far away, since long drives alone are no fun. I wanted something easy, mellow.

Approach to the south face around the pointy rock called the Pineapple. Red dots show my path. Blue dots show where I went on the back (unseen in photo) side.

I started hiking from the Snow Lake trailhead past Alpental at 6:45pm on Saturday. The trip started well, with a cute guy in the parking lot giving me a few pointers on the approach. Then the mosquitoes started. Although I was thirsty, I didn't stop to drink for two hours, hoping there'd be fewer bugs higher up. No such luck. I accidentally went up the Pineapple just south of the Tooth (the one which you're meant to circumnavigate) and descended to the base of the south face of the Tooth by 9:00pm. The sky was turning beautiful colors as the sun descended. I decided to attempt the summit in spite of approaching darkness, and surprised myself by summiting only 20 minutes later.

This was my first 5th class solo (no pro) climb without a partner. It was a bit unnerving, knowing that if I fell I'd quite possibly die, and even if I didn't, there wasn't even anyone else around to go for help. Although the climbing was well within my ability (as solo climbs should be), I was thinking that I probably won't be soloing alone again. In retrospect, it wasn't so bad. Funny how memories and decisions change with time.

Me on summit.

On the summit, I put on my rainjacket to guard against the bugs and set up my brand new bivy sack. BD sent me one with the zip on the wrong side. Doh. The bugs were still buzzing around so I didn't spend much time outside. What a flat, comfortable ledge that was, cushy with a thermarest and sleeping bag. Although I probably ought to invest in a less-warm sleeping bag than my 5 degree Western Mountaineering bag. And perhaps packing in 10 minutes is not a good idea if it means the only clothing you bring is shorts, tank-top, and a rain jacket -- nothing to protect against the darned mosquitoes! Yeah, yeah, that's hardly textbook alpine clothing...

Kaleetan and Chair Peaks seen from the Tooth

Rainier in the morning light.


I'd brought a rope for two reasons. First, I'd never been up the Tooth before and wanted an easy way to back off. Second, the weather forecast wasn't certain and a night-time rap is much easier than a night-time down-climb on even easy 5th class. Having a rope allowed for an easier descent in the morning. I rappelled 2 pitches down the face, and 2 more down the gulley between the Tooth and the Pineapple. Funny 'nuf, it took me 10 minutes longer to rap the face than it had taken to climb it (30 min vs 20 min).

Above Source Lake and a couple hundred feet below the end of the trail leading there, I saw four plaques attached to a rock. I don't know who the people commemorated there are. The inscriptions are:


Helan Cabiness Griffith

James Simpson Steil


People often bemoan the Tooth being crowded. Although I passed people coming from the Tooth in the evening, and heading out there in the morning, I didn't see a soul in the basin beneath the Tooth nor anywhere on the climb. The Tooth was a beautiful place to enjoy some alpine solitude.

The ascent took me from 6:45-9:20pm (2:35) and the decent took me from about 6:00-9:00am (3 hours). I was hurrying away from mosquitoes on the way up, and had resigned myself to them on the way back.

© Anna Mitros
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