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
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
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:
JOHANNA ELLEN STEIL
Helan Cabiness Griffith
James Simpson Steil
MELVILLE PETER 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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