Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Tooth - South Face - 02.28.09

Julie and I decided to make a ski attempt on The Tooth this Saturday. Avalanche conditions were cooperating, and a recent dump of new snow meant that the skiing would be more enjoyable than the hard crust which had been persisting.

We figured the climbing may be a bit more time consuming, but that we would make up time on the ski descent. This was of course, not computing that we were both less than stellar skiers. We left the Alpental parking lot at 7:45am under sunny, mostly clear skies. We followed the cat track until it became a skin track and continued on that for a bit. There were multiple skin tracks, which were also return tracks, and we wasted a bit of time in the woods trying to keep on decent track. We finally reached the gully to ascend to the hanging valley, and started skinning up in the trees between the two chutes. This lost us lots of time. Off of any track, the snow was deep. Floatation was required. Julie took a ski off, and was waist deep in snow. The slope was steep and treed, so not easy to make switchbacks on. Direct ascent usually resulted in sliding backward down slope. We struggled up this section until it leveled out at the top. That is when I realized the easier way to ascend it is to switch back under Chair Peak, and then take a rising traverse over to the basin. Oh well.

After the fiasco of getting to the basin, the skinning was fairly straightforward from there to The Tooth. Only thing was the skin track reaching the top of the basin proved a little too steep for me, and I had to blaze my own track. This was difficult, as the snow was deep, and we had heavy packs. Skinning under The Tooth we noticed a party on the first pitch of the NE Slabs route. The NE Slabs looks to be in right now, and almost made me wish we were going to attempt that route. We also noticed a party climbing the South Face as well.

When we arrived below the notch, we took our skis off and booted up consolidated steps up the gully. We stashed our skis and poles at the notch. I took this break to switch into climbing boots. We both took out ice axes for the travel over to Pineapple Pass. Snow down and over to Pineapple Pass was deep and unconsolidated. We post-holed down, across and up to the pass. Once there, we put on all our layers, and geared up. Julie and I debated about her wearing of ski boots or the approach shoes she brought to climb in. If she chose ski boots, I would be saddled with the leading on all pitches but the third.

I took first lead and started to climb. I wasted a bit of time deciding on which way to start. A party ahead of us had gone far left. I did not like this option, as it involved pulling on a boulder that I thought I could dislodge. After the boulder, was a snowy, icy, wet slab which was also not appealing. So I went to the right and got onto a ramp there which had about 2' of snow on it. Once through the ramp I climbed gingerly on the wet and snowy holds up the rest of the pitch.

I arrived at the top of the first pitch to a climber waiting to climb the second pitch. The party of three ahead of us was not making good time on the route. It was about 12:30pm. Julie was freezing down at the notch, and we decided we did not want to wait behind this other party all day and have a 4pm summit. I rapped back down to the pass and cleaned my gear along the way. We also rapped from Pineapple Pass to get by some sketchy wet snowy rock on the down climb. Once done rappelling, we were post-holing through the snow back to the notch.

At the notch, I finally ate something and we prepared to climb back out into the bowl. For me, this meant changing back into my ski boots, and putting my skis on my pack. I have to say, in winter conditions, is the easiest way up and down the notch. No 3rd class loose rock. No hard spring snow. Once at the bottom of the consolidated steps, we put our skis back on. A party of resort skiers was bare booting up our skin track in snow up to their thighs. They were attempting to do a run from the top of the basin. Julie got her skis on and proceeded to make long traverses of the slope with step turns at the ends. I made some long traverses as well in the upper steep section of the bowl. When we hit the flatter section, I noticed I forgot to put my boots in downhill mode, and had left the upper buckles unbuckled. No wonder I didn't feel too good on the steeps.

We started to make some good turns toward the bottom of the basin. Then it was time to pick our way down the chute. We descended the western chute, which is normally a small creek in the summer. Near the top it was somewhat steep, but it also had numerous holes. We made our way down. Julie sidestepping and traversing, while I would make a few turns then stop. We eventually made it back down to the correct skin/descent traverse and followed that. Since it was used a lot, it was hard packed and fast. This made for a few crashes by Julie and myself. Once we saw the lower cat track, we skied a powdered slope to it and made nice time back to the car.

Overall, it was an interesting trip. I accomplished one of my goals for this year which was a ski approach for The Tooth. Even though it did not result in a summit, it was good for the learning experience. It made me realize too, that skiing is not inherently faster than walking or snow shoeing. If I was a better skier, this may be true, but as of February 28, 2009, it may have taken equal or more time to ski. It was also interesting to see the south face in winter conditions. The recent dump of snow had more snow on the route than other parties probably experienced earlier this winter. The second pitch looked to have less snow on it than the first, but, of course, I did not climb it.

My pics are here.

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