Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Tooth - South Face - 02.20.10

2600' Elevation Gain
4 miles RT
Left Car: ~8 am
Summit: approx 3pm
Return to car: 7:30pm
<12 hours car to car

Ken wanted to knock out one of his winter goals of climbing The Tooth. He was recovering from a tweaked ankle and felt that his ankle was up to it. I warned him it may not be as easy as he thinks while trying to paint a picture of the conditions Julie and I climbed in last February. This time I packed steel crampons in case I felt I needed to climb in them.

We got off to a casual start and saw a few guys in the parking lot with plastic boots. (One was in Randonee boots, but no skis.) Since they had a rope, but no ice tools we figured they were headed for the same destination. We knew due to trip reports, that the North Face of Chair would be a zoo as everyone in the state would be descending upon it. So we would have one other party to work with. No big deal.

Three of us donned snowshoes from the start although they were not needed on the groomed road, it was nice to have their crampons when we left the road and the "trail" got icy. At which point, Jack who does not own snowshoes donned crampons for the ice (after prompted by a slip and fall.) We made time to the hanging valley although the path up was arduous and not very tracked snow. We were happy we made the decision to go with snowshoes, and I was especially happy I now had snowshoes with a riser bar. (And better still, that I could operate the riser bar with my trekking poles which have a notch in the handle for such tasks. Once in the hanging valley we took a break in the sun and donned a layer as it was colder and more windy higher up and we would be in the shade until getting on the rock. At this time we could see the party ahead of us and knew they were headed for the same destination.

We originally contemplated caching our snowshoes at the big boulder in the basin, but opted not to as they were helping more than ever near the head of the valley. We took them off near the entrance to the notch gully where we had to do a sketchy traverse over the cornice. (Which seemed safer than attempting to go through it on the right.) After that, Ken set a hand line for us to make the high traverse on the other side. Then we scurried up to Pineapple Pass.

The other party was still on the first pitch, so we geared up while they moved on. It turned out the guy hiking in ski boots had brought rock shoes, but the other guy was going to climb in his plastics. The original idea was I would combine the first two pitches, and Ken would have the second two. Jack and Dylan would climb together and decide who led what pitch. I led the first pitch, but due to rope drag, and an abundance of pro placement I opted to stop at the top of the first pitch and bring Ken up. That would also give Jack and Dylan the ability to get on the rock sooner. While definitely more attention grabbing than in summer, the first pitch was not nearly as scary as last February where virtually all holds had snow or ice on them. Many of the larger ledges did have snow and ice on them, but the smaller holds did not. And at no time was I wishing to have crampons on. In full sun the rock was warmer too. This meant I got to climb in bare hands and not in gloves which may have reduced the spiciness. While Ken climbed the pitch, the sun went behind clouds and with his wet gloves on struggled to maintain warm hands.

When Ken came up I offered him the pitch two lead and he set about climbing it. There was a funky two piton anchor part way up that he was glad to clip into. Then he placed a nut and a cam to protect an awkward mantle into snow from rock. The rest of the pitch he danced around the snow up the slab to the belay tree. I took the next pitch.

Although the party ahead of us had kicked nice steps into the snow on the third pitch, the sun was back out and it felt pretty sketchy on the soft snow and I opted to take the ice ax with me. (We had brought it up in case we felt we wanted it.) While it added security, it was better for keeping my hand out of the snow and getting cold for the rock bits. I brought Ken up and we contemplated the final pitch. Normally Ken likes to take the ramp, but the right side is supposed to be easier up to the rappel tree. So he decided on it and was on his way.

Since there was a traverse to the right on snow under the wall, Ken set a nut before heading out that way. Neither of us had climbed this section before and Ken did not know where to start. So he set about trying to place pro. After a cam and a slung horn, he tried to chop some ice to get at the stuck cam that had been there for years. (It was now joined by another BD .3 Camalot.) Since they were encased in ice he opted to place his own cam and had a web of rope around him. He removed the first cam he placed and straightened out the rope to reduce drag. Then he started upward. We did not realize until rapping off the summit that this was not the easy way. Ken likened it to 5.7, and when I got there I would say it was not 5.4, but hard to tell. Ken led a touchy lead up the left of the three or so small corners. It had awkward moves with not so go foot placements in between nice ledges. At one point Ken was doing the Fred Flintstone up. When we saw the two fixed cams on the right side corner, we knew that was supposed to be the easy way. Oh well, it was fun and interesting.

I led out the last bit to the summit from the rappel tree which consisted of steep snow. I was able to find a one foot square block to belay Ken up from. We hung out on the snow dome and noticed the paw prints of something that could have been a fox, coyote or bob cat. Wild. We watched as we saw people reaching the summit of Chair. As it was getting late, I belayed Ken back to the tree and took the ax so I could follow down. The last step before the rap tree alcove was tricky, but then I was back into the relative safety of the alcove. Ken had stopped Dylan and Jack from continuing up and they were setting a rappel from the top of the third pitch tree. Ken rapped to their anchor and I followed. It was nice to be in the sun again after hanging out at the windy and shady top rap station.

Our second rappel got us to the top of the second pitch and we set a double rope rappel to the base. Jack, Ken and Dylan all rapped on single strands before I tore out the extra anchoring and rapped last to the packs. It was starting to get dark and we were quickly getting ready to go. After the long period of time it took to get up and over the notch and to Pineapple Pass, we decided to rappel from Pineapple Pass down into the basin. Ken went first, as I was hesitant about cutting through the cornice. I followed and Dylan and Jack came behind. There was an issue and then we were back on snowshoes hiking out.

Once we hit the steep part exiting the hanging valley it was time for headlamps. We also removed snowshoes for this part as it seemed easier to descend without them. Although I will state having my new shorter snowshoes made it much easier to go down steep hills with them. There were plenty of times during the day where I stated aloud "I would not have felt comfortable doing that in my old snowshoes." Once back at the trail, we put the snowshoes on for the slog out.

This was a great trip, and it was fun to get out in the mountains on a climb with Ken. The route was in much easier shape than last year when Julie and I attempted it. Or perhaps the bluebird sunny day just made it feel easier. I looked at last years pics, and it did seem like there was more snow then. The climbing was enjoyable and Ken and I had a great time. Ken also got to take one of his 2010 goals off the tick list and that always feels nice. I'm pretty happy about this trip and hopefully I will remember that at the end of the year when I am reminiscing.

My pics are here.

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