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Tatoosh Traverse

WA Cascades West Slopes South (Mt Rainier)
Posted by galenweld on 3/26/24 11:41pm

[view this post with more photos on my website]


A few weeks ago, in early February, Matt and Adam and I set out to ski a route that has always intrigued me: the Tatoosh Traverse, as described in Martin Volken’s guidebook. The Tatoosh offers beautiful views of Rainier, and I liked the idea of completing a traverse, crossing the crest of the range many times, and visiting some spots I hadn’t been to before.

We set out with gear for a three day trip, initially hoping to head all the way out past the Park boundary to Tatoosh Peak, but unfortunately, worse-than-anticipated weather had us abandon this idea, and downgrade to a single overnight. One of the draws of the Tatoosh Traverse is that has many options to shorten or lengthen the route by adding additional summits and/or exiting in different spots - while this is an excellent perk, to me it did end up making the route feel a bit more contrived and like less of a remote experience. Still glad to have done it, though!

We left Matt's car in Longmire after getting permits, and headed up to Narada Falls. The drive up reminded us of the grim state of the snowpack, and the weather was overcast with some sprinkles. Leaving Narada Falls at 10:20, we followed the Stevens Canyon Road to the summer trailhead for the Bench, which took a bit over an hour. With lots of exposed alder there with some unpleasant brushy bullshit to get to the Bench proper. After a healthy dose of exposed creek crossing silliness, we made it up past Snow Lake and stopped for lunch at 12:45. At this point a squall came in, with poor visibility and properly accumulating snowfall, something that would be a theme for the rest of the day.

We made slow progress climbing up some unpleasant refrozen avalanche debris, then easier going above the cliff bands to the saddle between Unicorn and West Unicorn just before 15:00. With the skiing on the far side looking like a whiteout and not too promising, we instead ditched packs and skis and booted up Unicorn, which had a short steep rocky section guarding easy booting to the summit - 20 mins from the saddle. Without any views, we dropped back down and then up West Unicorn, which had a bit more involved scrambling and a bit steeper snow, reaching the summit as it was snowing pretty hard. After descending back to the saddle, we found a gorgeous cool cave to pitch tents in - very nice to be sheltered as it had snowed a few inches and we were getting a bit soggy. It steadily got dark as we set up camp in the snow and whiteout, but after dinner the clouds dropped and stars came out - stunning. We walked back up to the saddle to look at Rainier - really gorgeous.

We leisurely packed up camp, and at 8:45 skied back down towards Foss Peak, then put skins on the climb up to the Foss-West Unicorn saddle. The climb up to the Pinnacle-Plummer saddle looked melted out and brushy, so we opted to stay high. We skinned up to below the summit of Foss, then made a descending skiing traverse to the saddle between Foss and The Castle, then made a rising skinning traverse below The Castle to the Pinnacle Plumber saddle, arriving there at 10:15. We skinned a bit further towards Plumber, then transitioned and dropped in towards Cliff Lake. It was a quick climb up to the Lane-Denman saddle, and an even quicker descent down to the small lakes on the far side. We stopped here to fill up water and have some food, then at 11:45 headed up towards Wahpenayo, skinning up to the southeast ridge without much trouble, then traversed, climbing up one more ridge before dropping our skis and scrambling a short distance to the summit at 12:45. All this sounds complex, but is quite straightforward and quick.

It was a quick descent and short climb up to the saddle between Wahpenayo and Chutla, which was quite windy! We started our final descent just before 13:30. After a short bowl, the forest skiing was really quite atrociously bad but very entertaining. We barely made it 15 minutes before starting to run out of snow, and ended up shuffling along bare sections of trail before finally giving up at around 4,000 ft. No snow at 4,000 ft! In February! We strapped skis to our packs, and headed down the trail and across the cool wooden suspension bridge over the Nisqually, arriving back to the car just after 14:30.


Matt and Adam demonstrating proper alpine layering systems at Snow Lake.


Matt and Adam on the summit of West Unicorn. Not pictured: stunning views of Rainier right behind them!


Our cozy camp, sheltered in a cave below West Unicorn.


The clouds dropped after dark, revealing Rainier and beautiful stars.


Morning light on Rainier from Unicorn Peak.


Adam and Matt skiing down towards the West Unicorn-Foss saddle after breaking camp.


Traversing the south-facing slopes of The Castle in the sun, while Unicorn (and our camp) remain shrouded in clouds behind us.


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2024-03-27 06:41:11