Little Tahoma: There’s nothing little about this rugged, spunky 11,138 ft peak

Little Tahoma and Mt. Rainier. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Before attempting Big Tahoma, I thought I’d tackle Little Tahoma.  Sort of like a warm up for the big dance.  Little T (as locals lovingly refer to it as) is a 11,138 ft satellite peak of Mt. Rainier.  If you are looking at Rainier from Seattle, the smaller peak on the left, that’s Little Tahoma.  This small (compared to it’s very large and looming counterpart) yet spunky peak is a volcanic remnant of the once even larger structure of Mt. Rainier.  Over the hundreds of thousands of years, what was once around Little T has eroded away leaving the 11k ft peak standing on it’s own in front of the DC, Ingraham Direct and Emmons routes up Mt. Rainier.  This tall nugget of crappy rock is considered by many to be the third tallest peak in Washington State (only being surpassed by Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams).

And that brings us to the state of it’s rock.  It’s crap.  And by crap I mean crap that’s so crappy it redefines crappy rock.  Believe the

Our objective - Little T. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

guide books and beta, unless you are lucky enough to climb it when it’s nearly completely covered in snow, you will get to experience the legendary crappy rock of Little Tahoma.  There’s a reason everything around it eroded.  Basically trust nothing and be prepared for mentally taxing rock scrambling.  It’s definitely doable, but requires care, especially when there are a number of parties gunning for the peak at once.

The climb begins at the Summerland Trail.  First register at the White River Ranger station, then park at the Summerland Trail head.  The Summerland Trail is 4 miles of flat, forested, exceptionally well maintained trail.  After 4 miles, the trail crosses a river and heads up a couple hundred feet to a subalpine meadow.  From here it’s a straight shot up to Meany Crest at 7,500 feet.  Due to all the late spring now fall, both the meadow and the climb up to Meany Crest were covered in compact snow, perfect for kicking steps in.  When looking at Meany Crest, you can head left (the long way around the back side) or right (the direct yet steaper route).  The route to the right is the shorter, steeper, more direct route.

Summerland Trail. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Summerland Trail. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Exciting the Summerland Trail to a subalpine meadow and great views of Little Tahoma and Mt. Rainier. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Ira, my climbing partner, and I decided to camp at Meany Crest (7500 feet).  There are great campsites here, running water and awesome views of the Emmons and DC routes. We set up Ira’s MSR Hubba Hubba, which is a sweet tent, whipped up some Mountain House gourmet cooking and watched a beautiful sunset over Little Tahoma and Mt. Rainer.

View of Meany Crest where we camped. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Basecamp at Meany Crest. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Ira's awesome new Hubba Hubba MSR tent. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

From Meany Crest, you begin climbing on the Frying Pan Glacier to a notch at 9,100 feet, then it’s up onto the Whitman Glacier.  Ira and I got up at 3pm to alpine start at 4pm.  What’s cool about camping at Meany Crest is that you can see the little headlamps from climbers moving up the Ingraham, Emmons and DC routes.  We initially roped up for the Frying Pan Glacier, but it became quickly apparent that we would have to work really hard to find a crevasse.  Due to all the late snow and the very cold spring and summer this year, July 25th there was still a ton of snow and the glaciers were still nicely sewn up.

Sunset over Mt. Rainier and Little Tahoma. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Full moon. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Sunrise over Little Tahoma and Mt. Rainier. Fryingpan Glacier. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Sunrise over the Fryingpan Glacier. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Once at the notch, we dropped onto the Whitman Glacier, winding our way up the glacier to the base of  700 feet summit “pyramid” of Little Tahoma. The best way up is to stay climber’s right along the snow as long as you can, up a small gulley and then onto the rock.  This route drops you the closest to the summit.  We hung left, and had a mess of a time finding a direct route to the summit.  Little Tahoma has a number of little rock pinnacles near the top and it isn’t always clear which is the summit.  But if you stay climber’s right you find a times a climber’s trail and this will take you to the summit.

The notch at 9,100 feet. Climb over it and onto the Whitman Glacier. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Whitman Glacier. Head straight across then turn and climb up the far snow slope. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

The snow gulley to the rock was a little steep, about a 50 degree snow slope.  The rock, as I touched on early, is not to be trusted.  Whether you are moving your feet or hands, check everything before you weight it and step silently.  Be sure to yell rock if anything does come loose since you may not always know who is below you.  If you hang climber’s right at times you will come across a climber’s trail that will lead you up to the summit of Little Tahoma.

Steepish snow up to rock on climber's left. Try to access the rock on climber's right of the Whitmant. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

An now for the crappy rock scrambling. This is why you want to stay climber's right on the Whitman Glacier. It's a rock pinnacle forest. If you do have to access the rock from climber's left, move right as soon as you can. There's more of a path on the far climber's rock. Everything else is a chaucy mess. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

Chaussy mess that is Little Tahoma. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

From the summit, we had incredible views of the DC, Ingraham Direct and Emmons routes.  We could see dozens and dozens of rope teams (little black specs) moving down the DC.  We also could see the brightly colored tents at Ingraham Flats, and way off in the distance, Camp Muir.

Summit Achieved!! Photo belongs to Genevieve Hathaway.

Rope teams on the DC. Ira's photo.

My objective for next weekend - Big Tahoma. Photo belongs to Genevieve Hathaway.

Way down Little Tahoma. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway.

On the descent, Ira and I opted to plunge step and glissade the  Whitman Glacier and not to rope up on the Frying Pan – the glaciers were  solid and crevasseless.  Once back at camp, we broke down the tent, packed up our gear, glissaded the long snow slope back to the meadow and cruised out the 4 miles of the Summerland to the car.

Little Tahoma, for all the crappy rock, was still a great climb.  You get incredible views of Rainier, the Summerland Trail is so pretty, and Little Tahoma is a cool looking peak!

Up next, Big T! (aka Mt. Rainier)

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~ by Genevieve Hathaway on August 11, 2010.

2 Responses to “Little Tahoma: There’s nothing little about this rugged, spunky 11,138 ft peak”

  1. Great pics ! Sounds like Little Tahoma is pretty doable for “non-technical ” climbers.

    • Thanks Paul! Usually there are a lot more crevasses open on the Fryingpan and Whitman Glaciers. It’s good to have experience with glacial travel and on steep snow for this climb. It’s a great climb though. 🙂

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