Unicorn Peak 7-3-10

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Unicorn Peak 7-3-10

Post by airdrum » July 9th, 2010, 2:32 am

I went on my first technical approach/climb last week (my rooster rock report from a couple weeks before was simply my first technical activity of any kind.

Unicorn Peak is the tallest peak in the Tatoosh mountain range (and the northern most) offering the undisputed best view of the southern face of Mt. Rainier. The peak is only a thousand feet or so above the timberline and has no official trail to it, it is simply an alpine scramble route. I got in on this climb at the last minute and didn't really know what to expect, I figured that me, a lowly mazamas BCEP grad would be unlikely to get in on something beyond the very basic, but I was in for a bit more than I expected.

If you can remember back to last weekend you'll remember the nasty weather we were having. I arrived at the damp Snow Lake trailhead in Mt. Rainier National Park at 7:30 to meet my group, the sun was nowhere to be seen and it was quite chilly.

We layered up, strapped our snow gear to our packs and off we went towards snow lake.
On the way to Snow Lake, brrr... I was glad I brought both my liner and heavy gloves
There was intermittent snow on the trail but by the time we got to snow lake the coverage was a good 2-3 feet of snow everywhere. We arrived at the lake and got the first look at our "scramble route." Yow, it was actually a steep snow field, clouded in mystery - our climb leader instructed us to put on our helmets and get out our ice axes.
Hmmm, are we really going up that into the unknown?
We quickly found ourselves slogging up a steep snowfield, by now the snow coverage was 5+ feet and there was little bare ground to be seen, just a few boulders sticking up here and there. The snow was perfect, firm enough to kick steps and no need for crampons. However, it was steep and slick enough that self-arrest was critical if one was to fall and I honesty couldn't believe that on my first mazama climb I was trudging up a snowfield holding my ice axe in self arrest grip. As luck would have it I drew rope carrying duty for this first steep 1000 or so vertical feet, whew!
We were soon above the clouds and navigating with map and compass. I was hard to see much but at least there was almost no wind and no precipitation.
I was in a contrast-less world of white and could barely make out anything. I snapped this picture more out of curiosity to see what I could pull out of it in photoshop when I got home!
There were a few more steep pitches. I turned 90 degrees to my right to snap this pic when I saw some ghostly abstract lines appear in the fog
We found the saddle we were looking for at the treeline, luckily the wind was still minimal
When it came time to gain the summit ridge we really ran into the unexpected. What is usually a steep class 4-5 scramble in summer was now a very steep snow field, and to make matters worse, right at the crux, the snow had formed a deep moat, leaving a few foot gap between the snow and rocky safety. Sorry I could not get any pics of the moat itself, it was a bit stressful at the moments I was near it.
After I crossed the moat our climb leaders continued chopping steps and laying out a line to help us across
The short ascent to the moat really had me excited, I shortened my ice axe leash, clipped it into my harness and ascended the slope step by step with my ice axe in the low dagger position. Experienced mountaineers would consider this no big deal but I have to admit I was surprised to be using this technique. I had confidence in my technique and teammates so this part was more fun than scared. Crossing the moat was quite nervous for me, however.
Here is me going up the steepest snow, I hope the angle isn't misleading but my self-preservation instincts are causing me to lean forwards
Anyway, I'm doing a bit to much talking and the pictures can tell the story from here
Approaching the summit block, it is the large rock in the mist, it was quite cold up there
The summit block is a single pitch of low 5th class rock. We thought we had picked the easy route (5.0) but it turn out we picked one of the harder ones. The crux was at the beginning which started with a very stretched v0 -v1 boulder problem, very difficult for the shorter legged people in the group. If the rock had been 100% dry and we had rock shoes it would have been much easier.
Andrew our climb leader leads the pitch and sets the fixed line. Tian, our assistant climb leader is belaying him
There were a couple of other Mazamas with us who had a second rope and they decided to set up a different route, here is Sue belaying Chris, the large rock in the background is a smaller version of the summit block and not an official peak of any kind.
Only I and the two climb leaders did not fall on the ascent. And I only didn't fall because I cheated and used my knee and basically did a pull up at the crux. The fixed line got quire a workout but luckily nobody got injured. I took a couple of pictures when I was at a nice platform midway to the summit.
Looking down
looking up
At the summit I found Andrew tying some more knots for us to clip our personal protection leashes into as we lounged at the summit and imagined the wonderful view of Rainier!
Continued below...
Last edited by airdrum on July 9th, 2010, 3:21 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Unicorn Peak 7-3-10

Post by BrianEdwards » July 9th, 2010, 2:43 am

Dang that looks intense! And being on a craggy peak in the clouds none-the-less. I'm still in awe after reading your report. Amazing that there's all that gnarled wood up on the peak as well
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Re: Unicorn Peak 7-3-10

Post by airdrum » July 9th, 2010, 2:49 am

All in all it was a great day and much more than I expected for my first climb. I felt great putting my skills to use and I hope those of you who may be thinking of taking their climbing to the next level have enjoyed this report.

FYI this was a Mazama climb and I learned the needed skills over 2 months in the Spring during the Mazamas BCEP class, I highly recommend this class even if you are not interested in technical climbing.
After the chilly summit was a challenging rappel. Our leader told us this rappel has a reputation for fooling a few of the most experienced climb leaders, there is even one rock so notorious it has the official nickname of "the ass grabber"
The fall line of the rope want to take you over a 500 foot vertical drop but you need to land to the right side. In between the landing zone and the fall line of the rope is a crack with a considerable over-hang. Word is that more than one climbers have fought the rope too hard and ended up flipped upside down and swinging like clok hand in the crack, picking up many bruises. In this photo Andrew is straddling the lower part of the crack and working to the right side
As we left the summit block we saw our first glimpse of sun, were the clouds going to break, were we going to get that famous view!?
When we reached the moat we stopped to collectively pray for the clouds to break, things were looking better. She is carrying wands by the way that we use to mark our route in case of whiteout conditions or emergency
Andrew determined the safest way to descend and cross the moat and steep snowfield was to rappel. As I set up for the rappel the clouds finally broke and Andrew snapped this epic picture of me rappelling into the moat. I didn't edit this in photoshop at all, thanks for the pic Andrew!
The clouds continued to break up, epic views
looking back at the unicorn, the rappel is on the right side of that summit block, you can see why it's no good to follow the fall line of the rope!
We glissaded almost 2000 vertical feet on the way back. I was foolish and didn't change into my snow pants. Instead I did the "trash bag speedo glissade device" leading me to build up way too much speed in the steep sections. I actually had to roll over and ice axe self arrest for real two times to avoid flying into semi-exposed boulders. I was fun, but all the froth of high speed self arrest coated my face, sunglasses and hair with snow inside and out, brr again!
Snow lake on the way home

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Re: Unicorn Peak 7-3-10

Post by AlexanderSupertramp » July 9th, 2010, 7:11 am

Holy crap Andy,

That looks like about 10 distinct different types of "No thanks" for me. Great job!

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Re: Unicorn Peak 7-3-10

Post by fettster » July 9th, 2010, 7:12 am

airdrum wrote:FYI this was a Mazama climb and I learned the needed skills over 2 months in the Spring during the Mazamas BCEP class, I highly recommend this class even if you are not interested in technical climbing.
Okay, that definitely sheds some light. I was kind of wondering if you were just heading out on a whim to give this a go. The Tatoosh definitely needs more exploring and seems like you got a good taste on this trip.

Assuming the anchors held what do you think the furthest one could've fallen on this climb? Trying to picture how I would've done on a trip like this.

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Re: Unicorn Peak 7-3-10

Post by Water » July 9th, 2010, 8:11 am

nice TR
gotta get into the tatoosh myself - i had never seen the range really until we woke up in the back of a the truck in paradise after arriving in fog the night before--looking from the parkinglot before a climb of rainier i was totally wowed with the peaks--we don't have rugged quite like that in OR, at least so densely located (5-6 mini peaks like that all side by side in a line)..

few points of reference i've found helpful: doing a climb in mostly snow when usually there is class 4 and 5 rock--while the rock may seem better cause you could find a flat spot to stand for a moment--when it is all snow covered, it really can be a lot easier (like st helens in May vs September, where there is a lot of mini-scrambling up boulders once it is melted) and the chance of rockfall, esp. in a larger party is negated (in the snow covered section).

the ice ax leash to the harness -- I too took bcep and have viewed this behavior and tried to read up to figure it out exactly--leash to wrist, harness, or no leash. ultimately i determined that moderately long and on the wrist is probably the best leashed behavior, second to 'don't drop your ax!' with no leash. reason being if you slip/fall, lose control of your ax and are sliding, aside from the run-out there is a good chance your ax will cause some damage to you if it is tethered to you right at your core--whereas on a wrist with a foot or two of leash it will arguably be at some distance as you'd fall. Once you're in this bad situation there generally is not hope of self-arresting or regaining control of the ax in the first place. i think for moderate glacier or slope that is not as risky but where you have to change hands a lot, maybe on the waist is easiest?

happy and safe climbing!
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Re: Unicorn Peak 7-3-10

Post by jessbee » July 9th, 2010, 9:24 am

Thanks for the TR. This was another one I was supposed to do this year :roll: . Maybe next year. I'm curious how long it took your group, car to car. I know this is a pretty short climb, but with Mazama groups it tends to take a long time.

As far as the leash, Matt, I find that if your wrist leash is long enough then when you switch hands you can leave your leash attached to the same wrist without it getting too annoying/tight. But, I think everyone's got their personal preferences. You learn your leader's preferred techniques in BCEP, which is a great start. But as you climb more, and with more different people, on different types of climbs, you start to develop a whole toolbox of techniques that have advantages and disadvantages in various situations. *sigh* that's (one reason) why I love climbing.

Keep those reports coming.
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Re: Unicorn Peak 7-3-10

Post by airdrum » July 9th, 2010, 12:11 pm

Hi David, the farthest you could have fallen would have been from the rappel off the summit block. Basically you would fall off the front face of Unicorn Peak, pictured above, entailing a mixed free-fall/tumble of 1000+ feet. The are easier routes to (and down) from the summit for those who free climb the summit block. For any experienced rock climber, free climbing the route up and down would not be troublesome, especially in the summer with dry rock and proper shoes. That being said, there is some major exposure, even on the easiest rock climb route you risk a fall of 50 feet or so.

Jess, so bummed you can't climb much this year, well, at least you can put together a great list for next year. We left the trailhead at 8am and returned at 6pm, so 10 hours. We made it up to the summit block in only a 3 hours but that's when the ropes came out and it started to take some time. At this point in my life I am actually quite pleased to be out with groups that take more than enough time to make sure everything is bomb-proof. Part of being safe is being efficient, as our climb leader stressed to us throughout the day, but we still took a bit longer than planned on the ascent (mainly due to picking a much harder route than planned.)

Water, I'm glad you enjoyed the report, there are not many mountains I desire to climb but Rainier is one of them. That's probably years in the future until I can develop a group of climbing friends who I trust but I am jealous you have been up there. As for the ice axe, I use a purcell prusik adjustable leash for my axe so I can always cinch it tight around a hand (and have it long enough to switch hands back and forth. Personally I actually felt best when I had it on my harness as there was some self belay needed as we traversed the summit ridge, I'm sure my opinion on the leash will change many time over the next few years, seems like climbing forums are a place to ask about leashes and get 50 opinions from 10 people :)

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Re: Unicorn Peak 7-3-10

Post by Roy » July 9th, 2010, 4:25 pm

Awesome trip report enjoyed it very much, usually pictures don't do justice to the steepness of a slope but you captured your climb nicely. The Tatoosh range is great it has walk ups climbs like yours and everything in between. Easy access and it is beautiful in the fall.
Just curious you mention Rainier I met a Mazama group on the Emmons glacier route, not sure if they were organized or just friends. Do you sign up for those like this climb? Just wondered I have ran into Mazama's all over the NW.I got started with a friends dad and his older brothers so I never was in a club.

Take care and enjoy- Tom
The downhill of the mind is harder than the uphill of the body. - Yuichiro Miura

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Re: Unicorn Peak 7-3-10

Post by [email protected] » July 9th, 2010, 6:54 pm

Unicorn - a must climb for everyone. I've been up there at least six times and loved every one of them. The views are outstanding and in a very short climb, it combines just about everything you learn in BCEP and all if small doses. Glad that it finally broke and you were able to see Big Mama - this is what makes this climb so special. Thanks again for the detail and the great pictures. Keep them coming.

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