The South Face of The Tooth in Snoquialmie Pass (5.4, Grade II) just outside of Seattle is many northwest climbers’ first experience with alpine rock. A mild approach and easy climbing to a peak with a 360º view make it a worthy peak to snag in the region, so when my friend Zack called me to say he was back in Washington, I knew we had to head out there for his first multipitch trad climb! We woke up a bit later in the morning than I had hoped (I tend to be pretty lazy in the mornings) but since standing at the base is less than three hours from downtown Seattle, I didn’t worry too much about it.
The approach off the main trail descends talus before starting up again through trees. Cutting left, one can find a more worn climbers path but eventually — especially in the late season — one must ascend a large talus field. This is almost certainly the worst part of any trip to The Tooth: nearly twisted ankles, shifting boulders, and slow progress are hallmarks of talus fields. Despite the slog, there are beautiful views along the way as you traverse around Source Lake and ascend into the trees.
After stumbling through the talus, the approach goes around Pineapple Pass and up through some easy, unexposed 4th and easy-5th class climbing to the notch where the South Face begins. Climbing the South Face itself consists of 3 pitches of 5.4-ish climbing, depending on which way you go up. In any case, the climbing is quite easy: a light alpine rack of singles and a set of nuts are more than one needs. All belays consist of slung trees so no anchor building is required, but it’s a good idea to carry replacement webbing just in case.
The 5604ft summit provides breathtaking, 360º views of Snoqualmie Valley, where several other peaks can be seen including Rainier to the south, Baker to the north, and the intimidating Stuart Range to the northeast.
The descent consists of three painless rappels and down-climbing the notch back to the ankle-breaking talus field. One thing we forgot: sandwiches for the summit! Needless to say, we were starving by the time we got back to the Alpental parking lot. All in all, a great time that should be on any visiting climber’s tick list.
Photo credit: Zack Vella