July 23-24, 2016

Middle Tatoosh Traverse:  Unicorn Glacier to Pinnacle-Plummer Saddle

Unicorn Peak (6917′)
Thea Foss Peak (6524′)
The Castle (6440′)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Southern Cascades

Starting Point: Snow Lake Trailhead (Stevens Canyon Road)

Way Points: Bench Lake & Snow Lake & Unicorn Creek Basin & Unicorn Glacier & Thea Foss Peak / Manatee Mountain summit & Butter Lake & South Castle Ridge & Pinnacle-Plummer Saddle & Reflection Lakes Basin (hike & climb)

Ending Point: Pinnacle Peak Trailhead (Stevens Canyon Road)

Campsite: Butter Lake

Summit: Unicorn Peak  (climb via Unicorn Col—South Slope—South Face [Classic 5.6 Route])

Summit: Thea Foss Peak (climb via South Ridge; descent via West Slope)

Summit: The Castle  (climb via East Face [Chimney Route])

Approximate Total Stats:  6 miles traveled; 4400 feet gained; 4100 feet lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

Eileen and I celebrated the unofficial first day of summer with a trip into the Tatoosh Range with Lisa L and Kevin L.  Together, we managed to tuck in Unicorn Peak—a summit that had been loitering around our wish lists for a long time.  Eileen and I extended our weekend with a traverse through the heart of the Tatoosh and a climb of The Castle.

Day 1 – Trailhead to Unicorn Peak to Butter Lake:

After dropping off our car at the Pinnacle Peak TH, we headed up the Snow Lake Trail in cool, foggy weather on Saturday morning.  Beyond the trail’s end, we ascended talus slopes to Unicorn Creek Basin.

Climbing Up To Unicorn Basin

From the basin, nice snowfields and a snow couloir led up to a 6600-foot col between the main and west peaks of Unicorn.  Crampons were handy here but not essential.

Climbing Unicorn Couloir

We crossed through the col and wrapped around the south side of the main peak on a climbers path, then hiked up a loose scree slope to the summit ridge.  The distinctive “horn” of the unicorn was visible to the north, and we could see three other climbers hanging on the face.

Unicorn Horn From Ridge

The horn is composed of surprisingly solid volcanic rock with plenty of cracks and blocky features.  There are three or four established routes on the south face, which is about 50 feet high.  Since we had two ropes and two racks, we split up to tackle this face.  Lisa and Kevin climbed the “Open Book Route” (5.0) while Eileen and I climbed the “Classic Route” (5.6).  Both were enjoyable climbs with good protection.  Lisa then went down and top-roped the latter route, as shown on the right side of the two photos below.

Eileen and Lisa On South Face
Eileen and Lisa On South Face

After returning to the main-west col, we parted company.  Lisa and Kevin headed back to the trailhead to complete their day, whereas Eileen and I traversed over to a broad saddle northwest of Unicorn Peak.

Thea Foss Peak From Unicorn Col

We picked up a well-trodden path on the ridge crest and followed it up to Point 6524, aka “Foss Peak” (in honor of Tacoma’s famous Thea Foss) and “Manatee Mountain” (for reasons unknown to me).  Personally, I like the idea of calling it “Thea Foss Peak” to distinguish it from Hal Foss Peak in the Olympics and from other Foss names in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Hiking Up Thea Foss Peak

Thea Foss Peak offers a wonderful view of Mt. Rainier.  Fortunately, the weather had cleared up enough for us to truly appreciate it.

Eileen On Thea Foss Peak Summit

From the summit, we dropped down to the west on easy grass slopes and found a nice camping bench near a little stream.  Still-frozen “Butter Lake” was just below our camp.

Descending Toward Butter Lake

Clouds filled all of the surrounding valleys as the sun set in a perfectly clear sky.  Throughout the night, we could see headlamps over on Mt. Rainier.

Sunset From Camp

Day 2 – Butter Lake to The Castle to Trailhead:

In the morning, we descended to Butter Lake, then ascended a few hundred feet to the base of The Castle.  We forgot to bring any beta for this peak, but there appeared to be a weakness in the facade just left of center.

The Castle East Face

The weakness turned out to be an obvious crack-chimney system that ended at a tiny notch adjacent to a rappel horn.  Two short pitches up this crack-chimney (5.0) and a brief scramble along the exposed crest put us on top.  Again, the volcanic rock was uncharacteristically solid.

Scrambling Along The Castle Summit Ridge

Unicorn Peak stood out like a stone beacon on the eastern horizon, and this view only added to a little mystery that began yesterday.  While we had sat on Unicorn’s “summit horn,” we noticed that the rocky dome several hundred yards to the south seemed a bit higher.  From a distance, it was difficult to tell which was higher, but the USGS map clearly places the vertical-control “X” on the “dome” rather than the “horn.”  I wish that I’d taken my sighting level up the peak yesterday.

Unicorn Peaks From The Castle

We could have stayed longer on The Castle, but a group of six Mazama Club climbers started to arrive.  We rappelled down their fixed rope, scurried down to the obvious bootpath below the crag, and followed it over to the Pinnacle-Plummer Saddle.  This being a beautiful summer day, the saddle was swarming with day hikers.  A golf-cart-worthy trail took us the final 1.5 miles down to our car at the Pinnacle Peak TH.


——————– Photo Gallery (click to enlarge) ——————–