Success Cleaver

Success Cleaver is a little used late spring or early summer Mount Rainier climbing route. Late summer, the lack of snow and danger from rockfall make it unpleasant and hazardous. However, below about 8300' it is a mostly pleasant scramble with spectacular views of the South Tahoma Glacier and headwall.

Since the National Park Service map says that the Tahoma Creek Trail is closed due flood hazards, I approached Success Cleaver via the Wonderland Trail from Longmire. Later, I spoke with a park ranger who said that the closure is for liability reasons and rangers use the trail routinely.

Along any stream subject to hazardous floods, it is best to be alert for the sounds and/or changes in stream flow that might warn of flooding. Should a flood occur, it is best to seek higher ground immediately. One should not attempt to outrun the flood as that is unlikely to succeed.

I left the Wonderland Trail just before it crosses Fishers Hornpipe Creek about 4150' and climbed north along the ridge that divides Fishers Hornpipe and Pyramid Creeks through open forest with little underbrush. I avoided some of the brush on the ridge north of pt. 5568' by traversing just east of the crest on steep heather and grasses. Approximately 1000' north of pt. 5568', I descended about 40' in a northeast traverse to Pyramid Creek. The rest of route was a pleasant walk on gently sloping parkland.

Color image of a small basin with talus, heather, a small snowfield 
and a few subalpine fir on the ridges.

From lower Pyramid Park (5700'), this view to the north includes a cascade and a waterfall on two branches of Pyramid Creek. The South Tahoma Glacier ice cliff can be seen immediately behind the lower reaches of Success Cleaver. 3:30 PM.

A large shallow basin with heather and grasses bounded by subalpine fir 
covered low ridges.

I disturbed a coyote when I arrived in Pyramid Park (6000'). The Tatoosh Range is in the distance and includes Stevens Peak (left, 6560+'), Unicorn Peak (center, 6971'), the east peak of Unicorn (6840+') behind and just left of The Castle (6440+'), hornlike Pinnacle Peak (6562'), Plummer Peak (6370') and Eagle Peak (right, 5958'). This view is to the southeast at 4:45 PM.

Chaotic white ice contrasts with dark rock and ridges in the 

The South Tahoma Glacier ice cliff (also visible in the first image) is between 80 and 160 feet high. Ice cliffs form where there is an abrupt change in the slope of the rock underlying the glacier. Here, the slope below the cliff is shallow enough that ice blocks that break away from the cliff do not immediately collapse but remain standing as seracs. Pt. 7690' of Glacier Island is left of the ice cliff. This image is looking west from 7700' on the Success Cleaver at 10:45 AM.

A relatively level portion of the glacier.

Each winter, the crevasses fill with snow. During the subsequent summer, new crevasses form. Sometimes previously filled crevasses are exposed on the walls of new crevasses as in the case of the foreground crevasse wall just right of center. Point 8120+' on the far side of the glacier is on the Tahoma Cleaver that divides the Tahoma and South Tahoma Glaciers (foreground). Tokaloo Rock (left, 7684') is on the lower part of the Puyallup Cleaver that divides the Puyallup and Tahoma Glaciers. This view is to the northwest from 8000' on Success Cleaver at 11:45 PM.

On a grand scale, ice flows along barren red and brown ridges.

Looking north beyond the South Tahoma Glacier, the larger Tahoma Glacier descends from the summit ice cap. On the far side of the Tahoma Glacier is Saint Andrews Rock (center, 11600') with Sunset Amphitheater behind. Liberty Cap, above and right of Saint Andrews Rock, is one of three summits of Mount Rainier. The Tahoma Glacier climbing route descends onto the glacier on the snowfield ramp to the lower left of Saint Andrews Rock then continues up the glacier to the summit.

A view from above of open parkland and forested ridges.

Deep canyons are quickly eroded in the weak volcanic rock of the flanks of Mount Rainier. Kautz Creek canyon is just beyond Pyramid Park (lower left) in this view looking east. Lower Pyramid Park is in the lower left. This and the previous view are from the Pyramid Peak (6937') at 5:00 PM.

Bare rock slabs, snowfields and heather with the deep Tahoma Creek 
valley in the background.

Glacier polished rock on the west slope of Pyramid Peak provides evidence of vast Pleistocene glaciers that dwarf those of the present day. Then, this whole scene would have been blanketed by ice up to several thousand feet thick. This view is to the northwest from 6300' on the southwest ridge of Pyramid Peak at 5:45 PM.

A bit later, I saw a short tail weasel in a talus slope on the south flank of Pyramid Peak. An attractive golden brown and cream mamalian carnivore, it frequently stands erect, balancing on its rear legs and tail, and searches its surroundings for potential prey.

Color image with Mount Rainier in the left background.

Lovely parkland links Pyramid Peak (center) with Copper Peak (foreground). I ascended Pyramid Peak from the west (left in this view), a route that crossed unstable talus and steep heather. Most people appear to ascend the gentle southeast ridge (right skyline). From Mirror Lakes, a trail crosses the Pyramid/Copper saddle and ascends a series of benches to the shallow saddle on the right skyline. This view is to the northeast from 5700' on the north slope of Copper Mountain (6280+') at 9:45 AM.

Glaciers flow among subalpine and alpine ridges and peaks.

Glacier Island Mountain (center) was surrounded by glacier ice in the 19th century. The Tahoma Glacier (behind) and the South Tahoma Glacier (right) flowed past the mountain and rejoined near the lower left corner of the image where large lateral moraines remain.

Color image.

Dust from frequent rock slides veils the South Tahoma Glacier headwall below Point Success (right, 14158'), the southwest summit. Liberty Cap (left, 14112') is the northwest summit. The highest summit, Columbia Crest (14410') is hidden behind Point Success.

The South Tahoma Glacier has carved an enormous cirque deep into the mountain. It is fed by avalanches, direct snowfall and drifting. To the right of the South Tahoma Glacier is Success Cleaver. To its left is the Tahoma Glacier. This and the previous image are from 6200' on the north ridge of Copper Mountain at 10:30 AM.

Elevation v. local time is graphed.

This graph summarizes my trip. The horizontal axis is 24 hour Pacific Daylight Time. These data were logged by an altimeter watch. My fastest hours were 1000 ft/hour on 09/24 at 10:00 AM and -1500 ft/hr on 09/25 at 2:30.

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Date created: 2002.10.26
Last modified: 2002.10.27
Copyright © 2002, Walter A. Siegmund

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