After two other attempts on this route last summer, both ending at the bergschrund due to conditions, the third try was the charm. Great success!
James and I busted out of Seattle a bit early on Friday with the promise of perfect weather and excellent conditions for volcano climbing. We arrived at the Tilly Jane trailhead around dusk and geared up. Since we didn't plan to make it to Cloud Cap until after 11pm and wanted to get started from there around 2am, we decided to bring one sleeping pad and bag between the two of us, no tent, no cookware, and minimal climbing gear.
Light and fast, we hiked the 3.9 miles from Tilly Jane to Cloud Cap in about 1 hour 40 minutes. We quickly set up "camp" on the deck of Cloud Cap. The moon was so bright that we had to pull our hats down over our eyes to get any sleep. It wasn't frigid, but it also wasn't terribly warm. Our sleeping bag strategy worked decently well for getting a few cat naps in, but 2am came very quickly. We opted for a quick 30-minute snooze session.
Packing was fast and we were on the move by 2:45am, quickly reaching the moraine and making our way up to the large cairn marking the descent to Eliot Glacier. Since this was James' first glacier travel experience, we opted to rope up right away and stay that way for the rest of the ascent. It wasn't necessary, but gave me a bit more peace of mind. Something about hearing her tell her mom on the phone on our way down that we'd "be safe."
Once we'd crossed the Glacier, made it up the ramp on the far side, and started up the base of the Snow Dome, the sun just began to peek over the horizon. Adams, Rainier, and Saint Helens were all lit up in alpenglow. It was pretty incredible. We stopped there for breakfast, taking in the first rays of red, then orange light.
The Snow Dome was pretty grueling. Warm temperatures had left it pretty soft, even at sunrise, so we post-holed quite a bit in our mountaineering boots. We could tell that things would be sloppy on the descent.
After a quick break at the top of the Snow Dome, we headed up past Anderson Rock, skirting it to the right, just above a crevasse that was opening up at the base of the rock. That section had felt super-steep in the past, but wasn't too bad this time, due to the loose, heavy snow. We quickly made it up past the rock and over the next few crevasses, putting us right below the bergschrund.
Having been skunked here a couple of times before, I was keen on finding a way bast the berg. We went high, just beneath it, to see if there was a snow bridge, but found nothing, so we dropped down along it and then hit the ridge line. Thankfully, there was good snow to the left of the rock and we were able to wade our way skyward, gaining the final ridge.
Conditions were perfect to head up the ridge--what looked to have been pretty icy earlier in the season had softened enough to punch light steps in. We put crampons on here and continued up the ridge, taking a few quick breaks, and gaining the summit by 10:05am.
We had the place to ourselves for a whole half-hour and took a few glory shots with the American Flag up there. It seemed that the early crew on the South side had already left and the later crew hadn't yet made it. We could see them like ants, coming up the Hogsback. It was a great reminder of how awesome it was to have the North Face all to ourselves for the entire day.
The descent was fast. We kept crampons on until the Snow Dome and then glissaded all the way down to Eliot Glacier, quickly crossed, got back on the moraine, and headed to Cloud Cap by 1:15pm. We hydrated and dried our gear a bit on the porch for a half-hour. The desire to take a nap was strong, but we motivated to put our running shoes back on and get down.
We were pretty smoked by that point and finished the final hike out a bit slowly, getting to Gus (James' Tacoma) just before 3pm.