Three rookies eh? Yes, that’s right. I was a rookie eager to learn as much as I could about mountaineering in the short amount of time that was available. I am Steve, a flatlander attending Northern Illinois University. My partners, Rob and Rich, were tired of the day trips to the Lake District or weekenders at Snowdonia. I convinced them to fly from England to Chicago and from there we would drive out to the mountains.
Fast-forward through many tanks of gas and an episode of failing brakes. From our cozy campsite in Darrington (say hi to Joe Miller if you see him) we drove to trailhead. I believe this was Wednesday, August 13, 2003. Although we had already packed the night before, we somehow managed to waste nearly an hour fiddling with our packs; consequently, we started our hike around 10am.
The approach was rather pleasant. It was a beautiful day and there were few people on the trail. After a few miles we caught our first glimpse of Glacier Peak. Wow! That’s about all we could say. Our previous mountaineering experience has been limited to “hill walking” in the United Kingdom. My mates had done much more “hill walking” than myself; I have lived near Chicago all my life but did spend a year abroad in Lancaster, England. The highest climb I had done was Ben Nevis (around 4,400 ft.) via the tourist track, which is certainly not mountaineering. So, all three of us had minimal knowledge of mountaineering but were ready and willing to learn as much as we could.
We arrived at Boulder Basin around 3:00pm and decided to push further to reach the foot of the glacier before nightfall. The next thousand feet were rather rough for me. All that scree just wore me out. I did make it up to the camp area though. Off to the left of the route we built up a ledge behind two large boulders. Since we were already at 7,000ft, we decided to sleep in until 6am. Morning came and we got our first experience of cramponing. There was an awful lot of rock fall in the area where we were climbing, but that’s part of the thrill I guess. Rich and I were feeling rather ambitious so we made the call to go to the left of the rock face up the 55 degree slope. I was having trouble with my crampons and Rob was doing something with his. We got split up which was a stupid rookie mistake. Rich went far left over some really icy patches, while Rob and I went straight up the slope. I had some screws and pickets but it didn’t matter because Rich had the rope. That section was really fun but I would have liked to protect it.
We met up at the top of the steep slope and roped up for the next section. We crossed a few small crevasses, stopping for a closer look since we had not seen them before…ha-ha. Arriving at the arête we chose to leave our crampons and rope to reduce weight. We climbed the scree for a thousand feet and then discovered the last hundred feet was on snow and ice. Rich and I were kicking ourselves for leaving our crampons. Rob had his so he took off toward the summit. I was eager to try and the snow was soft so I tried to get as high as I could without crampons. Rich is a complete tool and opted to retreat right away. There were a dozen people from NOLS up there who told us it was very icy near the top. I tried anyway, dodging all of the poop that they left behind. Way to slippery! However, down below there was a nice path cut across the glacier. From the other side I could easily walk up the moraine to the summit. So I left Rob and followed the NOLS climbers. I reached the summit around 1pm and it was spectacular. The weather was perfect and the views even better. I was worried that Rob wasn’t at the summit, but after ten minutes he came up from behind me. Apparently it was too icy and he followed my route. Poor Rich didn’t get to see the peaks on the north side.
Well, it was time to get off the mountain because we still had many miles ahead of us. Our most ridiculous mistakes occurred on the descent. We caught up with Rich around 9,000ft and roped up for some crevasse crossings. There were many crevasses that had opened up that day so we decided to be stupid and climb the scree and rocks as much as possible. The rock fall we created was absurd. We’re damn lucky there were no other climbers in that area. Everything was crumbling beneath each step we took. It took us several hours too long to get back to our high camp, Camp Shire. We called it Camp Shire because we lovingly call Rob Frodo, because he looks like a hobbit. We packed up and headed for Boulder Basin, once again splitting up.
Anyhow, below Boulder Basin Rob and I took a wrong turn and added another three miles to our descent. We finally got on the right path and found Rich near Kennedy Springs. By the time we got there, Rob and I were exhausted. I don’t remember much about the last five miles. I had very little to eat that day and was suffering because of it. Rich took off once again and Rob was left to keep me from killing myself. Several times I collapsed due to physical exhaustion. I was so tempted to ditch my pack and look for it the following day, but I refused to be a sissy and kept pushing. Getting back to the parking lot was such a great feeling. Rich and Rob took care of me because I was in a state similar to being really intoxicated. I passed out in the car, but woke up once to tell Rich to get on the other side of the road (damn brits..haha).
All in all, Glacier Peak was a fantastic experience. The three rookies learned a great deal about teamwork. Two days later they would be climbing up to Camp Muir on Mount Rainier.