After a tense week of compulsive weather report checking, we arrived at the Glacier ranger station under sunny blue skies. This was a great relief given that rain had been forecast all week. After picking up our backcountry camping permit and parking passes, we convened again at the Hannegan Pass trailhead (3100ft) and were on the trail by 11:40.
You have to hand it to Washington state trails. We hiked in comfort along an extremely well maintained trail (with one notable exception) almost all the way to the Ruth glacier. An alder & brush free zone ran for 5 feet on either side of the trail and we had superb views of Nooksack Ridge, Ruth Mountain, waterfalls & wildflowers almost every step of the way. The trail follows the Ruth Creek valley all the way to Hannegan Pass, gaining elevation gradually, mostly after the first 2 miles with only 2 or 3 switchbacks. There is no shortage of campsites near the Pass, some with spectacular 360 degree views.
At Hannegan Pass, just past the side trail to Hannegan Peak, we turned towards Ruth and negotiated the only truly awful section of trail which went straight up a narrow, dust filled gully before breaking into the alpine at about 5500ft. We were rewarded for our efforts by the resumption of the trail which skirted a minor peak & took us along a spectacular heather filled ridge before gently depositing us at the base of the Ruth glacier.
We continued along the talus for a while before roping up for the final glaciated stretch leading to the summit. The snow was soft so we did not put crampons on, only roped up in three teams. After ascending the glacier and a very brief rocky scramble, at 5:00 p.m. we stood atop Ruth Mountain (7,106ft). Although not particularly high or technically challenging, Ruth is a satisfying objective for the spectacular views it offers of the hanging glaciers on Mount Shuksan and Jagged Ridge, as well as of the Border Peaks, Larrabee, Tomyhoi, Slesse, Challenger and many other peaks.
From Ruth, we also had our first look at the weekend's main objective, Icy Peak to the south. It was interesting to see that Icy's Spillway Glacier, which normally cascades 1km down from the summit as a jumble of seracs, had completely sloughed off (it does this periodically), leaving only steep rock slabs in it's trench.
It was getting cold so we didn't linger long on the summit before heading down. We found a beautiful camping spot on a 6500' knoll only half an hour below the summit with just enough room for our 8 tents and enough snow and trickles of water to make up a good water supply. After setting up, we ate dinner to the sounds of avalanches tumbling into the Nooksack Cirque and a beautiful sunset, before turning in around 9:30.
The night was windy & cold but dry and we awoke at 6:00 to clear skies & the promise of a perfect day. By 7:30 we were on our way, with some dissention as to the best way to get from point a to point b. Half of us headed down what was later referred to as "hell gully" while the other half held out hope for a better way and were rewarded for their faith when they found some cairns on the other side of the gully, leading around and down to the Ruth-Icy col.
We all met up again near the col and made for what looked like the best place to rope up and access Icy's west-side glacier. Wearing crampons for the hard morning snow, we wound our way between crevasses to a point southwest of Icy's northwest rock horn, the highest peak. A Class 3 scramble up the southwest gully led to the summit. The route was not very difficult but was exposed with some slabby & loose bits. We ended up putting a rope up but most of us made it up solo.
We were all atop Icy Peak (7060ft) by about noon. The view was spectacular. To the west was Shucksan & Jagged Ridge looking close enough to touch. Seahpo Peak was immediately to the south with Mt. Blum in the distance to the southeast. Mt. Challenger with its enormous glacier was to the east, Mineral Mtn to the northeast, Ruth Mtn, Nooksack Ridge & Copper Mtn to the north and Goat, Larrabee, Tomyhoi & Slesse to the northwest. We signed the register and after savoring the scenery & our accomplishment, headed back down.
Some of us choose to be belayed down, the rest soloed down and we all met back at the glacier. We went further down the glacier on the way back as it was easier then scrambling on the rocks. Decided to give 'hell gully' a pass and take the ridge way back up to camp.
We returned to camp before 3:00 and after a brief rest we packed up and struck out for home. We bypassed the peak of Ruth by crossing a shoulder to the West. Some of us chose to rope up for the Ruth Glacier again, others opted for just crampons. By 5:00 we made it back to the beautiful heather filled ridge on the north side of Ruth where we stopped for a short rest and a group picture. The rest of the way down was uneventful and a tired, but happy group was back at the cars at 7:30.
The dusty gully never changes, except to mud when wet. On your website the picture of camp with all the tents was my favorite. I hope to get back to these two glaciers this summer to check their terminus positions again.
I'm hoping to get back there too. It's a great place to see the Picket range from. It's always interesting comparing glaciers from year to year. It's incredible how quickly we are losing them. Time to move to higher ground!