Glacier Peak - White Chuck / Cool Glacier route

Page Type
Trip Report
Washington, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Sep 11, 2011
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Glacier Peak - White Chuck / Cool Glacier route
Created On: Sep 28, 2011
Last Edited On: Jan 14, 2012

The Approach

Myself and two climbing partners arrived at the Little Wenatchee Ford trailhead on Saturday September tenth with five days of food and set off to attempt Glacier Peak by the White Chuck / Cool Glacier route. Our approach would follow the trail up the Little Wenatchee River valley, through Meander Meadows, shortly after which we would meet the Pacific Crest Trail. We would follow the PCT from just below Kodak Peak to Indian Pass and then to White Pass, at which point we would traverse to the north-east and make our way across the White Chuck Glacier to a base camp on a saddle just west of the Suiattle Glacier. Until we reached the PCT we found the trail heavily overgrown and, due to the clear, windless weather that day, extremely hot. Meander Meadows was beautiful, though we would not appreciate it until our return. Recent work along the PCT has altered the trail from what some older Green Trails and Topo software show, but the detours are clearly marked. Once past Indian Pass campsites became few and far in-between and the mosquitos ferocious; ideally we would have made it to White Pass, where there were better campsites and less bugs, but the heat of the day had unduly tired us and we stopped at Reflection Pond - a dark, stagnant, bug-infested tarn.
We rose early the next day, Sunday the eleventh, and although I personally was feeling miserable and hopeless due to the heat (it had cooled off overnight, but only slightly) and mosquitos, we made good time to White Pass, where a light breeze began to give us a reprieve. From there the PCT turned north-west but we followed what we had thought would be a climber’s route but turned out to be labeled the Foam Creek Trail. Not sure where to cross the ridge, we selected a gap fairly randomly and only realized when we had reached it that it was probably the highest, most un-descendable place we could have chosen. Never-the-less we did manage to make our way into the snowy, cool, and pleasantly mosquito free bowl below the White Chuck glacier. Here we realized that our map, last updated in the 1980s, showed a much larger glacier than that which currently exists. Instead of a single lake we found a serious of silty, mostly snow-covered pools in the moraine and the glacier so far receded that we never had to rope up. Once we reached the gap we found a number of stone wind-breaks around excellent tent-spots and a small stream flowing out of a snowfield adjoining the Suiattle Glacier, which appeared much as our map indicated. A short hike up crags to the north or south of us gave us an excellent view of our route, although the peak itself was mostly hidden from our tent site. At this time we began to notice how smokey the air was becoming, we were aware of fires in the Olympics at that time but there must have also been fires to the east of us, perhaps somewhere around Leavenworth or the Okanogan.

Summit and Descent

For our summit attempt we left camp around 7 am on Monday morning and climbed a short snow-slope to a gap directly north of the camp. From there we descended to a winding scree and gravel ridge and followed a rough climber’s trail to below Disappointment Peak. It probably would have been possible to scramble up the snow-free south ridge and then descend to the head of the Cool Glacier but as we had carried our rope and harnesses for more than twenty miles by that point we opted to traverse under the peak, trying to keep low enough to avoid any rockfall, which littered the snowfield. A gap directly east of Disappointment Peak, and west of a small icefall, led us to the Cool Glacier and a set of probably weeks old tracks led up the south edge of the glacier to another winding scree ridge, more sand and pumice than gravel this time. As we ascended that steep, unstable slope the ground became increasingly soft, at one point I realized that I could probably send a bolder the size of a small desk down the mountainside by giving it no more than a good kick. In the interest of weight reduction we had left our climbing helmets at the trailhead and regretted it greatly, though in the end none of us were injured. We reached the summit around 11 am and located the register - it appeared that we were the first group to summit in more than a week.
Our descent down the slope was possibly even more nerve-racking than on the way up but the 3000 feet down to our camp when quickly and we arrived in time to have a leisurely, restful afternoon. A light breeze had been blowed for most of the time we were above 7000 feet, which turned into a stiff wind higher on the mountain, and by the evening of our summit day it was quite windy and cold even at our camp. The positive side of this was that the smoke appeared to be clearing; though in that regard it was unfortunate that we could not have summited a day later - from the peak the smoke was so thick we could not even see Mt. Baker.
Running a bit low on food and not eager to endure another restless night, for various reasons none of us were able to sleep well, we decide the hike out in one day. Which turned out to be long, and toward the end rather painful, but ultimately well worth it. Aside from being faster and cooler our route back to Little Wenatchee Ford was virtually identical to our route in, except that we did find a better pass into the White Chuck moraine valley. If the Foam Creek trail is followed to its end a pass just to the north of the second high point east of White Mountain can be attained, which gives better access to the valley going up to the base camp, with much less elevation lost on the north side of the ridge.

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