Wow! This trip was one of my most special trips in a long time. It had been two long years since the last time I had done a Cascade volcano and Glacier Peak was in my short list for a very long time. As some of you have known it had been two long years since I have been able to get to the larger volcanoes in the Cascades. I did get Mount Lassen back last year with my wife but this peak was basically just a hike. My year started decently by going down to southern California and Death Valley but has waxed and waned since with a couple of decent climbs such as Big Lou and Icicle Ridge and one other Bulger; that being Dragontail.
But I knew that this year was not going to be a true success unless I took a shot at Glacier Peak. I often told many of my partners that if I got Glacier Peak and no other summit than this year was a great success. My friend mtn.climber decided to setup a good 4 day trip up Glacier Peak in September. I was a little out of shape and as late as July my conditioning was at its lowest point. The effort up Dragontail really woke me up to the fact that I need to get into shape and fast. Over the next two weeks I had gone at least 20 miles a week and had knocked off at least 7000 feet of elevation gain. Some my longer hikes and scrambles included Wright Mountain, Mount Roosevelt and Mount Angeles. Luckily there was very little in terms of odd weather and I was really able to kick my conditioning into overdrive. But none of these hikes would ever be able to prepare for a trip like Glacier Peak.
The planning could not have gone off better and the weather forecast looked very favorable for this trip. In fact there was supposed to be no clouds in site for the entire trip. Another thing going for us is our team. All of the members on our team were very strong. Our team consisted of Fletcher, OneLuv, mtn.climber, rock n'climb, Jimbopo and me. With a well thought out trip and an excellent forecast I knew this was my best shot at Glacier Peak for a long while.
Day 1: Trailhead to White Pass
Sloan Peak from the trail
Okay if I was going to be able to be successful in getting up to Glacier Peak I was going to have to be able to carry my 45 pound pack 9 1/2 miles and over 3500 feet of elevation to White Pass. I was also going to have to carry the pack in an unusually warm September Day. Of course it didn't help that I had not done this since January and the fact that I was going to clearly be the slowest climber of the team. But there were no excuses now for me because this trip was going to determine the success of potentially the whole climbing year. I met mtn.climber and his son Derek and the trailhead. Our other two climbers, Fletcher and Rob had already started earlier hoping to get both White Mountain and Portal Peak. The first 5 1/2 miles was a warm up to the Makinaw Shelter. This involved some ups and down and wasn't very difficult. But doing it with a heavy pack was real pain. We made it from the trailhead to the Makinaw Shelter in a little less than three hour only to take a lunch break at the shelter. Just getting to this point for me became a major sweat fest.
After the break the real climb began to White Pass. This section of trail is well graded through a number of switchback but 3000 feet of elevation gain with a heavy pack for me wasn't very fun. The extra weight I had put on really had made an impact. Luckily my good friend Jimbopo stayed with me throughout the entire the grind up to camp.
Views near White Pass Sloan from near White Pass
Despite the slow grind up all the switchbacks we were able to make camp at White Pass by 3 pm. For me this was a great victory. During the evening many of the others went to the top of White Mountain to see the sunset. Me and mtn.climber personally wanted to go but thought better of it due to the fact that we wanted to save my strength for the main goal Glacier Peak. I was able to get some great sunset views from camp, but after watching the pictures that the others got from the summit of White Mountain, I realized that I missed out on a golden opportunity. That though was the end of the first day and that night I managed 10 hours of decent sleep.
Indian Head from White Pass The sunset that I missed! :(
Day 2: White Pass to Glacier Gap
The ridge we had to cross
After a good long sleep at White Pass, the next day we decided to head to Glacier Gap. This involved a little scrambling and off-trail work, which normally isn't much of a problem. But we all had a heavy pack on. The biggest obstacle of the trip was crossing the ridge from White Pass over to the formal remains of the White Chuck Glacier. We were honestly off route here because everyone who had attempted this peak before attempted at either higher snow years or early times.
The goal-Glacier Peak
We choose one gully that was done last year in the snow. This time though instead of the group being greeted with a steep snow slope we were greeted with 45 degree loose scree. Before going down the steep gully all of us put on our helmets and slowly headed down. This was another obstacle that with a normal daypack is no big deal but with a heavy pack this can be a real grind. Slowly all of us headed down the steep gully. The last 50 of it ended as snow which a number of people in our capitalized on by doing a slow glissade.
A new tarn lake
From there we were welcomed to wonderful world of the former White Chuck Glacier. This moonscape once served as a very large glacier as recently as the 1970's. Now the glacier has receded to mostly a scree and occasional snowfield landscape. It should be quiet interesting to find out what this place is going to look like 30-50 years from now.
The former White Chuck Glacier
While traveling across this moonscape we slowly traveled over what was formally the White Chuck Glacier and up past a number of lakes and steep slopes. The travel time had to be slow do to unstable scree of what we were walking on. Slowly though we were able to pick our way through the landscape all the way to Glacier Gap. Some of us camped at Glacier Gap while a couple of us camp at a sub peak just north of Glacier Gap. A number of us were thinking about attempting nearby Kololo Peak but we all agreed not to in order for us to save our energy on what was our main goal; Glacier Peak.
Views from the area
That night we camped out on what started out being a windy night. Jimbopo and I had to use rocks in order to solidify our tent. The wind continued throughout the evening but eventually died down during the night. Most in our group stayed up in order to see the sunset. However I was tired so I went to sleep well before 6 pm. because I knew we were going to have a huge day the next day.
Day 3: Part 1: Glacier Peak summit and the backpack down to White Pass
Heading to the summit
At dawn all us woke up for the day that we all were looking for; the summit of Glacier Peak. We all quickly got ready and by 6 am we are starting our ascent of Glacier Peak. We made decent time rising up the southern slope of Glacier Peak passing to the east of Disappointment Peak. There were some miniature crevasses but nothing to large or dangerous. There was some minor rock fall that was coming off of Disappointment Peak so we had to keep our focus up during the traverse.
Looking down the ridge
The crux the Cool glacier icefall lied just ahead. This area had a number of interesting moats and crevasses and required a lot of special attention. Going up this section we all took our time in order to make sure that all of us were safely across. This section was the slowest section on our trip. We were able to make it safely across and soon were continuing our trip up Glacier Peak.
Nearing the summit
Soon we were in the gap between Glacier Peak and Disappointment Peak. From here it was just a 1000 foot Class 2 dirt and scree scramble to the true summit of Glacier Peak. Fletcher, Jimbopo and OneLuv charged ahead while I and mtn.climber slowly pick our route up to the summit area of Glacier Peak. The last dirt scramble was not very difficult and all of us go to the true summit by 10 am; 4 hours from Glacier Gap.
Riding the summit The team
The views from the summit were excellent with pretty much all of the volcanoes and well over 1000 summits within view. Many people who have climbed all the volcanoes in Washington have claimed that Glacier Peak has the best views in Washington State. From what I saw I will agree with them, though I think Rainier has the best sunrises, especially with Little Tahoma in the foreground. We spent an hour on the summit, basking in the 50 degree summit temperatures, signing the log book, bouldering on the summit rocks. We also traversed all across the summit in order to enjoy all the wonderful views that Glacier Peak has.
Summit Views Summit Views
Summit Views Summit Views
Day 3: Part 2: Heading Back
All of celebrated in our success, but we all knew that the trip was only half way over. We still had almost 20 miles of rough backcountry in order to get back to trailhead and truly enjoy the success of the trip. So we got back and headed back down to the gap. At first the travel was slow with the loose scree. But around 500 feet down from the summit of the footing got better and all of us were able to fly into the gap. Most of us including me decided to go up the quick scramble to Disappointment Peak where more excellent views awaited. The view of Glacier Peak from this summit is very impressive. After this quick scramble we were back and on our way down the mountain.
While on the glacier heading back a couple of the crevasses started to open up. We had to take our time as we were crossing the glacier. When we got to the crux of the glacier all of us took our time as we were crossing the icefall. The conditions from the heat of the day were starting to make things very interesting for us. Once through the crux the trip back became much easier. We did hear some rock fall coming from Disappointment Peak but the icefall was not very bad and we were able to make very good time back to camp. It took us a little less than three hour to make it back to camp.
Careful!! On the snow
Once back at camp though we had to pack up the camp and head down to White Pass. We took a little break but we knew we had little time or we would be headlamping it back to White Pass. Fletcher the quickest person in our group had to rush on back to the car because he had work early the next morning. Rob went with him all of the way back to White Pass to make sure that he made back to the place safe and sound.
For me heading back was tiring. This is where my physical fitness was really starting to catch up with me. I was tired from the climb but I knew I had to hold myself together because one the hardest sections of the trip were yet to happen. On the way back over ridge separating White Pass and White Chuck Glacier we took a different way back. Fletcher and Rob were able to quickly find their way around this section and were at White Pass in 3 hours. The rest of us struggled through this section. Mtn.climber and his son Derek once on the ridge decided to find their way across by doing a very tough Class 3 rock and dirt scramble through the ridge. They made it back faster than Jimbopo and I, but had a lot more thrill.
A look back at our success
Jimbopo and I dropped through a gully to what we thought was a climbers trail. That trail soon faded and we did not see a safe way back so we dropped in elevation and the then traversed over until we finally rose back up the ridge to find the climbers trail again. This way was much longer than the way mtn.climber and Derek did but there were no major scrambles. At one point Jimbopo was worried that we were going to have off trail for the evening but eventually we were able to find the trail and get back to White Pass. We beat sunset and were able to setup camp just before sunset.
Day 4: Back to the Trailhead
The last day's sunrise
The last view of White Pass
Okay all we had was 9 1/2 miles left downhill and we were home free. But after the past three days we were all beat. So this last day at least for me was a really grind. I was at first able to gather decent speed as I headed down the mountain. But as the elevation lowered the valley floor began to heat up and that at this point was beginning to play games with my tired body. To make matters worse my now blistered feet and numerous heat rashes were really giving me problems. I still though made great time back to the Makinaw Shelter.
But past the Makinaw Shelter I really began to slow down. I was in real pain here and the impacts of the climb were starting to get to me. The heat at this point was really affecting not only my energy but my mode. What made this worse was the fact that I had one annoying bee follow me for at least 3 miles while I was heading back to the car. But at this point I knew that I was in the home stretch and so I fought through all of my pains and finally made the trailhead around 1 pm. At that point all I could is YEAH!!!!!!!!! I have successfully climbed Glacier Peak.
This trip could only be described as epic. It took all the mental and physical strength I had to be successful here but in the end we all did it successfully and safely. The final volcano of all the stratovolcanoes is now complete and summer is a complete success. Everything else from this point on is gravy. I got the goal I wanted and now I can focus on many more awesome climbs. Don't worry the adventures will continue.
I want to thank everyone for their awesome company. Everyone here played a role in the trip's success. First of all I want to thank Dave for inviting me on this awesome climb. OneLuv we all have to thank for leading us through the most dangerous part of the crux. Fletcher and Derek were awesome climbing partners as well sticking close by and being excellent company on a great trip. I hope to climb with all of them many, many times again.