Glacier was the last volcano in Washington State that I had not yet climbed, mainly because it is not well accessible, in particular after the road washouts that occurred since 2003. I was pleased that Markian, with whom I had climbed Baker two years before was also up and available to do it this year. The idea was to camp the night before and after the summit at the White Chuck Meadows just north of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). See this map for an approximate mapping of the route we took. Markian digged out an excellent (at that time) up-to-date overview by Amar_Andalkar; quoting his info for the route of our choice:
North Fork Sauk Trail #649: Trailhead at 2100 ft, 35 miles roundtrip to the summit via White Pass, with about 10500 ft total gain. Difficult creek crossing at Red Creek, washed out bridge. Due to road washout at MP 0.8 on FR 49 at 1500 ft, add 12 miles and about 600 ft of gain, for a grand total of 47 miles and over 11000 ft of gain.My idea was to render the 2*6 miles behind the washout quicker and more convenient by using a bike, and Markian found out that other people had been able to drive past the washout with high-clearance vehicles. To be on the safe side, we brought both the bikes and his wife's 4WD.
On the way in Darrington we stopped for a stylish breakfast at Glacier Peak Cafe and then still had to drive quite some time before we hit a barrier on Forest Road 49. A sign said that driving into the "construction zone" was prohibited, but because we did not see any actual construction and because the washout was surprisingly easy to pass (obviously many others had done it before us), we decided to continue by car. We passed two climbers biking in and took their backpacks with us. By the time we started walking, at 9:15 AM, there were two other parties' cars parked at the actual trailhead. One of these parties was a foursome that we met again in the early evening at the camp and late in the morning of the next day when they ascended in the hot sun while we were already returning from the summit.
On the first 6 more or less horizontal miles along North Fork Sauk River we felt great and moved pretty fast despite our heavy pack, and even the Red Creek crossing was not really a problem because a log was conveniently lying across. We figured that it should be possible to save one day and do the walk out the next day already. On the way up towards the PCT, when I started suffering from the weight and realizing that I would not need that much for just one night of camping, I left some food and water hanging in a plastic bag on a tree so that the marmots (of which quite a few were around) would not be able to get it. On the PCT we turned east and then left onto the climbers' trail, which extended surprisingly long in a rather horizontal fashion, until we lost patience and east of Pt 6770 we cut through one of the gaps of the rim which apparently is an old caldera of the volcano. On its north side we hit the trail again and continued with ease to White Chuck Meadows where we set up our tent at about 5:30 PM. Unfortunately the weather was cloudy all day, with essentially whiteout conditions within the caldera, although the forecast had promised that it would clear up around noon.
Since we were already expecting a long day, we got up at 2 AM and started hiking half an hour later. We were glad to see that the clouds were disappearing and we could orient ourselves not only by compass bearing but also by the stars. The first hour or so was rather gradual on mostly rocky ground, and we still had a spooky experience: when we were crossing some muddy fields, the mud under our feet and enclosed stones began to shift and rumble into an abyss in the dark. We figured that this was due to an icy surface of remnants of the White Chuck Glacier and quickly made sure to put on our crampons. Soon thereafter the icy patches were over and we kept north through moderately steep boulder and scree fields maneuvering using a map and an altimeter towards Glacier Gap. Here we had to use the crampons again, ascending and descending a snow field with at that time of day (err, night) icy hard surface. In the dawn we traversed a pretty steep snow field directly east of South Ridge (aka Gerdine Ridge) that leads towards Disappointment Peak (a false summit). Then came the most beautiful part of the whole climb: a relatively gradual Gerdine Glacier snow ascent in the golden light of the rising sun. The last slight technical challenge was the very steep and heavily crevassed south edge of the Cool Glacier yet early in the morning it felt perfectly stable. Meanwhile the sun was strong enough to support a comfy picnic with first views of the actual summit. The rest of the ascent was a quick and easy scramble up a sand and scree covered ridge. Shortly after 9 AM we reached the snow-capped summit and enjoyed our victory and the grand views. I particularly liked a crevasse right through the summit area. We wondered what happened to the two bikers who had passed us the afternoon before, and later we learned from the foursome that they had given up at around 8000 ft.
The way down on the snow was mostly pleasant, except for the steep snow field east of South Ridge which still had a rather hard surface. Fearing to slide down a couple of hundred feet into the edge of a rocky patch, having failed to put on the crampons in time, I carefully kicked in steps while securing myself with the ice-axe. This was one of the very few times that I actually made good use of this tool and found it extremely effective. The following scree part of the way down until the camp was cumbersome and lengthy, and we kept wondering which route exactly we had come up that early morning. Finally at 2 PM we reached our tent, had lunch and started our way out shortly after 3 PM.
This time we found the climbers' trail through a different gap near Pt 6770, but then chose to deviate more directly to the west before hitting the trail again on the horizontal link to the PCT. To Markian's surprise, my plastic bag was still hanging untouched in the tree and we strengthened ourselves with, among others, a pair of apples. This was really necessary, because the way down to the Mackinaw Shelter and beyond gradually became a torture. The hip belt of my backpack did not hold tight anymore, so that I had to carry all the weight on my shoulders. In order to balance out the weight a bit, I put part of my gear into my daypack and carried it over my breast rather than my back. Yet this made moving even more awkward, in particular when crossing the many fallen trees that blocked the path. When we passed the shelter around 7 PM it was already rather dusky in the woods. We had estimated to take another two hours to reach the trailhead, but I was so exhausted that even very gradual ups and downs as well as crawling over logs slowed me down a lot. To add to the pain, my headlamp was very weak so that I stumbled several times, and my water supplies ceased around 9 PM. Our pull-out drew longer and longer. But finally we arrived at the car a little after 10:30 PM.
Somehow already anticipated by Markian, we found a note by a county police officer talking about the `criminal act' of passing the barrier by car. Thank goodness, when Markian phoned him two days later, the officer was very graceful and did not issue a ticket. We learned that their main concern was that climber's cars might get stuck behind the construction zone which was about to be activated. When driving out we noticed that right on that weekend heavy equipment had been brought to the washed out section of the road in order to repair it. According to the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Road Conditions Report, road work in FR 49 has been finished in the meantime.
Unfortunately when we passed Glacier Peak Cafe around midnight it was too late to have dinner. At 2 AM on Sunday morning, exactly 24 hours after getting up, we hit my hotel in Bellevue. This morning was one of the very few where I slept in as much as possible, and after a lazy breakfast around 10 AM Markian left to Bend, OR and I lazily biked down to Lake Sammamish State Park, with aching shoulders and legs. While on the way in I had thought that whenever climbing Glacier Peak again I'd go single push (to avoid carrying all that overnight gear), on the way out I swore to myself: Glacier Peak? Never again!
|Forest Road 49|
|Towards the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)|
|On the PCT|
|On the climbers' trail|
|Over the rim|
|White Chuck Meadows|
notice the mud!
first view of the summit
peeking through the crevasse
focus on background
focus on foreground
steep snow field east of South Ridge
|White Chuck Glacier|
|White Chuck Meadows|
|Over the rim|
|Pacific Crest Trail|
my food in the tree
|Down towards Mackinaw Shelter|
|Breakfast in Bellevue|