|| Background ||
Glacier Peak stands tall above the Mountain Loop region, isolated by miles of trail and sub peaks nestled beneath it. It was the final Washington volcano I had left to climb…
As the week dragged on, I managed to solidify a Sunday plan to do the Painted Traverse with my friend Dan, which left open Saturday. Hmm…I didn’t want to drive very far and also didn’t want to crush myself for Sunday, as the Painted was going to be a big effort.
Thursday night I took a look at my calendar. I had finished all of my homework for the weekend, and I had no real agenda for Friday afternoon. Hmmm…I could sneak out to the mountains early, I thought to myself. I noodled around the Mountain Loop area, seeing smaller day objectives but nothing that really inspired me until…that’s it! Glacier! It was finally time for me to cross this one off. I set up my plan:
- I’d leave Seattle around 1 PM and drive up towards Darrington. I’d pick up any groceries or gas I would need in Arlington.
- I’d reach the North Fork Sauk Trailhead around 4 PM or so. I’d start hiking and get in some evening miles, hopefully putting me past White Pass. This would break up the climb so that Saturday wouldn’t be as physically demanding as a single-push on Glacier would be.
- The forecast looked clear, so I’d bring a 35 degree sleeping bag, a foam pad, and a bivy and set up camp wherever I could find a flat spot as the sun began to set around 8 PM. I’d get up early the next day and be on way. With such little equipment I could use my 30L pack.
- I would bring my hiking crampons and Petzl Gully lightweight axe. The snow slopes on Glacier are very moderate, so no need for any steep snow travel.
I let Dan know my plans. We would keep in touch via inReach and plan to meet up in Darrington Saturday evening around 7 PM. That would give me plenty of time…
|| Trip Report ||
Off I went! I was so excited, giddy for an adventure I had been postponing for too long for no real reason. On queue, I left Seattle and avoided any heavy traffic. By 4 PM, I was at the North Fork Sauk trail, ready to roll. I quickly packed up my stuff, turned on my inReach to track, and up I went.
The North Fork Sauk Trail was my time alone to think and ponder, reflecting on the whirlwind few weeks it had been since I started my last semester of college remotely from Seattle. WOW…3 months left and I am DONE. My mind wandered from this to that as I cruised along the river grade, passing hikers occasionally. The temperature was warm but not too bad, especially for a Miami boy. In what felt like a blink of an eye, I was at the switchbacks up towards White Pass, turning left, back right, too many times to count.
I looked back, as the sun began to fade onto the horizon line of Sloan, Pugh, and the rest of the Mountain Loop. Gorgeous…so rugged and dramatic. I continued on up towards White Pass as the light continued to fade.
I reached White Pass around 7:15 PM, just as the sun began to crest below the horizon. I figured I would continue on for another 30 minutes or so, hoping to find a flat spot near a water source along the traverse over towards Glacier Gap. I found a semi-flat spot around 7:40 PM, but it wasn’t great. The light was fading fast. I’ll keep going for 10 more minutes…I can always come back to this one.
Within 5 minutes I found a REALLY flat spot, just off trail and near a small stream. Perfect…this would be camp for the night. I laid down my foam pad and plopped myself down. WOW…this was easier than inflating my air pad. Sure, my air pad was WAY more comfortable, but the convenience of the foam pad was certainly nice. It would be a short night anyway, as I planned to get up around 5 AM to start up towards Glacier.
The night was COLD, colder than I thought. I slept in my sleeping bag and emergency bivy, tucked onto my sleeping pad. Wind picked up as the night went on, though, and I found myself huddled up into a ball. It wasn’t frigidly cold, but it was definitely colder than was comfortable. I managed to eek out a few hours of sleep intermittently between turning over from side-to-side.
I woke up just before my alarm, shoved a tortilla with peanut butter down the hatch, and began hiking in my puffy. It felt good to start over-heating so quickly. Ahhh…body heat. What a miracle. The cold got me moving fast, and I quickly was traversing around towards Glacier Gap.
From Glacier Gap, I could see the peak, shrouded in an early morning cloud but otherwise calmly waiting for me. The route was VERY melted out: Gerdine Ridge was completely dry and the snowfield below the Cool Glacier was firm and crisp. I traversed my way through the moraine past Glacier Gap, hopping over boulders, tagging cairns, and slipping through glacial mud from time-to-time. I passed half a dozen climbers who had camped either at Glacier Gap or just below Gerdine Ridge the night before. I was glad to be moving quickly and light…carrying loads of gear would have just made the experience more tiring.
As I made my way up Gerdine Ridge, the wind picked back up again. There weren’t any clouds on Glacier, but low clouds shrouded the Cascades all around. A low pressure system was making its way out of the mountains, travelling by wind which I was now feeling. I kept on moving, wanting to stay warm but not wanting to layer up. Again, when your cold you move quickly!
I threw on my hiking crampons and began traversing over to the right of Disappointment Peak, where the Cool Glacier winds its way around. The bootpack was excellent, trodden by so many hikers in the past few weeks. Clearly, this route had been getting ALOT of traffic. I passed another half a dozen or so hikers on my way up the snowfield.
The wind began to HOWL just past Disappointment Peak, as I climbed up onto the loose dirt ridgeline to the summit. It was an alpine beach, slipping and sloshing through volcanic sand. I put on my puffy again to protect me from both the cold and the driving sand.
SUMMIT! Around 10 AM, 4.5 hours into the day, I had reached the top! Man was it windy. I found the summit register, signed my name, ate a brief snack, and down I went. I was ready to get out of the wind…no time to celebrate in these conditions.
The loose sand made for a wonderful slip n’ slide back down to the snowfields. I threw the crampons back on and away I went, down the snow back towards Gerdine Ridge. The hike out was uneventful, a long and thought filled walk alone with my thoughts. It was quite peaceful to have the time to myself, not busy with school work, work, or other things. This is a solo trip I will cherish for a long time…a simple, chill, and overall Type 1 fun outing.