I get anxious before a hard climb. Glacier Peak was not an exception; the nightmares and dreaming started on Tuesday night. It was way too early to let my mind overcome my training and goals. Deciding to practice for our Mount Rainier climb, my rope team decided to climb Glacier Peak to get a sense of our physical conditioning and glacier skills. Our Rainier permits already approved for an August climb.
Will Glacier be harder or easier than Rainier? Only time will tell.
All my gear was packed and weighed in a total of 38 pounds, which didn’t include my final few pounds dangling from the laces: my mountaineering boots. I didn’t hestitate to reach for my approach shoes for the 33-mile weekend with roughly 40 pounds and 8,000 feet elevation gain.
Stuffing gear and people in cars at the park and ride after work, we were off to the Sloan Creek Campground trailhead to start our 10 mile hike to White Pass. We arrived at the trailhead and were off hiking at 8:30 p.m. Fortunately for us, it is close to summer solstice, so we were able to hike a decent amount before turning on the headlamps.
The first 5 miles were flat as we hiked jovially as a group. Catching up on what everyone’s weekend warrior projects and life in general. The darkness started to set in as we started our climb to White Pass. We hiked through forests and gazed at the bright stars during the cleared sections. We could only imagine what the scenery was around us.
I have been to the Mountain Loop Highway a few times now. It can be overlooked by some hikers and adventurers, but it is honestly one of my favorites. If you know where to hike away from the crowds and get to the alpine, the rugged mountains and views are like no other, especially if the high peaks are dusted with snow.
Arriving right on the 2:15 a.m. schedule, we found shelter from the wind on White Pass. Not able to turn off the headlamps just yet, we raced for bed while setting up the tents. Snuggling into my down bag, it was time to get some shut eye before our 6 mile “rest day.”
After waking up and zipping open the rainfly, I finally had views of the surrounding Cascade mountains in the distance. Firing up the backpacking stoves, we made hot breakfasts before packing up the tents to head to Glacier Gap.
Long Traverses to High Camp
Hoisting my pack on reminded me of the 10-mile night approach and the weight carried. It felt heavier. Half the distance than the day before, I thought it would be a rest day. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Meeting patches of snow until reaching yet another pass before dropping down to White Chuck Glacier. The sun glaring down on us and reflecting off the snow made for warm hiking. I applied as much sunscreen as possible.
We took our time to save our energy. We roped up and practiced moving as rope teams on the way to Glacier Gap (or high camp). I was expecting to camp on snow but found a rocky patch to pitch our tents at 7,200 feet. Only a view of Glacier Peak would have made it a perfect camp spot.
After camp was set, ropes were flaked and summit packs prepared. We cooked dinner and had warm beverages before heading to bed around 4 p.m. It was way warmer than the first night, where I could see my breath flow into the rays of my headlamp.
Summit Day and Long Hike Out
I was woken up faintly by the sound of Tobias walking around the tents. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and was welcomed to a bright, starry-lit sky. Using my headlamp to get around, I heated up water and had some oatmeal before the summit climb.
With roughly a 3,000 foot climb in 3 miles, it was going to get steep. Crampons strapped on and a glacier rope connecting me to Tobias and Julie, it was time. Thaddée, Jodie and Wesley made up the second rope team and lead the route to Disappointment Cleaver. We switched between the rock band and snow when it was safe to do so. After traversing below Disappointment Peak, we turned to climb up the steep snow.
The sun started to rise behind Glacier Peak causing a fiery horizon. It is moments like this that make the climb rewarding. We reached the Cool Glacier and saw crevasses that were formed from the low snow year. It was truly time to start navigating and paying attention to little abrasions and fractures on the snow surface.
With only a thousand or so feet to go, the snow became steeper once again. After climbing up the last rock band, it was time for the final 300 foot push to the summit. We reached the summit, threw on our layers, and watched the sun rise. We saw Rainier, Baker, and Sloan, along with many other Cascade mountains.
As we descended down to high camp, I took in the scenery in the daylight. The crevasses were amazing and slightly open and the exposed rocky bands gave contrast to the snowy landscape. However, we still had 16 miles to hike out.
I took a brief nap before packing up the tent and mustering all my energy to put my pack back on. It was time to descend to the car. We hiked pretty fast and stopped to replenish out water supplies at running streams. One long lunch break at White Pass before the final 10-miles was needed to give us the final energy boost. Thinking I was booking it, I realized I was only going roughly 2 to 2.5 miles per hour. Ok, that made sense with the heavy pack. I arrived back to the trailhead at 7:30 p.m. What a long day, and we still had the drive back to the city.
Trip Dates: June 12-14, 2015