Glacier Peak (10,520ft)
April 1-2, 2016
Eric and Duncan
Glacier Peak is the most remote volcano in the cascades and is at least a 15-mile hike from the nearest road. With a long stretch of high pressure forecast Duncan and I decided to give it a try, and see if we could squeeze it into two days instead of the normal three or four that people take in the summer.
We drove up Friday morning to the North Fork Sauk River trail, reaching the trailhead after a few washouts that required high clearance. Luckily Duncan’s truck had no problem. We were hiking by 9am, and soon encountered intermittent snow. The first five miles to the Mackinaw shelter were mostly flat, but after the shelter the trail started switchbacking steeply up the south slopes of White Peak.
The slopes were completely snow covered, so we gave up following the trail and wallowed our way through the
brush and slush. We eventually traversed right above the trees to a small col just west of White Peak. This was the first spot where we could actually get a glimpse of Glacier Peak, still about five miles north of us. From here we descended gradual slopes, then traversed east below the cliffs on the north side of White Peak.
Sunset caught up with us a few hours after descending from the ridge, and we layed out our bivy sacks at 9pm just below Glacier Pass. We could still see the summit in the twilight and briefly considered pushing on to summit that night, but with clear weather forecast the next few days it seemed reasonable to wait until morning when we’d get better views.
I woke up at 5am and the summit was socked in with clouds! I regretted not pushing on last night, but we decided to sleep in a bit more and see if the clouds cleared. By sunrise at around 6am the summit was back in the clear, so we decided to go for it. I dug a hole in the
snow to bury our bivy gear to keep the crows away, and we climbed up to Glacier Pass. We traversed around a local maximum and then met up with the south ridge of Glacier Peak. Now the clouds rolled in again and visibility dropped. We pushed on, though, following the ridge until we popped out above the clouds just below disappointment peak.
Here we traversed right, then wrapped around to the col between Disappointment and Glacier Peaks. The snow started getting icy so Duncan ditched the skis and
cramponed up the rest of the way. We topped out at 11am in cold and windy conditions, but it wasn’t too bad considering we were just two weeks past the end of winter. There was actually a set of mountain goat tracks on the summit, and two holes in the snow where it looked like it had been trying to dig down to the dirt. The cloud ceiling topped out a few thousand feet below us, so we were treated to an amazing undercast with Rainier and Mt Stuart poking out to the south, and Mt Baker to the northwest.
We spent some time trying to figure out which of the three local maxima near the top was the summit, and after tagging the two easternmost ones decided the middle one was the tallest (this was later confirmed by our GPS).
We were hoping to get back to the truck that night, so soon descended. Duncan soon donned the skis while I tried to jog down quickly alternating between crampons and snowshoes. Eventually we met up back at the bivy cache and melted some more snow for water. It was extremely sunny and easy to get dehydrated, but luckily Duncan’s stove was very fast at creating some water for us.
From here we retraced our ascent route, with Duncan blasting down on skis and me racing to keep up in snowshoes. Needless to say, I will definitely be investing
in a backcountry ski setup soon. We were back up on the ridge west of White Peak by 5pm, and soon descended back to the trail near the Mackinaw shelter. Surprisingly there was a fresh set of boot and ski tracks just above the shelter, and it looked like a solo skier had hiked in that day, walked up a few hundred feet into the snow, and got in a couple turns. He appeared to be camping outside the shelter and it didn’t look like he planned to go much higher.
The hike out was a bit difficult in our soaking wet boots (soaked from walking through all the slushy snow), but by 10pm we made it back to the truck. There was another group camped out at the trailhead, and I imagine this area is extremely popular in the summer. Luckily this time of year you can basically have Glacier Peak all to yourself, at least until the trail starts really melting out more in a few months.