Monday, August 22, 2011

Glacier Peak: Washington State's Most Remote Volcano

Glacier Peak should be on every Cascade mountaineer’s tick list.  While folks averse to walking might complain about the long approach (about 15 miles each way), it is perhaps the most scenic and ecologically diverse that I’ve ever done in the Cascades.  Our trip began with a seven mile bike ride up the closed USFS 49 road, since it was temporarily closed due to a miniscule washout.  The biking was quite reasonable and went quickly with mountain bikes and pull-behind trailers.

Biking up the road. Unfortunately, I didn't have a trailer.

After we stashed the bikes at the end of the road, the hike begin on a well-maintained trail along the North Fork of the Sauk River, wandering through an incredible old growth forest that houses some of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. We spent the first night camping near the historic Mackinaw Shelter and prepared for an early start the next day.

Massive trees along the Sauk River

The morning found us climbing up a series of switchbacks in the cool morning air before we gained a long traverse out to White Pass.  The wildflowers (Tiger Lily, Columbine, Lupine, Paintbrush, and lots more!) were blooming in the meadows just below the pass and made each turn an exciting proposition. Beyond the pass, the trail was snow-covered and we made our way to Foam Pass and our first real views of Glacier Peak.

Taking in the view.

A couple hours later we settled into a great bivy site near Glacier Gap and prepared for our alpine start.  Clear skies boded well for us and in the morning we found perfect cramponing conditions from the very first step onto the snow.

Crampons on at the Gerdine Glacier

The Gerdine Ridge is a better-than-average moderate volcano route.  Most Cascade volcano routes are loose and chossy, while the Gerdine is primarily compacted pumice and somewhat solid rock.  All of the tedious scrambling sections are easily bypassed to the east on snow, which I highly recommend.  Around 8000′, we left the ridge and traversed northeast on the Gerdine Glacier to an obvious col where it intersects with the Cool Glacier.  Easy travel on a largely uncrevassed glacier then led to a pumice saddle, which we used to gain the final headwall, a nice 35 degree snow climb, and hit the top in just five hours from camp!

The Cool Glacier and the summit

On the final headwall with Gerdine Ridge behind

Mike on the summit

The descent back down the route was uneventful and presented incredible views from Mt. Stuart to Mt. Adams to the Olympics.  Back in camp, we settled in for a fantastic and warm afternoon of napping and eating in preparation for our early start the coming morning.  The hike out was surprisingly fast, even with a couple of detours (I have an inability to walk past granite boulders), and a nice nap at the Mackinaw Shelter.  The last half hour of the trip was perhaps the most leisurely of all–speeding down a gravel road with a full backpack pushing you along!  What an incredible trip!

A little granitic bouldering near Glacier Gap

Ron getting back to White Pass

Back to the car at 30mph!

Glacier Peak climbs are offered from late June to August every year. If you would like to learn more, please contact the American Alpine Institute at 360-671-1505.

--Kurt Hicks, AAI Instructor and Guide

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