Climbing Glacier Peak
DATE HIKED: 7/5/19-7/7/19
TOTAL DISTANCE/ASCENT: 36MILES AND 10,000+ FT
HIGHEST POINT: 10,541 FT
DIFFICULTY: VERY DIFFICULT/ TECHNICAL SKILLS REQUIRED
REQUIRED PERMIT: NO
DOG FRIENDLY: YES (until glacier portion)
LOCATION: GLACIER PEAK WILDERNESS
RECREATION PASS: NORTHWEST FOREST PASS
Background on Glacier Peak
Glacier Peak or Dakobed is the most isolated of the five major volcanoes in Washington. The volcano is the fourth tallest peak in Washington state, and not as much is known about it compared to other volcanoes in the area. Glacier Peak and Mount St. Helens are the only volcanoes in Washington State that have generated very large explosive eruptions in the past 15,000 years.
Panning the Trip
With learning mountaineering skills, Glacier Peak was at the top of my list to visit. It combines backpacking + a short glacier. Sounds like a dream I thought. It does have a reputation for a heinous approach (18 mile approach) that does not make it an easy one to do. It’s not super technical by any means, but endurance and the will to carry a heavy pack for many, many miles are needed. My friend Morgan and I had been talking about climbing this peak together for probably over 6 months. Over the winter I gained the skills to do so and now we just had to assemble a team. This isn’t just any trip you can throw together, it’s long and committing. There’s a lot of planning that went into it. My friends Sara and Kelsey ended up committing within the months leading up as well. We all met once beforehand to plan more logistics of the climb and how we wanted to do it. We decided on 3 days, giving us enough time to cover all the mileage. Three days is the common way to climb this mountain with an approach day one, summit and back to camp day two, and hiking out day three. The speed record was broken this week for 7.5 hours, simply mind boggling. It took us 54 hours car to car. If I were to do it again, it would be nice to break the approach into two days and enjoy the area more.
Week Leading Up
We had everything planned to a T, spreadsheet laid out with all the plans and now we kept a steady eye on the weather. The weather had looked stable and nice until a few days ahead and chance of rain and thunderstorms came in. The later part was what I was really concerned about. We all obsessively checked the weather and the day before had even called off the climb because of the forecast. We started making back up plans to climb a volcano in Oregon, but Kelsey convinced us just to go out and try. The chance of thunder ended up dropping which made us happy with our decision to give it a go. Usually I say no to anything greater than 20% chance of rain, but we had put so much planning into this trip, it was worth it to try.
Day 1: Approach
We left Seattle super early day 1 to get to the trailhead by 7:00 AM. We made it to the trailhead before 7:00 and were hiking by 7:00. My pack was the heaviest pack I have ever carried with 3 days of food, sleeping gear, climbing gear and I started off with the rope. It definitely was around 50 lbs.
The first 5 miles flew by. We only gained 1,000 feet in those first five and we were moving at a good speed and feeling strong. We arrived at the old shelter that is now broken apart. We took our first good break here snacking and then trading off the rope. We continued on after this to which would be one of the steepest/ most elevation gain sections of the approach. We gained 3,000 feet in about 4 miles. Endless switchbacks and the heaviest pack left me feeling not great. I got dizzy and nauseous in this section. I took it slow and pushed through it to White Pass where we would take a longer break.
If one were to take a more relaxed pace than my group did, White Pass would be a great day 1 destination. At 10 miles and 4,000 ft of gain in, it’s a reasonable place to call home and break up the approach. There are lots of campsites on the ridge and below. Once we got to White Pass we ate and I took more medicine to try to feel better. I felt like garbage. Probably a combo of little sleep, pushing hard all day, and a pack weight that was spine crippling. I seriously considered just staying at White Pass and letting them continue on. I didn’t know how I would make it to the summit feeling like this. I decided to press on and at least get to base camp and reassess how I was feeling from there. So we pressed on.
Going up to White Pass there was a good amount of streams to fill water up. Right after White Pass we filtered a couple liters at a mini waterfall. The next section would go through a few valleys with many ups and downs. Unlike the other 3 volcanos I’ve climbed that were mostly straight up, this one has a lot of gain and loss and ups and downs. The downs felt like a reprieve but only momentarily as I remembered we would have to climbs those hills coming out.
We climbed a couple valleys losing and gaining many feet in between. Some over really loose dirt and then some steep snow. The weather was getting worse, the wind picked up and we got fogged in. I was nervous those thunderstorms would come in when we were in this steep valley with no camping options. The only option was to press on into the basin. We did and then came up over the ridge and finally saw the mountain for the first time! Had to work 13+ miles to even get a view of it. It looks so big and still so far away. How would we climb that tomorrow? There was no way it seemed possible.
We were finally into the basin and now it was time to find camp. We wanted to see how far we could get. Glacier Gap is the furthest camping destination. We thought if we could make it there, that would be nice but if we came up short that’s fine too. We took a break where we found a good source of water and reassessed what we should do. It was 5:00 and a group leaving said Glacier Gap was still a two hour hike from where we were so that called it. We went a little further to find camp at about 6,700 feet. We brought a shovel thinking we would have to camp on the snow but were able to find spots a bit off trail on some rocks. The rocks were super sharp volcanic rock but it was still better than sleeping on the cold snow.
Day 2: The Climb
We got really lucky with our timing Saturday night. The rain came in right as we were finishing dinner. It rained most of the night, which made me nervous for our climb. Maybe the weather would call it off for us. We decided to set the alarms for 3:30 and see what the weather looked like. It was still raining at 3:30. But between 3:30 and 4:00 it stopped completely. We took that as a sign to get a move on. We packed all we would need for the day and did a check that everyone had all their climbing equipment. We were off.
Once we got on top of a ridge as pictured above, we had a steep drop and then it was all up from there. The ups and downs of this mountain never end. We climbed the rock ridge for a long time until gaining the snow on the right and putting on crampons and pulled out our ice axes when it got a bit steeper. We got beta on when to rope up. It was right before the traverse that goes under the rock fall. For the 18 mile approach, we only had to rope up for ~1,500 vertical feet or so. Very little compared to Baker that has a much bigger glacier. Glacier peaks glacier has shrunk significantly, unfortunately.
By the time we got to where we were roping up I again was not feeling great. I didn’t sleep well at all with the rain and wind beating on the tent all night. I felt like I was running on 0 energy and trying to make my body do something it did not want to do. I felt like crap but we only had 2,000 more feet of gain to do. That’s it. That little piece compared to how far I had already come. I snacked, sunscreened up, and reluctantly put on my harness and clipped into the rope. We did our safety checks and we were off. We knew we had to move fast(er) through the rock fall zone. And then we had to also move fast through the one known crevassed area shortly after.
After running up 1,000 feet quickly to get past the hazards it left me feeling winded. The upset stomach and feeling like crap ran over me again. I forced us to stop once we were past the crevasse that came close to the boot pack. I snacked and drank water and really didn’t want to move on. The summit was now only 1,000 vertical feet above us. Pushing through this pain and discomfort and level of exhaustion was probably one of the hardest things I’ve done yet.
We saw a few other ropes at the ridge once we got there. We waited and spoke with one group coming down to see if it was indeed safe to unrope here for the summit and they said yes. We kept our crampons on up the loose pumice ridge to help with traction. We arrived to the final snow summit block, which has the steepest snow of the climb. There was really only one 10 foot steep section that didn’t make me nervous at all as it had great steps, although way too spaced apart for my shorter legs. Within 10 minutes or so we crested the summit and it was oh so glorious. We hit the summit at 11:00 AM. We even had views this time! One group left as we were going up so our bad ass lady team had it all to ourselves. It was windy and cold so we wouldn’t be staying for long.
The good thing about the projected forecast is that we saw maybe a total of 15 people summiting that day. So few to what it could be.
Elation on the summit could only last so long when you realize you’re 18 miles deep and have a long way back. First thing first would be getting out of the crevasse zone and out of the rockfalls way.
We made good time moving through the crevasses and through the rockfall. It was a relief to get back to where we originally roped up. We took off all the gear and I finally ate lunch. I felt like all the real danger was done and now it was a long hike out. We did it. We made it safely past all the hazards. Now one foot in front of another for a long, long time.
We made it back to camp at 3PM for a total of 10 hours from camp to camp. The rest of the group felt strong and energized to hike out that night. We discussed the pros and cons of it. Ultimately I just didn’t have enough energy to do that. I ended up falling asleep at 6 PM and not waking up till 4AM when we planned to get up. I was so tired. My body needed the rest. It also rained all night this night as well. Our timing with the weather on this trip was impeccable.
Day 3: The De-proach
We were lucky it stopped raining by the time we woke up and packed up camp. We hiked out by 5:50 AM. We had the hardest days behind us, but we still had over 15 miles and at least 2,000 gain ahead of us. We zoomed through the basin, through the valleys and made it to White Pass quickly within a couple hours. It was mostly cold and socked in so the lack of views helped us move quickly too. We filtered water at the same mini waterfall before White Pass as well.
The hike out was mostly uneventful. We did run into a SOBO PCT hiker near White Pass and shared some leftover food with him! Beyond that, we hiked quickly to get out of there. Once we got to the shelter I put my approach trail runners on again to save my feet from the misery of the mountaineering boots. The first day I also wore the trail runners all the way to basecamp. The last 5 miles seemed to never end and there was a lot more rolling hills in that section than I remembered.
Climbing Glacier Peak was a whirlwind of emotions. Beauty, pain, misery, joy, some fun thrown in there too. Physicially I felt awful day one and two, which made it really hard to complete this climb. I’m glad I pushed through the (reasonable) pain to make it to the summit. All the way down we were all saying “never again” but I’m not sure I would say the same now. This climb offers such a variety of terrain and beauty that can’t be beat. It’s not an easy climb in terms of effort, but it’s definitely worth it.
I didn’t expect to have 3 successful glacier climbs under my belt already for my first year of mountaineering. It’s been such a fun, challenging and rewarding journey. 4 Washington volcanos down, one more to go.