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Glacier Peak with Mountain Madness

The Isolation that is Glacier Peak

For years guid­ing in the cas­cades, peo­ple always ask, What’s that big peak out there?” Gen­er­al­ly with­out even look­ing I know they are ask­ing about Glac­i­er Peak, the most remote of the Cas­cade Vol­ca­noes. Var­i­ous road and trail washouts over the past few years have made access to this 10,541’ sum­mit tricky. This past week how­ev­er, I was able to final­ly get out there and see what chal­lenges Glac­i­er Peak’s slopes provided. 

Glac­i­er Peak. Alan Rousseau photo

After meet­ing up with John and Greg ear­ly on July 28th we head­ed to Sec­ond Ascent, for the rit­u­al gear check, and Café Fiore for my rit­u­al pre-dri­ve caf­fi­na­tion. After a 2.5 hour dri­ve we stood at the Sloan Creek Camp­ground; the end of the dri­ving and the start to our walk­ing. Since most of that final hour of dri­ving had been on dirt for­est ser­vice roads we already felt the remote nature of our upcom­ing climb. 

The first cou­ple hours of our trek led us through old growth cedar on a nice­ly main­tained trail. Although the sum­mit of Glac­i­er is over 10,000 ft we were walk­ing at a mod­est ele­va­tion of 2,100 ft. This pro­vid­ed us with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see a diver­si­ty of flo­ra and fau­na, rang­ing from skunk cab­bage and banana slugs to red snow algae and moun­tain goats. 

Hap­py Climbers. Alan Rousseau photo

Our rel­a­tive­ly flat walk for the first 5 miles was pleas­ant to say the least, how­ev­er we knew we had a total of approx­i­mate­ly 10,000 ft more to gain to get to the top of Glac­i­er. When we hit Mack­i­naw shel­ter and began our climb up the south slope of Red Moun­tain towards the Pacif­ic Crest Trail, it final­ly start­ed to feel like we were climb­ing a moun­tain! Over the next 3 miles we gained 3,000 ft and the roar of the Sauk Rivers’ North fork qui­et­ed to a whis­per as it became a thin line far below us. Before stop­ping for the evening at White Pass we joined in with the Pacif­ic Crest Trail and found a nice mead­ow in which to camp that pro­vid­ed plen­ty of water. 

Alan Rousseau photo

The next day we head­ed onto the Foam Creek Trail, and had a decep­tive­ly hard day of cross-coun­try trav­el. Although we would only end the day 1200 ft high­er than when we start­ed it, we had 5 pass­es to gain to hit our sleep­ing spot at Glac­i­er Gap. Head­ing across the White Chuck Glac­i­er was a tes­ta­ment to cli­mate change. I found myself in boul­der fields where maps print­ed 30 years ago sug­gest­ed I was on the heart of a glac­i­er. Despite the less than speedy ter­rain, we hit Glac­i­er Gap at 2 pm and set­tled in for a few hours of relax­ation in the sun before din­ner and an ear­ly bedtime. 

Alan Rousseau photo

At 3:30 am the alarm went off and I began boil­ing up some water for our sum­mit day cof­fee, and break­fast. Despite two hard days of walk­ing, John and Greg were ready to go. We were all pleas­ant­ly sur­prised by a nice overnight refreeze that left the snow per­fect for cram­pon­ing. We moved across the Ger­dine and Cool Glac­i­ers quick­ly with min­i­mal crevasse dan­ger. The final climb began up a pumice ridge from the Dis­ap­point­ment Glac­i­er Col and after a few hun­dred ver­ti­cal feet it returned to steep snow for the final few hun­dred feet to gain the sum­mit of Glac­i­er Peak! We all agreed that the tran­si­tions between pumice and snow and the rel­a­tive­ly mod­er­ate angle for the major­i­ty of the day made for not only a per­fect sum­mit day but also made the ascent and descent equal­ly enjoyable. 

Alan Rousseau photo

Our team returned to Glac­i­er Gap and spent the after­noon relax­ing in the sun­shine; feel­ing the accom­plish­ment of trav­el­ing over 20 miles and gain­ing 10,000 ft to achieve the summit.

Alan Rousseau photo

For the next two days we took our time as we reversed our route back to the North Fork of the Sauk. Every morn­ing a low val­ley cloud lay­er pro­vid­ed us with a beau­ti­ful under­cast as we descend­ed into on our final day. Time to get back to the car and return to the rest of the world.

~ MM Guide Alan Rousseau