Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Glacier Peak Trip Report ~ August 2012

Glacier Peak from the south

Summer 2012 has been a good one for our Glacier Peak Climbs as the approach road has been repaired, shaving 14 miles off the round trip, and making it possible to comfortably do the route in 3-4 days.  The increased climber activity has evidently also decreased break-ins at the trailhead, a nice bonus.  

The normal route up Glacier Peak has shifted to the southern route up the White Chuck and Cool glaciers, beginning at the North Fork of the Sauk River trailhead, 17 miles from Darrington, WA.  It's important to register your climb at the USFS ranger station in Darrington, this registration is free and can be done at any hour.  The trailhead parking does require a NW Forest Pass or interagency access pass. 

From the trailhead follow trail 649 for 5.4 miles or around 3 hours, gaining only about 1000 feet, to the Mackinaw Shelter. This small lean-to and the surrounding area is the first opportunity to camp, although unless you got a late start it's best to push on.  From the shelter the trail heads steeply upward, gaining 3000 feet in 2.8 miles, about 2 hours, to a juncture with the PCT.  

There are three options here; 1) head east to a camping area 0.7 miles, about 30 minutes, away at White Pass.  This spot has water, campsites, a composting toilet, mosquitoes and often crowds.  2)  Head 1.7 miles, about an hour, west to Red Pass.  This spot has limited space for camping, and the water source is a short walk, but far fewer bugs and crowds.  3) A third option is to head west about 0.25 mile, 15 minutes, to an series of dirt patches and game trail heading straight up the hill north for about 500 vertical feet to a pass, then down 1000 feet north, on snow, to the White Chuck basin, then northeast up heather, rock and snow to a small valley where camping is possible, at about 6400 feet.  This area is about 6 or 7 hours from the trailhead, and you'll have to reach it eventually no matter where you camp.  

If you're planning on a three day ascent this should be your camp; plan on a 12-14 hour round trip.  For a four day trip, from either Red or White Pass, continue past this area north to a col between the White Chuck and Suiattle Glaciers, at 7300 feet.  Gaining this col can be done by traveling in the valley floor in early season, or on the ridges east of the valley in late season as the floor becomes a river.  The col is a very nice, if exposed, campsite with running water and small rock walls generally pre-built.  This will be your high camp for a four day ascent, count on 5-6 hours of hiking to get here from Red or White pass.  The route up the peak from high camp begins up the small slope to the west (left), then slightly downhill to gain the Gerdine Ridge heading north toward Dissapointment Peak.  

Glacier Peak at dawn.  The prominent ridge in the foreground is the initial travel route from high camp.

This ridge is often dry, with a trail on it.  As the ridge becomes more narrow and rocky, at somewhere around 8400 feet, it will become necessary to exit to the east onto snow, and begin normal glacier travel methods.  Continue up snow, angling northeast, to an icefall on the ridge to the east, at about 9200 feet.  There is often a track set directly under the pumice cliffs that comprise Disappointment Peak.  These cliffs often produce dangerous rockfall, so a lower track through the glacier may be prudent.  Navigate the icefall carefully, and immediately head north (left) up a steeper slope to a bench which is followed to another dirt ridge.  

On the glacier east of the ridge.

This ridge, which often has a trail, heads 1000 vertical feet up to the summit.  The ridge is rather loose, and it is faster to travel on any snow remaining, but it is generally possible to stay on dry ground up to the summit.  There is a small bivy site just below the summit, with late-day running water often available from summit snows. Descend the way you ascended; for a three day ascent, back to your first night's camp.  For a four day ascent you'll need to return to the col, pack up and head out to Red or White pass, or sleep another night at the col and endure an 8-10 hour day to hike out.

The summit of Glacier Peak!

For more information on Guided Glacier Peak Climbs, contact the Northwest Mountain School at 509-548-5823.