The Glacier Peak climb of disappointment cleaver has been on my list for quite some time now. A large part of this is because it is the last of Washington’s glaciated volcanoes I was yet to climb. Also because it had become an insurmountable obstacle. My first time I tried to climb Glacier Peak in 2017, my partner could not get the time off. The following year, my partner damaged his Achilles. Due to this he did not feel as though he had recovered enough to give it a shot.
When 2019 rolled in I thought I would give a climb of Glacier Peak a go solo. I took four days off from work, prepped the best that I could, and headed off to the North Fork Sauk Trail-head. Eager to get going I hopped in the back of my car and passed out. I woke at 4 am, double-checked my bag, put on my mountaineering boots, and headed up the trail. Yet, about 20 feet up the north fork Sauk trail I ran into the sign pictured on the left.
In my haste to climb Glacier Peak I forgot a basic principle of prep: checking trail conditions. I was experiencing something between frustration and disillusionment with climbing Glacier Peak. Digging deep I found my resolve to complete the entire climb in two days instead of four the next weekend. Otherwise, I had a feeling that events outside my control would continue to ruin my attempts.
My climb of Glacier Peak started on Saturday morning so I would have plenty of time to make it all the way to Glacier Gap. The hike up to White Pass was as pleasant as always but steep. My trip down the foam creek trail was easy too. There was a heavy layer of fog tainting the landscape the entire time though. This made taking my mind off the massive elevation gain impossible.
The toughest part of the day came once the trail ended. There is a basin before Glacier Gap which is long and full of very similar-looking rocks. In competition with the fog it made navigation difficult. Seeing where I was going became a luxury. I was thankful for the GPS and map that I had. I saw two groups wandering away in directions I was sure would take them off-trail. My attempts to warn them were waived off. On days with unclear skies, navigation skills are crucial for climbing Glacier Peak. The two groups I saw ended up making it to Glacier Gap several hours after me.
Arriving at Glacier Gap at around 3:30 in the afternoon, I took a moment to enjoy the exquisite views of the peaks below and quickly ate dinner. I wanted to get to bed early so that I could get the earliest start of all the groups to climb Glacier Peak. I was in bed by 5 pm with two hot water bottles in the bottom of my bag. My hope was to make it to the summit so that I could watch the sunrise.
Waking up at midnight was incredible. The glaciers on either side of the gap were glimmering in the moonlight. Since the majority of people were planning to start several hours after me it was dead silent. Best of all, most of the fog that had dominated the previous day had dissipated. Glacier peak was glowing in the night time and a layer of cloud was covering the area below me. The air was full of a million scents that make up mountaineering air.
All this made it feel like I had chosen the perfect moment to finish off climbing Washington’s volcanoes. After a quick breakfast I headed up the trail to start the climb of Glacier Peak. It was freezing cold. For the first several hours shrouded in darkness all I did was focus on climbing. I felt mesmerized watching the glaciers sparkle.
I set off and started the climb by around 1 am. It is a rare experience to have the moon shining so bright that my headlamp was useless. All this made climbing in the dark a breeze.
Despite it being August I found both glaciers easy to get across. There were some large crevasses that were splitting the face of the mountain open. But all still had large snow bridges and caused little issue. I felt like the crux of this climb the final 100 ft or so. Near the top of Glacier peak, there’s a small section to choose between what appears to be easy scrambling or a snow slope.
Thinking I could crampon my way to the top I chose the snowfield. But, the ice sitting on top of the rocks was thick and solid. As hard of a time as I was having trying to get my crampons to bite in, I chose to scramble up the rest. The scrambling is not difficult. Being at 10,000 ft with a 30 mph wind kicking at my back, made every single movement feel magnified though.
By this time the sun was cresting the horizon so pushed hard and made the summit right before sunrise. Standing here with a view like the one in the photo below felt surreal. Usually I let out a cry or jump up and down with joy. This time I stood with mouth agape speechless at the scenery. The entire north cascades feels laid at your feet from here. Sunrise was the icing on the cake.
The most trying part of the Glacier Peak climb is the way down the mountain. Most people plan a 3 – 4-day summit trip as I had intended. This allows ample time to camp once on your way out. I only had 48 hours to make the trip work, so I knew I would have a rough day. Immediately heading back for the trail-head after climbing Glacier Peak destroyed my legs.
It is close to 9,000 ft of elevation loss and 17 miles from the summit back to the car. Somehow I made it back to the car by right after 6 pm. I would say around 36 hours was too short for the climb of Glacier Peak. I am glad to have seized the day and gone for this one despite having to turn bail on previous attempts. Next time I will ensure more time on the trail.