Trip: Glacier Peak - Disappointment Peak/Cool Glacier
A week late on this one. With a good friend in town from the Ukraine and about the best 3 day weather window we've seen all summer, Glacier Peak was on the menu. Mind you, I've gotten soft over the past year with getting married and finding a love for sunny tropical Hawaiian and Caribbean beaches over restless nights on a Thermarest and endless miles of trail. My last trip out was last July for a weekend of alpine cragging in the Liberty Bell group. So naturally I went for 3 or 4 runs around where I live and a jaunt or two with a pack on up Pilchuck over the course of 3 weeks. Ok, back in shape, ready for 36ish miles in the backcountry. Right...
Night before, run through a gear check and things seem so foreign to me. Sleeping bag, check. Sleeping pad, check. Ice axe, check. Crampons, check. And that went on for a couple hours.
Bag packed. Damn that's heavy. Stepped on the scale. 29.5lbs. Wow have I gotten soft. Under 30lbs for 3 days of gear but it felt like 300. No worry though, I'm back in backcountry shape now remember...
Saturday we head out at a leisurely hour and check in at Darrington to pick up a NW Forest Service Pass and make the drive to the trailhead, the road opening just a week before. Out of the car, bug spray, sun screen and pack on. Hit the trail. Quickly make it to Mackinaw Shelter along the long, flat trail mimicking the Sauk's bends. A little over 2 hours later I think, "Hey, not that bad." Then I look at the altimeter, 800 or so feet of elevation gain. Shit, 5 miles in and we've gone nowhere.
Enter the switchbacks in the baking July sun. Shoulda started earlier. Hot spot in the heels. Damn. Tape up. Start sweating, every where my pack comes in contact bugs me and starts to chafe; shoulder straps, lumbar, hip belt. So uncomfortable. This is fun? Why am I here?
Then we rise to the crest approaching the PCT..."Oh, that's why..."
Soaking in the alpine views from Rainier north to Sloan, I feel the drive and energy only this environment can charge you with. Not moving as fast as in the past but not sluggish by any means. The miles and hours tick by. "What's that?" "Steep, sketch snow with a nasty runout?" Again, shit. In hindsight and on the return trip out, not bad at all. But how fast does that comfort and confidence leave you whether it be snow or rock. It was going to be a long 3 days...
We make White Pass in just about 6 hours. I think to myself, "That shoulda been 4 and a half, damn I'm soft." Oh well, we press on. Up and around following Foam Creek Trail. Pulling the topo and following the melted out boot pack we pick our spot to drop into the "gentle basin".
We meet up with Pavel, from the Czech Republic. He has skis. I want his skis. He says he'll wait and camp with us. He makes quick work down into the approach to White Chuck Glacier.
We fumble, route find, cross more steep snow with runout. The molehill of the situation becoming more a mountain with every step. Finally, flat ground. We trudge on, the miles still ticking way. Not moving fast, but moving.
8 o'clock. Sunset in a half hour. Time to camp. Clouds roll in. No sight of our objective. That precious fuel to press on, it's summit weighed down and concealed by dense fog beginning to envelop all around us. I feel the same wrap my conviction for being here. We see Pavel and find level ground. I pull out my new puffy and wrap up. Feels good to stop moving, only to realize this trip is 1/3 of the way over and the only easy day was yesterday. Mark camp on the GPS and check elevation, 6,666ft. Creepy. That combined with busting my lucky Light My Fire spork would have convinced me to turn around, if I were the superstitious type. I'm not. Mmmm, freeze dried chicken and rice from Mountain House. I want real food. I choke it down and crawl into the tent moistened by the surrounding fog. I try to sleep with only the half inch of cellular air filled foam of my 3/4 length woman's Thermarest (the higher R value and less weight, this is how I justify it) and my pack under my feet separating me from the cold hard snow. Being 6' 3", moving just an inch in any direction shifts me onto the ground. I gotta pee.
Restless night over the alarm buzz's at 5 am. Snooze. 5:15. Snooze. 5:30. Snooze. 5:45. Snooze. 6 am. Ok, fine. So much for an alpine start. I think back to years and mountains past. Busting out of my sleeping bag at 1:30 am stoked and ready to be the first on route, hoping to catch the sunrise for as close to summit as possible. Where is that fire, that zeal, that passion? I have only a moment to ponder then onto, where's my breakfast? Cream of wheat and a bagel. Choke that down. Advil. Check. 5 Hour Energy. Check. Ok, starting to feel better. Cold boots, damn. Why am I here? Crawl out of the tent, "Oh, that's why."
Thankfully I still remembered to prep the night before and begin gearing up. The snow is hard plastic. I step into the crampons. Something about the cold, hard metal becoming an extension of my foot, piercing and biting the snow brings me joy. Let's do this. Off we go.
We make good time across the White Chuck Glacier and onto Glacier Gap. Beautiful. I love it here.
We cross to the top of Glacier Gap. Damn. We have a really long way to go still. Damn again. We gotta go down this steep snow? I hate it here.
Just as before, the molehill a mountain. Me, just being a sissy. I start to question myself. "Have I lost it?" "I've tackled far more challenging and committing terrain that this with not so much as blinking." I think of Austin Powers losing his mojo. I chuckle. I trudge on. Surprisingly feeling quite strong. I find my rhythm and before you know it, already at the beginning of the Cool Glacier. I stop and wait for my friend.
I wonder how Pavel is doing. He started earlier and last we saw he was crossing about where we are, but an hour prior. We eat. We trudge on. We skirt crevasses and round the corner. The summit in sight. It looks so close. Minutes away. We pass a group on their decent, " about 2 hours out" they say. Damn. Nobody is roped. I'm not happy to be lugging the glacier essentials in my pack now. Stupid rope. Stupid harness. Stupid carabiners. "What's this?" I approach a depression in the snow and probe with my axe. With no effort it sinks to its head. Shit. Get the rope. The afternoon sun was taking it's toll on glacier. As much as it may have not been necessary, I was not going to become a statistic. Pavel greets us on his skis. Once again, I want his skis. He is elated and ready to head back. He says the rest of the route is good, but a couple steep spots on the way to the summit. We exchange "good luck's" and he's off.
This whole time, the last push to summit creeping up in the back of my mind. "Is it steep?" "How steep?" "Will I choke?" We press on. We hit the boot trodden pumice path. "It looks steep." "Ok, just a bit farther and we'll see." We make the base. It's steep. Shit.
The conversation ensues in my head:
"I don't want to go."
"Quit being a pussy Troy, 18 miles and you're going to sis out 400 feet from the top?"
"Yeah, so what?"
"You are a little girl you know that? Wait, a little girl would actually continue on."
"Fine, screw you. I'll go. But if I die, you're explain how to my family."
We go up. We summit.
The day is perfect. Beautiful views from Rainier to Baker and beyond.
Time to go down. Up is easy. Down is hard. Positive thoughts, positive thoughts. One foot in front of the other. Just before the steepest section, something clicks. No longer is there a fear of slipping. No longer is the exposure disorientating. No longer is any of this of any concern at all. Down becomes easier. I start moving at my normal, confident yet calculated pace. I pass people on the decent. I feel good. I feel, myself. This trek has been nothing but in my head.
We hit the glacier, rope up for safety's sake and cruise on out. The Cool starting to open up some.
Before we know it we approach the climb back up to Glacier Gap. I look back, reflect on all my unwarranted fear and anxiety and wonder "Where the hell did it all come from?" Not finding the answer, I'm just glad it is gone.
As we crest Glacier Gap, we see the evening condensation process begin as the layer of moisture begins its flow through the valleys below.
We catch up with group from New Hampshire which we met back at the parking lot and passed on the trail. They were making 4 days of it. They offered us food and water, we declined but such solid people. I hoped that would be successful the following day and have a safe journey home. We bid our farewells and good lucks and press on. We fight through the whiteout of the fog and find camp. Mountain House never sounded so good. That sleeping pad never felt so comfortable.
We wake. We eat. We pack. We leave. The last 2 miles seem like 20. My feet throbbing, battered and beaten. This is what I get for not lacing up in close to a year. Flip flops just don't cut it...
We reach the car and head off for Mexican food. I feel good. I feel back to normal. Thank you Glacier Peak for helping me find myself once again.
Quite possibly the longest and least informative TR to date, but I write it as a reflection. Better info below.
More backpacking than anything. Light glacier travel gear. Aluminum 'pons and axe just fine.
Road open and in great shape to TH.
North Fork Sauk cleared and in great shape all the way to PCT.
Snow melting and should be gone by now all the way to White Pass.
Soap Creek Trail was 30%+ snow week before last but in good shape.
Take the snow finger up and over all the way into the basin. No need to take the ledge system (we found that out on the way out). Snow should still be good and good for another week at these temps.
Good camping everywhere.
Good boot pack all the way to the summit once you hit the basin.
Last 400 vert steep but not a worry. All snow the time we where there. Should stick around for a bit longer.
Cool Glacier just starting to open up. Snow bridges getting soft. Some roped up, some didn't.
We saw lots of skiers for those willing to lug the AT gear in.