Trip: Glacier Peak - Frostbite Ridge Trip Date: 08/09/2020 Trip Report:
Glacier Peak, Frostbite Ridge 8/9/20 (descending Cool Glacier)
Anna B and I chose Frostbite Ridge route on Glacier Peak since it would offer us more technical challenges, but we devised a route that would take us down the Cool Glacier standard route and make a 4 day loop of the climb. One reason for choosing a loop was that we were doing it in early August and as 2020 was an above average snow year and a cooler than normal summer I anticipated that the ice steps just below the summit might have snice and not be melted down to the glacial ice. If this was true (it mostly was), descending on the Frostbite Ridge with several rappels on the ice steps could mean spending a lot of time and energy clearing away the snice to get to the glacial ice to build v-threads for the rappels. Something I wanted to avoid. A loop also is just more appealing anyway.
The normal route for Frostbite Ridge starts at the Suiattle Pass Trailhead up the PCT and then to the Vista Glacier. We started our loop at the North Fork Sauk trailhead and so this would require many extra miles to get to where the standard Frostbite Ridge route peels off the PCT. Luckily, I found some old trip reports where, in years past, climbers used the now decommissioned White Chuck river road and trail to attain the either the Kennedy Ridge and up to the Kennedy glacier or one trip report that cited a bivy at 6,200 feet near the base of the Kennedy glacier. This would save us time and miles and turned out to be the best choice for our route.
We started at the North Fork Sauk River trailhead, the starting point for the Cool Glacier approach. Day 1 we hiked from the trailhead up to the PCT and covering over 3,000 feet in a short distance. At the PCT we went left to Red Pass and down the other side. After passing several good campsites just as the PCT started heading north we found a nice flat campsite at around 5,000 feet just off the trail before it descended steeply in a small gorge. We chose wisely as this was the last campsite for a few miles. Total distance was about 13 miles with 5,000 feet of gain and 2,200 feet of loss.
Day 2 we continued on the PCT for about 7.5 miles, going past Kennedy Creek and up onto Kennedy Ridge. The PCT had a lot of overgrown bushes/ small trees wet from the recent rains and fog and parts of the trail had small streams diverted on them. We got soaked and our boots were wet for the entire remaining days of the climb. There is a PCT camping area with a sign for a toilet just before the PCT crosses Glacier Creek and makes a sharp turn left. Opposite the entrance to the PCT campsite is a small drainage that flows into Glacier Creek (not the actual Glacier Creek) where we could see a climbers trail (5,300 feet). We followed this up and within a few hundred feet the trail mostly disappeared. We continued with not too difficult bushwhacking up the drainage and stayed right to gain a small ridge just above the base of the Kennedy Glacier where we found the bivy site mentioned in the old trip reports at approximately 6,100 feet (48.131760, -121.140130). Running water nearby made this ideal for our summit bid the next day.
Day 3 we got an early start and headed up the Kennedy Glacier staying on the climbers left (north side) portion of the glacier but not too close to the cliffs below Kennedy peak as there was plenty of evidence of rock fall. From 7,400 feet to about 7,700 feet we had to find our way around open crevasses and crossed on several bridges that looked fairly thick and strong but still made us a bit nervous to cross over the gaping crevasses blow our feet. I believe that in a few weeks time the route finding through this crevassed area may pose some difficulties. At 8,200 feet we joined the standard Frostbite Ridge route just after the Kennedy and Vista glaciers col.
From base of Kennedy Glacier. Frostbite Ridge in the alpenglow.
There are plenty of trip reports out there and the Cascade Climber report from 8/2/2015 has the best information and photos of the route that I can’t really improve upon. For us, we went up the ridgeline which was pumice and dirt and included a short narrow catwalk that was a bit nerve wracking but doable. At the first large rock gendarme (named the rabbit’s dick in the aforementioned trip report) we went right and stayed on a rock ramp since we felt the steep snow was icy and the runout was long. This probably got us a bit off course, we followed the ramp and then headed up where there was a short 4th class section with some exposure so Anna B put in a few stoppers and a short belay and we climbed back to the left side of the gendarme, dropping onto the top of the snow pitch on the left side and went through a notch to descend back on route.
After this first rock pinnacle we got to the rabbit ears and went up on the right side (we thought we were going through the middle of the ears) and once beyond the “ears” we had to traverse left to gain the ridge that was an easy class 3 scramble down to the base of the upper portion of the Kennedy Glacier climbing section. This looked rather steep when we looked down on it from the rabbits ears, but it was probably not much more than 45 degrees at the base and then quickly mellowed out a bit to around 40 degrees. The snow was perfect and we climbed up solo getting through this glacier portion quickly.
After the glacier climb, there was a quick little downclimb into the snow covered crater where we got to the base of the ice steps at 10,200 feet. The steps were still mostly covered in snice which, as I expected, had not melted out yet. The first step is maybe a pitch at maybe 55+ degrees. The snice was perfect enough that an easy wrist flick sent the pick into the snice a ½ inch or more. We felt comfortable on this and soloed up the pitch. There was one small section where there was water ice though it was maybe 15 feet or so and didn’t pose a problem for us. The second step is longer (2 pitches of 60 m rope?) but a bit less step so we also soloed on this portion. At last the summit!
The ice steps starting at 10,200.
It was a couple hours to descend Glacier Peak on the opposite side, mostly on snow, down to Cool Glacier and we camped at Glacier Gap with awesome views. Day 4 we left Glacier Gap and descended on the former glacier known as White Chuck (not much of the glacier is left now, just to prove science deniers wrong) and back to our car at the North Fork Sauk trailhead.
This is a great way to do Glacier peak, offering a loop instead of an out and back, providing more challenging glacier travel on the lower Kennedy, semi-technical rock scramble and ice steps at the top of the route, and an easier descent via the Cool Glacier route. It took us 4 days and I doubt we could have done it quicker but possibly for a fit team traveling light and fast it could be done in 3 days. But why rush if you’re in Glacier Peak Wilderness, enjoy the experience.
Gear Notes: 40m rope (if descending and planning on rappels a 60m is better)
4 ice screws (not used)
4 pickets (not used)
a few stopers to 2" (used 2 but not totally needed) Approach Notes: Starting at North Fork Sauk River trailhead