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Daniel B

[TR] Glacier Peak - Cool Glacier 8/4/2012

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Trip: Glacier Peak - Cool Glacier


Date: 8/4/2012


Trip Report:

Day 1 (8/4/12): Left North Fork Sauk River TH at 9:30 a.m. (would have been better off leaving at 6:00 a.m. to avoid the heat). Arrived at Mackinaw Shelter in 2.5 hours. Took a 30 minute break. Started up the switchbacks to White Pass. The south facing slope was an inferno. We took several breaks in the shade. My bug net saved my sanity as the biting flies on this section were plentiful. Took a 1.5 hour break around 5,500' in what I thought would be the last of the shade. There turned out to be another shady section a couple switchbacks up, but this was the last level shady section. The trail switchbacks between trees and unshaded leafy vegetation. The unshaded leafy vegetation was an oven. The shaded tree sections were okay. Arrived at White Pass at 7:30 p.m. There is plenty of water and the campsites are 95% melted out as of 8/7/12. As of 8/7/12, there is *no* snow between the NFSR TH and White Pass. There was one tiny section on trail right before White Pass on the way in, but it melted out while we were in the back country.


Day 2 (8/5/12): Departed White Pass at 8:00 a.m. for Glacier Gap. Followed the Foam Creek trail which contours the valley. At one point, the trail peters out and we headed up hill on a faint use trail to arrive at a very a muddy prow where we picked up the trail again. This trail immediately descends a steep, wet muddy section (WETMUD). Be very careful here and send one climber down at a time. After the muddy descent, the trail continues toward an obvious saddle crossing several snow fields which were soft enough that we didn't need crampons. Ice axes might be nice, but we didn't find them necessary because of the solid boot track. Keep working your way over to the very obvious saddle (OBVSAD). There is some higher angle snow on this saddle and the snow was still pretty firm when we got there. Ice axes are highly recommended on this section, though it's possible to scramble up the scree on climber's left of the snow field. As you gain this saddle, we got our first views of Glacier Peak. The descent into the basin on the other side was easy. The snow was perfect and we contoured the White Chuck Basin trying not to drop too much elevation on our way to Glacier Gap. Rather than go up the remnants of the White Chuck Glacier on the far side (climber's left) of the basin, we followed a 35 degree snow finger up to a snow field just below Glacier Gap. We crossed the snow field and scrambled up a user trail in the rocks to Glacier Gap. Glacier Gap is totally melted out. We arrived at 2:00 p.m., set up shade structures using 2 red/silver emergency tarps, trekking poles, rocks, and cord cut into 7.5' lengths. This worked great and saved us from the heat. There were two running water sources. The source closer to the White Chuck Glacier was our preferred source since we'd observed other climbers bathing in the closest water source. Climbing the obvious snow field or scrambling up the screen after setting up camp will give you a clear view of the entire route up to the glacial break-up just below the Cool Glacier.


Day 3 (8/7/12): Woke at 4 a.m. and hiked out at 5:07 a.m. Up and over the obvious snow field. The snow was super soft and we didn't need crampons. After climbing the snow field, we dropped down and lost the 200' of elevation we'd just gained. There is water here and it's the last running water you'll have up to the summit (LASTH20). From here, we followed the snow-free ridge until we were fairly close to Disappointment Peak. The route looks exactly like the photo in the Beckey book. Roped up into 2 teams of 4, took out ice axes, and dropped onto the snow. Followed the ridge on the snow up until a safe distance below Disappointment Peak (rock fall hazard) and then begin traversing east beneath Disappointment Peak. There is a bunch of Glacier breakup at the top of the Gerdine. This would be a great place to put on crampons even if the snow feels fairly soft. The snow bridge over the bergschrund / interface between the Gerdine Glaciers and Cool Glacier had some water ice on a moderately steep section on the snow bridge. I kicked steps into it but they were the five hardest steps I've kicked in a long time. I also wasn't able to get my ice axe in at this point for about 10 vertical feet of climbing. After the snow bridge, it's a straight shot up the Cool Glacier to the saddle between Disappointment Peak and the Glacier Peak summit. We unroped here and it was a very steep scree slog to about 300 feet below the summit. There was a minor snow field here, very soft, followed by scrambling on wet, muddy scree mixed with fist sized rocks. Be careful coming down this part as party induced rock fall is a definite concern. We summited at 10:45 a.m. There was a storm off in the distance, so we began descending at 11:00 a.m. It started raining and hailing on us as we were descending the scree. I had to stop and put on my rain shell at one point. Back at the saddle, we put on crampons because of the rain and the fore mentioned water ice on the snow bridge across the bergschrund. Shortly after leaving the saddle, it stopped raining and we had a very pleasant descent back to the rocky ridge below the west side of Disappointment Peak where we unroped and followed the snow-free ridge back to LASTH20. We kicked steps up that snow and then descended the snow field back to Glacier Gap arriving at 2:00 p.m. We ate lunch, packed up, and headed back to White Pass at 4:00 p.m. The White Chuck basin was an inferno at this time. So incredibly hot. There are water sources on this stretch, but I made it with 3 liters of water. On the other side of OBVSAD, the snow descent looked to be pretty steep and people were tired. Based on how firm the snow was on Day 2, we built an anchor off of the boulder and rappeled down. There was a marmot that wasn't very happy that we were using his boulder as an anchor. At the base of the rappel, we followed the trail back across the heather and snow fields back to the base of WETMUD. 4 of us scrambled up the steep mud and 1 climbed up the adjacent snow field with crampons; there is no room for error here, especially with a full, heavy pack. We built a snow anchor at the top of WETMUD for a tired climber who then ascended the snow field on a fixed line. With the heat and the way things are melting out, I would not count on this snow field being there much longer. We pushed on from the top of WETMUD back to White Pass. It was getting dark and the snow fields on the Foam Creek trail were firming up. It's too much work to take off crampons and put them on again for each snow crossing as there were 10+ of them and they only last 10-20 feet each. Most of them had really good boot paths across, but others needed some serious steps kicked into them on the return to White Pass. We arrived at White Pass around 11:00 p.m. The rappel took up substantial time as did the break we took at the top of WETMUD. For this reason, it might have been better to spend a second night at Glacier Gap with the intention of getting an earlier start the next day.


Day 4 (8/7/12): Departed White Pass at 9:30 a.m. and arrived at Mackinaw Shelter 2 hours later. Bathed in the river at Mackinaw and then headed out after 30 minutes. The last ~6 miles back to the TH are some of the longest miles I've ever hiked. Fortunately, we didn't have the 7 mi gravel road walk to Mountain Loop Hwy to look forward to.


RT was ~38 miles with over 11,000' of cumulative gain.



If I were to do it again, I'd make some slight itinerary adjustments:


Day 1: Depart TH at 6:00 a.m. Arrive at Mackinaw Shelter in 2-3 hours, take a short break to filter water and get moving up the switchbacks before the heat of the day really kicks in. Get to White Pass somewhere around 2 p.m. It's ~3.6 miles from Mackinaw to White Pass, but those switchbacks are steep with a full pack and the heat doesn't help. We did this section in 90+ degree F temperatures taking liberal breaks.


Day 2: Depart White Pass at 7:00 a.m. Do the ~5 mi to Glacier Gap early in the day to avoid the heat. Arrive somewhere around 2 p.m.


Day 3: Wake at 4:00 a.m., depart at 5:00 a.m. Summit by noon, return to Glacier Gap and stay a second night.


Day 4: Wake at 4:00 a.m., depart at 5:00 a.m., cross the White Chuck Basin before it's an inferno. Get water at White Pass if you need it, continue 5.1 mi down to Mackinaw Shelter. Stay the night here or push on to the TH if the team is feeling strong (with the intention of camping at the TH).


Day 5: Wake when you want. Do the ~6 mi from Mackinaw back to the TH. Team is fairly rested for the drive home.


Note: There are primitive pit toilets at White Pass and I also saw a sign for one at Mackinaw Shelter, but I didn't look for it. The White Pass toilet has a really nice view of Snoqualmie Peak.



Other thoughts:


After mile 3 from the TH, there is water everywhere. You probably only need to carry 2 liters from the TH to the first major water crossing which has a brand new bridge across it.


There is plenty of water everywhere after mile 3 from the TH. There are at least two solid water sources between Mackinaw and White Pass. Plenty of water at White Pass. Plenty of water between White Pass and Glacier Gap. Plenty of water at Glacier Gap.


We didn't camp on snow a single time. White Pass is 95% melted out and Glacier Gap is totally melted out. There are deer at White Pass that like sweaty clothes. Hang your poles in the trees.


I highly recommend getting an early start from Mackinaw Shelter as the switchbacks up the South Slope are an inferno in the heat of the day. We left the TH at 9:30 a.m. and reached Mackinaw a little more than 2 hours later. The next hours up to White Pass involved many breaks in the intermittent shade.


We didn't cross any crevasses, though there is a huge bergschrund between the Gerdine and Cool Glaciers. There is a solid snow bridge across the bergschrund, though it was a little icy. We left Glacier Gap on summit day at 5:00 a.m. and summited around 10:45 a.m. The snow was perfect at this time and we didn't use crampons. I would have liked crampons for the ascent of the area around the bergschrund as there was some water ice on the snow bridge and it made it hard to kick steps into.


It started raining and hailing on us on the descent of the saddle from the summit, so we put on crampons until after we'd descended past the bergschrund and traversed back beneath Disappointment Peak. Speaking of which, there is rock fall danger as you're traversing below Disappointment Peak. We saw some rock fall, but it was behind us.


The saddle between Disappointment Peak and the summit is scree. Loose and steep scree, then very muddy, wet scree with bigger rocks in it at the top. Still a minor snow field to cross near the summit, but it was nice and soft at 10:30 a.m.


Gear Notes:

crampons, ice axes, two ropes (for 8 climbers), 8 pickets (only needed two)

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