MM Collection
Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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August 21, 2013

The Isolation that is Glacier Peak

For years guiding in the cascades, people always ask, “What’s that big peak out there?”  Generally without even looking I know they are asking about Glacier Peak, the most remote of the Cascade Volcanoes.  Various road and trail washouts over the past few years have made access to this 10,541’ summit tricky.  This past week however, I was able to finally get out there and see what challenges Glacier Peak’s slopes provided.  

Glacier Peak. Alan Rousseau photo

After meeting up with John and Greg early on July 28th we headed to Second Ascent, for the ritual gear check, and Café Fiore for my ritual pre-drive caffination.  After a 2.5 hour drive we stood at the Sloan Creek Campground; the end of the driving and the start to our walking.  Since most of that final hour of driving had been on dirt forest service roads we already felt the remote nature of our upcoming climb.  

The first couple hours of our trek led us through old growth cedar on a nicely maintained trail.  Although the summit of Glacier is over 10,000 ft we were walking at a modest elevation of 2,100 ft.   This provided us with the opportunity to see a diversity of flora and fauna, ranging from skunk cabbage and banana slugs to red snow algae and mountain goats.  

Happy Climbers. Alan Rousseau photo

Our relatively flat walk for the first 5 miles was pleasant to say the least, however we knew we had a total of approximately 10,000 ft more to gain to get to the top of Glacier.  When we hit Mackinaw shelter and began our climb up the south slope of Red Mountain towards the Pacific Crest Trail, it finally started to feel like we were climbing a mountain!  Over the next 3 miles we gained 3,000 ft and the roar of the Sauk Rivers’ North fork quieted to a whisper as it became a thin line far below us.  Before stopping for the evening at White Pass we joined in with the Pacific Crest Trail and found a nice meadow in which to camp that provided plenty of water.  

Alan Rousseau photo

The next day we headed onto the Foam Creek Trail, and had a deceptively hard day of cross-country travel.  Although we would only end the day 1200 ft higher than when we started it, we had 5 passes to gain to hit our sleeping spot at Glacier Gap.  Heading across the White Chuck Glacier was a testament to climate change.  I found myself in boulder fields where maps printed 30 years ago suggested I was on the heart of a glacier.  Despite the less than speedy terrain, we hit Glacier Gap at 2 pm and settled in for a few hours of relaxation in the sun before dinner and an early bedtime. 

Alan Rousseau photo

At 3:30 am the alarm went off and I began boiling up some water for our summit day coffee, and breakfast.  Despite two hard days of walking, John and Greg were ready to go.  We were all pleasantly surprised by a nice overnight refreeze that left the snow perfect for cramponing.  We moved across the Gerdine and Cool Glaciers quickly with minimal crevasse danger.  The final climb began up a pumice ridge from the Disappointment Glacier Col and after a few hundred vertical feet it returned to steep snow for the final few hundred feet to gain the summit of Glacier Peak!  We all agreed that the transitions between pumice and snow and the relatively moderate angle for the majority of the day made for not only a perfect summit day but also made the ascent and descent equally enjoyable. 

Alan Rousseau photo

Our team returned to Glacier Gap and spent the afternoon relaxing in the sunshine; feeling the accomplishment of traveling over 20 miles and gaining 10,000 ft to achieve the summit.

Alan Rousseau photo

For the next two days we took our time as we reversed our route back to the North Fork of the Sauk.  Every morning a low valley cloud layer provided us with a beautiful undercast as we descended into on our final day.  Time to get back to the car and return to the rest of the world.

~ MM Guide Alan Rousseau