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Ascent of Glacier Peak on 2006-07-26

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Edward Earl
Adam Helman
Date:Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Glacier Peak
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:10520 ft / 3206 m

Ascent Trip Report

Tuesday, July 29, 2006:

I woke up at 4 AM, quickly got dressed and grabbed my stuff, made a quick stop at the local QFC grocery store, and I was soon driving north on I-405, pleasantly traffic-free (but certainly not deserted) at this hour. I-5 was also a breeze in the predawn darkness, and soon I was heading east on WA-530 from Arlington to Darrington, admiring views of the massive hulk of Whitehorse Mountain as the sun rose. After turning right on the Mountain Loop Highway in Darrington, this road led south and after 8 miles turned to gravel. This was also the point where the White Chuck Road branched off, but that road was still closed after the disastrous floods of 2003, a few months after my previous attempt on the peak.

So I continued on the Mountain Loop highway for another 8 miles, and found the poorly-signed turn-off to FS 49, the Sloan Creek Road, which led for 7 miles through deep forest and past the trailhead for Sloan Peak, which I had used back in 1995. At 6:30 AM I pulled into the Sloan Creek Trailhead, parked, and looked around for Edward and Adam, my climbing partners. The trailhead was more extensive and busier than I expected--there were a number of people camped around, and a horse-packing outfitter's camp with horses. After returning to the car I thought they were not there yet, but then I checked a more remote and forested spur road in the trailhead area and saw Edward's familiar blue Nissan pickup. Adam and Edward laughed as I approached, pretending to be a tourist, saying "Excuse me, do you guys know of any high-prom county highpoints around here?"

Edward and Adam both lived in San Diego and were well-known as peakbaggers specializing in county high points and peaks with high prominence (saddle drop). I had hiked with one or another of them on several previous occasions, and this trip had been planned for several months now. It was good to finally be ready to go at the trailhead.

Edward drove his truck over to near the start of the trail, next to my car, and we got packed up. We were all mostly ready to go--all I really had to do was put some dressings on a painful heel blister from a hike the previous week, and make sure everything was tied on to my pack well. I was taking my new orange Osprey pack, pretty small for a big trip, and it was full to the bursting point. I was not even taking a tent, since the weather forecast was for continued high pressure and warmth and I wanted to save weight on the long approach.

We started up the North Fork Sauk Trail at about 7:05 AM. Edward set his customary slow but steady pace, and the three of us chatted about our common interests in peakbagging methodologies and theory. The trail was wide, flat, and easy as it made its way through massive old growth trees, and the morning was still cool. The first four miles of trail was pretty uneventful--we crossed some small creeks, passed through some hot slide-paths that were an unwelcome break from the cool forest, and took a couple of short rests. In many places giant trees had fallen across the trail, and a maintenance crew had chainsawed out a passage, allowing us to see the massive cross-sections of thousand-year old logs. The trail was very well maintained, and the many piles of horse poop testified that it was kept up even for stock.

The first big landmark was Red Creek, a wide stream with no bridge across it. I saw some logs downstream, headed for them, and started out on one that reached most of the way across. But it became very clear that this log was not very sturdy, and 2/3 the way across one would have to jump down to an even less sturdy log projecting from the other side. Adam and Edward retreated to take off their boots and wade, while I probed further for a couple minutes, finally deciding that wading would be best. So I, too, took off my boots, put on my sandals, and hiked through frigid waters above my ankles to the other side. Once across, I noticed that the water had undone all the hard work of my blister dressing, so I had to break out my first aid kit and re-do it. Adam and Edward took off first, and I told them I would catch up. Once my foot was all taken care of, and I had taken a drink from my CamelBack and a shot of Gu energy gel, I took off up the trail alone, enjoying solitude in the forest for ten minutes before catching up to my slightly slower-paced companions.

About a mile later the North Fork Sauk Trail approached its namesake river very closely, and Adam wanted to stop to get water, since we knew the trail would soon be switchbacking uphill away from any other sources. I did a quick GPS check and saw we were not yet at the Mackinaw Shelter, presumably near water, but Adam was filling up anyway. I didn't need water, since I had started with a full gallon. We were off again shortly, and not long afterwards we passed the Mackinaw Shelter, one of the very few wilderness lean-tos I have seen in the west. I took a quick detour to look at the ramshackle edifice, dark in the deep forest.

The North Fork Sauk Trail had gained maybe 1000 feet in the past 5.3 miles, and after the shelter it started gaining at a much faster rate, soon starting a long series of swtichbacks that gained 3000 feet up into the high country. It was now near noon, and the path annoyingly seemed to prefer going uphill through the hot, humid slide paths of low alder, rather than the cool, pleasant, breezy forest. We had to take a break pretty soon to put on sunscreen and hats--I added the "sahara cape" to my cap and put on my sunglasses and nose guard. Edward’s pace was easy but relentless as we chugged uphill, soon above the roaring river below and seeing more and more views as we climbed. First Bedal Peak came into view (which I at first thought was an insignificant crag) and then the glacier-mantled pyramid of Sloan Peak. We took a long rest about halfway up the switchbacks, in a somewhat rare forest section, and were troubled by flies, but not by biting insects.

The upper part of the switchbacks passed though thinner and thinner forest sections and finally became a long traverse heading south through a stupendously large meadow of wildflowers in the hot, midday sun. The blue, orange, white and purple flowers among the grass seemed to cover the entire slope clear to its crest, unseen above. We continued to gain altitude and admired the views of craggy peaks off towards the Monte Cristo area as we hiked along, taking a last rest in the shade of one of the last tiny groves of trees. Not long after that the North Fork Sauk Trail ended at the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Crude signs at the junction warned through-hikers about bridges being out further north and a couple damp leaflets under a rock told of the detour route. But we headed south, on the same rising traverse as the trail we had been on, and another half mile of flower meadow took us to the White Pass area.

At White Pass we didn't stop for very long, since we had just had a rest, and we didn't go down to see a solitary hiker resting there, the first person we had seen all day on the trail. Instead we saw the climber’s trail we were looking for, a well-beaten boot path that contoured north and east under the slopes of White Mountain, and cut over to it from the PCT. This path, as easy to follow as any regularly maintained trail, stayed at about the 6100-foot level for a couple miles as it stayed below White Mountain and the peaks to the east, crossing countless shallow gullies holding either brooks or shoestring snowfields. The terrain was mostly grass with some low trees and krummholz patches, and provided nice views south to Indian Head Peak and the deep valley of the White River below. Our goal was to cross the ridgeline above us and descend into the White Chuck Basin on the other side, but the peaks above seemed surprisingly craggy and this path was so good we decided to stay on it for as long as possible.

After some last snowfield crossings the path petered out in a sandy flat spot just southeast of Peak 6770. Trip reports from the internet suggested going over this peak was the best way to get to White Chuck Basin, so we switchbacked up the grassy slopes towards its summit. Halfway up a route across the west face of Peak 6770 to the col on its far side looked like a possibility, but it had lots of steep, loose scree and didn't look like it was worth the elevation gain savings. So we climbed up to the rounded summit of Peak 6770 and an incredible view.

We could now see Glacier Peak for the first time--it was very far away, and had an impressive, blocky appearance from this angle--somehow it's flat top seemed more menacing to me that if it had been pointy. 600 feet below us was the remote and wild White Chuck Basin, a large, gently rising valley of snowfields, glaciers, rocks, meadows, and countless streams and lakes. It was the former bed of the White Chuck Glacier, now in its global-warming-induced death throes, leaving a jumbled moonscape behind. We saw a couple of tents down there, not too far up from the base of our vantage on Peak 6770, and after a short break Edward, Adam and I started down the rotten rock of the peak's north face. This was a big mistake--the rock was a miserably loose choss-heap and we started rockfall just by looking at the stuff. We tried to stay out of each other's slide paths, and looked for the bigger, more stable boulders, but it was still nasty. There were snowfields not too far below, and I made for one of them, happy to be off the rock and able to plunge-step down in safety. I called over to Edward and Adam that it was much better on the snow, and walked around to a part of the snow near them. Edward got on the snow OK, but Adam started having trouble.

Apparently Adam had not been on a snow climb in some time and the tread on his leather hiking boots was a bit worn down, plus his heavy pack sat very awkwardly on his small frame. He was not comfortable after taking a few steps down on the snow, so I hiked up to him and helped him back to the rocks. We took a short break and I made sure Adam got some food and water--we had been going for a long time without a decent break--and we realized that the rock was so rotten it was just not an option.

So instead of going straight down the snowy slope to the waiting Edward, we took a line contouring across the snowfield, and I kicked in big steps for Adam to follow in. This worked well, and we made good progress until the slope leveled off and we were down on the floor of the White Chuck Basin. It was now after 7 PM, we had been going for 12 hours, and we needed a good campsite urgently. Edward and I scouted the area, looking for sites near one of the many streams that had grassy meadows nearby, and after about ten minutes of probing gently uphill we found a nice area, with 2 good tent sites, one on either side of a huge rock. A loud babbling brook was right next to us.

Edward and Adam pitched their tent, and I simply unrolled a tarp and threw my stuff on it, getting some rocks to hold down the corners. I was happy to have my sandals—I brought them for the creek fording, but they also served as nice camp footwear. Adam wished he had brought some, since his boots were still wet from the creek.

After getting our stuff set up we all sat by the stream and cooked our meals—Adam, well known for his epicurean tastes even while backpacking, had brought an unusual array of foods and condiments to supplement the usual dehydrated fare. I had brought my wife’s MSR stove, but my skills were a bit rusty and Edward helped me with some of the basics of running it.

It was getting dark by the time we had finished our dinner and conversation, and wispy clouds were blowing through the peaks around us. We were not concerned, since the forecast was for continued good weather. I retreated to my sleeping bag, under the stars. There was a nice wind blowing, so I had to pull the face drawstring pretty tightly to keep warm.

Wednesday, July 26:

My altimeter/clock, wedged in my hiking boot near my head, chirped me awake at 5:30 AM. I got up out of bed to a cool but clear morning. My decision to not take a tent was because I did not anticipate any problems with rain or bugs, but this morning I learned that tents also protect against condensation—my sleeping bag and all my stuff was pretty wet from the morning dew.

I walked around to the other side of the huge rock nearby and made sure Edward and Adam were up, and I got my gear together for our summit attempt while eating a cold breakfast. My pack was not that much lighter, since I had no tent weight to shed, but it still was not too bad. I put my sleeping bag on the huge rock to dry, with small rocks wedged on top of it, and the rest of the stuff I was leaving behind (stove, food, sandals) I put in a trash bag into Edward’s tent.

The three of us set off from camp at 6:50 AM, a bit later than I had hoped, but still pretty early. The first part of the route had some routefinding issues, so it was good we had light. We headed uphill in the giant jumbled cirque of the White Chuck Glacier, over meadows and giant boulders at first, heading for a prominent knoll above us. Edward led, setting a deliberate pace, and after cresting our first knoll we had a great view of the massive bulk of Glacier Peak, beautifully lit up by the rising sun. We took a break here to shed some layers and take some photos.

Our route for the next couple miles did not gain much elevation as we crossed snowfields, brooks, and boulder fields, staying on the right side of the valley and passing Point 6683, marked on the map but not any kind of prominent landmark at all. I had my GPS on intermittently as we passed through this terrain, but the batteries were low so I had to turn it off after a while. The White Chuck Glacier proper was still in evidence, but it was barely alive, with a few gray ice patches and tiny crevasses visible above. We crossed the main snowy mass well below these hazards.

We were aiming for a waterfall in a rocky valley ahead we termed “the arroyo”, and we reached its base after more snowfield and boulderfield crossings. We forded the small brook at the base of the arroyo, and climbed up the left side of it on a steep slope, taking a break near the top to refill water bottles and eat some snacks. The sun was just about to hit us, too, so we put on our sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats here, too.

A short climb from our rest area brought us up to a broad basin at about 7200 feet, the highest reaches of the White Chuck Basin. A long snow traverse aimed for “Glacier Gap” at its head, and we saw a group of three tents by the brook below as we trudged along. I had not seen the tents near our camp that I had seen yesterday—apparently there were two other parties in the basin with us, not one.

After the traverse, a short rocky climb brought us to 7300-foot Glacier Gap, where at one point the Suiattle and White Chuck glaciers met. But in this era of global warming, the gap was a grassy, dry expanse. We now had to climb north up a 240-foot snowy slope to a col and drop down 200 feet to the next gap—the going was pretty easy here, with broad snowfields making travel better than on the usual broken rocks. Adam was doing better on the snow now that we had been walking on it half the time today so far. We got to the col, and on the far side I plunge-stepped down easily and even managed a short standing glissade to the area of the next gap. Adam took a longer route, but we were soon all at the gap.

From this gap, the main south ridge of Glacier Peak rose above us at last, leading to the false summit of Disappointment Peak. We could see parties above us now, too, including a large group making their way up the snow to the right of the ridge. The ridge itself looked very steep and rocky, especially from our dead-on foreshortened view, and the snowfield to the right looked better to me, since you could traverse right a bit and then cut left behind a big buttress to the Cool Glacier to the summit.

Edward and Adam felt better about staying on the rock ridge, while I was more keen on the snow/glacier route, but we didn’t have to decide for a while, since we first had to gain about 1500 feet on the ridge before the options diverged. So we headed uphill on easy grassy slopes at first, Adam I and breaking ahead of Edward’s slow uphill pace. After a while the dry ridgecrest became a rock backbone, so I opted to hike up the snow, while Adam stayed on the rock. We made good progress in our separate paths, and at about 8400 feet we all regrouped to decide our route.

We had been watching the parties above us, and it was clear that there was a two-man roped team that was heading to the right (east) on a good path to the base of a rock buttress, clearly intent on turning the corner once beyond it. Above them, on the very steep snowfield, a party of six or more was zigzagging over to the crest of that buttress, but they seemed to be going very slowly. I could see why these two groups left the direct ridge route, since it rose above us very steeply in what looked like craggy cliffs, and if the rock was the usual rotten volcanic crud it would be nasty. I wanted no part of it.

But we didn’t have ropes, harnesses, prussiks, or pickets for crevassed glacier travel (the long approach would have felt much longer with that stuff), and we could not see around the buttress corner for what we might face. So I thought about doing the steep snowfield, following the large party. But Edward and Adam felt that staying on the rock ridge was best. As we got underway I planned to peel off to the snow and meet them above, but once we got going up the steep ridge it didn’t seem that bad, and I abandoned any idea of taking off myself. The rocks were big boulders for the most part, allowing for pretty good rock-hopping, and there was no ball-bearing scree to worry about. To be sure, a lot of the boulders were loose, but for a volcanic ridge it was way above expectations.

As we climbed up the steepening boulders, we could see the large party to our right was really hosed. They had mostly crossed the snowfield and were climbing the rock east buttress of Disappointment Peak, but that appeared to be a steep mess of dusty scree and many members of the team were having severe difficulties—we heard shouts of "falling!" and "help!" a few times. They were obviously very slow-moving, too, since we soon were above their level despite our low elevation late start. I hoped that there would not be a serious situation where we might have to help rescue someone, and fortunately they all seemed to get up OK.

As we climbed higher we could see a large wildfire burning in the Lake Chelan area to the east, the column of smoke towering above us. It has been a dry July, and later in Oregon we also saw forest fires.

Feeling good about our route, we climbed upwards as the ridge became a class 3 scramble, and we used our hands to pull ourselves up, over, and around boulders. The higher we went, the harder the route became—Edward did most of the routefinding and picked a good route on pretty solid rock, but the exposure was increasing. At one point there was a 10-foot cliff to scale, and the moves to surmount this were into class-4 territory. It was getting late, and I was worried—my altimeter showed we still had 200 more feet of this stuff, there might be even harder climbing ahead, and I wondered how we would downclimb this ridge.

However, almost immediately above this step we emerged to a ridgecrest and blue sky—Edward had just said he thought our altimeters were reading low, and sure enough we were now a stone’s throw from the top of Disappointment Peak at 9755 feet. We hopped the boulders to the rounded scree forepeak and took a brief rest, the summit of Glacier Peak still a good ways above us and in plain view. However, an easy boot path led downhill a brief ways to the Disappointment-Glacier col and snaked uphill on scree and snow towards the summit. The hard part was definitely over. But it was 2 PM, pretty late.

We hiked down the rough path to the col, noting that the large party was now retreating down the Cool Glacier from the col area, apparently bailing on the summit after their disastrous foray up the east buttress. The two-man team had left their rope and glacier gear at the col, and were almost at the summit. Adam was ahead and Edward and I were chatting as we hiked down, and here I got very careless. I tripped on a rock, stumbled, and caught my foot on another rock just as I was about to stop myself. I somersaulted through the air and landed on my left side with a thud on the rocks.

Edward, having seen this, immediately asked me if I was OK and if I could move my limbs. I could, and got up gingerly. I felt a bruise on my left hip and left arm, but my main concern was that I noticed my left ring finger (luckily, without a ring on it, since I had left it at home for this trip) was very painful. It was black and blue and swollen, but I had sensation at the tip and it moved OK, so it seemed it would be fine. I carefully negotiated the boot track to the col not far below, happy that my tumble had not been more serious but annoyed at my clumsiness, especially on a very easy section of our climb.

At the col the three of us started up the 900 vertical feet to the summit. The going was easy, and I picked up telling Adam and Edward the story of my expedition to Labrador in 2004 that I had started on the easier slopes below Disappointment Peak. It was good to talk about this to get my mind off my recent accident. The path up the scree finally ended at some steep snowfields, now heavy mush in the afternoon sun, and we followed the bucket steps of earlier parties up these as we climbed a wide gully. We knew we were near the top, and after cresting the last steep snowfield we could hear voices coming from a rockpile to our left. A few steps and we were at the summit of Glacier Peak, 10,540 feet high, at 3 PM.

The voices were from the two-man party, and they welcomed us to the top. One guy of the pair did all the talking, and we later found out from reading the summit register he was a guide, with the quiet partner the client. The guide commented on Edward’s blue jeans (which he wore on most of his non-technical climbs) and made other small talk as we took off our packs and touched the highest rocks in the little pile. The guide said he was waiting for us, to see if we were OK—he may have thought we were part of the large party of below, and if so, his concern was justified.

There was a sheltered ledge just below the summit, and we rested there out of the strong wind and ate some snacks. The three of us were pretty wasted after our long effort, and I know I was not feeling very energetic or together. We did chat to the guide about the route he took up, since we really did not want to downclimb the steep rock ridge, but he said there were some crevasses on the Cool Glacier and if we didn’t have a rope it was best to return the way we came. After this chat the guide and client left, and I extracted the register for Edward, Adam, and myself to sign. The peak got a fair amount of traffic considering how remote it now was—about 5 parties per week or so for the past month.

Edward was happy to have now climbed the 30 most prominent peaks in the 48 states—as far as he know, only the second person to have accomplished that. Adam’s county high point total was well over 300, and both he and I had previously failed on Glacier Peak attempts. For me, it was only county high point #142.

After entering our accomplishments in the register book, Edward and Adam appeared to take very short naps, and I rested a bit too. However, I had nearly climbed this peak in a few years ago, so I took off to have a look at the nearby pinnacle that my brother and I had almost scaled. It had been a pile of deep, sugary snow in early June of 2003, but now it was bare rock and pretty ugly, not something anyone would want to climb. It was right across from where we were, and I cursed myself for forgetting my hand level for sighting, since it really did look about the same height as the rockpile I was now on. I walked along a snow fin back from the summit rocks to get a look at both peaks, and the gully between them I had climbed in 2003, but they did not look like good routes now. Very tired, physically and mentally, I just had to accept on faith that the rock cluster we were at with the register was the true summit.

As we got ready to leave, we debated the route we should take down. I was advocating following the guide’s track down the Cool Glacier, trusting that it would avoid crevasses, and feeling that the danger of a crevasse fall was less than what could happen downclimbing 1000 feet of steep and somewhat loose rock. Adam was clearly in favor of the rock route, being the least comfortable on snow of the three of us. Edward was vacillating, and as we easily descended the mushy snow just below the summit and hiked the easy scree boot track down to the Disappointment col we debated our options.

We could see more and more of the Cool Glacier as we easily hiked down, and there were indeed some thin slots marking its mostly smooth surface. We could almost see down to were you turned the corner to get back to the ridge, but not quite. I noted that the guide by default would tend to downtalk the glacier route, that he didn’t know how steep the rock was, and that he might not have realized how experienced we were (Edward, despite his jeans, had climbed Denali, Rainier, and hundreds of other significant peaks). However, I agreed that it was now very late (almost 4 PM) on a hot, sunny day and a snowbridge collapse was certainly a chilling prospect.

At the col we had to decide, and Edward cast his vote for the rock route. I had promised to go along with the majority, so the three of us hiked up the easy 135 vertical feet to the dusty summit dome of Disappointment Peak. From there we rock-hopped along the ridge and plunged down the steep face, quickly finding the 10-foot class-4 step. Here we took off our packs, my companions gingerly downclimbed, and I handed the packs down to Edward, halfway down, who then lowered them to Adam at the base. After this was another 500 vertical feet or so of very slow going as we lowered ourselves down more giant boulders, using our hands frequently. Adam needed his pack off for another step, but for the most part we just carefully negotiated the steep stuff with care. I was last, and had to take extra care not to knock boulders down on those below me. The rocks were pretty sturdy, but in a few places we found some scary loose stones we had to avoid.

After about 45 minutes or so the slope started getting gentler, and one could hop from rock to rock instead of having to worry about clambering down sheer faces. There was more loose stuff, though, so the three of us spread out into 3 parallel lines to avoid rolling rocks onto someone else. At no point did we find any scree suitable for “scree-skiing”, since the slope was mostly bigger rocks. Adam eventually got way ahead, and Edward and I were chatting for a bit when suddenly I realized that there was nice snowfield just to our left—this was where the glacier/snowfield route would have rejoined the ridge. So we hiked down to a loose moraine slope to the snow and quickly plunge-stepped downhill. I was faster, so to maximize my efficiency I left Edward behind and ripped off short standing glissades when I could, otherwise letting the snow move me several feet down the slope with every step.

Edward and I soon passed Adam, doggedly hiking the rock ridge just above the snow, but as we neared the col at the base of the long ridge we waited up and took a long rest once we were together. We felt happy and relieved to be “off the mountain”, and now we just had several miles of snowfield, meadow, and rock to traverse to our camp, with no significant elevation loss. We knew we would make it.

Still, we had a long way to go. We got to the col, hiked up 200 vertical feet of snowbank before we could drop down the gentle snow to Glacier Gap, and then made the long traverse above the upper White Chuck Basin. Here we saw the collection of tents we had seen earlier, with some people hanging out—presumably they were the large party that had turned back, but it was getting late and we didn’t feel like stopping to chat. After this traverse we came to the steeply tumbling brook (“arroyo”) area, and I wrongly thought we had climbed the south side of it, stubbornly staying on that side until I took out my GPS and found that Edward and Adam were on the right side, where we had rested in the morning.

At the base of the brook we crossed more snow, trying to stay high, and crossed a major brook with deep mud guarding its banks. Then we hit the main mass of the White Chuck Glacier, and my GPS batteries finally died, so we just headed across, hoping to find our upward track. But soon we realized something was wrong, and we blundered into an area of slippery gray ice and even some tiny crevasses—Adam and I punched through these, Adam even scraping his shin on one fall. These tiny slots were not worrisome, but the ice was a bother, since we were in no mood to don crampons for such a short stretch. We were tired and cranky after a long day, and relieved once we were across the nasty section of glacier.

After this I stopped and swapped in my headlamp batteries into my GPS and found we were well above our track from the morning, so I took the lead and led us on a downhill traverse to the right route, picking it up at a large glacial outflow lake. From there it was easy going down mostly rocks and grass as dusk fell—Edward took the lead again and I was impressed the he was able to follow the straight course towards camp, exactly where my GPS pointed. The White Chuck Basin was a primeval, otherworldly place, especially in the late evening—I half expected dinosaurs to be stalking about.

Our tent was hard to see in the dusk, and I never saw it until we were almost there. Jubilant, we stumbled into camp at 8:45 PM, just before dark. We had been out for almost 14 hours—over 8 hours up, about 45 minutes on top, and only about 5 hours down. We quickly got our stuff re-organized, took off our boots (aaah!) and sat down by the brook to cook up our well-earned dinner by the light of our headlamps. The “Serves 2” label on my dehydrated meal of chicken and potatoes was more of a joke than usual.

I had mentioned to Adam and Edward that I might leave at first light in the morning—I was a faster downhill hiker than my companions and I really wanted to get home at a reasonable hour, since I had told my wife before I left that there was a chance I would be home this very evening (severely underestimating the magnitude of this trip). She had just returned from an 11-day trip just before I left, and I wanted to maximize my time at home before leaving in a couple days to meet up with Adam and Edward again for Mt. Jefferson in Oregon.

So as I got ready for bed I organized all my stuff, said my goodbyes, set my alarm for 5 AM, and snuggled into my sleeping bag, directly under the stars again. It was not as cold and windy as the night before, but my main concern was my left ring finger—it was not super painful, but still badly swollen and bruised.

Thursday, July 27:

I woke up at 5 AM, pleased to note that the condensation that had soaked my stuff the previous night was no longer a problem—our little campsite was cool and dry. I packed up all my stuff in the predawn darkness and ate some food (I was running out, which was another reason I wanted to get down early). By the time I was ready to go, just before 6 AM, I went over to Edward and Adam’s tent and said a brief goodbye to my groggy partners.

Last night we had discussed how to best avoid the nasty northwest face of Peak 6770 that we had stumbled down on Tuesday, and Edward thought that climbing the grassy peak to its north that loomed over our camp was the best option. From there, it looked like an easy traverse via ridge and col to the summit of Peak 6770, where you descended the other side to the climber’s trail. So when I took off at 5:55 AM I started straight up the easy slopes to this unnamed peak, and in my zeal to gain its summit found myself on some very steep tussocky grass slopes. I tried to switchback, but eventually had to shoot straight uphill, which suddenly brought me to a narrow ridgecrest.

From there it was easy to drop down to the next col, where I could either climb up to Peak 6770 (looked easy, but did involve elevation gain) or contour underneath it. I thought I spied a climber’s trail through the bushes on the contour route, so I took off down some loose dirt and scree to a snowbank, walked along above that, and was bummed to discover that my path through the bushes was a game trail that petered out immediately. So I had to fight my way across the face, involving more steep traverses on very slippery dirt and pebbles. My laziness to avoid a couple hundred vertical feet of uphill cost me dearly in terrain difficulty.

I took a rest once I regained the south ridge of Peak 6770, took a last photo of Glacier Peak behind me, and easily found my way down to the sandy area where the climber’s trail from White Pass had vanished. But now I could not find it, and I spent about ten minutes exploring the area until I saw a red ribbon on a tree that was right on the obvious path—funny we had not seen this on our way up, since one of our route descriptions mentioned this ribbon.

From here on out I was on clear trails, and I hiked along at a good clip. First I cruised along the well-defined climbers trail as it contoured and crossed about 20 snowy gullies on its way to White Pass, where I took a rest and investigated a path down to a camping area, where I saw a distant person walking about. From there I went north on the PCT through flowery meadows, and down the hundred or so switchbacks to the North Fork Sauk valley. I was in the shade still at this point, which made for nice hiking, but I could not take good photos of the incredible flower display without good sunshine.

Near the bottom of the switchbacks I saw the only other hikers on the trail all day, excepting a few very near the car. There were 2 or 3 parties all heading for Glacier Peak—I had a nice chat with one young couple and shared with them my just-gained wisdom as to the best routes, but another stocky shirtless guy I could not talk to, as he was using an iPod to help him get up the hill.

At Mackinaw Shelter I had a nice long rest, where I ate pretty much all the rest of my food. From there is was not long to Red Creek, and not wanting to take my shoes off and get my feet wet, I noticed a log upstream that began on a high bluff. Backtracking on the trail, I climbed up the bluff and found a faint path that led me to the log. This was a nice timesaver, and I wish I could have gotten a message to Adam and Edward.

After this, the long, mostly flat trail through the forest was a bit of a chore—as usual, the trail gremlins had conspired to lengthen the path while I had been away up on the peak. I finally arrived at the trailhead at 12:25, six and a half hours after leaving camp. My early return allowed me to be home by 3 PM, and this was advantageous for a number of reasons—I beat the rush hour traffic, and I had 3 hours to unpack, organize, and shower before the late evening.




Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:10138 ft / 3089 m
    Extra Gain:845 ft / 257 m
    Distance:34 mi / 54.7 km
    Route:South Ridge
    Trailhead:Sloan Creek Trailhead  2072 ft / 631 m
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Bivouac
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Part of Trip: 2006-Glacier Peak (2 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
OrderPeak/PointDate
2Glacier Peak2006-07-26
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO resposibility or liability from use of this data.

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