After seeing Glacier Peak (Washington) from our adventure on Eldorado a few weeks prior, a few of us decided that Memorial Day weekend would be an excellent time to walk many miles with heavy packs and perhaps ski off the top.
Glacier Peak is well known for its moody weather, so one can never know what to expect. Last year, Louie and I attempted to summit Glacier in one day, but were turned back by weather. I am not sure what we were thinking and why skiing it in one day seemed like a good idea — that volcano is SO far away. We decided a one day push was not something we wanted to try again. I salute people who are strong and motivated enough to complete this adventure in under 24 hours.
This time we set out to be in the area for three days, with the hope of skiing Glacier and Tenpeak on our second day.
We drove to the North Sauk River Trailhead on Friday night, caught a few hours of sleep and started the long walk around 5 a.m. Saturday morning. The trail walking went by relatively quick, with no surprises or exciting creek crossings; soon we found ourselves putting on skins a half mile after we reached the Pacific Coast Trail intersection. We opted to try to skin continuously instead of following the trail bootpack, which in retrospect was a horrible idea. I’d recommend sticking to the boot back until you reach White Pass.
Instead of following the traverse all the way to the next pass, we cut the next leg short, getting up to the ridge and descending to a lake in the next basin. That was a good call to reduce some of the mileage of the overall trip. From this point we could see the top of Glacier Peak. Oh boy, did it look far away.
We continued to push forward through the next valley and made it just below a spring-summer camp spot below the White Chuck Glacier. It was 14 miles and 7500 feet to this point. That, combined with my heavy pack, had me feeling beat.
As we set up our tent, the clouds rolled in. We went to bed hoping to see nothing but sun the next morning, fingers crossed. We woke up in the morning to find just that! It is really a miracle when weather cooperates and conditions align. We were out and skiing towards Glacier around 5:15 a.m., quickly gaining the Gerdine-Cool Glacier just below Disappointment Peak. We ran into only two other parties during our ascent, which was surprising for a three day holiday weekend. We skinned until about 400 feet below the summit and transitioned to crampons. The snow was beginning to soften. We were pumped for the upcoming corn harvest.
We stood on the summit at 10 a.m., amazing 360 degree mountain views and no wind greeted us. We discussed our descent options: on the way up we looked at the Cool Glacier Headwall and hoped to ski down that instead of the climbing route. After investigating the ridge line down to the Cool Glacier Headwall, we decided to stick to our plan.
As we began our descent, we saw one more set of tracks going down that way as well; the group of two who was just ahead of us skied the same line. Cool Glacier Headwall proper wasn’t in condition this year due to melting, so we had to navigate the ridge a bit lower. We skied over one fairly steep rollover to find ourselves at the top of the first chute that connected back to the climbing route. The snow looked dirty and chunky, so we decided to continue down the ridge to find better conditions. The next ridge roll was even steeper and right above a very large crevasse, definitely a no-fall zone. Being careful and not “too sendy” was key.
Yay! After all that it was time for some awesome skiing. The snow could not have been more perfect. As we were standing at the top of our line, we could now see lots of people on the climbing route; it was a three day weekend after all.
The descent brought nothing but smiles, encouraged by a few hollers from the climbers. We skied down in the most perfect corn I’ve enjoyed in a while. As the snow got stickier, we stopped to rest on a nice rock island and discussed what we wanted to do for the rest of the day.
We were hoping to try for the North Couloir on Tenpeak, but we were all feeling a bit low energy, except for Louie. He managed to talk me into going to check the route out towards Ten Peak, while Jenny and Lee headed back to camp. We skinned across the valley away from Glacier Peak across the Suiattle Glacier and gained the saddle to the Honeycomb Glacier. We continued across the glacier to take a look down the valley bottom — the couloir was not in the books for this trip, but if we come back we will definitely have to check out that line.
We skinned back to camp, enjoyed dinner and went to bed. The next morning we met with a few friends just below where we had camped and began the long hike out as a posse. After gaining the same ridge we descended from on our way in, we were able to traverse with no climbing skins all the way to White Pass. From there it was a shuffle with skis on, skis off until there was no more snow to experiment with. We made it to about 4800 feet and transitioned to our trail runners.
The walk back was steeper and longer then I remembered. (Sensing a theme here…why is it that the way back always feel harder than the way there?) It was a wonderful feeling to sit down and have a cold beer once we were back at the trailhead. Writing this trip report now, a few days after our trip, the long hike and heavy pack are forgotten. I am ready to do it all over again!
WildSnow Girl, Julia Dubinina, is a weekend warrior chasing snow in winter and sun in summer. A lover of long tours and steep skin tracks, she explores the Pacific Northwest and beyond. When she is not out adventuring, she is working away at her corporate desk job for a software company to make her next adventure happen.