Glacier Peak is the most remote volcano in Washington, and the only one I had not skied. Whereas every other one can easily be done in a day trip, Glacier Peak takes more commitment. Requiring at least two days, it’s more often done in three or more. It doesn’t help that in recent years a series of floods and washouts have systematically destroyed the easiest access routes.
After seeing Glacier Peak from afar a few times, and noting the abundance of snow on it’s slopes, I wanted to finally ski it this year. Juya, Zach, and I decided on a three day backcountry skiing (also known as backpacking) trip this past weekend.
We started the hike early, with heavy packs. The PNW jungle never disappoints, and we were treated to several miles of beautiful undergrowth and huge old growth trees. A large forest service work crew (thanks!) was busy working on the trail, enabling us to conveniently observe the undergrowth without having to force our way through it.
The walk through the densely forested valley soon brought us to the steep climb to White Pass. The temperature had been pleasant in the shade, but now the sun was scorching. We made our way up endless switchbacks, and the heat lessened as we gained altitude. The trail turned into a beautiful ramble through alpine meadows with views of stunning mountains, although Glacier Peak was still out of sight. After a brief rest at White Pass, we made our way above the basin where we would camp. We finally took off the hiking boots, and enjoyed a short ski and another hike up to camp.
Gathering clouds made for a spectacular sunset over Mt. Baker and the North Cascades. I went to sleep excited about finally reaching the top of my last Washington volcano summit. Alas, the weather had other plans. Wind and rain kept us company throughout the night, and we woke to find ourselves camped in a rain cloud. We hoped it would clear, but as morning wore on a few momentary sucker holes served only to show widespread clouds surrounding us and enveloping Glacier Peak. I hadn’t anticipated much tent downtime, and we lacked crucial items of entertainment.
The day passed slowly. Night fell without any improvement. We discussed our options. We could turn around and go home, or try to climb the peak and hike out to the car all the next day. None of us wanted spend the whole trip sitting in a tent, so we decided to wake up early and go for it, even if the weather still looked iffy.
When we woke the next morning, it initially looked the same. We slept for a few extra minutes, and when we woke up again, the clouds started clearing. We quickly got ready, and left camp. From where we camped we still had quite a way to go to get to the top, and on top of that we had to walk all the way out to the car. As we climbed higher, and the sun rose, the clouds continued clearing, until just a few wisps remained.
As we rounded Disappointment Peak, clouds still remained on the summit, and we hung out in yet another whiteout. After waiting for a few minutes, however, the clouds started clearing, so we continued up Cool Glacier. We gained the summit in beautiful weather, and enjoyed views of the surrounding mountains covered in clouds.
Our ascent route featured loose dirt, low angles, and a circuitous route. A much more enticing ski stretched directly below us. After some thought about the snow conditions and the additional walking, we decided to go for it. The top was slightly icy, but soon gave way to perfect, smooth corn. It extended for 3,000 feet of fall line skiing, and a little more after that. Sufficiently stoked, we began the journey across snow and meadow back to camp.
Back at camp we shouldered our heavy packs, and made our way back to the trail. As we passed several groups heading the opposite direction, I was grateful to have had the whole peak to ourselves. We reached White Pass about 7:00 p.m., and donned our hiking shoes. The steep trail was torturous, and the last, flat section lasted forever. We made it back to the car at around 10:00. Yesterday I had been bored out of my mind sitting in a wet tent for endless hours, thinking we would have to turn around. Instead, we were treated to beautiful weather, exquisitely cooked corn, and a volcano all to ourselves. Good things come to those who wait (all day in the rain).
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.