Kyle here. Lindsey has been bugging me to write this for the past five months. Since she does so much work for our blog, I feel the time has finally come for me to contribute beyond photography.
After a spring and summer of 100% success on all of our climbs, Phil, Carl, and I were confident as we made plans to climb Glacier Peak. Glacier Peak stands at 10,541′ and is not the tallest or the most technical of the 5 big volcanoes in Washington, but the challenge lies in Glacier Peak’s famed and brutal approach of roughly 9000′ of elevation gain over 15 miles from trailhead to summit. The climb is typically done in 3-4 days. On our drive to the trailhead we joked that we should attempt the climb in one day car to car. Memories of the El Dorado climb brought us back to reality and we decided to stick to our original plan.
Our plan was to arrive at dusk on Friday and hike in the dark the 5 miles to camp at Mackinaw shelter, wake up Saturday and climb to the Glacier Gap camp at 7250′, wake up early for our summit bid and hike all the way back to the car Sunday.
We left Mackinaw shelter early saturday morning and began the climb to Glacier Gap. Carl blasted up the switchbacks as Phil and I labored behind. This is typical of climbing with Carl who is in far superior shape than most people I know. Once we got above tree line the weather deteriorated quickly. We threw on our rain gear and trudged on with periodical breaks in the clouds, unveiling the beautiful valleys below and stoic mountains above, rejuvenating our spirits and inspiring us to push on. The landscape slowly changed from scrubby alpine meadows into the vast and boulder strewn basin of the once massive White Chuck Glacier. The rain had stopped, so we snacked, refilled waters, and took in the astounding landscape surrounding us. Vivid teal alpine ponds and sun bleached boulders dotting the raw and brown basin. We were all alone and it felt like we were on a different planet. It was stunning.
We threw on our mountaineering boots and began the final push to Glacier Gap, our camp for the night. All the maps show the route crossing the White Chuck Glacier, so we headed to the nearest glacier, thinking that had to be the route. We approached the glacier and Phil yelled out that he would go check it out. Two steps out he sunk up to his shins in a muck that can only be described as quicksand. Carl sprung into action to pull Phil out and quickly found himself stuck also. Being the good friend I am, I let out a laugh and continued to find away around this glacier, far away from the boot swallowing gunk. After some more wandering and boulder hopping, we finally got out our map and compass, and found the correct route. The once great White Chuck Glacier has been reduced to a small unassuming snow field. This is why we, like many climbers before us, get lost in this area. We were searching for a route across a glacier, a glacier that is no longer there.
We arrived to Glacier Gap in the early afternoon and set up camp, leaving the rest of the afternoon to relax and take in the breathtaking surroundings. By that point the rain had stopped but ominous clouds were barreling overhead and through the surrounding peaks. The sun would show itself, only to be quickly swallowed by the fast moving clouds that were mixing with burnt orange smoke from the wildfires low in the valley. The weather and vastness of our surroundings fed the feeling that we were alone on a barren and wicked planet.
We decided that we would wake up at 2am to begin our climb to the summit, but only if the weather had cleared. It is hard to call what you do the night before a summit bid sleep with wind whipping at the tent walls, rustling sleeping bags of restless tent mates, and your mind racing with excitement and fear of the unknown climb ahead.
We woke up at 2am to a cold and still morning, the sky full of stars. It was time! After some route finding snafus we stepped of Geradine ridge onto the Geradine Glacier, where we roped up, put on our crampons, and basked in the first rays of sunrise. We were all alone. There is nothing quite like sharing a sunrise high in the North Cascade mountains with close friends and no one else. Its a special experience that is hard to describe.
We were making great time as we cruised up the glacier, stopping only to stare into the depths of some huge crevasses and to take in the sunrise. We arrived at the junction where the Geradine Glacier and the Cool Glacier meet. As a result of the abysmal snow
year the bergschrund at the top of the Geradine was broken up with only a couple small and melting snow-bridges providing access to the Cool Glacier and the final push for the summit. With collectively brief climbing careers of success up to this point, it was incredibly difficult to decide not to cross the bergschrund and end the climb. We weighed all of the pros and cons and ultimately decided not to risk the crossing since we were inexperienced and far from anyone and any form of help if something went wrong. We took a few minutes to eat some food and sat in silence staring at the sun lighting up the surrounding mountains. It was beautiful, but I know we were all playing the ‘should we or shouldn’t we’ game in our heads. It was a tough decision and a great learning moment for all three of us. We headed back towards Glacier Gap camp, with the summit nagging at us from behind the whole way down.
We packed up and aside from some more battles with glacier quicksand, we made it back to the car that afternoon, devoured our remaining food of a couple protein bars and a pack of skittles. Over mexican food and margaritas we vowed to return and conquer the mountain another time. Despite the fact that we did not summit, we all reveled in the journey we took on, finding solace in the happiness that sharing adventure with good friends brings. Summit or not, the mountain can’t take that away.