Glacier Peak: The Final Summit

I woke up and looked at the phone: 11pm, still plenty of time for sleeping. Outside the mesh and cuben fiber a crimson orb hung in the air. All I could think was, “A red moon rises, blood has been spilled this night.” Seemed like a pretty freakin’ bad omen to me, even if it is only a quote from Lord of the Rings. I tried to put it out of my head and wallowed back into the sleeping bag. A couple of hours later the alarm went off and Kyle and I jolted upright into the cool night air. The moon had moved slightly but was as red as ever. I eyed it as I pulled on my socks.

After a quick bite to eat and a run through of the things we needed in our packs we were off across the remnants of the White Chuck Glacier, its rocky moraines. We roller coaster-ed up and down, following the faint difference in color many footsteps make in dust. On the top of one rise we stopped to look back at the moon and discovered that its burnt orange rays were turning one of the streams flowing out of the White Chuck Glacier into molten gold. Smoke hung heavy in the air and the surrounding jagged peaks rose out of it in an erie way – like pirate ships on a foggy ocean. We kept walking.

After a short stint of getting slightly lost finding our way up to Glacier Gap we made it to the wide open saddle and skirted a snow field to the top of a ridge. On the far side was a snow walk down to a very long rocky spine that would take us to our first glacier. The snow was a little bit precarious, no one wanted to don crampons for such a short section, but the steps were slightly slick and sloped downhill. The boys assured us that it was short and that the run out wasn’t very bad, but all I could see off to the side was a steep hill disappearing into darkness. We took it slowly and made it to the bottom without incident.

Now for some more up. We trudged in silence – the moon was out but muted so everything seemed very dark. A light breeze blew but other than that the world seemed still. Heads down, watching our feet carefully we focused on climbing until a bleating cry cut through the air. We all snapped our heads up and on the rise directly to our right two green eyes, sunken into a ghostly shape loomed out of the darkness. “Aaaaarg, what is that!” shouted Carl. Then, answering his own question, “It’s an owl!” We were all repulsed and somewhat terrified, it looked like a demon peering down the hill at us. From where I was standing I could see that it had four legs so it was most assuredly not an owl. All I could think was that it was a chupacabra! A real life chupacabra, out here on Glacier Peak, what are the odds! It bleated again and with a sigh of relief someone had the good sense to point out that it was just a baby goat. Glancing around fervently for it’s mother we hurried on our way. We didn’t need to deal with momma goat, not after it’s baby had nearly scared us to death. Unfortunately this experience only further convinced Kyle that goats are completely evil.

Finally we reached a good spot to get onto the Geradine Glacier. Kyle pooped while the rest of us reorganized our gear, racked up and tied on our crampons. Like the trendy fashionista that I am I tucked my pants into my socks to avoid getting them caught in my crampons, instantly mastering the newsies mountaineering vibe gentleman of the past would have envied. We roped up and off we went, up the glacier, to see what lay in store for us.

Glacier Peak2-53

The boys were amazed at how smooth the Geradine was. The day before other climbers had told us that the glacier was very “open”. In fact, they hadn’t even roped up on the way down because they could clearly see where the crevasses were. Now that Kyle and Carl were seeing the glacier again they informed us that it was not, in fact, open. Apparently right under our feet were yawning crevasses, hidden by snow. I was glad to be attached to a rope, protected by people who cared about me. We traversed under Disappointment Peak and at the top of the traverse the Geradine Glacier meets the Cool Glacier, which forms a gnarly bergschrund. The bergschrund had shut down Kyle and Carl’s summit bit two years before. When we got to it looked in “great” shape. I mean, to me it looked like a jumbled mess of ice just waiting for the slightest wrong step to cave in and crush us all, but to Carl it looked great so we walked right across it.

That hurdle behind us we climbed up the Cool Glacier, which had more open crevasses than the Geradine but they were all over to the right of us. We kept up and then to the right until we stepped off the glacier and scrambled up onto a little moraine. We could see now that to get to the top we would follow the ashy ridge up and then step onto snow again for the final hundred feet. Faint switchbacks marked the way but Kyle had to take another poop. I waited while Sarah and Carl struck out. We met them at the bottom of the snow and threw our crampons back on. The final push was easy, with mellow runout and mild slopes. Before we knew it we were standing on the summit. We were standing on top of our last Washington volcano.

I looked over at Kyle and thought about the fact that we were there. The fact that we had gotten engaged on top of a volcano and now, a week after getting married we were topping out on our long held dream of climbing all five volcanoes in Washington struck me hard. I thought about the many other objectives and dreams and adventures we had planned together and how determined we are to accomplish them. It would be dumb to say we are unstoppable because you never know what is going to happen. But on top of that mountain I knew I was excited for whatever came next.

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

3 thoughts on “Glacier Peak: The Final Summit

  1. What model crampons did you guys use with your trail runners? I just picked up the Soloman AlpineXAs and want to get a lightweight crampon now. I checked out both the Petal Leopard and the Black Diamond Neve. Both are aluminum and are not rated for any included ice or snow although I know I would push that some. Be nice to move fast with my new shoes/crampon combo over my boots with Grivel G10s

    1. We have an aluminum pair of CAMP universals and a steel pair of La Sportiva Universals. Both seems to work fine with tennis shoes, but the aluminum ones are obviously lighter and what we used on Glacier. I wouldn’t trust them on anything that was bullet hard ice but for stiff icy snow and snow they work fine with tennis shoes! They actually don’t work well with boots (we discovered on Shasta). A full shank boot is so still that if you are trying to duck walk or side step and get all your points into the snow you actually torque your boot right out of the crampon. No matter you tightly you cinch them they will loosen up. With the softer trail runners they seem to work just fine though! My only problem was that the plastic piece by my heel kind of bashed into my ankle if I stepped at the wrong angle.

      1. Thanks so much for the feedback. Solid ice and steep terrain would be an issue for sure and nice to see your comments on it. I’m still trying to make sure I make the right purchase for my second set of crampons.

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