Glacier Peak via White Pass and Disappointment Peak: July 12-15, 2013
Participants: Colleen Hinton (fearless cat herder); Diane Hennessey; Laurie Cullen; Laurel Fan; Daphne Rich; Robin Kodner; Mary Yocom; Paulina Varshavskaya; Clare Parfitt; Nancy Kim
Animal handlers: Cath Carine; Anne Tarver
Stock: Sumo the dog
With access to the North Fork Sauk road restored, Glacier Peak was the top choice for the annual climb after previous attempts stymied by poor weather or road closure. I had dismissed the objective as just another checkbox on the tick list, though others were downright giddy to bag this remote, wilderness volcano. Rightfully so.
The weather forecast was excellent, marred only by a 30 percent chance of showers on approach day. We met Friday at 6:30am in Seattle, picked up Laurie further north, drove to Darrington and arrived at the small trailhead parking lot just after 9am.
Colleen’s pack contained half a Trader Joe’s aisle and a tiny harness, consistent with her hybrid philosophy of ultra-heavy food and gram-weenie gear. DH’s kit went on a crash diet: a new McHale pack with mysteriously sourced, lightweight glacier gear. Clare’s burden was tall and listing to port.
The gang was on the North Fork Sauk River trail, elevation 2,120 ft., by 10:20am. Clouds kept us cool as we hiked a gently rolling path through old growth cedar, hemlock and silver fir, past bogs of giant skunk cabbage. At approximately five miles, we reached the Mackinaw shelter, a dilapidated affair, moss-riddled and carved with initials and an obscenity aimed at former president Bush. Sun broke through the cloud cover as we climbed the switchbacks, then contoured east. Valerian scent lingered. Penstemon, columbine, and Indian paintbrush were in bloom. A bumper crop of glacier lily carpeted open slopes in yellow.
We reached the intersection with the PCT, our rendez-vous point with Mary Yocom, a hair ahead of schedule. Mary had spent Thursday night at Mackinaw camp. We arrived at the trail crossing just before 4pm and reached White Pass shortly afterwards. The barometer was dropping as thickening storm clouds crept towards us. A ‘No Camping’ sign at the pass proper directs campers to sites in a small basin below with plenty of running water, a tree-sheltered kitchen area, and a canted privy with crappy ergonomics (pun intended) mitigated by a sublime view of Sloan Peak.
The wind kicked up; rain and hail followed. A dog barked in the distance. Must be Sumo, Anne and Cath’s low-rider, we thought. I made out a squat dog in a rain coat herding a not-too-tall figure toting a pink umbrella. Sumo, Anne and Cath dropped in for a visit as we were discussing summit plans. One team—Robin, Laurel and Paulina—would summit the following day, while Colleen, DH, Laurie, Clare and I opted to move camp to Glacier Gap. Mary intended to accompany us to the Gap. Daphne chose to remain at the pass. She had just come out of the Enchantments the day before. Sleep was appealing. Moreover, she had forgotten her boot insoles back at the car.
On Saturday, Robin, Laurel and Paulina rose at 3:30am for a 4:30am alpine start. The rest of us slept late, sipped morning coffee in the sun and broke camp at a social pace.
We pushed off around 11am, taking the Foam Creek trail just below the ridge and county line. It was good tread of alternating dirt and snow. Chubby marmots grazed, largely indifferent to our presence. When the path petered out we hopped to the other side of the ridge to reach the White Chuck Glacier where we booted our way north on soft snow, heavily cupped and runneled. Crimson pools of snow algae stood out against the whiteness.
At 1600-ish hours, we made high camp, elevation 7,200 ft., just as Robin, Laurel and Paulina rolled into town. As promised, we lit a stove for tea and served the happy summiteers. At 1700 hours, we bid adieu to the ladies who were White Pass-bound.
On Sunday, the four-day team heard the 5am rooster call. We left at 6:05am and cramponed immediately from camp on good-purchase, styrofoam snow. Our route, via Gerdine Glacier, Disappointment Peak and Cool Glacier, presented no crevasse issues allowing us to travel unroped for the entire ascent. We skirted the main ridge and stayed on snow as much as possible to avoid the time suck of crampon removal and ditched glacier gear before the final stretch, a 900-foot section of pumice followed by a short snow slope to the summit of the 10, 541-foot volcano.
At 9:38am, we were on top. At 9:39am, Colleen was blowing up a pink flamingo and dressing up in a trollop’s costume, a 50th birthday gift from DH presented to her in Terror Basin. For the summit photo shoot, she donned the infamous red latex skirt, hemmed to porn-star specifications, and a wig ostensibly made by passing a space blanket through a paper shredder. When we sat down for lunch, she stretched out on the snow, flashed a coquettish smile and whispered hello to a young man with a wispy Jesus beard.
“Hello,” Jesus mumbled awkwardly. Perhaps he was wondering what the fuck Mary Magdalene was doing atop Glacier Peak? He scurried off with his two apostles a comfortable distance away.
I ripped open a “Pocket Shot” of bourbon and passed it around. The summit was getting seedier by the minute. (Guide to Ultralight Boozing to come.)
As we ate, a solo skier arrived, the underdressed and overly fit lad we had seen at White Pass
“That’s one helluva outfit!” he cried enthusiastically. He had bivied on Disappointment Peak and was yo-yoing runs from the top. He’s from Bellingham. Robin lives in Bellingham. Hmmm.
As we talked, a deafening sound pierced the air. Holy fuck. A nimble fighter jet grazed us from above scaring the shit out of all present.
Gazing west, we could see all the way to Puget Sound; to the north, the glaciated relief of the North Cascades; to the south, the peaks of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Glacier’s height, isolation and central vantage point from which to view all points of the compass won me over.
After a mere hour and a half of relaxing in a spot protected from the wind, we began the descent. We roped up for a short spell below the pumice track at roughly 9,500 ft. on the Cool Glacier, then coiled our ropes and removed crampons for the rest of the trip to Glacier Gap. We broke camp and hiked to White Pass where Colleen had a surprise stashed. She served frozen Margaritas which tasted divine. I pulled out a chaser of chilled vodka to share.
On Monday, we woke to sunshine. We left at 8am for the hike down to the forest where we identified flowers and plants with the aid of DH, a walking Pojar and Mackinnon guide. At Mackinaw, we stopped by the river and stared. I read the water, mimed a 10 and 2 arc, casting towards a soft pocket. As we walked the last bit of trail, our minds fixed on the usual theme of creature comforts: real food, cold beer, cotton clothes and sandals.
Glacier Peak with a fantastic group of ladies. Check.