Ascent to Glacier Peak-West Summit Crags on 2003-06-06

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Glenn Slayden
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Friday, June 6, 2003
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Point Reached:Glacier Peak - West Summit Crags
    Elevation:10515 ft / 3204 m
    Remaining Elevation:5 ft / 2 m (0% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report


The plan for the next few days was to climb Glacier Peak with my brother Glenn and then ski down. We had been keeping an eye on the weather, since we wanted a clear, warm day to give us good quality corn snow for our ski descent. The universal prediction for Thursday-Saturday was for a heat wave, with Seattle temperatures in the 90s--perfect for volcano skiing. So I arranged for two days off work, and Glenn rented randonee skis at Marmot so he, too, could ski down with me.

Thursday, June 5, 2003:

I woke up at 4:30 AM, got dressed quickly and quietly so as to not wake my wife, and threw my stuff (pack, skis, climbing gear, clothes, etc.) in my old Volvo. I had not totally packed yet, since the plan was to sort through gear at Glenn's--we had allotted two hours for this, since it always takes a long time to organize and pack. After a stop at my nearby QFC supermarket, I was over in his driveway at about 5 AM, and he had his junk all over his garage and was actively sorting, organizing, and packing.

It didn't take us as long to get organized as I thought it might. We took my tiny and lightweight tent, Glenn's Coleman Peak 1 stove, and decided not to take rope, harness, or crevasse rescue gear. Everything I had read about the Sitkum Glacier route said that it was not really needed. Even without that, though, our packs were heavy, mainly because we were carrying our skis and boots on the pack for the approach. I think Glenn weighed his pack at 68 pounds.

The main issue with late spring skiing in the Cascades is the long approach through the forest. Option one is to bring heavy plastic boots (which even most Telemarkers have switched to) and either hike with them on your feet for miles of dry trail or load them on your pack, and the gain is better skiing control in the heavy boots on challenging terrain. Or you can take lighter plastic climbing or leather telemark boots for an easier approach, but then your skiing ability is compromised by the flimsy boots, making skiing the steeps harder. We were opting for the heavy gear, but the toll on our backs would be steep.

So sometime before 7 AM we loaded up and got on I-5 north, aghast at the traffic backup on I-5 southbound into Seattle we saw in the other lanes. We had to stop briefly to take care of some old molding on my car scraping the tire, but otherwise my old jalopy, with its top speed of only 60 mph, made it up to the Arlington, WA exit fine.

We stopped there to buy gas and get some snacks, then headed east on WA 530 to Darrington, then south on the Mountain Loop highway. After a couple of false turnoffs we found the White Chuck River Road, a gravel road better then most that lead to Cascade trailheads. By about 8:30 we parked at the end of the road, which had only one other car. I hung up my forest pass, we got our last minute gear chores done, shouldered our very heavy packs, and at 9 AM we were hiking up the White Chuck trail towards Kennedy Hot Springs and Glacier Peak.

The White Chuck trail was mostly pretty gentle as it followed its namesake river upstream for 5 miles. It did go up and down a bit to avoid the steep bluffs that sometimes lined the river, and there was a landslide that had taken out a section of trail, forcing everyone to take a very rough detour on a freshly-cut bypass trail. The main problem was our packs--they were very heavy, very tall (skis sticking up high), and very wide (ski boots, attached to the skis, were like wings on our sides). The packs were especially troublesome in the slide area, since the bypass trail was very narrow and the tree braches had not yet been beaten back by hordes of hikers.

This trail is normally very popular, but since it was a weekday we did not see very many other people--just one guy coming down who had been climbing, and a couple headed up to the springs that passed us and our heavy loads easily.

After a couple of hours we reached the area of Kennedy Hot Springs, where we dropped our packs at the closed ranger cabin (strange it was still allowed in a federal wilderness area). I had been to the springs once before, and it was how I remembered it--a 5 foot by 5 foot square of muddy hot water in the ground, no big deal. The couple who had passed us were in there, so respected their privacy by keeping away, electing to eat some food while sitting on the bridge over the rushing torrent of the White Chuck river. It was a warm day, but, fortunately, not too buggy.

The couple left, we looked at the spring (Glenn agreed with me that soaking there did not seem very appealing), and reluctantly shouldered our packs for the next stage of our approach, the gently switchbacking Upper White Chuck trail. After rising out of the valley, it remained flat for a bit, passing our first snow patches in the deep forest. Suddenly, Glenn noticed a trail sign, and we realized we were at the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

We rested here, and when it was time to go, we became very confused. Glenn thought we had come from the trail that was clearly signed as the PCT north, and since I had not been paying attention, I had no basis to disagree. But we wanted to go north on the PCT, which was not the way we came. We thought the trail signs might be wrong, so we decided to use my GPS unit to see if we could figure this out. We headed on what the sign said was the PCT south, and with intermittent reception problems, after about 1/4 mile it seemed that was indeed the case. I even went ahead to make sure while Glenn rested.

So we went back to the junction and realized that we must have come to it earlier by the narrow trail from the fern valley slightly below--we both just did not recall having approached by that trail. So the signs were correct, and we headed north on the PCT, like we were supposed to.

Our next landmark was the climbers trail to Sitkum Ridge. My GPS was next to useless in the forest--I had gotten a high-powered model to allay this concern, but it still had the problems the cheap ones had with trees blocking signal. In any event, we soon reached a campsite/clearing area, and the trail crossed a creek ahead, so we knew the climber's trail had to start here. But, we could not find it easily in the maze of herd paths to campsites and the outhouse. Glenn finally rested, and I scouted around a bit, and finally found small cairns that led away to a clear path going in the right direction.

Our progress in all of this was definitely hindered by our heavy packs. When we had them on, we didn't really feel like any extra movement to scout out routes, check things out, etc. Taking them off was OK, but then getting them back on was a huge effort--it was best to have a big log or rock for the pack to rest on, since the hoist-off-the-knee was a difficult move with our heavy and awkward loads.

We started up the climber's trail, and it was flat for a few minutes, winding around randomly, then attacked a steep hillside like a staircase. For a thousand vertical feet the path shot straight up through thick woods. The skis and boots on our packs kept snagging braches overhead, or slammed into tree trunks to the side when the gap between trees was too narrow. I had thought that maybe this slope might have been open and/or snow covered, allowing us to perhaps ski up it with skins on, but I now saw that was a total pipe dream.

Eventually the grade moderated, we could see the forest opening up a bit, and little snowpatches on the forest floor became more numerous. Rather suddenly the trail emerged at an area that was more open than forest, and almost entirely snow-covered. It was now getting on towards 4 or 5 PM on a hot, sunny afternoon, and the snow was total soft mush, so our first few steps on it were nasty postholes. We made our way to a log island in the snow, rested, and decided that the only way were going to advance further was to get our skis on and skin up.

So we did the switch from shoes to ski boots, happy to get the weight off our backs. Glenn's skins did not fit his skis very well, though, so he was at a disadvantage as we skied uphill for a few minutes past tree islands and through the narrow gaps between them. We shortly came to a little hollow above a mossy brook basin area surrounded by snow, where Glenn decided to wait while I went on ahead to see if there were any better campsites. I switchbacked to the top of the hollow, passed through more tree islands, and could see that we were on the right ridge, but with all the snow could see no more campsites.

So I skied back downhill with my skins on for speed control, and Glenn and I decided to camp where we were--at about 5400 feet, with running water nearby. We think we were basically in the Boulder Basin area. It was 5 PM, a nice time to stop for the day anyway.

We started hacking out a tent platform with our ice axes in the gently sloping snow of the little hollow we were in, and after some labor had my little North Face tent pitched. We then went down to the little brook nearby to get some water--first we tried filtering it using my ancient First Need filter, but the thing must have been clogged, since the effort needed to get one little squirt of filtered water was herculean. After I got a quart and Glenn a half quart, we decided to abandon using the damn thing and just boil water or use iodine tablets.

We hacked out a rudimentary kitchen area in the snow, and Glenn next brought out his Peak 1 stove. What followed was a fairly major disaster--the stove would not start. Investigation revealed that there was some kind of leak at the pump valve, making it impossible to generate enough pressure in the fuel tank to force fuel vapor out to the burner. For the next three hours Glenn tried tirelessly and non-stop to try to get the thing to work--he taped the pump valve shut with first-aid tape, tried dousing the stove in white gas to get it started and hope that the heat of the burner would draw out enough fuel, and everything else he could think of. We had a fair amount of cold food (crackers, tuna, energy bars, etc.) and I told him it was not worth the effort he was expending just to cook our two dehydrated pouches of food, but he was determined to make it work. Using a variety of methods Glenn finally got enough sputtering heat output to warm up a little bit of water, which we added to our pouches, giving us some hot food.

It was getting dark by the time we had eaten and Glenn finally gave up on his stove. We organized our gear a bit, clambered in to my tiny tent (not really needed since it was quite warm and clear), and talked for a while, unable to sleep. We finally both dozed off separately for about an hour each--we both knew when the other was asleep due to snoring.

Friday, June 6, 2003:

At about 2 AM we both decided that we were not going to get any more sleep, so we got up, got dressed, and started getting ready. Although dark and a little cold, there was not the usual pre-dawn chill, due to the warm weather and our relatively low altitude of 5400 feet. Leaving behind our overnight gear in the tent, we put our skis on our packs and crampons on our randonee ski boots. I could have skinned up, but Glenn's skins were hosed and the snow was now firm and excellent for cramponing, so I joined him in walking up.

We were the only people on the whole mountain, there was no clear path to follow in the snow, and it was dark with not much moon, so we were a bit disoriented as we shortly left the trees of the Boulder Basin area behind. I always find the lower slopes of volcanoes a confusing set of gently sloping valleys and ridges, and this was no exception. I used my GPS a couple times, we tried to figure out what peaks the various dark shapes ahead represented, but eventually just plugged away uphill following the best boot-paths we could find.

Our progress was not very fast--we took many rests, and having to worry about routefinding was a chore. The sun rose, and we slowly ticked off thousands of vertical feet. We would follow a path in the snow, it would peter out or join other paths, and the main landmarks were the large snow slopes we would trudge up, only to see another snow slope to surmount ahead. As usual, I would try to not look at my altimeter too often, telling myself "we have to be above 8000 by now", and when I finally looked we would be at 7800, of course.

Glenn started getting very tired and needed many rests as dawn turned into morning. I exhorted him onward, and the terrain stayed relatively easy--not a crevasse in sight. After one long uphill traverse to our left, we came to the saddle between Sitkum Spire and the main summit, with the craggy top of Glacier Peak clearly up ahead, above a ridge with a crest of rocks where the snow had melted.

After a rest we tackled this ridge. To the left was the clearly crevassed Scimtar Glacier, but that seemed to offer the easiest going, so we swtichbacked uphill on the icy slopes near the naked row of rocks. Eventually we decided we didn't like that slope--it was pretty steep and exposed--so ascended on the rocks in the middle of the ridge or on the snow on the other side. After many rests, it began to dawn on Glenn that we were going to make it, so he got a second wind and soon were at the base of a bunch of snowy, icy summit pinnacles.

It was clear we could not climb the pinnacles from where we were, so we contoured to their right side. Near here Glenn cached his skis, knowing that he did not want to ski down from any futher up. After a little ascent and contouring, we saw a glissade path coming down a couloir from between the pinnacles. Assuming that the last people on the mountain from last weekend had obliterated their uphill steps with butt glissades, we started up this chute, but it was quite icy and treacherous. It led us to a steep bowl area with all uphill progress blocked by steep snow and rock. I thought this was a bit hairy-looking for the reputation Glacier Peak had, but my Beckey guide said that "the summit is an ice-covered crest of about 100 ft by 500 ft; at the SW end a rock jumble forms the highest point". This certainly looked like a rock jumble of an icy crest.

So for the next half hour we probed this area. The terrain was very treacherous, with very deep, mushy, unstable snow punctuated with crumbling outcrops of rock here and there. I tried the obvious chute that appeared to lead to the top of the pinnacles, but cold not climb the crux pitch with skis on my pack impaling the snow above me, and there was no place to take off my pack. Also, the footing was nasty postholes in total mush snow. I retreated from this pitch, Glenn tried it, but we both eventually decided that this was not going to go. We looked at a rocky area that might lead up, but eventually got spooked by the whole wall we were on--it was steep and dangerous. We carefully made our way down the glissade path to a safe area and rested, dehydrated and tired in the mid-morning sun.

While Glenn rested, I attempted one last time to make this route go, kicking three-foot deep steps in heavy snow up to the left of the central area we had been exploring. I made good progress, thinking I could make an end-run around the area we had been blocked at, but after a hundered vertical feet I could see that my little detours led to more impossible icy crags. I retreated, yelling down to Glenn that this was a no-go as soon as I could see him walking over to see how I was doing.

Back at our rest spot, we were discouraged--now very tired from our exertions, we were running out of water and it was getting pretty hot out. I thought to try heading along the base of the pinnacles a bit further to see if there was another couloir, to do an end run around the couloir that had defeated us. However, this involved a traverse of a few hundred yards of miserable postholing. So I put on my skis and climbing skins to make the traverse much easier, Glenn, wasted, electing to stay and rest.

I traversed along a little bit, and saw a much wider, open, easier couloir leading very obviously to a notch between the pinnacles we had been attempting (to the left of the notch) and a gentler snow dome (to the right). So this was the way to climb the mountain! I yelled over to Glenn that he should at least look at it. So he postholed along my ski traverse path, saw that there were nice, easy paths leading up this new coulour, and decided to climb with me to the summit. I tried skiing up with my skins, but soon gave up, since the coluir was kind of steep. We both climbed up, huffing and puffing, to the notch. Still thinking that the pinnacles to the left of the notch was the summit, we saw a boot-path heading up them, and we followed that to the base of what looked like the highest pinnacle.

The last 40 feet or so was on steep snow, and Glenn and I took turns climbing up to the top of the pinnacle. I was able to get my hands on the very top of this little spire, feeling exposed, but it seemed to me that the next spire along the ridge, inaccessible without a rope and protection, was actually higher. Still, we took each other's photos, and convinced ourselves that we had climbed the peak. Glenn in particular was very emotional--earlier in the climb he had felt strongly like he was not going to make it, so now, summit seemingly at hand, he was exulting to the heavens.

I had the USGS 7.5 minute map and a Xerox of both Smoot's and Beckey's guidebooks, but something still did not feel right. There are two closed contours of 10,520 feet on the map in the summit area, and we had clearly climbed the smaller, rockier one to the southwest, which I felt was Beckey's "jumble of rocks". I thought the dome-shaped mound on the other side of the notch might be higher from my vantage, but I could not tell, and the boot path in the snow was much more trenched going up our pinnacle summit--just one lonely path climbed the dome form the notch, on steep icy snow in the shade. Tired, dehydrated, and with the thought of a long ski descent, I allowed us to blow off going over to the dome area.

Glenn called up his friend John on his cellphone from below the summit, and I started climbing down to the notch. I thought again about the other summit, but could not get my mind around climbing it. Glenn was soon down, and we easily plunge-stepped down the wide coulouir. Glenn's pack was back down at his rest spot, and his skis below that, so when I got to my skis he went on and I stayed to get all set up. I took off my skins, tightened my boots, got my pack set up, and skied down to where Glenn was doing the same. The snow was heavy, slushy corn, and it took me a couple of turns to get into the rhythm of it--my fatigue not helping at all.

I rested just below Glenn as he got his skis on and got ready to ski. He was a little timid, plus very tired and blown-out, and at first he was afraid to make a turn. I goaded him on, and he finally decided to try a turn on the moderately-angled slope. However, he fell awkwardly, yelping as he impacted the snow. I rushed over as he wailed in pain, images of broken legs and helicopter evacuations in my brain. He was trapped by the way his skis wedged in the snow, so I quickly undid his bindings, which seemed to help. Apparently he had fallen and his knee hit a barely-submerged rock in the snow, badly bruising his kneecap. Thank god, he was OK. Once he had gotten himself together he was fine and ready to go on. We had somehow averted a nasty accident at 10,000 feet and the nearest humans a unknown distance away.

The slopes moderated as we skied down from the summit area, staying on the Sitkum Glacier (or its general area). We did see a small area of icy crevasses, but this was easily avoided by a wide margin. Glenn was still gun-shy from his incident, and was having trouble kick-turning on the steeper upper slopes. I had one really spectacular face-plant fall, so neither one of us was hardly skiing in textbook form.

The routefinding was tricky, too--we tried to follow the main boot herd path in the snow, and I think we swung out a ways north from where we came up. Our last obstacle was a somewhat steep drop into the final lower basin, which we both negotiated differently, but once below the last band of rocks we had the trees of Boulder Basin below us in view. I took out my GPS to make sure we were headed towards camp, but could not get the thing to take my camp waypoint as a "goto" point. So I steered towards another nearby point on the ridge in the trees, Glenn alongside or following as we sailed through the nice, mushy snow.

Eventually we entered the sparse trees on our ridge, but once down at the right level we could not find our camp. My GPS still would not let me navigate to my tent point, so we had a bit of annoying traversing over little valleys and hills before I finally found our tent. We were utterly wasted, having to hike uphill the last bit, carrying our skis. Still, we had skied down about 4500 vertical feet in under an hour, and the time saved more than made up for the lack of fun we had while survival skiing in a very fatigued state.

At our campsite we decided to pack up and head down to the car--it was about 3 PM or so, and we had no stove and were low on food, and the prospect of another night out and killing 6 hours until sunset were not pleasant. So we took about an hour to take off our boots, pack up all our gear, fold up the tent, and get our packs together. We ate and drank, filling up our water bottles from the nearby stream, not bothering to filter or treat the water any more--we were too tired to care about possible giardia (which I never developed afterwards).

While packing up we saw two skiers come by--the first people we had seen since Kennedy Hot Springs over a day ago. They were looking for the climber's trail, which we were able to point them to. I don't know if they climbed the peak or not--they had come in another way and were doing some kind of traverse. We never saw them again.

Before going down we decided to use Glenn's cellphone to call my wife and let her know we were headed down and that I would be home late that evening. Cell coverage disappeared down in the valley once we left our camp, so this was our last chance. So we left our campsite, our heavy 65-pound packs straining our backs, and started down towards the climber's trail. The skiers we had just seen left us a nice path to follow, and we were very shortly off of the snowy timberline and on the narrow, brushy, steep, climbers trail going downhill through dense forest.

Here Glenn started developing terrible foot problems--his ancient hiking boots were too tight on his feet, causing excruciating pain with every step. I was doing OK in my light hiking sneakers, but Glenn could barely move. Eventually we tried switching shoes, since we wear the same size. Glenn was much better off in my nice sneakers, but his boots started brutalizing my feet, since they were just too small. I let Glenn go ahead and after a bit in his boots decided to try hiking in my ski boots--I figured that they could not be more uncomfortable, and wearing them had the added bonus of eliminating the "wings" on the side of my pack that always crashed into trees on the narrow path.

My ski-boots experiment did not last long, since I found that the heavy boots were too hot, inflexible, and clunky. So I switched back to Glenn's nasty boots, now well behind him with all my footgear swapping, and painfully made my way down, catching up to Glenn near the bottom of the steep climber's trail. At the base of the steep 1000 foot drop of the trail, we rested in a boulder field for a major re-engineering effort. I got my comfortable sneakers back, now that the steep trail was over, and Glenn set about to punching giant holes in his old hiking boots. They were destined for the trash soon anyway, so he used his Swiss army knife awl to cut huge holes in the leather where his painful blisters were. He also used up lots of moleskin.

After this long rest we continued down the relatively flat last section of the climber's trail, then out to the PCT, which we followed south on a gentle downhill to the "malfunction junction" of our upward trip. There we headed down the Upper White Chuck trail, mostly flat at first. Glenn was very tired and very footsore, and he needed many rests--whenever a nice log or rock for sitting appeared on the side of the trail, he would plop himself and his heavy pack right on down. I, only a little less tired, was happy to join him in his frequent rests.

We came to the part of the Upper White Chuck trail where it made wide switchbacks on its descent to Kennedy Hot Spring. Here I found Glenn painfully slow, as every step was excruciating for him in his boots. We had discussed various options while hiking, and eventually we decided that I should go on ahead alone to the car, ditch my pack, and come back up the trail to meet Glenn after grabbing his sandals. I could then take his pack down to the car, and he would have some comfortable shoes.

So, making sure Glenn knew the basic trail down to the car, and telling him I would make rock arrows at the junctions for him, I took off down the trail towards the Kennedy Hot Springs. In my light sneaker-hikers I made excellent time down the wide switchbacks of the trail, and in under 20 minutes was down at the hot springs area. I went through four trail junctions, at each one making a little arrow of rocks or twigs to point the way, but the trail was generally pretty obvious. Once past the hot springs area I cruised on down the White Chuck trail as fast as I could, with 5 miles ahead of me before the trailhead.

It started getting darker and darker as I hiked down, and I only passed one other hiker coming the other way--I told him to tell Glenn how far ahead I was when he passed him later. After that I just went down, with the occasional uphill "heartbreak hill" section. My goal was to reach the car before nightfall, but as I went further and further down the endless trail it was getting darker and darker. I found it very discouraging how long this approach trail was, and my heavy pack was really dragging me down, too.

Eventually I had to break out my headlamp and hike in the dark, before I even got to the "slide area" where a very rough trail avoided a landslide on the main trail. Traversing this path in the dark was a drag, and once back on the main trail there was still two more miles or so of flat, easy, but seemingly never-ending path. Tired, delirious, and starting to get footsore myself, I started hallucinating that I was seeing reflections from my car in the woods ahead. At long last, at about 11 PM, I arrived at the trailhead.

Worried about Glenn, I quickly unloaded my pack (especially my skis, boots, and tent) into the car, grabbed his sandals and sneakers, and set off up the trail again. I took my sleeping bag, knowing that perhaps we would have to bivouac at some point. It was later then I thought it would be, and I was worried about my wife, who, due to the phone message I had left, was expecting me home this evening.

As I hiked up the pitch-black trail in the near-midnight darkness, at first I felt like I was flying without the weight of my skis, boots, and other gear. This great feeling did not last long, though. I was tired and hungry, and even though I was trying to go as fast as I possibly could, I still needed rests whenever a nice-looking log presented itself. Hiking in the dark by headlamp is never fun, either--very lonely and strange in the deep, dark forest.

I was hoping to come across Glenn before the slide area bypass path, but no such luck--at least my smaller, lighter pack didn't snag many trees on this transit of the rough route. Beyond that trail there was more long streches of dark trail, and finally the trail came alongside the river, passing a sandy beach beside the roaring torrent, and then started switchbacking uphill to bypass a river gorge. Tired and dead to the world, I finally decided I could not go on without some rest. So, at the third or so switchback, away from the river so the noise wasn't deafening, I found a nice flat spot behind a nice log. I unrolled my sleeping bag on the bare dirt ground, took off my shoes, and crawled in for a fitful sleep. My pack was positioned across the trail, so anyone coming by would see it (and me). I hoped Glenn was OK and would come by soon. I felt very alone and depressed in my fitful sleep, out in the open on the side of a trail in the dark woods. Glenn was presumably somewhere above me, hopefully alive, and my wife was home, perhaps calling search and resuce because we had called her on the cellphone earlier and there was no longer and coverage in the valley we were in.

Saturday, June 7, 2003:

I awoke at first light, before dawn, from my trailside bivouac site. No one had come by during the night that I knew of, so I still had to find my brother. I quickly stuffed my sleeping bag back in my pack and set off up the trail again, now very worried about Glenn. At least it was now light out.

The trail, which I was now hiking for the third time this trip, switchbacked uphill some more, contoured along, descended a bit, and meandered along flat near the edge of a deep gorge. I felt like I was getting close to Kennedy Hot Spring as the woods opened up a bit and the terrain got flatter. At last, about 2.6 miles up from my bivvy site (5 miles from the road), I suddenly came upon Glenn asleep in the middle of the trail.

I woke him up, and he was happy to see me. He was OK, except for being tired. We hurriedly caught up with each other's movements last night. Glenn had hiked down after me, very slowly, and had seen all my rock and twig arrows, and had talked to the lone backpacker I had seen. He hiked down the trail, into darkness, but slowly became convinced he was on the wrong trail. He did not recall all the ups and downs, and the darkness was probably disorienting, too. He hiked downhill to the river, and there the trail appeared to vanish at a beach at the river. Finding none of this familiar, he assumed he was on the wrong trail, and started hiking back uphill!

He made it almost all the way back to Kennedy Hot Springs, a superhuman effort with his heavy pack and in his fatigued state. There, he crashed out, depressed and worried.

I explained to him that he was on the right trail. At first I thought that my bivvy site was before his turn-around site, explaining why we never met. So Glenn happily exchanged his wretched hiking boots for the sandals I brought, and I took on his skis, boots, and other heavy gear on to my pack, and we set down the trail, 5 miles still to the car.

We were happy to be reunited, and we tried to track our movements as we made our way downhill. We had to ascend "heartbreak hill", then head down to the river. When we suddenly came upon what I clearly recognized as my bivvy site, it was before Glenn's turnaround point at his "beach", which we came to shortly afterwards. We realized that Glenn had turned around at the beach about a half-hour before I came up the trail. I passed the beach and bivouacked shortly afterwards, so never caught up to him yesterday. In the daylight the continuation of the trail past the beach was obvious, but Glenn had totally convinced himself last night that he had been on the wrong trail. If we had met at the beach, we could have made it to the car last night.

We still had over 2 miles of trail to hike, and we were both wasted as we chatted about our mishaps. Glenn's feet were still ailing, and I had a heavy pack once again to contend with as we negotiated the slide area path and the endless flat lower section of the White Chuck trail. At long last we stumbled into the trailhead at about 10 AM.

We did not waste any time, since we had to get down the valley into cell coverage so I could call my wife and let her know we were OK. So we threw our packs in the car and I took off down the gravel White Chuck Road. By about 10:30 we were cruising north on the Mountain Loop Highway towards Darrington, and soon Glenn got a signal on his phone, and I left a message for my wife. She had gone to her study group meeting as planned, which meant she had thankfully not called authorities yet.

After that, we found a nearby wooded trailhead to pull over in and get our car organized--we changed into our "civilian" clothing and organized our packs and junk a bit. Then we drove into Darrington and cased out the town for a good restaurant, finally settling on a diner on the outskirts where we had huge breakfasts.

I then drove back to Seattle in the blistering 95 degree midday heat of a rare Puget Sound heat wave, miserable in my car that had no air conditioning. At Glenn's house he unloaded all his stuff, and I organized the car for my return. I finally got a hold of my wife and talked to her, explaining all the phone messages and various snafus of our trip. I was home about 30 minutes later, at about 2 PM.


Of course, over the next few days I realized that we did not actually reach the summit of Glacier Peak on our trip. I am 99% sure that the "dome" area to the right of the notch was the summit, and we did not climb up that. I kick myself for not getting up there, especially since I half-knew at the time that we should go up there and at least look around. But I was misled by the guidebooks somewhat, was very tired and out of it, and somehow allowed myself to blow off the certainty of attaining the summit. So even though we got to 10,520+ feet, the same USGS elevation as the actual mathematical summit point, I still do not give myself credit for a Glacier Peak ascent.

3 Lessons we learned from our experience:

  • A cellphone should not be used as a toy in the wilderness. If I had never left the "be home tonight" message for my wife, I would have saved everyone a lot of grief.

  • Check out your stove before your trip.

  • It is very difficult to routefind on a big mountain when you are the only ones there. On our previous climbs of Rainier, Baker, and other peaks, there were tons of people and all you had to do was follow the line of ants.

Glenn Slayden toils up towards the summit pinnacles, anticipating a great ski run down from the summit (2003-06-06).
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:8175 ft / 2491 m
    Route:Sitkum Glacier
    Trailhead:White Chuck Road  2340 ft / 713 m
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Headlamp, Skis, Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

This page has been served 4072 times since 2005-01-15.

Copyright © 1987-2021 by All Rights Reserved. Questions/Comments/Corrections? See the Contact Page Terms of Service