Corie: After a grueling drive out of Portland, we finally rolled into the TH at 830pm on Friday night. With a dry night forecasted, we sat down, made dinner, and blew up our sleeping pads. Soon after, fat rain drops began falling. We’d elected to not bring an extra tent and with the backpacking tent shoved deep into the depths of Andy’s pack, we had to quickly dig it out and reluctantly prepare ourselves to haul a wet tent up the mountain. The next morning, we awoke around 6am, re-packed everything while we broke down camp and made breakfast, and readied ourselves for the long approach to our intended “high camp” at Glacier Gap.
Throughout the entire hike to White Pass, we were completely socked-in and everything was covered in dew. We passed through long stretches of “jungle” where the trail was so overgrown that the ground was completely obscured. Once we reached White Pass, we ate a quick lunch, stashed our hiking shoes, and got set up on skis. The sky began to clear up and we were finally able to see the surrounding area. It. Was. GORGEOUS. We were encapsulated in a sea of snowy peaks and with great excitement, we started making our way toward Glacier Gap. Soon after, we found ourselves out of water and we began listening for a close spot to refill. Eventually, we found a place- snow was melting in droves off of a large rock formation and we skinned quickly toward it. The water was frigid and glorious.
By the time we reached our intended high camp, we were still unable to see Glacier Peak, we resolved ourselves to the fact that the clear skies that had been forecasted might not join us until the next day- if at all. We woke up to pee at 1am and discovered CLEAR SKIES. Our campsite, it turned out, was in the middle of a gorgeous sea of peaks and Glacier Peak looked stunning- perfectly silhouetted on the skyline only a few miles away. After a few more hours of sleep, we hit the snow and headed up lovely, frozen snow toward our objective.
The final push up to the summit was really neat- the terrain steepened a bit but with a clear fall line and perfect crampon’ing conditions, our ice axes stayed on our packs.We had the mountain entirely to ourselves - one of the few times this has happened to us and we enjoyed it for as long as we could. Several rounds of snacking later, we headed down and enjoyed a very memorable, very corny, very AMAZING ski down the Cool Glacier. At that point, climbers came toward us in droves- rope teams heading up the snowfields like small groups of ants. We skied by them and wished them all an excellent journey to the summit. Eventually, we stepped out of our bindings and packed our skis up to Glacier Gap to breakdown camp, enjoying a few more minutes of rest and silence before commencing the long journey back to the TH.
The crazy part about being so socked in during the approach was that the entire way out was brand-new to our eyes. We saw the beginnings of Alpine lakes forming in low points and even filled our bladders up in one- carefully avoiding the weak points and the icy dip that would result from it. PSA: A large group of people decided it would be a fun idea to completely wipe out the skin track left by the skiers who came in for the weekend. Please, please, please, do NOT walk in the skin track. It’s rude and unnecessary. The sun was back in full force by the time we made it back to White Pass, happily stripping off our ski boots before we ate lunch. We finished off the last of our water before we set off, trying to lighten our heavy loads as much as possible and knowing that there would be plenty of clean-enough water on the way out. The hike out was long. So very long. By the time we made it to the car, my feet and knees were screaming.
Andy: Glacier Peak is an interesting grab-bag of alpine goodies. On one hand, it's got long approaches, sparse trails in early season, and rugged terrain. This peak feels a little more like true wilderness and the views (and pictures) bespeak it. There is no paved road to a trailhead at '6000 and no rescue team poised to deal with bumblers every weekend. And on the other hand, it's a simple walk-up. The lack of technicalities may be due to our timing. Having done it once now, I wouldn't do it much later in the season (past mid-July) and would definitely go earlier (May) to capitalize on snow coverage. We encountered a few minor crevasses that were easily avoided and cool temps which allowed for solid snow travel. Crampons added some security (and thereby speed), but axes were not required. The peak was a fun mix of casual climbing and amazing backcountry terrain.
We approached from the North Fork Sauk River Trailhead, which is also the location of the Sloan Creek Campground. This campground appeared to be free and first-come, first-serve, but bring your NW Forest Pass. The trail is in great condition after the wash-outs were repaired and some newer foot bridges were installed. We saw a few parties camped at the Mackinaw Shelter as we passed and ascended to White Pass, crossing a few patches of lingering snow. The snow was mostly continuous from White Pass onward and we switched to skinning here. After the initial turn off the PCT and onto the Foam Creek trail at the pass, we chose to follow the recommendation in the Beckey guide and cross the ridge early, at the second col, after traversing White Mountain. This deposited us into terrain rugged enough to force us to pack our skis again. We traversed from here into the basin and eventually White Chuck Glacier without too much difficultly, but the visibility was around 100' which slowed us down. On the way back we took a different route, following other report recommendations, and traversed around the eastern-most col on the ridge, which matches the delineation on the GreenTrails map. This route adds close to a mile but the elevation gain/loss is less severe. I think I prefer the early ridge hop.
The navigation up to Glacier Gap is straight-forward and we found several good campsites with rock wall windblocks, away from fragile vegetation. Navigation up the peak is also axiomatic, following the ridge onto the Gerdine Glacier (not marked on some maps) and trending climber's right to traverse below Disappointment Peak (alternatively, go straight up DP for some chossy 4th class unless it's totally frozen). Aim for the saddle at the intersection of the Gerdine and Cool Glaciers, then a hard left to the col between DP and the true summit. For the last 300' the path of least resistance to the summit swings around to the west side of the peak, but several lines are possible.
Equipment List- Gerdine/Cool Glacier
- 1 liter of water each while traveling
- Ski poles
- 1st Aid Kit + various other essentials
- Map, compass, and GPS (iPhone 5c with Gaia GPS)
- Tent (tarp style)
- Ice axes (didn't use)
- 40m 9mm rope
- Crevasse rescue gear
- Hiking shoes for the approach (GORE-TEX recommended)
Detailed maps, downloadable tracks, and other beta can be found on Gaia GPS:
White Pass to Glacier Gap
Glacier Gap to Summit
Starting Elevation: 2,077'
White Pass: 5,925'
Glacier Gap: 7,520'
Final Elevation: 10,541'
Total Elevation Gain: 8,464'
TH to White Pass: 9.1 (some discrepancies here with other reports. This is mapped with CalTopo via existing tracks and confirmed with our GPS on the way out. Other reports say this is closer to 8 miles. YMMV)
White Pass to Glacier Gap: 5.6
Glacier Gap to Summit: 3.4
Mileage Roundtrip: ~37 (estimating an additional mile from taking an alternative route back to White Pass)
Time Day 1 (TH to Glacier Gap): 9 hours
Time Day 2 (Glacier Gap to Summit, Summit to TH): 15 hours