- Distance: ~53 miles for the approach and descent according to my Garmin (which is very very very wrong. Garmin, we need to talk)
- Elevation gain: 9,898′ total according to Garmin (I find this one reasonable, good job Garmin)
- Weather: Hot. Really Really Hot
- What did I eat: Oh jeez…Roctane, Shot Blocks, Stroop Wafel, Pizza, Probars, Mountain House (Dumplings and Beef Stroganoff ❤ <3), some mashed potatoes, a shit ton of trail mix
- Suffer Factor (out of 10): 9.5, because this would have only been worse if I needed a helo ride out (more on this later)
- Maps/Tracks: https://sartopo.com/m/FKFE
Glacier Peak wasn’t on my list of climbs for this year. Originally, we had planned to climb Rainier via the DC, but the recent ice fall had spooked most of our team. We all had 3 days off, so what could do we…why, Glacier Peak (okay, we could have done Olympus, but the thought of those bugs out there still gives me the willies).
We arrived at the North Fork Sauk River Trailhead around 0800. The parking lot was starting to fill up with other people planning to climb Glacier, including a fair number of other Mounties. At about 0830 we were skipping down the trail with our 45# packs (okay, maybe not skipping)
I should make a shoutout to the WTA. They were working on the trail to Mackinaw this weekend and had cleared a huge swath of foliage from the trail. These particular sections were brushy and retained a lot of heat and moisture, so it was nice not to suffer through that. Thanks again!
The Mackinaw Shelter is approximately 5 miles in and was our first pit stop 2 hrs in. We filled up on water, ate our first lunch, and mentally prepared ourselves for the next section up to White Pass.
The next part was basically a slog. 4 miles, 3400 feet of gain, and a large portion of it free of trees. The entire trail faces south, and by the time we started up around 1100 it was definitely warm, to say the least. Thankfully, there are 1 or 2 streams a few miles in, and once you reach the intersection with the PCT there are a fair number of streams to refill water and cool off. White Pass is about half a mile from the intersection, where we could drop packs and relax under the shade. Also, we could use a pit toilet.
From here, we followed the Foam Creek trail. Recent beta suggested going to the farthest saddle east, before the normal route, and following a snow finger up and over. We reached the base of this snow finger, checked our maps, and decided to follow the normal approach. The rock was mostly solid, but a touch sandy. We could see the steep ascent on the other side of the basin, and it looked pretty sketchy, so we ascended a different snow finger to a saddle next to the climbers trail. From here, the descent down involved some scrambling on loose rocks, and another snow finger down into the valley. As we would learn on Sunday, the normal trail is totally in, the snow is solid, and there’s good run out as it’s protected by a snow/wind lip. Take the normal trail and don’t mess around with the other random trails.
By the time we descended into Glacier Park Meadows it was 1730 and we decided we were pretty hungry, so we set up camp near one of the streams. It was a 30 minute hike up to the next camping area, but we figured by the time we got there and set up camp, we wouldn’t be eating for another 2 hours. We were all tucked away in our sleeping bags by 2100, ready for a 3 am wake up.
Up at 0300, moving around 0400. It was a very early morning. We gained the next saddle and were able to view Glacier in it’s full glory. It still seemed miles away (it was) and super tall (definitely was). We contoured around the remains of the White Chuck Glacier and made our way up to Glacier Gap. There are primo campsites at Glacier Gap, and if you start early enough or move fast enough, snag one of these sites instead. The views are amazing.
Making our way towards Disappointment Peak wasn’t terribly challenging. Descend from Glacier Gap, get on the ridge, walk up the ridge, back on to snow. At this point the snow was fairly firm, so we put on the crampons and prepared for the next push around Disappointment Peak. Fair warning, there was a lot of rockfall in this area, so you don’t want to waste time here. We chose to stick climbers right, near the furthest boulder we could find. On the way way back, we found 10 more boulders past our track. Yikes!
Once we gained the saddle at about 9100′ we roped up. We heard that there were some crevasses opening up, but it was doable unroped, but as a precaution we threw on the ropes. Also, we carried them for 16 miles, might as well use them.
2000 horizontal feet and 500 vertical feet later we took off the ropes (not kidding). We had reached the saddle between Disappointment Peak and Glacier Peak, and the rest was a ridge walk plus a 500′ snow finger. 1130, we summited!
We hung out at the top taking photos and ate our lunches. We descended back down to the saddle, decided not to rope up, and walked back to camp. 7.5 hrs up, 5 hrs down.
The next morning part of our group left at 0400 while the rest of us left at 0730. On the way out, we saw a few dozen marmots. These things are fearless! We made a few stops for food and water, but we were back at our cars by 1400. Such a great weekend!
So here’s the the reason for the suffering. I’ve had a number of instances of heat exhaustion, dehydration, or hyponatremia while climbing. The first two instances were back in 2014, during my first year of climbing. I haven’t had an instance since then, but this year, for some reason, on the descent from the summit, it hit me again like a truck. A headache started at 10,000′ on the ascent, which I had attributed to altitude, but it did not go away when we descended. at about 9500′ I noticed I was slowing down significantly and my thoughts were started to get muddled. I let my teammates know that I thought something was up, and they kept an eye on me as I descended. I noticed I stopped sweating, and a number of other issues were starting to creep We reached camp about an hour later than everyone else, as I was moving so slowly. What I think happened was I did not eat enough food on the approach (I had 2 or 3 Roctanes, Trail Mix, and some Shotbloks) but downed about 2 liters of water, which gave me the hyponatremia. The heat exhaustion was probably a secondary issue, which made my first problem worse. I got back to camp, ate the saltiest thing I had (Beef Stroganoff) and slept about an hour. After that, I was definitely back to “normal”. So my PSA is keep and eye on your food intake as well as your water intake, and don’t be afraid to tell your friends that you don’t feel good.