Occsional drizzle sprinkled over the tent as the night hours passed - I could hear it, amplified as it always is, from inside the tent. It wasn't until I pulled the fly back for a look in the pre-dawn light that I realized that it hadn't been drizzle, but rather ice and sleet. It had gone below freezing the night before. More disappointingly, though, was the visibility: the thick cloud layer had fully re-formed around us, and I could see nothing of the nearby terrain. A few words murmured back and forth between Rosty and I confirmed that we had no desire to get up and moving in these sort of conditions, so we decided to doze and wait, seeing if anything would change.
First light had been shortly after 4 a.m., so there was plenty of time for a bit of dozing. I was becoming increasingly pessimistic as the minutes ticked by, and started to resign myself to the fact that it was starting to look like another non-summit expedition. Then, at about 6 a.m., things suddenly brightened, and patches of light and moving glimpses of terrain sailed over Glacier Gap. Perhaps the change we were waiting for? Certainly time to get up, at the very least.
Up there somewhere
Clouds and light and even patches of blue raced by as we had breakfast. A faintly visibile sun disc made its appearance a few times. Even - gasp - the summit area of Glacier Peak popped into view not once, but twice, each for about 10 seconds. I didn't have my camera handy and missed it, but yes, I saw it.
These unsettled but somewhat promising conditions made me think that perhaps we were just a few hundred feet below the top of a cloud deck, and maybe we could climb into glorious sunshine filled skies above it. But it was now approaching 7 a.m., and we were still not fully packed up, and for every promising patch of blue and light there were two periods of gloom and dark. To summit from here was a 5km, 3000+ foot ascent. And then that would need to be followed by a nearly 30km hike back out, if we were to stay on the planned timeline. Rosty wavered.
I suggested a "go-and-look" approach of climbing up for, say, 1000 feet, to see what conditions were like, and turn around if it didn't pan out. Rosty was ultimately a little less keen, and with every minute passing, the possibility of fitting a very ambitious outing into the remaining hours of the day shrank. After some humming and hawing, it became clear that there wasn't sufficient motivation, and I made peace with it. Glacier Peak would elude us a second time.
With our abort decision made, we could slow our departure prep a little. We took time to de-ice and dry the tent as best we could, filtered a bit more water, and I wandered around Glacier Gap a bit, snapping a few final shots.
We started trudging downhill at about 7:15 a.m. We immediately ceased seeing any spots of sun or blue and walked downhill through thick cloud, with virtually no visibility. Once again we were in a 360-degree globe of white, with only each other and our footprints as discernable entities. The GPS tracklog was our friend.
Whether the cloudy and drizzly weather had actually increased was unclear. Perhaps we had been near the top of it and had now re-descended into it. Perhaps up at 8000 feet, it was gloriously sunny. Or, inclement whether may have indeed rolled back in and the entire mountain had been re-wreathed in cloud. There was no way to know, and, quite frankly, it didn't matter now. In fact it was better on the mind if the bad weather had truly returned, for it meant that we had made the right choice.
We slogged across the slightly-too-wet snow of the White Chuck Glacier Basin, warm and sweaty at the low points, where we were sheltered from the wind, and shivery and chilled at the high saddles, where the wind blew cold mist into our faces. Even with the GPS I got turned around 180 degrees for a hundred metres or so at one point. Shows how easily it would be for one to get completely lost in this featureless void through which we were travelling.
I took us about four hours to reach White Pass (our campsite on the first night), the PCT, and the first little patch of bare ground. My boots were squishingly, thoroughly soaked from walking through five kilometres of slushy snow. Was looking forward to walking on real ground again.
Leaving White Pass
We weren't quite finished with the snow yet, as we had to do the long steep side-hill traverse on the PCT and upper North Fork Sauk River Trail. The combination of our boot track from two days before and increased confidence from two days on the snowy slopes saw us move along this section in a more efficient, more expert manner than we had on the way up.
We saw the ski tracks of our two gung-ho friends from two days before here, proof that they had given up and turned around despite their brave words. In the end, they had hiked at least six hours to get in about 10 minutes worth of skiing. ouch.
The gloom, clouds, and wet continued down until about the 4500-foot level, when we emerged into a mostly rain-free undercast. What snow remained was firmer here, and we made good time winding down the switchbacking trail. There were a few passing spots of sunlight as we completed the steep descent to the semi-ruined Mackinaw Shelter, where we stopped for a good long lunch break.
Taking care on the snow side-slopes
Descending below the deck
From the shelter, it was a long (5 miles) but mostly flat hike out to the car. We passed the time by strategizing for the next attempt of this accursed climb. No more foolin' around next time, we agreed. In order to ensure success, we would: (a) not decide the timing until April or May, when we had a good handle on the year's snowpack, (b) allocate a whole week and slide the departure date around during that week to align with best weather, and (c) not try to do this in three days.
Back in lush lower forest
We arrived back at the trailhead at about 5:45pm, ten hours and a half and 22.5 km (14 mile) after starting down from Glacier Gap. A bit despondent but unbowed from our determination to return and succeed, we drove off. In keeping with our fledging tradition, Rosty brought me once again to Uneeda Burger
in Seattle for our post-trip wind-down meal. I even had the same onion, watercress and blue cheese burger as last time.
I stayed for an extra couple of days with Rosty and family and did a solo hike/climb by myself (which you can read about here
). Before signing off on this trip report, though, I'd like to say thanks to Rosty for hosting me at his place and organizing much of this trip. We *will* get this one done one day, I promise!
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Glacier Peak Day 3 - click map to view
Glacier Peak South Route Day 3 - Climb Data
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet