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Volcano Quest III : Glacier Peak
Day 2 : Another Wet Start - Foam Creek Trail to Glacier Gap - Friday, July 19
For most of the night, we listened to the increasing and decreasing pitter patter of rain on the tent flys. Fortunately, the wind wasn't too strong and didn't create much of a nusiance. Opening up the flaps in the morning and stepping outside revealed a grey world, touched here and there with some faint hints of winter. That's right, folks, we had bits of cold slush here and there. It had gotten cold enough to just reach the threshold of snowing.

Well, that wasn't very encouraging. Our forecast had indicated a clearing and drying trend everywhere and at all altitudes by now, and it was most definitely not clear here. Nor dry. Were the ghosts of Volcano Quests I and II haunting us?
A Gloomy Morning
Wet Packing
I was still somehow hopeful, based on the consistent prediction of the arrival of an area-wide extended dry spell. Likely the timing had been off, but it was probably still coming. And so our careful planning for this trip once again proved useful. Having extra days meant we'd simply wait it out if we had to.

After a cold breakfast and a wet packing-up session, we began the next phase of our climb: the off-trail trek across the high alpine basins that lie to the south of Glacier Peak. Our destination for the day was a spot called Glacier Gap - a commonly-used high camp that is situated quite close to the foot of Glacier Peak's southern ridgeline (and which is an ideal place to launch an early-morning summit day).
Into the clouds
First off-trail traverse
Climbing out of Foam Creek drainage
Now, when I say off-trail, I don't mean that there's no trail. What I mean is that we were no longer following any official, maintained, on-the-map trail. However, enough people do this route that informal paths do form. We were following one such path with which we were now quite familiar, having been back and forth along it four times now. Up it went for a short bit, over a rounded shoulder, and then steeply down into a small pocket basin at the head of the Foam Creek drainage. A well-defined track leads across the upper part of this basin, and then steeply back up to a saddle. Now that we were on non-official paths, things were more rugged: no longer did you have trail maintenance crew and designers trying to keep things within certain parameters.

Once finished with huffing and puffing our way up steeply to the saddle, we stood for a moment, taking in the view of new terrain on the other side. We were standing on the divide of the north-south ridge of peaks that extends down from Glacier Peak itself. By crossing over here, the approach route gains access to gentler, less-glaciated alpine basins.

Unfortunately, we couldn't see too much. We were solidly in the cloud deck and visibility was less than a mile. We could see only enough to view down into the next basin, which was half snow / half bare ground. It seemed like there was roughly an amount of snowpack that was right in the middle of what it had been in the 2015 and 2017 the Volcano Quest outings.
High Saddle
Crossing in Cloud
Half-snowy Basin
So there wasn't much of a view, and it certainly wasn't warm and sunny, so our break was brief. We followed the still-clear herdpath, which headed north and down into the first of several alpine basins we'd have to cross. The basin's floor was still covered in snow, and the herdpath transitioned to a boot track when we reached it. Fortunately, the quality of the snowpack was firm enough that walking on it was fairly pleasant.

In both 2015 and 2017 we had veered a bit too far to the left to maintain an optimum, efficient line towards Glacier Gap. I could see that on my GPS tracks from those trips, and I was determined to do better this time. Fortunately, the boot track we were on also had the same idea, heading to the exact slope I thought we should climb. The snow ended and we did an easy ascent on some slightly bouldery terrain to the next height of land. We were fully in the alpine now. No hint of trees any longer - just mostly bare rock and glacial till. The only signs of life came from lichen or moss or the occasional small patch of soil, which supported bit of hardy high-alpine grass or some delicate little wildflowers. But mostly it was just cold and grey and barren - a sense amplified by the gray and wet of the morning.
courtesy BConnell
Crossing snowy basin
Meltwater fillup
White Chuck Glacier Basin
We crossed the next basin, threading our way across mixed gravel, small boulders, and intermittent patches of snow. With care, we were able to stay on the faint boot path / herd path we had been following. It seemed to be taking a very good line nearly directly torwards Glacier Gap. I remembered rough and tiring terrain of various sorts from our 2015 trip, and I very much hoped to avoid a repeat of that (in 2017 all of this was covered in snow, and that had been troublesome because the snowpack had been overly soft).

Mid-morning now. Although it was still cloudy, we could feel the heat and brightness of the sun somewhere "up there", and the rain had stopped. Might we please... pretty please.... see some blue sky and surrounding mountainscapes soon?
Meltwater Stream
We've found the right path
Nearing Glacier Gap
We carefully followed the herdpath across the high basins. In a few spots we would briefly lose it through areas of soil-less boulders, but with some care, we were always able to regain it. There was one particularly nice stretch that surmounted one of the final elevation rises before glacier basin, where the tread was positive and well-defined. A much better experience through here than both in 2015 and 2017.
Nearing Glacier Gap
Arriving Glacier Gap
We arrived at Glacier Gap - a broad area of flat gravel and dotted with makeshift tentsites, many protected by home-built rock walls, at about 2:30pm. Our overall speed today had been quite slow - it had only been just over 5km (3miles), and it had taken us nearly 5 hours. Which isn't all that fast by hiking or backpacking standards. On the other hand, we knew we weren't going to go any farther than Glacier Gap, so we deliberately had not hurried. Even so, we were glad to arrive here at mid-afternoon, giving us plenty of time to set up, rest, and think about our summit plans.
Glacier Gap Camp
Late-afternoon Nap
Dinner time
We took the option of a late-afternoon nap - always a nice luxury on a multi-day backpack - after we had set up our tents. The sun was definitely trying to assert itself, occasionally casting a faint shadow. There were bits and pieces of blue overhead, too, and at times a nice view out to the east, where the brilliant white of the Suiattle Glacier could be seen, clearly being lit up by direct sun.
Lighter to the east
Dinnertime at Glacier Gap
Rosty's new tent
Bright Suiattle
We saw another climbing team come down from the direction of the summit, and overheard them faintly talking with another group of climbers about their experience. I wandered over a little later to get my own beta from them. They had summitted successfully today, and apparently it had been totally clear above 9,000 feet. A sunny and hot above-the-clouds experience. There also reported a fresh coating of new snow on the upper slopes and summits, no doubt due to the last few days of inclement weather. If it had been slushy for us last night at 6,000 feet, it was no suprise that it was full-on accumulating snow up at 10,000 feet.

Hearing the climber's report and knowing that this layer of clouds we were in was not that thick provided a nice mental boost. We knew the forecast improved from here on out, and we were now more confident than ever that tomorrow was going to be the day - a day of good weather and a day of summit success.

Talk soon turned to departure time, and I canvassed heavily for a very early alpine start. As usual, I received pushback from the sleeper-inners around me, but impressed upon them that this was the THIRD time we were here, and we needed to do everything to maximize our chances. And that included lots of buffer time, along with the generally good practice of trying to get most of the climb done before the summer soft-snow-in-the-afternoon phenomenon kicked in. We packed our bags for summit day, and went to bed right before sundown. Wakeup time: 3:45 a.m.

Video re-cap of day 2:
Glacier Peak Climb Day 2 - Re-cap Video
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Glacier Peak Climb Day 2 - click map to view

Glacier Peak South Route Day 2 - Climb Data
Start Time:
Start Elevation:
6313ft (1924m) *
End Time:
Max Elevation:
7261ft (2213m) *
Min Elevation:
6278ft (1913m) *
4.85 km (3.02 mi)
End Elevation:
7261ft (2213m) *
Average Speed:
1.2 km/hr (0.7 mph)
* : +/- 75 feet
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