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Volcano Quest III : Glacier Peak
Day 3 : Attempt on the Summit - Saturday, July 20
I flipped the tent flap back during the middle of the night, and I saw something I had never before seen at night on a Glacier Peak climb. Stars. And lots of them, everywhere. An overhead dome of stars in all directions. Perfectly clear, and perfectly still. Finally, finally! We were in position for a Glacier Peak summit, and it was not raining, not cloudy, not windy. I fitfully fell back asleep and couldn't wait for 3:45 a.m. to arrive. In fact, I didn't, as I got up slightly before 3 a.m. to take some nice long-exposure night camp shots, with the waning gibbous moon providing illumination. And then I unceremoniously woke the others up (I think they were half-awake themselves, anyway).

Already there was another party heading out, basically one hour ahead of us. I was slightly jealous that their sunrise view would be higher up on the mountain than ours was going to be.
3 a.m. at Glacier Gap
Alpine Start
Starting off
Having partially pre-packed our bags and not having to take down any of our camp meant we were ready to go in fairly short order, after a quick breakfast. We donned our headlamps and set off into the night in the direction of the summit. Above and behind us, a bright waning gibbous moon illuminated the snowy surroundings. Ahead and to our right, the very faintest first glow of dawn could be discerned.

I went up ahead and took some shots of our headlamps leaving our high camp. Onwards to the summit!

Glacier's summit hadn't been visible from our tents. However, after climbing up a short rise, it completely came into view - clearly different than all of the other peaks around it, and much higher (the summit is at 10,500 feet, while the average summit in this area is around 7-8000 feet). It looked like a volcano, too - roughly conical and with the kind of crumbly ridges and faces that are characteristic of stratovolcanos. A giant earth zit that had forced and shouldered its way up and through the sea of existing Cascade Peaks (A very attractive-looking zit, mind you).
The Mountain Awaits
Climbing through twilight
Nice Ridge Path
At that first viewpoint, we also crossed our first bit of steeper snow, and I didn't take more than a few steps to realize that we needed crampons. The snow was rock-hard, and any slip on steeper terrain could easily result in an uncontrolled slide.

After descending down into a saddle, the snow ended (meaning crampons off), and a long finger of dry ridgeline ascended towards Glacier Peak. There's an excellent unofficial boot path up the crest of this ridge, and this next part of the ascent is easy and pleasant hiking. It's also not that steep yet - we can see that the steep stuff is reserved for a point much closer to the summit.
Waning Gibbous
First Rays hit us
The ascent route
The morning twilight intensified as we climbed the ridgeline, and the sun popped into view just as we were forced to step off the increasingly craggy ridgeline and onto snow. Technically we were on the Gerdine Glacier at this point, but the Gerdine is essentially an inert glacier without much activity, and right next to the crumbly gravel of the ridgeline, we probably weren't really on the glacier itself anyway, but rather a snowy apron.

We climbed up the snow for a bit, soon passing a spot where the ridgeline is composed of huge blocky lava. I remembered this spot clearly - it was where Arn, Rosty, Brian and I turned around almost exactly four years ago, back on July 25, 2015 (click here to go to that spot in the 2015 report). Nearly four years to the day (It was July 21 today). The weather on that day was deteriorating, turning from rain to sleet, and the forecast held no real promise of improvement. We were cold and wet and tired and, most likely, not going to see anything on the summit (assuming we'd even be able to navigate to the summit, given the conditions). So, we had turned back, and in so doing, had started the saga of the Volcano Quest series. Well, here we were once again today, and it was a glorious summer morning. The thought of holding a vote did not even enter my mind. The summit... or bust!
courtesy BConnell
Welcome, Sun. Welcome
Andrew ascends snow apron
Crossing 8300 feet
Glacier Travel time
After climbing the hard snow next to the ridgeline up to about the 8300-foot level, we decided to rope up. From here until near the summit, we'd be crossing over true active glaciers (although the next stretch over the Gerdine Glacier looked pretty placid).

We could see that the crumbling face of one of Glacier's subsummits -- called Disappointment Peak, which bordered the top edge of the Gerdine Glacier -- was doing the usual thing that crumbly cliffs do, namely to intermittently shed bits and pieces of itself. These would often create a little puff of dust on the cliff, and then several little bowling balls of lava rock would come bouncing and tumbling down the slope of the hard snow on top of the glacier. Some would be round enough and have enough energy to cross our path of travel. It was important to be vigilent, keep up a decent pace - and it didn't hurt to be good at estimating intercept vectors.
The Gerdine Glacier
Brian Connell climbs Glacier Peak
Rosty and Brian, Gerdine Glacier
We make it across the bowling ball alley unscathed. We're grateful for the slight pause in the steep elevation gain as we do so, as overall, we are now gaining elevation fairly rapidly, and the combination of the steeps and the thinner air makes things a bit more strenuous.

A short steep push at the far end of the Gerdine Glacier brings us up to a point where there's a cool exposed bit of cracked and criss-crossed glacier ice. This is the edge of the much more active Cool Glacier. The Cool will be our route up to the base of the summit pyramid.
Crossing the Crumbly Cliff
Now we're cool
Cool Glacier and summit
This point on the Cool Glacier also gives us our first good closeup look at the summit pyramid itself. It's big and crumbly-looking, with many steep gullies and cliffs that look like they would be very sketchy to climb. This was not the aspect that we needed to climb, fortunately - that was further up at the head of the Cool Glacier.

The Cool was clearly a more active glacier. Although most of the crevasses were still covered by a decent snowpack, we could see hints of them here and there. It was more important for us to be roped up here than it had been back down on the Gerdine Glacier.
courtesy BConnell
Upper Cool Glacier
Brian and Rainier
Route to the summit
I haven't mentioned this so far, but there were a surprising number of other climbing parties out on this route today. I had always considered Glacier to be a more remote, less travelled destination, and there were at least five to ten other parties about as we were climbing - some of them fairly large. Was it because we had finally entered a fine weather window, and there was pent-up demand? or was this part of the Cascades wilderness becoming more heavily visited now, too? (like so many wildernesses in North America)

Despite the thinning air, we made it up to the top of the Cool Glacier with relative ease. We were now in the saddle between Disappointment Peak and the main summit, and we had about 800-900 feet of elevation remaining. Not much, when you consider that we started at the 2,000 foot elevation level two days prior. The initial part of the remaining 900 feet was up a dusty, dirty ridgecrest of dry ground. The upper part appeared (at least from this angle) to be a very steep finger of snow in a gully. And then atop that, we could see the little summit knob. The objective of Volcano Quest III was now not far away.
Route to the summit
Brian, upper ridge
Dirty Climb
We unroped for this final bit of climb, as there wasn't any glacier between here and the top. Even though we paced ourselves and went slowly, it didn't take that long to make it up to the edge of the steep snow gully. We regrouped here and put our crampons back on. The snow was still pretty firm and this next last bit was looking pretty steep.
King of the Volcanos
Sweating up the final slopes
The moment of success
Although the slope was steep, there were a ton of deep human steps in the snow, solidified overnight after being formed from traffic during the soft conditions of the afternoon before, that provided a kind of staircase effect on the way up. This made the climb much more straightforward, requiring less technique. And, as ten a.m. approached, we could see the crest not far above us, and soon, we were standing where there was nothing higher to climb.

The Quest was finally over: success atop Glacier Peak!
Rosty, Glacier Peak
Summit Area
Glacier Peak Summit Shot
It was indeed a beautiful day for a summit. There was virtually no wind, and (as you can see from the pictures) only a few puffy clouds at roughly the 10,000 foot level. It was so nice up here that taking a nice long break and having our lunch (early lunch, since we'd arrived before 11 a.m.) was an attractive and viable possibility. As a courtesy to other climbers (and we could see a few large groups nearing the summit now), we moved off of the highest point and over to a slightly lower but more rounded bump about 50 yards away. We followed this cool, very neat sharp ridge of snow to get to this rounded bump. On its north side, the snow ridge dropped away at a steep 50 degree angle into the large gap that bisects the large summit pyramid. This gap was actually the incomplete remnant of the volcano's summit caldera. As we walked along the snow ridge, we got a very nice shot of a climbing party coming up the steep snow on this caldera-side slope (95% of people were coming up the way we did, from the south. Only this one party was climbing up to the summit from the north).
courtesy BConnell
courtesy BConnell
Andrew, summit snow ridge
Andrew, summit snow ridge
Arriving from the North
Brian and Baker
Well-earned Break
We settled down for a nice relaxing break on the very slightly lower sub-summit, watching a veritable crowd gather on the true summit. Again, I was surprised at just how many people were climbing Glacier Peak today.
Not alone today
Busy Summit
High Above the Landscape
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