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We waited for a good half an hour, hoping for a break in the train of visitors to the summit so that we could have another go at taking some summit photos and video of ourselves. Eventually there was a short window and we got our footage in. Following this, we said goodbye to Glacier's glorious summit and began to make our way back down. Immediately we could tell that the snow had transitioned from crampon-friendly firmness to snow-balling softness. Although we kept them on for the initial steep descent down the summit's slopes, after we removed them for the hike down the pumice and dirt slope, we didn't put them on again.
courtesy BConnell
The North Cascades
Beginning Descent
Steepest Bit
Back to the Glacier-Disappointment Col
Now back down at the top of the Cool Glacier, we roped back up and made ready to begin our descent down the glaciers. The day had warmed up a fair bit by this point, too, and with a strong sun reflecting off of the brilliant white snow, it had become rather hot. And we encountered a curious thing at this point: a couple of climbers coming up the Cool Glacier - unroped - and despite the brilliant mid-day sun and heat - they were bundled up as tight as a drum - fleece and goretex covered everything except for a tiny bit of face. They must have been slowly cooking like a fine roast under all of that. We greeted them, and they greeted us. It was a man and a woman, and the man looked like he could have been a Nepalese sherpa (although hard to tell given how little of him was exposed). And with him was a woman (not sure if it was his wife or girlfriend or simply an acquaintance), and she seemed really tired, ragged. He explained that they had started from the trailhead, to which we replied incredulously "today?". Yes, apparently they had left the night before around midnight or so, and had been walking nonstop to this point. And they planned to summit and hike all the way back out. No camping. No stopping. They carried very little - and no technical gear apart from an ice ax and (I think) microspikes. The man pointed to the summit and the woman looked at it with a quick glance and a puffed-cheeks expression. Crazy, no? Shaking our heads a bit amongst ourselves, we started off downwards as they made ready to continue towards the summit. Hopefully that couple wasn't an accident or incident about to happen.

Things went pretty quickly on the next part of the descent - the Cool Glacier's crevasse bridges were still fairly firm and not showing any sign of giving way, and as I've already mentioned, there wasn't much in the way of crevasses at all on the Gerdine Glacier. The now-hot day was making us sweat pretty good, even though we were going downhill. I'm not normally one to apply sunscreen heavily, but I've learned my lesson long ago when it comes to summer travel in the sun on snow in the mountains. Lather up, and lather up frequently - and don't forget to apply to down-facing skin, like on the inside of your nose and under your chin. The capability of white snow to reflect UV back up onto you is not to be underestimated. Oh, and lip balm with sunscreen, too. Severely sunburnt lips is a rather disgusting thing.
Crevasse on Cool Glacier
Cool Down
Around to the Gerdine
Rosty and the Cascades
Although the trudge down the glaciers is easy and uneventful, it is still nice when we arrive at solid ground and are able to unrope and put away our climbing stuff. I quite enjoyed the next bit - the beautiful little alpine bootpath leading down the now-gently sloping ridgeline. Then a final snow slope up and over a small saddle and down to Glacier Gap and our tents.
Post Glacier Break
Path on lower ridgeline
Arriving Glacier Gap
Glacier Gap Camp
Post Climb Break
We debated our next move. It was only mid-afternoon, and we had a good 22 to 23 kilometers (14-ish miles) back to the trailhead. My preference was to spread things out, make use of the time left in this day, to chew into that long hike back before settling down for the night. Perhaps the others had dreams of crashing and chilling at Glacier Gap for the rest of the day... but they acceded to my plan, although only after first requiring an hour-long mid-afternoon nap. Which seemed perfectly reasonable to me.
Post-climb reminiscing
Organizing and Re-packing
Simpsons over Suiattle
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Glacier Peak Day 3 - Summit Climb - click map to view

Glacier Peak South Route Day 3 - Climb Data
Start Time:
4:05AM
Start Elevation:
7305ft (2227m) *
End Time:
3:11PM
Max Elevation:
10534ft (3211m) *
Duration:
11h6m
Min Elevation:
7277ft (2218m) *
Distance:
10.03 km (6.23 mi)
End Elevation:
7286ft (2221m) *
Average Speed:
0.9 km/hr (0.6 mph)
* : +/- 75 feet
After a rejuvenating nap, we emerged from the tents into the bright sun, and then went to replenish our water supply. As we filtered water, the strange bundled-up, nearly gearless sherpa-guide-ish couple arrived at Glacier Gap (both still completely covered, head to toe). They had made it to the top! The man put down his pack at one of the unoccupied tentsites, and the woman sluggishly followed, stopping just short of the tentsite and just stood, leaning heavily forward on her hiking poles. Soon they headed off again, along the route down towards White Pass.

We then packed up camp, and headed back down towards White Pass ourselves. We weren't sure how far we'd get (before needing to stop and set up camp), and we set no specific location. In the back of my mind I figured there was an outside chance of making it to White Pass, 7 kilometres distant, but more likely we'd have to find someplace a little shy of that.
Beginning Descent from Gap
Track across the snow
White Chuck Glacier Basin
The well-defined boot track and boot path were especially useful on the descent. Instead of tiring slow progress through uneven terrain or soft snow, like on the previous trips, we could just turn on automatic pilot and put one foot in front of the other. I noted, as we hiked back down through the various alpine basins, that this was the first time (in all of my six total trips up and down this section) that the weather had been truly clear. And the view that I'd been missing - wow. The late-day light on the alpine basins was gorgeous. And the summit of Glacier Peak was frequently visible, a huge sentinel rising above all else towards the north. If we had been able to see that on any of our previous approaches, it would have been awe-inspiring. I had to make sure to turn around and look back frequently to make sure I wasn't missing any particularly nice views.
White Chuck Glacier Basin
A bit of Greenery
Grateful for the boot path
Rosty had it in his mind to camp in the tills and gravels near the foot of the White Chuck Glacier. I was never fond of the area, even though it did have some good cleared-out tent sites. But it mattered not, for there were a large number of folks camped all over the area and it didn't seem like there was space. We continued on as the sun neared the horizon, and soon we came into view of the grassy pass that led over to the upper Foam Creek drainage. The next usable campsite would be not far along after we reached that point, and it looked like we'd be able to get there before sunset, so long as we didn't stop too much.
Fantastic When Clear
Rock Drumlin
Queen of the East
There was a small bit of grumbling as I suggested we push on through the grassy gap and into the Foam Creek drainage, but really - what else were we going to do? All of the good tentsites around our current location were taken, and rooting around for an uncomfortable, marginal tentsite wasn't my cup of tea. I assured everyone that we definitely had enough light at our current pace to get back to (at the very least) our first night's campsite, and we knew that was a decent spot to camp at (and hopefully not taken).
The First Grassy Pass
Path to Saddle
The Climbers and the climbed
We entered the "golden light" zone as the sun neared the horizon, and every crest provided new views and new amazing photo opportunities. We managed to make it to the grassy pass leading over to the Foam Creek drainage just around sunset (to me this is the defacto diving line between the true alpine terrain and the supalpine meadows and forests). We were definitely starting to feel a bit run down at this point, having been up fifteen hours (minus our nap, I suppose). I could only imagine what sherpa-companion-woman must be feeling....

As the sun set and twilight began, we negotiated the steep dirt path down into the little basin above Foam Creek's headwaters and then back up to the Foam Creek trail itself. The first few viable camping spots were taken, but happily, the little nondescript spot where we had emergency-camped the first night was free. And near that spot, sitting huddled in a small hollow, were the sherpa-guide-guy and his companion, presumably taking a short break. They were still at it, still going, after what had probably been over twenty hours of nonstop walking and what would have been by that point about... 37km? (22 miles). And they still had another 17km / 11 miles to go.... I wonder if she'll still be talking to this guy after this marathon-ish hell-walk of theirs is complete.

It was by now getting well into dusk and although it wasn't yet headlamp time, it was definitely camp-time. As in, time to get packs off and tents erected. We had made pretty good progress, chopping off a full five kilometres (and five of the harder kilometres) from the next day's hike back to the trailhead.
Glacier at sunset
Crossing into Foam Creek Drainage
Brian, Rosty, and Alpenglow
Arriving twilight
The end of a golden day
Although it was cooling off fast, it was such a beautiful evening that I decided to try a sleep out in the open-air - just my mat and my sleeping bag, and let Rosty have the whole tent to himself. There didn't seem to be any bugs about, and there was not a breath of wind. As long as it didn't get too cold, I'd be fine.

In all, it had been a successful and rewarding day. Finally, Glacier Peak achieved!

And.... before leaving this page, please have a look at the video re-cap of our glorious summit day:
Glacier Peak Summit Day (Day 3) - Re-cap Video
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Glacier Gap to Foam Creek Dr - click map to view

Glacier Gap back to Foam Creek Dr - Hike Data
Start Time:
6:31PM
Start Elevation:
7321ft (2232m) *
End Time:
9:16PM
Max Elevation:
7321ft (2232m) *
Duration:
2h44m
Min Elevation:
6288ft (1917m) *
Distance:
4.71 km (2.93 mi)
End Elevation:
6299ft (1920m) *
Average Speed:
1.7 km/hr (1.1 mph)
* : +/- 75 feet
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