The Abandoned Traverse
Glacier Peak is one of if not my favorite peak in the Cascades. Unlike other volcanos it is in the heart of the most rugged peaks in Washington. The natives cherished this peak calling it Dakobed which translates to “The Great Father” and the birthplace of these mountains. Another aspect is its isolation. Every trail is abandoned and if you dropped the peak from the summit. Each direction would take you to an abandoned trail or road henceforth the name.
I came back to Washington on the back end of a perfect weather window. The weather called for 4 days of uninterrupted sunshine and I was partnerless. With freezing levels lowering I realized I missed the Rainier weather window and decided to go for something lower. It took some mental convincing but I decided I would visit one of favorite mountains, Glacier Peak.
Less then 12 hours after getting home my alarm was going off, it was 5 A.M. and it was time to go. I fed my addiction of coffee and made my way up I-5 past Darrington and towards the White Chuck.
I was able to drive within a mile and a half from the new cutoff before snow blocked my cars progress. When I did the Osceola traverse we started at 1700 ft but this time my starting elevation was 1500 ft with a skinnable snow.
After the first 5 miles of road skinning through old growth deadfall and numerous washouts I got first view of Glacier Peak. In total I would skin 6 miles before reaching the now abandoned White Chuck trail.
Skinning on the trail was nothing less then a nightmare. Steep, Icy, hundreds of fallen old growth and all this directly above the White Chuck River. I used every skin tecnique I have ever learned. Veggie belays had become my best friend and I crawled,stemmed, flipped and rotated well over 100 times through the abandoned trail. A mile took around a hour before I decided to ditch the trail.
I bushwhacked up a steep bump in terrain via veggie belay and some good toe holds on steep mud. It was a typicial North Cascade bushwhack getting covered in mud and holding onto branches and roots sticking out of a near vertical face before making it to the pumice flats. Somewhere within this time my pin for my bindings had broken at the bend so I pocketed the newly formed smaller pin and skinned with the straight section.
I made quck progress SE towards Glacier Creek following Pumice creek then cutting a hard right, arriving to the end of the plateau. I looked down upon Glacier creek and started making a 600 foot decent with what I call my suicide pin (the smaller curved pin) when all of a sudden I heard a loud crack. In front of my eyes I saw a massive old growth break in half and smash down the mountain…….It was amazing!
The route up Glacier creek was straight and steep but I was able to make my way onto Kennedy Ridge.I had two options follow the ridge or drop into the creek. I made the decision to drop down to Kennedy creek thinking it would be the fastest, straight forward way to get to the Glaciers and camp for the night. The creek/canyon went smooth with only the occasional spicy traverse above waterfalls.
I arrived at basecamp just as the sunset alpenglow light up the north face of Glacier Peak. I chose a spot on the opposite ridge that would afford views of the Kennedy and Scimitar Glaciers, a good basecamp and the last spot for available water. Upon arriving I dug out a trench and went to sleep under a starry sky.
I woke up and watched the sunrise in the warmth of my sleeping bag skinning up the Kennedy Glacier around 8 a.m. I left camp and with a super light backpack and some calories which allowed me to make a good pace up the mountain.
Once arriving at the North col I got my first view of the Ermie Glacier and was stoked to see pow. I quickly ripped my skins and made a 2000 run riding past crevasses and seeing my rooster tails off my siloutte in the sun. It was surreal to have those conditions with mind blowing scenery and I was stoked. I sat there for a few minutes and laughed here I was riding Glacier peak in powder conditions, I had made the right call.
I carefully skinned up my snowboard tracks making it back to the North col/ridge and switched over to crampons, carefully making my way down the semi spicy, airy ridge until making it to the final summit plateau.
From there I made my way through knee deep snow to summit proper. I was surprised to see two peoples boot prints on the summit. That meant there was a skin track in eithier the White River or North Fork of the Sauk valleys.
I went to strap into my bindings and quickly realized I had lost my screw for my front foot toe strap. I looked for ever to no avail and decided I would be okay and manage the situation, it sucked but I would make the best out of it. My back foot would have to dominate and I would try not to get too rowdy. I rode the Semitar glacier in pow conditions with almost 5000 vert fall line directly to camp. The route was manageable with only one crux of jumping off a small ice serac to powder 5 feet below but after that it was wide open slopes.
My plans were to skin back up to Ermie Glacier and put up a alpine camp that would get hit by the sun first thing in the morning. The weather was changing and dark clouds were pushing up the mountain as I skinned up the mountain using a Voile strap to substitute my lost toe strap. By the time I was moving weather was coming in.
I raced up my old skin track and made it up to the col minutes before the clouds absorbed me and happily dug out a trench on the Ermie glacier. It was the perfect shelter with a great view and it would get first light but there was one problem. In the middle of the night the winds had picked up and I had forgotten to factor in something, the glacier was covered in loose granular snow. Once the wind picked up it wasn’t long before I was getting buried alive in wind drifts. It was 2 A.M. when I woke up to a flat sleeping pad. I remember standing up from being buried in a two foot deep wind drift, blew up the sleeping pad and jumped onto the entrance of my shelter and the only spot without new snow. It wasn’t long before I was buried once again with my only spot exposed to the open air being my mummy hood. I was concerned since I was using a down bag and decided not to brush off the snow as it would cause heat and potentially melt so I let it accumulate. I had worn my layers efficiently and had a primaloft layer as my outer layer with a lightweight shell as my inner jacket to keep my core dry. This worked great for the cold, exhaustively slow night that was a blur between being awake and asleep.
I watched the sunrise eyelevel with the snowscape, each indivisual flake on fire from the alpenglow. In a weird twist of fate the sun rose directly behind Mt. Fernow. I laughed at what seemed like a cruel reminder of the brutallity of these mountain as I had a near death experience on that damn mountain and it holds a special significances to me.
Morning brought a new level of brutality with it as I had to dig out my pit now filled with 4 feet of blown in snow everything was gone. I shoveled out snow from the inside of my sleeping bag as the winds howled. Luckily the first thing I found was my gloves which allowed me to take my hands out from the inside of the sleeping bag. I dug for well over an hour and found everything but my GPS the mood quickly changed.
I had brought a map and felt confident in my route finding abilities but I have always consider the GPS to be my insurance policy and now it was gone.
The winds and clouds were coming in from the west so I made the decision to go onto the sheltered eastern side, so I strapped in and started riding. Within a 4000 vert run I rode the Dusty, North Guardian and Chocolate glaciers at first traversing but by the end saying “Wait, F**k this, I am a snowboarder” and rode fall line. I ended up right above the Chocolate canyon and with no winds I boiled water and had breakfast.
I had originally planned to skin the Chocolate to the summit but felt that the Cool col would be better situated for camp. My up track went up the Chocolate, around the South Guardian rock and onto the Cool Glacier arriving at Cool col just 500 feet below the summit. The clouds moved in and out as I put in a skin track with plans of using it again.
I had to make a decision while not wet my sleeping bag was damp, I had minimal sleep and I knew I had a long day ahead of me. I needed to make a bomber shelter so I dug down 6 feet and put up some blocks to provided additional shelter. After hours of work I had a home for the night. The ridge was brutal with consistent 30 mile per hour winds but in my bunker there wasn’t a breath of wind.
My main priority was to dry out all my wet gear so I put my poles above my shelter and let my sleeping bag dry out in the sun and wind. Within those few hours the cloud deck had risen and the occasional cloud whited me out. There was no time for the Chocolate and I went to bed before sunset and prepped for a long day ahead.
I woke up at sunrise and did a quick gear check, some of the hexigon bolts that kept my heelcup to my base plate had loosened and one or two were missing. I had messed up big time and forgot to put my hex tool in my bag and watched them slowly loosen helplessly. The wind was still ripping on the slopes and I had to make a decision of what to do. My options were head north to the White Chuck sufferfest or head south to the North Fork which hopefully already had a skin track but with this option I would have to hike 21 miles back to my car.
The Sitkum glacier was ridable all the way to the White Chuck valley and was one of the lines I really wanted but there was a problem. It was west facing and getting the blunt of the wind, if it did soften it wouldn’t be until late in the afternoon. I was sad but time was too valuable to just sit around so I rode the still frozen but edgeable Cool and Suiattle Glaciers arriving at Dakobed rock and skinned to the peak above Glacier gap.
From my vantage point I could look into the Baekos drainage to the northwest and the White Chuck basin to the SW. I really wanted to ride the Baekos but the snow wasn’t ready so I made the decision to travel on the mellow but scenic White Chuck.
Without the GPS I felt confident heading out via the North Fork of the Sauk as I had been there before and I was sure there was a skin track from the two climbers I saw earlier. On top of the peak I had noticed I was having major binding issues and because I hadn’t tightened the bolts it had caused the metal to break. With a deformed binding I jammed the board back to board mode and rode into the flat basin.
While switching over to skins I so unfortunately broke the pull strap on my left skin making it a challenge to get it off. According to the map there was a drainage facing SW that led directly to the base of Red Mountain pass. By now transitioning had become a tad bit ridiculous. First I would take the Voile strap off, then take out my Ice Axe, pop the straight pin out, have a fiasco using the axe to get the skins off and jamming warped bindings onto the board. I was fortunate that the board rode fine making it down to the base of red then…..repeat fiasco.
I had been breaking trail for days on end and here I was putting in the last alpine skin track of the trip. I would have paid for someone to fly around Glacier and take photos.
I chose to take Red Pass because within a few hundred feet you could summit Red Peak and take the same avi swath that you switchback up on the N. Fork Trail. I said my goodbyes to Glacier Peak and carefully rode down a steep couloir followed by ripped out avi paths directly to the shores of the N.Fork River. I was concerned I hadn’t seen anyones tracks and for a quick second my heart sunk, maybe those other skiers exited via the White River.
The river turned into a canyon immediately so the shores weren’t a option. Knowing I had to go west I skinned steep, exposed Icy terrain looking for the trail. I would climb about 400 feet then drop down each avi swath hoping to hit the trail. After two failed attempts I sat on top of the third and looked at the terrain. Across valley had a huge canyon and according to my map the Macinshaw shelter was directly below it so I rode to the river one final time and skinned up to the shelter.
Within a few hundred feet I stumbled upon there skin tracks and some snowshoe tracks, I had a hangline to get out. I followed it most the time but found myself skinning by the river occasionally to take in the scenery. The valley consumed many more hours then planed. Alpine leads to fast travel while the low valleys is what nightmares are made of!
I reached the trailhead around 6:30 and skinned until I got to the first patch of dry soil. My feet were worked and I knew that if I attempted to push on my feet wouldn’t handle it. I used my trusty Reactor as a boot dryer and attempted to save my soaked boots before passing out.
I woke up at 3 A.M. and looked at the sky and saw that the stars were gone and weather was coming in. I quickly packed my gear and took off. I hoped the snow would be frozen but it was slush for the next 7 miles. While it was long I was happy not to deal with the White Chuck ordeal making fast progress. By the last time I used my splitboard I was mess. Because of not watching my gear and having a tool I had watched it disintegrate in front of my eyes. I ditched my gear at the junction for the Mountainloop highway and grabbed my smaller pack filling it with a calorie bomb (Bacon, turkey and avacato everything bagel) water and I prototype super light shell and walked the road hoping to see a car. I ended up walking the seven miles reaching the White Chuck road and hiking it 5 miles before getting picked up. In all I did a circumnavigation of Mt Pugh and Glacier Peak.
I was STOKED I had survived and I was back at dry gear with car not covered in bulletholes. Everything was perfect other then my battery was dead. With some lucky and some really nice people I got my car working, picking up my stashed gear and heading out before noon in the rain. That day I walked 21 miles, almost a marathon and my feet were worked.
AND NOW FOR SOME SNOWBOARDING!!!
The traverse was a challenge the entire way. Being solo in such isolated and rugged terrain I erred on the side of caution but it was a total thrill and I feel very fortunate to have made it. I made a few mistakes mainly not bringing a tool but I felt confident at all times knowing I could rig something.
Little did I know this trip was gave me every sort of conditions possible. Steep sidestepping from Baker, steep switchbacks from the Wasatch and straigh up from California.