Glacier Peak (~10,500 ft), Sitkum Glacier route (August 20, 1995)

I left Seattle on Sunday afternoon. From the White Chuck trailhead to Boulder Basin (5500 ft) took just under 4 hours. This is on the fast side because I was carrying a very light pack. I met many many groups coming down off of the peak. None of them looked very happy, so I didn't speak to any of them. It could have been the huge packs they were carrying. I mean enormous. These people were acting like they'd just attempted and been denied by Denali or something. Anyway, to see so many unhappy climbers was a real roach.

I spent a beautiful, clear night bivvying in the basin, which by this time had cleared out, except for two other parties. I set the alarm for 5 AM and was moving by 6 AM. From the basin, I followed a climber's trail due east, which works its way through some unprobable looking bluffs, continuing along the Sitkum ridge. This is a good way to gain a good deal of altitude on the pumice ridge, although it does force you to skirt along some pretty dicey, exposed ledges with crappy rock above. I wouldn't want to do this early in the season -- following the described route in the Beckey guide (SE from the basin, through a break in the bluffs) would probably make more sense then.

I followed the ridge until I could go no higher and met another party there, roping up. From here the route was obvious -- a season's worth of climbers had kicked a pretty good road up the glacier. After stopping for a snack, I continued. The route was straightforward, although there were a couple of steepish spots of water ice where I needed to chop a few steps. Eventually, I gained the summit ridge but turned back after a few feet due to the high wind and reasonable exposure -- getting blown off the ridge meant a steep slide into ugly looking crevasses on the other side. I wasn't about to tackle it without crampons. I backed off the ridge, and pulled on my parka and crampons, and returned for another try. This time, more confident in my footing I moved up the ridge steadily. At the top of the ridge I skirted to the right around the summit rocks and into the final gully. At the head of the gully, I made the mistake of heading up the final snow step to the left, which leads to a false summit. I backed down and climbed the steep, exposed snow step to the true summit. There was water ice on this last bit, and it will probably be pretty ugly (or nice, depending on point of view) given a few more weeks.

I sat on the summit, ate, took a few photos and generally enjoyed the view for about a half hour, at which point the party I'd met on the pumice ridge arrived. We talked for a bit, took photos of each other, and they invited me to join their rope for the descent of the summit ridge, which I gratefully accepted. Even though soloing the ascent had been a pretty powerful experience, I am certainly not too macho to accept the companionship and safety of others. Together, we cruised the summit ridge to its end, where I thanked them and left their rope.

This is a nice climb on a beautiful peak. The crowds are minimal due to the somewhat arduous approach, although I will maintain that the approach would be easier if people didn't take such huge packs. Which leads me to my sermon on lightweight climbing: A lot of the climbing in the Cascades is not expedition climbing and I don't understand why people treat it as such. Much of the climbing is less than a half-day's walk from the road on good trails. For instance, you don't really need a 4 season tent to camp at Boulder Basin in August. A bivy sack works pretty well, and if the weather gets really crappy, go back to Seattle, or camp with a rainfly in the shelter of the trees on the ridge just below the basin. If the weather craps out while you're on the climb proper, a tent back at boulder basin doesn't really do you much good. Sure you can go back to it and wait out the storm, but you can just as well put on the fancy Gore-tex and walk back to the car and go cry over a hot meal at McDonalds. The mountain will always be there for another attempt. Also, people should try going without a stove. In the summer, you certainly don't need one to melt snow. Going for a night or two without a hot meal really isn't that hard, and it saves the weight of stove, fuel, and utensils, which is not insignificant. More importantly, no stove means no mess to clean up, which leads to the streams and rocks around the basin getting trashed. I don't think anyone likes to look at the remains of someone's macaroni and textured vegetable protein dinner floating in a pool in the stream.


Trailhead to high camp: 4 hrs
High camp to summit: 3 1/4 hrs
Descent: 1 1/2 hrs
High camp to trailhead: 4 hrs

Rack and gear:

Axe and crampons.