Glacier Peak, WA — Wilderness Volcano Skiing

Post by blogger | July 24, 2012      

Glacier Peak is the most remote volcano in Washington, and the only one I had not skied. Whereas every other one can easily be done in a day trip, Glacier Peak takes more commitment. Requiring at least two days, it’s more often done in three or more. It doesn’t help that in recent years a series of floods and washouts have systematically destroyed the easiest access routes.

Backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering on Glacier Peak in the North Cascades

Juya skinning up the Gerdine Glacier, Glacier Peak, Washington.

After seeing Glacier Peak from afar a few times, and noting the abundance of snow on it’s slopes, I wanted to finally ski it this year. Juya, Zach, and I decided on a three day backcountry skiing (also known as backpacking) trip this past weekend.

We started the hike early, with heavy packs. The PNW jungle never disappoints, and we were treated to several miles of beautiful undergrowth and huge old growth trees. A large forest service work crew (thanks!) was busy working on the trail, enabling us to conveniently observe the undergrowth without having to force our way through it.

Backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering on Glacier Peak in the North Cascades

Walking through the beautiful forest.

The walk through the densely forested valley soon brought us to the steep climb to White Pass. The temperature had been pleasant in the shade, but now the sun was scorching. We made our way up endless switchbacks, and the heat lessened as we gained altitude. The trail turned into a beautiful ramble through alpine meadows with views of stunning mountains, although Glacier Peak was still out of sight. After a brief rest at White Pass, we made our way above the basin where we would camp. We finally took off the hiking boots, and enjoyed a short ski and another hike up to camp.

Backcountry skiing and Ski mountaineering on Glacier Peak in the North Cascades

Zach walking through glacier lilies on White Pass

Gathering clouds made for a spectacular sunset over Mt. Baker and the North Cascades. I went to sleep excited about finally reaching the top of my last Washington volcano summit. Alas, the weather had other plans. Wind and rain kept us company throughout the night, and we woke to find ourselves camped in a rain cloud. We hoped it would clear, but as morning wore on a few momentary sucker holes served only to show widespread clouds surrounding us and enveloping Glacier Peak. I hadn’t anticipated much tent downtime, and we lacked crucial items of entertainment.

The day passed slowly. Night fell without any improvement. We discussed our options. We could turn around and go home, or try to climb the peak and hike out to the car all the next day. None of us wanted spend the whole trip sitting in a tent, so we decided to wake up early and go for it, even if the weather still looked iffy.

When we woke the next morning, it initially looked the same. We slept for a few extra minutes, and when we woke up again, the clouds started clearing. We quickly got ready, and left camp. From where we camped we still had quite a way to go to get to the top, and on top of that we had to walk all the way out to the car. As we climbed higher, and the sun rose, the clouds continued clearing, until just a few wisps remained.

Backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering on Glacier Peak in the North Cascades

Climbing the Gerdine Glacier above clouds filling the valleys.

Backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering on Glacier Peak in the North Cascades

The clouds on the summit refused to leave, and grew even bigger as we approached the Cool Glacier.

As we rounded Disappointment Peak, clouds still remained on the summit, and we hung out in yet another whiteout. After waiting for a few minutes, however, the clouds started clearing, so we continued up Cool Glacier. We gained the summit in beautiful weather, and enjoyed views of the surrounding mountains covered in clouds.

Backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering on Glacier Peak in the North Cascades

Walking up loose dirt and rock toward the summit, above the last remnants of bad weather.

Backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering on Glacier Peak in the North Cascades

Zach's excited about the change in the weather.

Our ascent route featured loose dirt, low angles, and a circuitous route. A much more enticing ski stretched directly below us. After some thought about the snow conditions and the additional walking, we decided to go for it. The top was slightly icy, but soon gave way to perfect, smooth corn. It extended for 3,000 feet of fall line skiing, and a little more after that. Sufficiently stoked, we began the journey across snow and meadow back to camp.

Backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering on Glacier Peak in the North Cascades

Zach boarding down the south face of Glacier Peak

Backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering on Glacier Peak in the North Cascades

Juya skiing above the clouds.

Backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering on Glacier Peak in the North Cascades

Our ascent route is in blue, descent is in red. Anyone know what the route we skied is called? I simply referred to it as the south face.

Back at camp we shouldered our heavy packs, and made our way back to the trail. As we passed several groups heading the opposite direction, I was grateful to have had the whole peak to ourselves. We reached White Pass about 7:00 p.m., and donned our hiking shoes. The steep trail was torturous, and the last, flat section lasted forever. We made it back to the car at around 10:00. Yesterday I had been bored out of my mind sitting in a wet tent for endless hours, thinking we would have to turn around. Instead, we were treated to beautiful weather, exquisitely cooked corn, and a volcano all to ourselves. Good things come to those who wait (all day in the rain).

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17 Responses to “Glacier Peak, WA — Wilderness Volcano Skiing”

  1. Lisa July 24th, 2012 1:42 pm

    Beautiful photos Louie! Thanks for the TR.

  2. Jason Hummel July 24th, 2012 1:57 pm

    Good work. Awesome place! Congrats on getting the 5 major volcanos done. That’s very cool. I love the glacier peak area a lot. When the snow melts out there is some great hiking there…especially off trail.

  3. Lou Dawson July 24th, 2012 2:10 pm

    Jason, which areas would you recommend for off trail hiking, am seeking the most devils club possible, to test my new prototype PNW ‘shwacking gloves?

  4. Jason Hummel July 24th, 2012 3:47 pm

    LOL. The Dakobed Traverse would be awesome. I’ve skied it, but a hike would be very cool. Routes and Rocks by Crowder and Tabor is your best bet for routes in the Glacier Peak area. Bath Lakes High Route would be nice too. Here’s a variation of the Dakobed that Steph did recently:

  5. Scott Nelson July 24th, 2012 5:59 pm

    So, is this spring/summer ski season in the PNW a typical one, or is it better than usual? If it’s fairly typical, I’m thinking road trip away from Carbondale for a few weeks next year. Looks simply amazing there. Thanks for sharing Louie.

  6. Louie Dawson July 24th, 2012 6:29 pm

    It’s fairly typical, pretty amazing, right? I’ve lived here for 4 years, and all those years have been at least slightly above average snow totals. This year we had a pretty stormy June, which might have prolonged the snow a little, but also shut down a lot of ski trips.

    It really is amazing how much skiing there is all year around. You can get great skiing every month of the year. During the summer, most options do require a fair amount of hiking, at least to get to the really cool stuff. This trip required about 10 miles , and 5,000 feet of gain to get to our campsite. About 8 miles of that was on dirt. A few more miles and about 4,000 feet of gain got us to the top.

  7. Sue July 24th, 2012 8:27 pm

    You make me want to be there. A spring ski trip to the PNW is on my to do list for 2013, and that will get me thru this sweltering summer in the city. Thanks. I hope you send posts about your trip to Chile.

  8. Nick July 25th, 2012 11:53 am

    Great pictures! I particularly like the one captioned “Climbing the Gerdine Glacier above clouds filling the valleys.”

    I am a sucker for those inversion shots with peaks arising out of a bed of clouds.

  9. John July 25th, 2012 1:16 pm

    Louie, what trail did you use to access White Pass? The White River trail?
    (If so, that’s awesome, since it hasn’t been brushed out in forever.)

  10. Louie Dawson July 25th, 2012 3:06 pm

    Nope, we went up the North Fork Sauk River trail. There was a group up there who went up the white river trail though.

  11. Gregg Cronn July 26th, 2012 9:16 pm

    Fun seeing you guys in Bham prior to leaving town. What happened with the bikes you were loading on to the Jeep. Ended up not needing them? Great trip Louie. Good job spreading the word on the wonderful skiing we have in the NorthWet.

  12. Louie Dawson July 27th, 2012 12:57 am

    Gregg, luckily the road had just been opened when we drove up there. It was great being able to drive 6 miles of what we thought we would be biking. I’m not sure the three day trip with one weather day would have been very pleasant with 12 extra miles.

  13. John July 27th, 2012 9:12 pm

    Great TR! Heading up this week. How technical was your route? Did you bring a rope? Thanks.

  14. Zach Winters October 2nd, 2012 6:12 pm

    John, surely this late response isn’t of use anymore, but just in case: yes, we brought a rope. We ended up not needing it, but I like to make a habit of carrying a rope anytime I’m on a glacier with any crevasses at all. The Cool Glacier is fairly broken up.

  15. Lou Dawson October 2nd, 2012 6:35 pm

    Any time on a glacier, always with a rope. Bueno.

  16. Cody Finke June 3rd, 2016 10:16 am

    Super fun trip Lou, thanks for sharing. I am headed out to Seattle this July and I was hoping to ski Glacier. I see you posted this on July 24th, 2012, when did you actually ski? In mid July? I’m just wondering how much skiing I can expect in mid July.


  17. Louie III June 3rd, 2016 11:33 am

    Yep, I posted this a few days after skiing, so it was sometime in mid July. I don’t remember the exact date. 2012 was a pretty average snow year. However, last season was far below average, and this season slightly below average snowfall. Those two season have combined to make significantly less snow coverage this spring than in most years. The south side of Rainier currently looks like it normally does in late July. Who knows what Glacier Peak is like, but I bet it will be significantly more melted out in July this year than it was in 2012. However, much of Glacier peak is glaciated, and I have heard of people having great ski trips up there as late as August. I bet you’ll find some good skiing!

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