glacier peak - 10520' - south ridge class 3
Back in July 2009, I ascended Mount Adams with a couple high school friends, at a time when I had never even used an ice axe, knew what crampons were, or even heard of the Bulgers. During that extremely hot mid July weekend though, we all had an amazing time, and with the help of our many years of competitive swimming, we easily had the endurance to reach the summit. I would then embark on my very first glissade with a borrowed ice axe and amazingly I safely made it down the mountain. I was 19 years old.
Fast forward to early July 2011 I made my first trip into the Chelan Sawtooth Range, with a little bit more general outdoor experience, but still definitely a noob when it came to anything snow covered or actual climbing. Despite this, our group of 3 made it up Star, Courtney and Grey Peaks with still a lot of snow on the ground (does anyone remember that summer of 2011 that didn't exist?)
Shortly thereafter, Josh and I embarked on our first Bulger Peaks together when we climbed Colchuck, Stuart, Cannon, and Enchantment Peak together over the course of that summer. At some point along those 4 peaks I did with Josh I discovered what the Bulgers actually were. I remember reading the rhinoclimbs.com website and thinking how awesome it would be to make a goal to climb them all, so that's what I did.
Yesterday, after a 9 year journey of adventuring to every corner of the WA Cascades, Josh and I ascended Glacier Peak, for my final Bulger Peak. This was a bittersweet climb, which offered beautiful views of fall color, fresh snow clinging to the trees, and the clear, crisp fall air that I really find special.
Josh and I took off in the evening on Friday in my van and crashed at the NF Sauk River Trailhead. We were up at 5am and started up the trail by headlight a few minutes before 6am. I was set on summitting on Saturday, since that was the only good weather day we had. So we made quick work getting to Mackinaw Shelter (what's left of it) in a couple hours, then made our way up the switchbacks to White Pass, which we reached at 9:30am. The fresh snow from the day before was a glorious sight to behold. We didn't stay long though and we continued along the nice trail towards Foam Creek Pass. We stopped for a 30 minute lunch break just a couple hundred feet before Foam Creek Pass and stashed our overnight gear. The snow was beginning to melt fast.
At 11:30 we continued hiking over the pass, and into the large White Chuck Basin. This was easily one of the most spectacular alpine wonderlands I've ever seen. Dozens of lakes and tarns dotted the landscape...some frozen some not. The tip of Glacier Peak could be seen still a long ways in the distance. We poked our way through the boulderfields covered in an inch or so of fresh snow and occasionally found a trail to follow. We eventually made it to the Glacier Gap area and had a 200 foot drop to reach the start of Glacier Peaks' long south ridge. It was here we had to drop a snowfield that was rock hard ice underneath the 6 inches of powder. Luckily there was fresh snow covering it because I didn't have traction of any kind. I was able to carefully downclimb it, and pretty soon, we were starting up the gentle ridge with our final 3000 feet of gain right ahead of us.
My motivation was getting higher and higher as I knew this was my last chance this year to finish the Bulgers. Since I started my new job in mid July, I work 2 weeks on and one week off. The only weather window I had for this stretch of time off was Saturday, and if I couldn't get it then, I would probably have to wait until next spring. We continued along the ridge, with the snow coverage getting higher and higher, until the ridge steepened. Here we could see the third class scramble up to Disappointment Peak all covered in snow. Josh was looking for other routes to bypass the steepest bit of the climb but I preferred to climb on the ridge crest, so I broke trail up now icier and more consolidated snow, then at the steepest part, I led a way up an ice covered class 4 step which dumped us off on easier terrain immediately below the summit of Disappointment Peak. We decided to bypass the summit of this knubbin, and traverse around its summit on the west side to the broad saddle between it and Glacier Peak. The final 900 feet took all I had, as I was forced to break trail through now knee deep snowe in places, but I pushed on and at 4:30pm, reached the summit and wrote my name in Bulger history as the 72nd person to complete the list! Josh topped out moments later and congratulated me, and I thanked him for joining me on my last one despite him having done Glacier Peak twice before. We were high above the clouds, with commanding views in all directions. It was one of those perfect moments, even if I was chased off the summit after only 30 seconds by 50mph winds. It's a moment I'll never forget.
As it was getting quite late (took us 10.5 hours to reach the summit from the trailhead) We took a short break and began descending. We had to get all the way back to our overnight gear cache just below Foam Creek Pass. We managed to find an alternative snow chute we could descend a little further west than our ascent route to bypass the 3rd-4th class climbing we did going up. We then were able to cut back left to meet the south ridge again lower down. The evening lighting was getting legendary, with amazing scenes everywhere! We saw a lenticular cloud form over the Tem Peaks, and a vibrant glow off to the west. For maybe 1000 feet as we descended the ridge we passed through the cloud layer, then ended up below it. Just as we popped over Glacier Gap, we noticed a solo hiker bivying. He was happy to know we had just left him some tracks, but with no time to chat we continued descending, hoping we could make it to Foam Creek Pass by dark.
Unfortunately that didn't quite happen. It got dark on us while we still had maybe a mile or so to go, and with the whiteout that formed along with darkness, we really struggled to keep our bearings. We ended up too far west, and wound up near a lake we didn't pass on the way in. Josh's phone GPS wasn't working correctly, but just as a stroke of luck, mine was, and even though I didn't pre-cache the map of our area, some blurred general terrain features were visible, giving us just enough info to find out where we were. After an hour or so more of wandering somewhat aimlessly in the dark, we managed to locate the correct little basin to our east and found our tracks from the morning. At 10pm, we popped back over Foam Creek Pass to our cache, set up the tent and quickly went to sleep. It was getting cold fast!
Knowing there was rain coming in Sunday afternoon, at 7am I woke Josh up and we begrudgingly emerged from our sleeping bags into the cold, cloudy morning. We made the hike our fairly leisurely, enjoying the scenery and taking photos. We ended up getting a chance to talk with the solo hiker a bit more as he caught up to us descending down the trail while we rested at White Pass. By 12:30 we were back at the trailhead and off to Mexican food to celebrate. WOrds cannot describe how this goal has helped me grow into the mountaineer and climber I am today, and I have learned so much from this endevour. It has been an incredibly fun ride, and I would really like to thank Josh for joining me on so many of them. We did over 65 of the Bulgers together, and it was a pleasure for me to join him for his finisher on Buck last month. I am glad he joined me on my finisher yesterday!
I suppose it's onward to the next big goal...perhaps take after Steven and do the Canadian Rockies 11ers! Or maybe get more into technical climbing and return to places like Alaska, Patagonia and remote Canada? Whatever it is, I am sure it'll be a blast as I start the next chapter of my climbing career.