Glacier Peak, Chocolate Glacier Headwall

May 17-20, 2011

PHOTOS AND STORY by Jason Hummel

Day One - White River

"Where is the trail," I question Kyle. We are heading into the heart of the Glacier Peak Wilderness. I ask because there is no sign of it. Sparing me further embarrassment, bear tracks appear in the pine needle carpeted snow twenty feet away. He'd been following the trail all along, which should be expected; he's a bear and this is his home. Nevertheless, in an attempt to feign mad trail-finding skills, I forge my way toward them. Only seconds later, a cut log on my left confirms we are indeed back on the trail. Hurray! Although, it seems a small victory.

It is only the day before that we are driving down White River Road. The expectation is for dry trail, but the reality is that two or even three miles before we even get to the end of the road, snow and logs block the way forward. "No way," I exclaim! We are less than 2000-ft in elevation and it is May 17th. "You've got to be kidding me." I pull off the road as far as I can. A half an hour later, after packing our packs, Kyle stashes a gallon of chocolate milk in the snow bank for later. The chocolate milk we'd need after skiing the Chocolate Glacier, right? To Kyle it would be the best way to celebrate our proposed ski descent. I couldn't agree more. Little did we know, a flower would be growing out of the ground with the gallon of milk next to it when we returned! "The HORROR," Kyle would bemoan before shaking his head and crying, "The shame of it!" Yes, indeed, the shame of it.

Via Lightning Creek, Glacier Peak is a 37 mile round trip. The kicker is the approach from the valley. Of it, a good friend of mine, Ryan Lurie, had this to say, "The trail between the turnoff for Boulder Pass and Thunder creek (approx 3 miles) is one step up from terrible. It's there, but is quickly becoming overgrown." He concluded by advising, " have to trust that your feet are on it, close your eyes, and charge ahead."

The roaring waters of White River make a nice background sound during the ~3 miles of road hiking and skinning. Because of our late start, we camp there next to the trailhead.

Before going to bed, I stand on the White River Bridge looking at White River Falls; I never tire of gazing into foaming, boiling waters.

DAY TWO - White River to the Honeycomb Glacier ~13 miles

Laughingly, a few hours into the next day, I find myself wiping sunscreen and sweat puddles from my eye sockets. "It's so HOT," I moan. Boulder Creek, four miles of patchy snow, swamps and avalanche debris from the trailhead, offers respite from the heat. Looking around, I can't recognize anything familiar. Snow has a tendency of doing that. Only two years before, In 2009, Kyle and I had continued up Boulder Creek along the DaKobed Traverse. This time our plan is a more direct route into Glacier Peak by continuing up the White River drainage.

Getting up from our break a few moments later, we continue to Thunder Creek, which is another two miles of flat skinning. There, I yell, "BRIDGE," as I spot it from between rocks and logs. It is washed out, with only half of it sticking from a snow bank. Kyle cringes. He hates water and I have a healthy love and respect of it. Although, I have to admit, I am attracted to it's chaos more than is healthy.

Linking logs and rocks together, I mount the slippery bridge and begin digging at the wall of snow still piled atop it. I yell back at Kyle, "It's no problem, just walk lightly." As if he could somehow trick gravity, lose twenty pounds and somehow tread lighter. Nevertheless, he manages the crossing without issue.

Beyond the creek is a web of forest broken by empty snow fields. Throughout it is interlaced with dozens of small streams. After two more miles, we finally begin ascending after ~ 13 miles, which includes the road. We decide on a direct ascent to the valley top, instead of following the directions I read in Crowder and Tabor's 1965 publication: Routes and Rocks - Hiker's Guide to the North Cascades from Glacier Peak to Lake Chelan.

The overabundance in snow covers all the slide alder nastiness, sparing us the suffering we'd have enjoyed later in the year since no trail exists here. As mentioned before, even the White River Trail that brought us to this point isn't much of a trail anymore. As a result, we cut up the right hand side of the creek about a half mile before we would've crossed it. Beyond a knob and flat area, where a waterfall breaks through the snow, we transition to the left hand side of the creek. Here it flattens again before curving around to the upper basin.

Late in the day, as alpenglow washes the sky in pink, we surmount a 7100-ft pass. We are breathless and exhausted. Camp is made on the Honeycomb Glacier a few hundred feet over the other side.

As darkness arrives, we celebrate Kyle's 30th Birthday with some freeze-dried food, far views of mountains and a cool breeze. Life is good.

DAY THREE - Glacier Peak and the Chocolate Glacier

"Ugh," I groan. Day lit mountains are framed in the open tent. I have no idea what time it is, but I know it is time to wake up. Our 6:00 o'clock alarm rang sometime ago. Eating a little for breakfast and drying our skins, we organize our packs and set off by traversing to another pass above the Suiattle Glacier. This is where we again converge with the DaKobed Traverse and also where we gain our first unobstructed views of Glacier Peak. The mountain is white with a full winter's coat of snow still draped over her. I'll be honest, this isn't my favorite side of the mountain. I prefer her when she is half melted out or just seeing other facets to the north or south.

Summit day is about 5000-ft and 11 miles round trip. With detours in mind, depending on how we feel, there will be more vertical and miles before the day is done.



An few hours later, we are nearing Disappointment Peak. I laugh because the only disappointment I have is my lacking a sun hat. Sweat is again dripping without mercy. Kyle yells in frustration. The air temperature is probably only 45 degrees or even less, but the solar radiation is enough to make it feel as if it is well over a hundred degrees! We stop and bury our heads in the snow two thousand feet below the summit. That seems to help because we finish the remaining vertical without stopping - except, oddly, to put on a coat. It's crazy how fast temperatures change.

At the top I write in my journal. All along I think about why I do this...why I climb and ski? What I've come to realize is that the process is what is memorable. Putting the food, the people, the access, the peak(s) and line(s) all together rewards me with satisfaction. I've accomplished something challenging. That attracts me.

When Kyle arrives, we scout the top of the Chocolate Glacier Headwall. Ski pole taps onto the face reveal powder. Next I glide in and test the slope with a few turns. Perfect. This has been a project of mine for years and I am thrilled to be finally skiing it.

We had more snow than in this image, but the schrunds on the upper HW were still present. Thanks for the image KATHY

Down on the Chocolate Glacier, where it flattens, Kyle and I stop. The lower portion of the face was horrible breakable crust and ice.

From higher up, we had determined where we would exit the Chocolate Glacier onto the lower Cool Glacier. The snow is slushy and becomes slushier as we contour left around the worst part of the glaciers crevasses. It goes smoothly. From here Kyle bounces dozens of turns until he is out of sight. I follow suit. With so much photography in the past year, I often feel as if I never get to ski. This was a wonderful reward, especially given the place. There probably isn't a person within 20-40 miles of us in any direction. That's pretty wild, especially in the lower 48 states!

We cross from the Chocolate Glacier onto the lower Cool Glacier and descend from there all the way to the Suiattle River at 4800-ft. Kyle is the one who pushes for that. I had wanted to stay high and traverse, but it wouldn't have been worth it. "Good call Kyle," I shouted at him as we cruise into the valley bottom after almost 6000-ft of vertical! Yeah.

From here, we figure about 2200-ft of skinning up before we will be able to reach a pass, which will lead us back to camp.

The sparkle of the sun, the dark shadows and the rippled snow made for wonderfully, scenic views on our skin up valley, and we made quick work of it. There are times when you are so caught up in the thrill of the ski that you forget about the efforts to get there, even when you are doing it. That is the case for me as I climb over the headwaters of the Suiattle River, which can be heard roaring under the snow. Remember my love of water and how I am always fascinated about it? Well, the Suiattle River was a place I spent many of my college weekends climbing, skiing and learning to whitewater kayak. As a kid, my two brothers and parents hiked around Glacier Peak and I remember getting stuck on the Suiattle River. We found the bridge to be washed out. The crossing wasn't easy and it took an entire day to find a suitable place to ford to the other side and return back to the trail. I guess that is why I am so excited to be here. It has a connection to my past.

The entire family during a hike around Glacier Peak in the 80's

Traversing over the 7000-ft pass which separates the Suiattle Glacier from the Honeycomb Glacier leaves us tired, but still strong. It's a traverse from there to camp and we make fast work of that as well. At camp we have extra food. It isn't long before it is consumed. We plan to hike out the next day, so there was no reason to save anything.

DAY Four - Honeycomb Glacier to the car

I'm in the middle of the forest again (following bear tracks...and our half melted out tracks), a few hours from where camp had been, but miles away and almost a vertical mile lower. Kyle and I are re-crossing Thunder Creek. Over the next few hours, the next portion to Boulder Creek goes quickly, as well as the rest of the way to the trailhead. There we take a very short break before putting our noses to the grindstone and walking the last several miles of road to the car. I end up carrying my skis between patches of snow to make it easier. The snow is knee deep and even a hundred feet without skis is a slog.

Back at the car, I see the chocolate milk laying on the ground. There had been two to three feet of snow there! A flower, just about to bloom is next to the milk. I stand above it and laugh. "Kyle will be pissed," I knew. All he asks when he arrives - over and over - "Do you think it is all right to drink?" I tell him that I think we had our fill on the Chocolate Glacier.

I must end this adventure with a story about my Ford Exploder doing what it was born to do on our drive home.

There we were, Kyle and I, starving. No food but climbing food, hungry and broken down on the side of Hwy 2. We're halfway out of the rightmost lane. None of my lights are working. The engine won't turn over. We're hosed. No milkshakes for us! After 40-50 miles of skiing and climbing that food was dreamed about. In the middle of the night, I'd wake up and grumble longingly, "MILKSHAKE".

Kyle's remedy - well - he went ahead and cooked Mac and Cheese on the hood of my Ford Exploder in the Jetboil. God only knows what people thought who were driving down the HWY? Here's a guy cooking a feast on the hood of his car in the middle of the road. No matter what they thought, I counted it as 'CLASSIC'.

Thanks for stopping by and reading everyone!

Previous Adventure: April 28 - May 3, 2011 Mount Goode, East Face Ascent, South Face Descent


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Jason Hummel