Glacier Peak - Sitkum Glacier, June 1998
Within a few weeks of our previous reconnaisance trip, Chris, Dave and myself returned to Glacier Peak. This time we were joined by Scott Peterson and Bruce Heskett. We set out on a Friday afternoon with the Kennedy Hot Springs, about 5 miles in, being our first camp. We all took bivy sacks this time (my first bivy experience) and after having read something about the Sitkum Glacier being popular among back country snowboarders, I was inspired to bring mine. So, we finished packing our gear, locked up Dave's magical mystery van, and with heavy packs embarked for the Kennedy Hot Springs.
The mountain revealed itself from time to time on our way up, but not very often. As before, we did not locate the faint climber's trail and ended up bushwhacking up a steep ridge through heavy timber and brush. Branches caught my snowboard making progress incredibly slow and strenuous and we all were more than happy once we reached timberline and the snow covered slopes above. We put on our crampons and headed through the white-out hopeful that we were going in the right direction.
Bruce led the march through the fog and snow and stopped at a level rock outcropping at about 7000ft. This was to be our high camp. Almost certain that nightfall would bring rain showers, I opted to dig myself a snow cave. I managed to avoid the rain that night, but did not much care for suffocating in the bivy. After a sleepless night, we were greeted by more rotten weather.
We stopped for water just above where we established camp and enjoyed brief moments of diffused sunlight. Chris and Scott rest on the lower Sitkum Glacier. At this time we realized that we were following a somewhat unconventional version of the Sitkum Glacier route and had actually set up camp above and to the left of the intended camp sites at Boulder Basin. We saw a party of two ascend the glacier far to the right of us on the other side of a prominent rock buttress. In order to save time, we chose to climb loose rock and steepening snow slopes to the left of the buttress hoping to rejoin the proper route once above the rocks. The occasional wand was found en route before we merged with what we thought was the traditional route above the buttress.
After a short traverse below the summit, we made the final cautious steps through a frozen boot track to the true summit. It was cold and windy and a short pose for the summit photo was about all we could bear. And now for my reward...it would have been much nicer being able to ride clear down to Boulder Basin without having to stop and pack my gear first. Riding down the glacier with a full pack...I thought my knees were going to burst.
We returned to high camp without incident...with one exception. Scott was the weakest climber of the bunch at the time and so was behind the rest of us on the climb down. At some point, Dave's foot punched through into the unknown darkness below. He did not immediately mention anything about this (I'm not sure why). Soon afterwards, Scott, who was following Dave's footsteps, stepped into the same hole (I'm not sure how). Before he knew it, he was dangling up to his waist in a hidden crevasse only being supported by his pack. Fortunately, he managed to crawl out of his hole and make it to camp to tell us of his experience, else we'd never have known. Things could very easily have ended up much worse. Chalk another one up to pure luck!
The long hike back to the trailhead was a 6+ mile grueling death march and I endured some of the most painful blisters imaginable. Time to retire those damn boots!
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