A promising forecast, combined with the inability to climb rock due to a lingering pulley tendon injury, set the planning in motion for Glacier Peak. We debated whether or not to bring skis and quickly decided that, despite needing to carry them a good ways, we'd be happy to have them on the long traverse to the mountain and on the descent while doing the route in two days.
We left Seattle around 6am on Saturday morning, made it to the trailhead in under 2 hours, and packed up, moving on the trail by 8:45am. It was under 2 hours to Mackinaw Shelter and then another 2.5 hours or so up the sunny switchbacks to the col. We followed the ski tour beta, hitting the PCT and cutting back West to the col at 6,620 feet. There were only a couple of snow patches on the PCT and it was otherwise bare—we really hoped there would be snow on the North side.
Thankfully it looked like the snow was continuous from that col all the way to the summit, so we stashed our approach shoes, put on the ski boots, and proceeded to ski down the basin to about 5,500 feet where we put the skins on and started the long, gentle ski tour. We snaked East up the river valley and went past the plateau marked in the guide as the camping area. From here, we headed North and continued on the long traverse until just shy of Glacier Gap at 7,200 feet where we made a great campsite on the bare rocks with a view South to Rainier and the rest of the nearby range. It was about 9 hours to this point from the car, so equal parts hiking and skiing.
We ate dinner well before sunset, crawled into the tent, and fell asleep. Unfortunately my thermarest had developed a hole and I spent the night lying on the rocks. Not the most restful. At 4:30am, we started eating and packing up and were moving by 5am. We got an early start because the forecast looked iffy later in the day and we knew there was a long ways out ahead of us.
The sky turned brilliant orange and then yellow as we skinned up the rest of Glacier Gap and ripped skins to ski down to the toe of the ridge heading up to Disappointment Peak. It looked easier to walk up the bare ridge than skin up icy side slopes. From 7,800 feet or so, we skinned again (I used ski crampons and Kelsey continued to boot it) up to the col East of Disappointment Peak and then up toward the col below the summit. It had been cloudy until this point and the crusty snow wasn't softening at all, but at this point, we could see that the sun was going to poke through, so we waited a little bit to see if things would warm up.
It seemed clear that the aspect of our final run to the summit wasn't going to warm any time soon, so we left skis at the now bare ridge and booted with crampons to the summit, reaching it at about 9:15am, so about 4.25 hours from camp with a break in there. Despite being cloudy, the views were awesome. We lingered for a little while, soaking things in, and then headed down to our skis. The first 1,000 feet were pretty icy, but things loosened up after that and were really fun. We skied to the base of the ridge at 7,400 feet or so, booted to the top of Glacier Gap, and then skied down to camp at about 11am.
Following a brilliant lunch, we hopped back into the skis and made it down to the long traverse, which we had to skin a bunch of. Thankfully, we were able to ski down the rest of the way with some poling to get back to the low point before donning skins once again and slowly making our way back up to the col between White Mountain and Red Pass. By this point, it was 2pm. After packing things back up, we headed down the PCT, trudged down the switchbacks, rested briefly at the shelter, washed up in the river crossing, and made it back to the car a little after 6pm.
While this was a long trip for 2 days (34 miles and 13,000 feet of elevation gain), it was a great adventure in a gorgeous, remote area. I won't be heading back any time soon, but I'm glad we got back there.