Summit 1: KOLOLO 
Summit 2: GLACIER, Gerdine/South Ridge

Summit 3: TENPEAK 

TR #: 128

Category: Washington (HWY 2)       Summit Elev: 10,540 ft (Glacier)      Rock Type: Gneiss, Dacite

Partners: Dan Aylward, "Glacier Bill"

An athletic and spectacular three-peak circuit climb of Glacier Peak.

Glacier Peak is visible from nearly every North Cascades summit. Or at least it seems to be. My eye has always caught on its aesthetic snowy volcanic form, followed by the inevitable: "I want to climb that someday." Finally, in July 2012, that someday came along.

Dan Aylward was an eager partner. This trip was actually the first time we had ever met in person, although we had emailed back and forth numerous times in the past, a result of our common membership in the Broken Leg Club. Dan had broken his femur in an avalanche in April 2011; at that time I was still on crutches due to serious tib-fib fracture from a climbing accident in September 2010. We shared in the misery of mountain withdrawal and encouraged each other in recovery. As we healed, we began to allude to possibilities of future climbing trips. By the summer of 2012 both of us were eager to make up for lost time in the mountains.

In the years leading up to our climb of Glacier Peak, road washouts had gradually eliminated any quick and easy approach to the once crowded summit. The increased remoteness had made the area more appealing to me. Given a lack of an easy approach, Dan and I thought it would be fun to enact a slightly non-standard itinerary and climb Glacier Peak as a circuit with a couple of additional summits. Our plan: A cross-country approach, a spectacular camp on top of the highest of Kololo Peaks just a glacial expanse south of Glacier Peak, a climb of the south ridge of Glacier Peak, a traverse down the Honeycomb Glacier to access the north couloir of the seldom-climbed Tenpeak Mountain, and finally a return to the summit of Kololo. Essentially, this would be a three-peak circuit. With an amazing high camp. It sounded like a physical challenge. It sounded beautiful. It sounded fun.

And it was all three.

The following page gives maps, route overlays, photos, videos, commentary, and the continuing adventures of a particular tiny stuffed mountain goat. Enjoy!


Map of our GPS track.

Day 1 :
  • From White River Trail trailhead (2300 ft), hike 10 miles to Lightning Creek (3180 ft). Leave trail and head north cross-country up Lightning Creek drainage to camp near summit of the highest of Kololo Peaks (8220 ft) (Trailhead to Kololo: 14.6 miles, 7222' gain, 1333' loss, time: 9h40min).
Day 2 :
  • Climb Glacier Peak (10540 ft) via Gerdine Ridge aka South Ridge aka Disappointment Peak Cleaver (Kololo to Glacier: 4.0 miles, 3742' gain, 1389' loss, 3h50min).
  • Make long gradual descent of Honeycomb Glacier and climb Tenpeak Mountain (8220 ft) via its North Couloir (Glacier to Tenpeak: 7.3 miles, 2981' gain, 5338' loss, 6h30min).
  • Descend route and hike back to camp on summit of Kololo Peaks (Tenpeak to Kololo: 4.0 miles, 2596' gain, 2620' loss, 4h15min).
Day 3
  • Hike out via Lightning Creek and White River Trail (Kololo to Trailhead: 13.8 miles, 1320' gain, 7206' loss, 7h15min).

Total trip mileage: 43.7 miles (according to my GPS)
Total trip elevation gain/loss: ~17,850' cumulative (according to my GPS)


Day 1 :

From White River Trail trailhead (2300 ft), hike 10 miles to Lightning Creek (3180 ft). Leave trail and head north cross-country up Lightning Creek drainage to camp near summit of the highest of Kololo Peaks (8220 ft)
Trailhead to Kololo: 14.6 miles, 7222' gain, 1333' loss, time: 9h40min).

Dan filling his water bladder with Muscle Milk for the hike in. It's a good idea for the first day of any trip, although we both agreed that some sort of juice sounded a bit more refreshing than warmish thickish milkish liquid....
'Shwacking along the White River Trail. The worst was between Boulder Creek and Thunder Creek, where the brush was often over chest high. Even so, it wasn't all that difficult to stay on the trail as long as you kept pushing bushes aside to look for it. Besides for the Boulder-to-Thunder section, the trail was mostly in timber and quite good.

Washed out bridge over Thunder Creek. Man-made bridges seem to be almost a futile attempt in the North Cascades, where creeks swell into raging rivers every spring through early summer.
Fortunately we found a convenient log.
The log's height above the raging torrent and its smoothness encouraged butt-scooting for me.
Dan had a cool App on his iPhone that pinpointed our location on topo maps he had uploaded. We were able to easily double check that we turned off into the correct drainage (Lightning Creek, 9.7 miles from trailhead). I can see how this could be very useful when the turnoffs and routes are more ambiguous.
Basalt cliffs just above and on the east side of the mouth of Lightning Creek.
Playing "link the logs" on the slopes of the lower Lightning Creek High Route.
It turns out that the Lightning Creek drainage has two major water flows. Since we did not cross the second one in the trees where there were sufficient blow-downs to create a bridge, we ended up having to ascend alongside the swollen creek higher than we wanted to and then grunt our way through thick alder to where we could cross safely. After crossing the creek, we finally gained the timbered rib we wanted to ascend. (See map for our route up the Lightning Creek drainage).
The terrain opened up at a 6000' shoulder. From here it was an easy ascent towards Kololo Peaks. (See the map.)
Looking across White River Glacier towards Kololo Peaks. We camped just below the highest one, which is second from left. Getting there was 99% snow and 1% easy rock scramble. Photo by Dan Aylward.
Since there would be no running water near our camp near the summit of Kololo Peaks, we collected some running off a rock outcrop on the White River Glacier.
When we reached the summit of Kololo Peaks, we were treated to a stunning view of Glacier Peak just a glacier expanse away to the north.
Black and white rendition of the same photo.
This spectacular camp was well worth the rather arduous 7000+ feet of gain to get there.
Playing around with alphabet cookies at camp.
A spectacular cloud and sunset show.
Star trails above Glacier Peak. The orange on the horizon to the left is likely light pollution from Bellingham or Vancouver. Exposure: 30 min, f/5.6, ISO 400.
A glowing tent at our campsite near the summit of Kololo.

Day 2 :
Climb Glacier Peak (10540 ft) via Gerdine Ridge aka South Ridge aka Disappointment Peak Cleaver. Make long gradual descent of Honeycomb Glacier and climb Tenpeak Mountain (8220 ft) via its North Couloir. Descend route and hike back to camp on summit of Kololo Peaks.
(Kololo to Glacier: 4.0 miles, 3742' gain, 1389' loss, 3h50min)
(Glacier to Tenpeak: 7.3 miles, 2981' gain, 5338' loss, 6h30min)
(Tenpeak to Kololo: 4.0 miles, 2596' gain, 2620' loss, 4h15min)

Route overlay for the South Ridge (aka Gerdine Ridge aka Disappointment Cleaver) of Glacier Peak, as seen from our high camp.
Morning light on Glacier Peak, just as we started our hike towards the summit.
Dan on the Suiattle Glacier approaching Glacier Peak.
Looking back at Kololo Peaks from the north. Our camp was between the two rightmost summits.
Sure beats a day at the office. These rays are called crepuscular rays I believe.
Just for the heck of it, we decided to make a direct ascent of the ridge up Disappointment Peak. The rock was about as solid as you can expect on a volcano, but it was pretty blocky and easy scrambling.
Dan and the route towards the summit stretching out to his left. We ascended a path on the ridge and then went up a final snowfield on the left.
I own the lightest ice axe on the market.
Dan on the summit. Hmm...which snow bump is highest?
Nope, the other bump looks higher.
Or maybe this way. Photo by Dan Aylward.
Think it's this one. At least with the current snowpack.
Chocolate is a good flavor for a summit register.
After tagging all summit candidates on Glacier Peak, we headed back down the same way we came and towards the Honeycomb Glacier which we would descend to get to the northern base of Tenpeak. Some small squalls made for dramatic lighting. When we saw lightning we were a bit concerned that we might not be able to climb Tenpeak (during a storm, it's probably not a good idea to strap metal implements onto your feet and make your way towards the highest point with a lightning rod in your hand). Fortunately, the squalls passed by the time we were halfway to Tenpeak.
I noticed these striations on the ridge. As usual, wikipedia has an answer: "patterned ground."
    Types: Patterned ground can be found in a variety of forms. Typically, the type of patterned ground in a given area is related to the amount of larger stones present in local soils and the frequency of freeze-thaw cycles. Shown in the photo are strips, which are lines of stones, vegetation, and/or soil that typically form from transitioning steps on slopes at angles between 2° and 7°.
   Formation: In periglacial areas and areas affected by seasonal frost, repeated freezing and thawing of groundwater forces larger stones toward the surface as smaller soils flow and settle underneath larger stones. At the surface, areas that are rich in larger stones contain much less water than highly porous areas of finer grained sediments. These water saturated areas of finer sediments have a much greater ability to expand and contract as freezing and thawing occur, leading to lateral forces which ultimately pile larger stones into clusters and stripes. Through time, repeated freeze-thaw cycles smooth out irregularities and odd-shaped piles to form the common polygons, circular, and stripes of patterned ground. Frost also sorts the sediments in the ground. Once the mantle has been weathered, finer particles tend to migrate away from the freezing front, and larger particles migrate through the action of gravity.

On the traverse towards Tenpeak, we spotted this orca coming up for air, plume and all.
After Glacier Peak, we headed down the Honeycomb Glacier towards the seldom climbed Tenpeak Mountain. We planned on climbing the North Couloir, which is 35° snow with a 5.4 rock pitch near the summit. The couloir is not visible in this photo, but is around the left shoulder.
Two weeks previous, I had flown over the Glacier Peak area with John Scurlock. I used one of my photos for the route overlay on the left. There was about two weeks less snow when Dan and I climbed it.

UPDATE: To the right is another aerial photo clearly showing the North Couloir of Tenpeak. I took this photo about a week after our climb.
Looking up the 1200-ft 35° snow couloir that makes up Tenpeak's North Couloir route. Snow conditions were pretty ideal for a quick ascent (about 4 hours round trip from base which includes the rock climbing near the top).
Looking down the North Couloir.
The couloir terminates on the ridge. From here we scrambled up easy rock to the NW Ridge (right skyline), where we climbed one 5.4 pitch to the summit.
Traversing towards the NW Ridge.
The 5.4 pitch to the summit. This photo was taken after we climbed it, with Dan downclimbing the last move.
On the summit of Tenpeak Mountain. Photo by Dan Aylward.
The summit register of Tenpeak. This summit is not climbed very often. Especially not from the north ("standard" approach is from the Thunder Basin side).
The view of the southeast side of Glacier Peak from Tenpeak. Glaciers in view include: Cool Glacier, Chocolate Glacier, North Guardian Glacier, Dusty Glacier.
Hmmm....not going to rap off of this!
We made only one full rappel and downclimbed the rest. Photo by Dan Aylward.
Our rappel anchor.
Looking down into Thunder Basin. I've heard stories about horrendous brush getting back to the White River Trail. This was part of what motivated Dan and I to do Tenpeak as a day trip from our camp on Kololo rather than carry over Tenpeak into Thunder Basin.
Heading back up the Honeycomb Glacier towards our camp on Kololo. 2000+ ft to go.....
We tromped over thousands of ice worms on the Honeycomb Glacier. These cool critters only come out to the surface of the glaciers in the evening and morning. According to Wikipedia:
    The first ice worms species were discovered in 1887 in Alaska. These glacier ice worms can be found on glaciers in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. They have not been found in other glaciated regions of the world.

Enzymes in ice worms have very low optimal temperatures, and can be denatured at even a few degrees above 0 °C (32 °F). When ice worms are exposed to temperatures as high as 5 °C (41 °F), their membrane structures disassociate and fall apart (i.e., "melt") causing the worm itself to liquify. Hence, ice worms hide beneath the snow during the day.
Ice worms are several centimeters long, and can be black, blue, or white in color. On Suiattle Glacier in the North Cascades population counts indicated over 7 billion ice worms on that glacier alone.
   It is not known how ice worms tunnel through the ice. Some scientists believe they travel through microscopic fissures in ice sheets, while others believe they secrete some chemical which can melt ice by lowering its freezing point, like an antifreeze. They feed on snow algae.
My night photos from camp that night captured lightning on the horizon. Exposure: 8 min, f/5.6, ISO 500.
Close-up of the lightning in the photo above.

Day 3
Hike out via Lightning Creek and White River Trail
(Kololo to Trailhead: 13.8 miles, 1320' gain, 7206' loss, 7h15min).

We enjoyed a nice morning at camp before heading out.
There are some pretty rocks on Glacier Peak, with all the volcanic dikes and veins and pressures and temperatures the area has experienced.
Another pretty rock, likely caused by folding under heat and pressure.
The timbered slope that we had missed on the way up while we were wallowing in slide alder. (See map for our up and down routes).
Ah, yes, the White River Trail again....

And finally....what we've all been waiting for...


Billy's summer climbing adventures continue...

Billy's taste for inedible things seems to have escalated since the last trip.

A windblown Billy on the summit of Glacier Peak.

When we accidentally forgot Billy at the base of the final pitch on Tenpeak, he took the opportunity to do a first ascent of a nearby spire.

Billy got in on the bushwhacking action.