Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Glacier Peak 100+, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Last winter I posted a number of ~100-mile routes in the North Cascades that might be good adventure runs. The Glacier Peak circumnavigation was the one I wanted to do most and luckily Ben was just as keen to partake in some scenic suffering.

Usually done as a backpack, there are a few different trails to take around the east side of the mountain (High Pass, Buck Creek Pass or Spider Gap), but only one route around the north, west and south sides. Both of us had previously covered all three options and chose Spider Gap-Lyman Lakes; it's just too awesome not to include and it means an additional climb up Little Giant Pass (great view of the Napeequa valley).

Our route went: White River to Boulder Pass trail to the Napeequa, Little Giant Pass to the Chiwawa River, Chiwawa River road and Phelps Creek to Spider Gap and Lyman Lakes, Cloudy Pass to Suiattle Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail, PCT southbound to Indian Pass and return to White River via Indian Creek. Between our GPS devices we came up with 106-107 miles with 27,000'+ of elevation gain. We completed the loop unsupported in 35 hours flat (Ben's file and my files #1 - #2). 
Our GPS track and elevation profile from The Glacier Peak 100+
By far this is the hardest thing I've ever done. 

More than the distance and elevation, it was the "small" things that became the most difficult to deal with: wet brush meant 90 miles of wet feet and painful maceration, a very slow pace at night not being able to see our feet because of said brush and a large number of difficult blowdowns on sections of trail we were expecting to be reasonably clear (PCT man! Since he's a trail crew leader I trust Ben's blowdown count: 36+ on the PCT section from Vista Creek to Fire Creek Pass and 60+ over the entire route). Of course the trails that have reputations for brush were brushy (Boulder Pass, Napeequa, Indian Creek), but since we were expecting that it wasn't as painful (except for Indian Creek which is a miserable way to end 107 miles around Glacier Peak). 

A big thank you to Ben for doing this with me; besides being incredibly difficult, it's also an insanely scenic tour of one of my favorite wilderness areas.

5:09am start; "Big trees down!"
White River trail blowdown

Lower Boulder Basin
Boulder Basin and Boulder Pass in the upper right
Looking back down Boulder Basin
SE ridge of Clark Mountain from Boulder Pass
Descent from Boulder Pass down to the Napeequa
Descending from Boulder Pass; Ben's photo
Ben descending from Boulder Pass
Flowery brush on the Boulder Pass descent
Welcome to the Napeequa!
Napeequa River ford; very shallow this year

Some boggy sections in the Napeequa

Napeequa valley, headed south toward the Little Giant Pass turnoff
Emerging from one of the thickets in the Napeequa; Ben's photo
The Napeequa river (little Alaska!), Boulder Pass visible in upper left
That view is worth the effort; the Napeequa from just below Little Giant Pass

Looking east to the Entiat range from Little Giant Pass
Keeping one pair of socks dry; fording the Chiwawa River after descending from Little Giant Pass
99 of 107 miles are in the Glacier Peak Wilderness
Spider Meadow
Looking back down on Spider Meadow from just below the snowfield; Seven Fingered Jack and Mt. Maude on the left skyline
Upper Spider Gap snowfield
Lyman Lakes side of Spider Gap
Ben's photo
Spider Gap and the Lyman Glacier on Chiwawa Mountain
Ben descending to Lower Lyman with Cloudy Pass, Cloudy Peak, North Star and Bonanza Peak
We both ate a lot of food...
From Cloudy Pass, looking back at Greenwood, Dumbbell and Chiwawa
Goode Mountain, Stormking and Booker/Buckner
Blankenship fire in the South Fork of Agnes Creek, closing the PCT
Notice posted at Suiattle Pass
Sample blowdown
Suiattle River crossing
7:30pm dinner time and getting ready for the night, on the Suiattle River bridge
Great old growth in the Suiattle valley
Headlamps on around 9pm while climbing up Vista Creek
1:32am: 18-minute nap

Sunrise around Glacier Creek (maybe?)
Kennedy Peak, Kennedy Glacier and the Scimitar Glacier on Glacier Peak; from Kennedy Ridge
Kennedy Creek bridge; Ben's photo
Wet brush for breakfast on the PCT, somwhere in the White Chuck River valley
Headed to Red Pass, the final climb 
Reaching Red Pass, "almost" done at mile 89; Ben's photo
PCT southbound from just south of Red Pass, showing White Pass in the center and Indian Pass center right behind Indian Head Peak
Descending into the massive brush-fest of Indian Creek
About five miles of this in many different brush shapes and sizes
A rare nice section of the Indian Creek valley, with quaking aspens

Ben looks unreasonably fresh for what we just went did...


  1. Looks like a brushy good time. Glad you had company to keep spirits high.

  2. Well done Luke! Another sufferfest in the books. So no internal lollipop to finish it out? ;)

  3. Just want to say congrats and I am very very jealous. It's been a loop i wanted to do for a long time. Nice to see all the photos. Thanks for sharing. Congrats again. Great loop, one of my favorite area. Lucky us, has this in our backyard.

  4. Way to go, man! Very impressed with the route and the time! There was definitely no shortage of brush or vertical for y'all. Indian Creek Trail is indeed in awful condition. However, it is worlds better than the White River Trail between the PCT and Boulder Pass Trail. So, take some solace in the fact that you chose Indian.
    Did y'all have anyone help with food? Did you carry all of your food, stash some food?

    1. Yeah, we knew White River was worse, but Indian was just a rough way to end it. We carried everything from the start: no assistance and no caches.

  5. Wow, incredible work. Great photos and awesome route. I cannot believe that's an "after-107-miles" photo of Ben at the end.

    1. I'm just happy to be done. I'm pretty sure that a photo from 5 minutes earlier, when we weren't finished yet and I'd just been stung by a wasp, would've shown a much more pissed off and exhausted-looking Ben.

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  7. happy you posted all this and cant believe you ultra ran it. i didnt know this loop existed, so its now on my list a 5 day hike :)

    1. Thanks Robert! Whether as a run or hike, it's all fantastic. Hope you get out and enjoy it!