Frostbite Ridge Solo Climb and Ski

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Frostbite Ridge Solo Ski
Glacier Peak

8 June 2003

ski tracks

ski slalom the bootpack The bootpack made for a good slalom course in the fog.

ski tracks on glacier Ski tracks on the glacier

beer Beer: it tastes much better than performance drinks.

Frostbite Ridge follows the left skyline.

I was thinking about a one-day trip to Glacier Peak for quite some time. I wasn't sure when anyone else would be interested in such a proposition, which suggested a solo attempt. The Sitkum Glacier is nice, but I was ready for something different. Reports that Frostbite Ridge was in good condition made me revisit my impulse to climb it from a few weeks before, and this time I acted on the notion.

I left Seattle at a quarter past midnight. It had been a warm day but the weather was supposed to cool. The drive to White Chuck River trailhead is ninety one miles from the University District, and takes a little over two hours. I sat in the car and pondered things in the dark for awhile. After much deep thought I came to the realization that I had to get ready and load my skis onto my pack if I was going to climb Glacier Peak. I finally started hiking around three in the morning.

The temperature in the woods was perfect for hiking in a polypro shirt and light nylon pants. I kept a comfortable pace. The detour at the trail's washout was interesting. It was light enough to remove the headlamp after four miles. In my trance-like state I cruised past the turn to Kennedy Ridge Trail, which I corrected after arriving at the river crossing near Kennedy Hot Springs. It took a little work to break the habit of skiing the Sitkum, but not too much.

There was a bootpack going up the ridge, but I didn't pay too much attention to it. I followed my instincts, which led me to the base of the Kennedy Glacier. I made my first stop to change into my boots, leave my tennis shoes, and have some refreshments. The northern edge of the Kennedy Glacier looked crevasse-free. Through a narrow spot I had to split the difference between an obvious rockfall hazard from Kennedy Peak and crevasses to the south. I stayed away from the crevasses and increased my pace.

Above the saddle where the Vista and Kennedy Glaciers touch, I rejoined the bootpack and stopped to take a drink. The clouds from earlier had burned off the summit. The Rabbit Ears looked like good skiing. I followed the bootpack up the ridge to the rock. It was an easy downclimb to the steep slope, then an easy climb to the false summit. Clouds started blowing through the vicinity about this time. I followed the bootpack down a gentle slope. All that was left was one icy bulge to the summit. The snow was harder, but it still allowed solid footing without crampons, especially with the old steps.

I could see a large group of clouds moving toward the summit from the north. I tightened my boots, took some photos, and skied into the crater. The clouds arrived, but it was easy to follow the bootpack up the gentle slope. Over the false summit, I did a slalom on the bootpack, in the whiteout, down to the Rabbit Ears. I was lucky enough to catch a break in the clouds for some photos when I reached the top of the Rabbit Ears again.

The ski down the Rabbit Ears was really fun. The more direct, heart-pounding line of descent from the Rabbit Ears would be directly down the Dusty Glacier, where the steepness is sustained for quite some time. I'll save that for when I return with a friend. The ski down the Kennedy Glacier was beautiful slush, easy to surf on the Big Stix. I was able to ski a little bit of Kennedy Ridge, but I removed the skis a little earlier than necessary, wary from past navigational errors caused by the swiftness of ski descent.

I finished my last cup of water with six miles to go; from there it became a thirsty hike. I saw several other people on the White Chuck River Trail. I caught four climbers who had climbed the Sitkum Glacier. I'm sure I didn't look like a million bucks, but I was glad not to be carrying overnight gear. My skis were probably heavier than their overnight gear anyway, but forget about that. I asked one of them what time it was, to which she replied, "Four forty." I was back at the car less than fourteen hours from departure, enjoying a beer and contemplating the day. I felt like I had set myself free.

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