Eddie Bauer First Ascent splitboarder Kyle Miller has been drifting with a purpose this winter around the burliest ranges of the West Coast, from Revelstoke and Rogers Pass to Utah’s Wasatch and the Canadian Coast Range. But he’s a Washington guy in heart and soul. So the first big spring weather window drew him home to tackle the Abandoned Splitboard Traverse on Glacier Peak—solo. This is Kyle’s report on a classic Evergreen State epic and the powerful pull of solitude and isolation in his favorite Washington zone.
Words and Images by Kyle Miller
I’ve heard the word “vagabond” thrown out lately to describe my lifestyle. It’s true that this season I have been traveling nonstop, but a perfect weather window always brings me back to the Cascades. The week prior, I was running around in the Coastal Mountains riding peaks like Cayoosh, Joffre and Slaylock, followed by an 8.5-hour traverse of the Spearhead Range starting at Blackcomb and ending at Whistlers Summit. When I spotted six days of sunshine in Washington, I hitched a ride back home and was off towards Glacier Peak a mere 12 hours later.
With such a chaotic lifestyle, it is hard to find partners wanting and willing to endure the elements, so I chose to take this adventure solo. Traveling alone sets a different undertone to trips, and this was what I was looking for.
Glacier Peak is my favorite volcano for numerous reasons, one of which is its isolation.
The trek into Glacier Peak started off on the now abandoned White Chuck Trail. Over the past decade, this area has had three 100-year floods and the trail shows it. While skinning in, I passed numerous sections of washed-out road followed by skinning on, above, and under 10-foot diameter trees before I’d had enough. Ditching the trail and making my own route, I found an amazing spaced-out old-growth forest before making it to one of the main tributaries, Kennedy Creek. Following the creek, I skirted alongside a few waterfalls and made my way to the base of the Kennedy Glacier, with Glacier Peak’s summit a mere 5,000 feet above, and built a basecamp.
The next day I left basecamp with a significantly lighter pack on and made my way up the mildly crevassed glacier before arriving at the North Ridge col. To the northeast, I could see that the Ermine Glacier had fresh snow on it though the weather had been warm for numerous days. I transitioned to snowboard and rode what turned out to be amazingly stable powder conditions for 2,000 feet before following my tracks back up the glacier, thinking to myself, “Not only is it a treat to be on Glacier Peak in March, but to have powder conditions is unreal.” Back at the col, I switched to cramping and climbed the North Ridge to the summit, then rode down the Scimitar Glacier before grabbing my gear and pushing to a higher camp. That night I slept at 9,000 feet on the Ermine Glacier, looking east towards five of the ten highest peaks in Washington.
When I woke up the next morning, the winds were fierce and clouds were coming in from the west. With the east side being more protected, I descended southeast, riding on the Dusty, North Guardian and Chocolate Glaciers before stopping 4,000 vertical feet lower. With a low-angle skin track, I made my way up the Chocolate Glacier and over to the Cool Glacier (I didn’t name it), where I made camp on the South Ridge and hunkered down in the brutal weather before calling it a night.
The next morning, I had to make a decision. It was my original plan to ride the Sitkum Glacier for an uninterrupted 7,000 feet, but it needed hours to warm up the frozen slopes and I didn’t have the time to spare. I decided that I would exit via the standard southern route. That day I skinned over the Cool and White Chuck glaciers before making my way to Red Pass and descending to the North Fork Sauk Trail. With more than 20 miles of travel throughout the day, I slept on the snow-covered road and prepared for another long day and bad weather to make it worse.
I woke up at 3 AM and noticed there were no stars; the storm was on its way. I packed my gear as fast as possible and skinned down the nine miles of deserted road before making my way to the Mountain Loop Highway. Not a single person was on the road for the next 14 miles, as I walked in the pouring rain heading back towards my car. I finally got a ride two miles from my car and made it back home, completing a marathon distance by noon.
In total, this trip would take me 61 miles and 25,000 feet through some of the most scenic areas in Washington. It was a long trip. But Glacier Peak and Glacier Peak Wilderness are my favorite zones in Washington, and the solitude and isolation I find on that mountain is what draws me back home, time and time again.
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