Failure is an option in the mountains. This weekend brought yet another unsuccessful summit attempt in the Cascades, this time on Sloan peak. August is pretty late for glaciers, and this being a low snow year I expected challenging conditions. I found exactly what I expected: an intimidating glacier with crevasses that ended up stymieing our forward progress. In typical climbing form, this was one disappointment interspersed with moments of sheer joy and other moments of misery. It was so worth it.
Sloan peak has two approaches: Bedal Creek and Cougar Creek. We decided to go via Bedal Creek after reading that it’s a less heinous bushwhack and requires zero river fording. Our party met on the mountain loop highway mid-morning on Saturday. A leisurely start commensurate with splitting Sloan in to two days. We piled in my outback and made it up the rough road to the Bedal Creek trailhead. Going up the road was a lot of fun for me. Not so much for all my passengers. Just keep your momentum up and drive around the biggest holes.
The trail starts out pretty good and quickly becomes overgrown. Sometimes this brush is good: it brings the bounty of salmon berries low and blueberries high. Sometimes, though, brush bites. Stinging nettles and devil’s club mixed in with the berries. Cool. After about an hour, we reached 3600’ on the trail and looked for our turnoff uphill. All the beta suggests that you should ignore the flagging and go a little climber’s right for better bushwhacking. They’re right. But, only for about 50 vertical feet. Then just follow the flags. The flags are good.
After about 1000’ of gain, we found some boulders and then another way trail through an abundance of blueberries and huckleberries. They are so ripe. Progress slowed as we chowed down on snacks. Good thing they were there, too, since this is about where my boots soaked through from the water coming off the bushes. You know that soaked-to-the-bone feeling? Yup. That happened. Slosh, squish, slosh, squish until we reached the tarn at 5300’.
This tarn is one possible camp, but having read beta about a camp on the ridge at 5800’, we continued on in an attempt to climb out of the clouds. We never did leave the clouds on our approach, but we found some fun slabs! Without a ton of visibility, it’s hard to find an optimal route to your destination so we ended up taking a wandering trail. No matter. It was nice to be out walking with some friends.
We arrived at the 5800’ camp in about 5.5 hours total. It took us a minute to find spots suitable for 3 tents, so if you’re coming up here with a large party consider camping low or be prepared for a rocky night. We had to search a little bit for water, but thankfully Melissa found a cool little puddle for us to filter water from. We ended up pitching one tent here, and the other two tents on an exposed site right in the notch at 5850’. Shouting distance. The wind picked up as we prepared and ate dinner (I brought a kale salad and some Mountain Houses for Melissa and I). The wind and soggy air was cold as hell, but it eventually drove out some clouds and we got the sun. Morale improved.
Some photos later, we turned in to bed at around 9 o’clock for a 4am wake up. The alarm goes off too early on alpine starts. But, time is relentless, and after a mostly okay sleep I awoke and ate my cold breakfast. Not looking forward to soaked feet, I delayed as much as I could putting on my boots. My dry socks didn’t last long. It still wasn’t as that one time in Course 1 where my boots literally froze overnight, but not exactly awesome.
We started around 5:40am and immediately found fun slabs to scramble up toward the glacier. The sun rose as we ascended. We were rewarded with golden light and the sun peeking out over Glacier Peak.
We roped up; Melissa, Anna, and I a team of 3 and Mary and Nataliya a team of 2. I led out and found easy going on firm snow. This came to a screeching halt at an exposed snow bridge and crevasse system. I built a 2 point anchor and started belaying the group up to me so I could lead out. 20m of rope doesn’t go very far, and I made it almost to a snow bridge after setting an intermediate picket. So, I put in another 2 point anchor belayed the team to me. Building snow anchors takes forever. Once I got the team to me, we tried to find a way over a snow bridge. There was a bridge, but it was narrow and very firm ice. I tried leading it but didn’t feel comfortable. Anna could climb it, but didn’t know to put in protection from above. We scanned all the other routes we could see but they ended in what we thought were pretty obvious crevasses.
We turned around.
As we were tearing down the rope back on rocks, we met a couple parties who kept going. One party ascended our route. Another stayed low. As far as I could tell, both parties made it. Bummer for us, but I’m happy for them.
The descent was straightforward. We found a substantially better way down from camp to the tarn. Then it was back through the millions of blueberries (with many fewer after our presence), back through the boulders, and to the bushwhack. We found that here the terrain draws you away from the flagging and had to do a good amount of side hilling, through slide alder, to get back on route. Be wary.