Glacier Peak: The Isolation and the Challenge

Glacier Peak in Snohomish County is the most isolated and one of the Cascades’ more active stratovolcanoes. Scenically diverse, it stands a mere 70 miles northeast of Seattle, closer to the city than any other barring Mt. Rainier. Known as “Dakobed” (Great Parent) by Native Americans, its elevated summit is a result of its position on a high ridge. Visible from most Seattle viewpoints on clear days, Glacier Peak–at more than 10,500 feet–is completely surrounded by remote wilderness.

With more than a dozen glaciers on its flanks, access requires a 15 mile hike along the White Chuck River Trail across rough terrain, plus a climb up the Sitkum Glacier just to reach a base camp. The Glacier Peak Wilderness, sharing its border with the Cascades National Park and Stephen Mather Wilderness to the north and the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness to the south, has few equals in terms of sheer rugged splendor. Recreation and solitude go hand in hand. With more than 450 miles of trails, Glacier Peak offers many opportunities for the keen cross-country traveler.

Above its timberline at nearly 6,000 feet, alpine meadows stretch out below the peak’s serrated ridges and false summits. Below the timberline, there’s a sharp contrast of dense forest and deep U-shaped valleys tangled with huckleberry. Numerous ice-cold creeks plunge vertically and wildlife including grey wolves, grizzly bears, wolverines and even mice are sometimes seen. For the keen naturalist, a visit to Entiat River Loop is a must.

Set in a deep basin, surrounded by mountain peaks and a multi-colored carpet of wildflowers, Entiat Meadows is one of the most stunning in Washington State. The equally impressive Ice Lakes features stark alpine settings with glacial scarred rocks, twisted trees, and towering ice-covered summits. The Glacier Peak Wilderness’ 100 plus trails range from well maintained and relatively easy footpaths, to strenuous and seldom used animal trails. Most notable is the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail which stretches for around 2,600 miles, from the Mexican border to British Columbia. Along its vast length, the trail passes through seven National Parks and 25 National Forests. It meanders through protected wilderness and stunning mountainous terrain, until it subsequently converges with the Suiattle River Trail.

Close to Glacier Peak and 30 minutes north of downtown Seattle, Tulalip Bay–a charming fishing village–is an ideal base. For some premier accommodation, The Tulalip Resort Casino is luxury personified and designed around the heritage and culture of the region’s Native American tribes. Local Salish artwork and traditional cedar baskets is typical of its decor. The spacious suites and guest rooms– including those for the disabled – are kitted out with state of the art amenities. Free, wireless internet access, 47-inch HD flat-screen televisions, coffee and tea (complimentary) and fully stocked minibar, make sure its guests are made to feel at home. Guests at the resort can also enjoy an indoor swimming pool, concierge service, souvenir shop, a fitness centre as well as an on-site florist. The resort can also arrange transportation services and offers free valet parking. Not forgetting its award-winning restaurants. Call (360)-716-6350 or go to www.tulalipresort.com for more information.

For the keen mountaineer, looking to get a first foothold on the rock face, the regular climbing season in the Glacier Peak region runs from May to October, depending on snow and road conditions. With some snowfall accumulating to depths of 45 feet, it’s always wise to check conditions in advance. Despite the isolation, the Wilderness area offers some great camping throughout. If attempting the Sitkum Glacier route, several superb campsites exist in Boulder Basin, accessed from a steep track off the Pacific Crest Trail. The sunsets from this vantage point are simply stunning so have your camera primed and ready. There are no fees or permits required for climbing in the Glacier Wilderness, but a Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at all trailheads. These are available at local sporting goods stores and the Darrington Ranger Station. Call (360)-436-1155 for details.

Fortunately, crampons and rope are not the only ways to get out and about in this beautiful and isolated region. The area features a number of trails ideal for snowshoes. Skyline Lake is just one. It’s a strenuous, but short 3-mile hike–with an elevation gain of less than 1,000 feet–and it rewards with stunning natural beauty and a vantage point offering unmatched views of the Glacier Peak Wilderness, Mount Stuart and Lake Chelan.

The Glacier Peak Wilderness region features a number of warm springs which are certainly worth checking out. The Gamma Hot Springs are pristine hot springs which emerge from bedrock at the head of a canyon framed by jagged peaks. They are a challenge but are well away from humanity. Known as the “call of the wild” hot springs, they can be a risky proposition unless sensible precautions are taken. Check with the Forest Service on current conditions and go late in the summer or fall when the streams are low. The ultimate in the region has to be the Sulphur Warm Springs. These present a challenging search as they are hidden in a primeval forest. Swimwear is superfluous and the Springs rank second only to Gamma for sheer elusiveness. Shown on maps on the edge of Sulphur Creek at 1,920 feet, they do take a bit of finding: www.trails.com has more details.

The Glacier Peak Wilderness, spanning portions of Chelan, Snohomish and Skagit Counties covers a vast area of 572,000 acres. Thirty five miles long and 20 miles wide, its character is defined by steep-sided valleys, heavily forested stream courses and dramatic peaks. Lakes for fishing, trails for hiking, snowshoeing and horseback riding, are all available within its boundaries. The climate in the area changes dramatically with elevation, receiving a high amount of precipitation from October to April.

Although, it is not unusual for the Wilderness to still be buried under 10 to 20 feet of snow in May, usually the trails and passes are snow free by mid-August. This can vary year to year. In late spring, summer and early autumn, the region enjoys clear, sunny days with moderate temperatures, although snow and cold rain can occur in midsummer. The first recorded sighting of Glacier Peak by a white man–Daniel Linsley–was in 1870, surveying a route for the Northern Pacific Railroad. Since then, the region has been visited by countless hikers, back-packers and adventure seekers keen to experience both the challenge and the isolation of this dramatic region.

About the author

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Nigel Boney

I started writing for Northwest.com in 2010, with 37 articles published. I have strong links with the Pacific Northwest. UK based, I also wrote for Mobbly News Written by You - 73 articles mainly under showbiz & entertainment. Recently I published on MusicVita. I have a Diploma in freelance journalism and I'm currently writing on Blasting News US.

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