April 26-30, 2019 Story by Jason Hummel
Mount Anderson and how it looked over a century ago was recorded in a book called Men, Mules and Mountains: Lieutenant O’Neil’s Olympic Expeditions. One member, Private Harry Fischer, became the first human to attain the upper slopes of Mount Anderson, ultimately reaching Flypaper Pass, but no further.
William O’Douglas also described Mount Anderson, and specifically the Anderson Glacier, a half Century later. This glacier,” Douglas lamented, “used to move downward until it hung over the edge of the canyon wall. Then it would break into huge ice blocks with a roar that would fill the Enchanted Valley (Douglas, Page 121, My Wilderness, The Pacific West).”
On that pioneering climb of Mount Anderson and the Anderson Glacier, Private Harry Fischer postulated, “…man may never know how deep, the snow, and ice lay (Lien, Page 432, Exploring the Olympic Mountains, Accounts of the Earliest Expeditions 1878-1890).” Today, detached icy remnants remain in place of that once active glacier. Revealed beneath is an expanse of boulders and a terminal moraine lake, more than half a mile in length.
Visiting the glaciers in the vicinity of Mount Anderson became my goal in late April. It was then I found myself at the washed out Dosewallips River Road with two friends, Jake Chartier and Carl Simpson, both seasoned Olympic travelers from previous adventures of mine. Meaning, simply, they know to bring duct tape for all the shit they’re about to break.
Because there are 6.5 miles of decommissioned road ahead of us, we take our bikes, loading them down with skis and poles. Various strapping techniques are used and only Carl and Jake’s circa 1990s bikes favor the unruly loads. My own bike, a newer full suspension 29er is cantankerous, and I come to a full stop a hundred yards from the trailhead. With every bump, skis scrape tires, handlebars bang the camera, and bindings gouge knees. A litany of profanity threatens to break the silence that lines this pristine river and abandoned road, but I only seem capable of cursing when people are about. I know, it’s unhealthy. Fuck, I’m working on it already.
As per usual the starting elevation was slightly above sea level (~600 feet) and there was no snow in sight. How far we had to go was up for debate. Carl summed up the best answer by declaring, “We’ll just keep going ’till we get there.”
Cursing eventually devolved to grunting. Miles of green dulled to a brownish yellow where snows had recently peeled back to expose an underbelly of salmon berries and ferns, broken detritus from larger conifers, and a myriad array of slippery rocks. This was no good for us, as it created a posthole nightmare where feet could find no secure purchase.
As we scurried upward, Jake shared a story from his youth after I decided to break away to find a potentially better route. There are folks like me, he said, they call “Magellans,” after the captain of the first ship to circumnavigate the globe. These are people that forge a different way from the leader. The ones that break off from the main party to find their own improved route. Being a Magellan isn’t a good thing. Basically, it’s a nonverbal way of suggesting, “You don’t know where the hell you’re going, and so I’m going my own way.”
Jake parroted some bygone explorer from his childhood, with a mixture of his New York accent shinning through when he cracked, “Look at him, he’s fuckin’ Magellan!”
After ~9 miles of forest walking, and a few miles of jockeying for best captain, we arrived to a point we could take skis and boots from our backs, and begin to skin. How people climb without skinning, I’ll never understand. Perhaps that’s why I never see any climbers so far beyond the first line of peaks in early spring? Once the snow either melts or consolidates, travel is much easier. Until then, these mountains are the domain of bears, one of whose tracks we followed.
Camp for the night was made atop Anderson Pass, a short distance beyond a spot the O’Neil expedition named, Camp Siberia, for the cold winds that would blow down from the icy mountain sides of Mt. Anderson.
Day 2: White Mountain, North Face via White Glacier (glacier #203)
That morning, new snowfall covered the ground as I scurried from the tent. The skiff of white flakes that had fallen overnight had turned the soft layer beneath into ice. April, in my opinion, is a great time to be in Alaska or Canada. Anywhere but Washington. April is our rot season. A between month when Mother Nature can’t decide on winter or spring. Is it going to rain, or snow? Will it be 0 or 90 degrees? Either way, there’s never quite enough time for a good freeze/thaw cycle to set up. That comes, historically, in May and June. Times are changing, though. Two thousand nineteen won’t have much of a June this year. Currently snowpack is hovering around half of normal. Such conditions are much more commonplace than they were just a few decades ago.
The crux to arriving to White Mountain is a narrow ridgeline that curls from Mt. Lacrosse, bisecting two secluded basins. With some scrambling around, we found the spot and crossed at ~6100 feet, finding easy travel to the foot of a hanging valley.
Any hope the snow would improve dimmed as we climbed upward. As I arrived to the White Glacier, one of two in the Olympics (with the second being on Mt. Tom), I disparaged the name, White Glacier, as generic. Where the name came from is unknown (Gods and Goblins, 1984). The Lacrosse Glacier or the Siberian Glacier (after the nearby camp), or some other name would’ve done some historical justice to the place. Naming a glacier White is paramount to calling a lake, Blue.
The White Glacier is small, not much more than a quarter mile in length. Yet, it’s terminus of 5000 feet is impressive, considering how far east it is in the range. No other glacier on the Olympic Peninsula, outside those on Mt. Olympus, have a lower terminus. In the book, Roadside Geology of Washington, the authors write, “The existence of big glaciers in the Olympic Mountains where the climate is relatively mild, and the absence of comparable glaciers in the much colder Rocky Mountains, suggests that heavy snow is more important than cold weather in maintaining glaciers.”
Above the White Glacier is White Mountain’s north face, ~1000 vertical feet of 40-50 degree snow. It has likely never seen a ski descent. Whether we would ski it was in doubt, as on this day, it was a sheet of ice. The climbing, at least, was excellent.
At the summit pyramid, we continued our climb up a final 20 foot snow finger to within a few feet of the top.
Laid out amongst the summit rocks, I could see Mt. Skokomish, which I had climbed a few weeks earlier (Skokomish, North Face). Other peaks were also visible. They were muted by the greybird day, yet impressed me still. While the peaks are small, they are numerous and skirted with cliff and snow in such a way as to make them appear formidable and unapproachable. Here and there, though, clouds momentarily broke and allowed the sun to shine through onto summit and faraway vistas alike. It’s as if Earth is a stage and each mountain an actor. Yet, only a select few get to stand in the limelight.
The descent was tenuous on ice; although Carl made it look easy relative to my own efforts. I barely held onto the slope after my skis bucked. It’s a reason I dislike carbon skis. Yet, not enough dislike to counter the weight savings.
Where I made the descent look difficult, Jake made it look terrifying, dropping in with two axes and still losing purchase! He slipped down over a portion of rock but still managed to keep in control. Have I ever said, that snowboarders on icy steeps terrify me? I’m sure I have. If not, put a placemark here.
Good snow would’ve made the ski glorious and easy. Because I’m an odd cookie, as is Carl, conditions aside, we find the descent a pleasure. Point to point skiing that takes every bit of focus, charges the mind with being present and the body with being in control.
We found our way from the White Glacier, back over the ridge and down to Anderson Pass. Since my objectives for the next few days were on Mt. Anderson, I convinced the others to move camp to a 5200 foot moraine just above the former Anderson Glacier and the newly formed Valkyrie Lake.
Day 3: The Hanging Glacier and the SW Face of the East Peak of Mt. Anderson
There is some discrepancy in the naming and exact location of the Hanging Glacier. Nowadays, the Hanging Glacier is attributed to the glacier on the Northeast side of Mt. Anderson. Originally it may have been another name for the Anderson Glacier.
We left camp mid-morning, once the snow had softened, and contoured 1.25 miles from camp on the 5200’ moraine to the 4700’ valley between the main and East Peak of Mt. Anderson. The entire way was snow and in great condition. Years-old avalanche remains we had seen two days before was viewed from above. The carnage left massive trees bent over, similar in appearance to the Mt. Saint Helens forests soon after the eruption. The destructive path was a mile and a half long, descending 4000 vertical feet from Anderson’s upper slopes to its valley bottom.
The climb over the unnamed col above the Hanging Glacier was pleasant travel. A cornice hung over the otherside, which could be bypassed to either side. After putting on skis, we skied nonstop, and charged the entire way to the valley floor (~4400’) where fresh glacier water was contaminated by Crystal Light kool-aid and we sunbathed like walruses on the river rocks.
We returned back to the col and decided to ski from the highest skiable point on the East Peak of Mt. Anderson, getting to within a few feet below the summit on two different aspects, before we decided that it was as high as we could get. From there, we skied the SW Face back to our traverse and to camp.
The Hanging Glacier isn’t much of a glacier. In fact, the unnamed glacier on the Southwest side of the col (the way we’d come) appeared similar to its counterpart. It has both a moraine lake and massive moraines. The Hanging Glacier has a few moraines, but they are small, and abuts a cliff face.
That evening the alpenglow painted the steep northern slopes of Lacrosse, lighting up its gendarmes. The cold followed as soon as the sun descended behind the mountains. Dusk was accompanied by a frigid wind. As such, we all settled in early.
Day 4: Mt. Anderson NW Face and the Linsley Glacier
The Linsley Glacier was named after Nelson E. Linsley in 1890, during the O’Neil expedition. Oddly it isn’t an officially named glacier on the USGS maps, yet was likely among the first named. Others have also called it the Quinault Glacier, after the Quinault River.
To get there, I hoped to climb to Flypaper Pass, and skirt toward the West Peak of Mt. Anderson (which is actually the highest of the summits, instead of Mt. Anderson or the East Peak of Mt. Anderson). Excellent weather was e njoyed well into morning while we waited for the snow to soften.
At 9 or 10 a.m., we set off over the Anderson Glacier and up to Flypaper Pass where we split ways. Carl and Jake would ski the full length of the Eel glacier, while I would detour back over a high col to the Linsley Glacier, or such was my hope. I worried cliffs would stand in the way.
Very hard snow allowed a traverse to within 300 vertical feet of the pass. A quick climb brought me expectedly to the cusp of the notch, to where I could just about see to the other side. A moment of worry waned when I saw a narrow snow-filled gully descend between an otherwise rock-lined col.
The Linsley Glacier is a flat expanse of ice, nearly as wide as it is long (0.4 by 0.5 miles). I chased cloud-shadows down perfect corn snow, delighting in the great skiing until it brought me to a small headwall. I descended it to the rim of a couloir at ~5700’. The clouds lollygagged over peaks and I sat and lollygagged myself. The countless streams echoed in the deepness of Enchanted Valley, the sound muted by the endless tracks of forests. This valley, named by Fred Cleator in 1928, once said of it, “Hundreds of small waterfalls…shoot, trickle, cascade, or otherwise pour over these cliffs into a scenic masterpiece…(Gods and Goblins, 1984).”
To be alone in such a place, far from anyone including my climbing partners, was a thrill. Few people have stood on the rim of the Linsley Glacier. It was where Private Harry Fischer and his partner had attempted to go during their pioneering attempt at an ascent but were thwarted.
Lonely places are hard for me to leave. As I ascended back to the pass, I shouted at the walls that echoed. Part of the reason this glacier has survived is because these walls loom over it. Besides two withering glaciers on Mt. Olympus (the Jeffers and University glaciers), it is the only other southern facing glacier on the Peninsula, and the healthiest.
Once I reached the pass, I descended the Eel Glacier to it’s base where I met Carl and Jake on their ascent (~5100’). Our next objective was to ski Mt. Anderson, which I’d done before, but didn’t mind doing again since the first time was in a complete whiteout and saw nothing but an encircling miasma of grey.
We ascended the NW Face and donned crampons for the last few feet. Jake decided he’d boarded enough ice and descended back down to the Eel Glacier while Carl and I scurried to the top. Views of places I’d been and places I’d planned to go met me on all sides.
The descent was fast and furious. Each turned improved, becoming softer the closer we came to the Eel Glacier. There was one second where I considered traversing out, thus saving myself hundreds of feet of climbing, but what’s the fun in that?
We returned to Flypaper Pass just as cold shadows were about to turn the descent into a veneer of ice. Fortunately, there was nothing between us and going, except transitioning for the descent. No photos. No stopping. Just down. And the snow was amazing! We skied the best turns of the trip, to the shores of Valkyrie Lake, where we filled up on water and toasted to another great day.
Day 5: Anderson Glacier to trailhead
Our final day arrived and we hurried to pack gear and reverse our track to bikes and cars. We once again followed bear tracks from Anderson Pass to the lower meadows. No one fell in the river while crossing. Best of all, no one skied into the river during a helter-skelter ski-blitz along a dangling thread of snow above the river. It took us much further than we had any right to go. This was, by far, the most hair-raising part of our week. All Carl and I could do was laugh. We have similar after effects to fear it turns out.
Once skis and boots were exchanged for dry socks and shoes, the excellent trail took hold of our legs and we galloped down the mountain. An otter was spotted in the creek. The Rhododendrons were out in force, not yet bloomed, but spectacular nonetheless. The oddly dry forest where even a few pines had taken root, seemed an oddity in an otherwise rainsocked region of the world.
Back at our bikes, I decided not to try and tie my skis to my bike. That is, I tried that method right after I failed to make it work. Idiocy, in my case, is a recurring malady that requires repetitive treatments to remedy.
The wild ride down the road was a whirlwind of turns. Branches overhead threatened, at one point, to take me from my bike. In the excitement, I’d forgotten my skis were now mounted to my pack and stuck up several feet above me! There was a moment, I imagined myself in a comic strip. A series of pictures of me being thrown from my bike onto the gravel. Above each picture starred circles with words like, “He’s an elk with antlers?” “No he’s just a man.” “SPLAT!”
The last few miles of road sped away and I thought of all the Olympic explorers, those of today and yesteryear. Like the peaks, they are headstrong and determined, humble and scrappy. While the mountains don’t give anything easy, neither do those who come here wish them to be so. Private Harry Fischer confirmed this by saying, “Complaints from the members of our party were unheard of.” Even when, he added, that it, “…outrivaled any ancient mode of torture.” The Olympics make men of those who conquer them or leave them to view these mountains from the comfort of their homes, in the cities that surround them.