TR - No Sloan Us Down
Updated: Aug 4, 2019
Sloan Peak via Corkscrew Route
With Nastassia & Westy
Views: 👁👁👁👁👁 spectacular views of the North Cascades, Kulshan and Dakobed
Snow: ⛄⛄⛄ decent but very wet, got balled up in my crampons
Rock: 🧗♀️🧗♀️🧗♀️🧗♀️ very cool rock formations, but the summit has a lot of loose stuff
Suffering: 😈😈 the only real suffering was messing up the river crossing
Routefinding: 👣👣👣 95% of the route is obvious but the river crossing is not
Timing: ⏰⏰⏰ if we had gotten an earlier start a linkup with Bedal may have been possible
Exhaustion: 😴😴 6k feet over 13mi isn't super tiring, but it was a long day
Crowds: 👯♀️👯♀️👯♀️👯♀️ saw 3 other parties, all of whom were heading out from a 2-day trip
I set my alarm for 5am on Sunday, confident that I would feel well-rested after 5 hours of sleep. I had made the choice to bivy at home instead of driving out that evening. It seemed like a good idea to get an evening of bouldering with friends at SBP in before a long day in the mountains. I had also woken up early the previous day to go to the REI garage sale so I thought I'd be acclimatized to 5am. I was stoked to have found cheap "new" trail runners and a running pack at the sale that I was going to take on a test run. Despite my excitement, I woke up groggy and somehow managed to get everything packed in a daze.
The trip got off to a great start as I took a wrong turn down the old FS-49 road. To say the road was rutted out would be an understatement. Foot-high dips and humps guarded the first hundred feet of the road. Not seeing any immediate alternative, I decided to gun it and hope for the best. My trusty Honda Fit, slayer of forest roads, promptly bottomed out and got stuck in the mud. Convinced that this was definitely the way to go and running on caffeine-fueled anxiety, I struggled for another 10 minutes rocking back and forth in the mud. After it was obvious I wasn't going to make it, I decided to retreat to Darrington for cell service to ping Westy on his InReach and tell him I was bailing. Of course after driving about 300ft I saw the actual road. Yay.
After reaching the trailhead via the correct road, I reunited with Westy and Nastassia who were grateful for the opportunity to sleep in compared to our usual early starts. We began down a deeply vegetated trail full of our favorite Cascades friends - stinging nettles and devil's club. We quickly came to the first part of the North Fork Sauk River. Having read a few trip reports, I knew that a river crossing was involved so I had brought my Chacos and Nastassia their flip-flops. What we didn't realize at the time was that we were 50ft north of a crossing that was spanned by two giant trees. We ended up tracing a circuitous route around the river's wash finding and losing a faint "trail" (that probably never existed) which took the better part of an hour and a half. By the time we found the actual trail I was ready to pack it up and go home. But the promise of glaciers and scrambling was too great to pass up.
The trail after the river crossing is not what I'd consider "well-maintained" but it felt very obvious. It cuts through dense vegetation at times which isn't all that bad by itself but was made worse by me taking off all my clothes in an attempt to stay cool. We saw a stellar waterfall and had some great views of Bedal and Dakobed from a little hill.
The trail eventually gives way to a field of slabs, talus, and snow. Pick your poison and head toward the summit. We opted to stay on the slabs on the way up but the snow was nice heading down. The slabs were all remarkably solid and featured rock with intricate glacier-carved details. We took the slabs as high as we could (~6,700ft) then roped up for the glacier.
Despite its size, the Sloan Glacier has its fair share of crevasses. I was initially resistant to the idea of roping up for this trip but am glad I was persuaded otherwise. There were a few notable snow bridges to cross, but all were in good condition. I am curious what navigation would be like on this glacier later in the season.
The glacier is over in a heartbeat and the fun part starts! The scramble to the summit is delightfully fun as you move over fairly solid class 3 terrain. Nothing is terribly exposed and there is a good bootpath over easy terrain for most of the jaunt. The summit offers astounding views of the North Cascades, Kulshan & Shuksan, Glacier Peak Wilderness, and many of the Mountain Loop peaks. We eyed some fun-looking glaciers out by Kyes Peak and started scheming for next trip.
I had also been curious if a Bedal-Sloan linkup would be possible, traversing the ridgeline that connects the two peaks. My initial thought is that it would go but might require a faster pace than we had today.
We retraced our steps down the mountain, making quick time on the descent. I was personally dreading spending another hour-plus navigating around the river crossing and tried to book it as fast as my knee would let me to eke out more daylight. As it turns out, I needn't have worried - we found the proper crossing and spent 15 minutes navigating that section. Lesson learned.
We got back to the trailhead around 8pm for a car-to-car time of about 12 hours (or a river-to-river time of 10 hours). Overall this was an excellent trip! Sloan is a peak that seems to be a perfect intro to the Cascades. Lots of steep hiking, solid vegetation, river crossings, scrambling, and a glacier crossing. I'll certainly be coming back, perhaps for a more technical route or maybe a linkup with other nearby peaks.
One of my scores at the REI garage sale was a UD running pack. Its claimed capacity is 13L but I find that a little dubious. I fit my water, some food, harness, crevasse rescue gear, and gloves inside the pack and lashed my picket, crampons, jacket, and helmet to the outside. This arrangement barely worked and I was definitely at capacity. While I still think this pack will be useful, I likely won't take it on any more glacier climbs.