John Guilford's Hikes
Glacier Basin, Monte Cristo Peak, Columbia Peak on 1992-07-18/19
People: (including myself): Mats Robinson, Tom, Connie, Albert
My Alt. Real Alt.
Arrive Barlow Pass: 6:45am 2260
Leave Barlow Pass: 7:20
Monte Cristo: 9:10 2760
Arrive Glacier Basin: 10:45 4160
Finish Lunch Stop: 11:30
Arrive Camp: 7:00pm 5760
To bed: 9:30
Get up: 7:15am 5840
Leave Camp: 9:10
Enter Glacier Basin: 1:00pm
Leave Basin 3:20
Arrive Monte Cristo: 4:30
Leave Monte Cristo: 4:55
Barlow Pass: 6:15
This was supposed to be a climb of Monte Cristo Peak and Columbia Peak led
We met at the parking lot next to where the Swallow's Nest used to be in
Everett at 5:00 am. Mats was already there when I got there at 5, but the
rest of the party didn't show up for another 20 minutes. I was a bit
hacked off since I didn't like getting up at 4:00am and then having to wait
for others (if I can get up and be on time, then so can they). We got to
Barlow pass (after stopping in at the Verlot ranger station to register the
climb) around 6:45 and starting hiking at 7:20 (after rearranging packs,
splitting up gear, changing clothes, etc). It was a little cool standing
around the vehicles (about 60), but once we got moving I warmed right up.
I was wearing my long underwear under shorts to protect my legs from the
sun and my light holey shirt.
The hike in along the road was kind of fun and real easy. We ended up
splitting into two group, with Mats, Tom, and Albert in front; and Connie
and myself behind. I am not a real fast hiker (I don't believe it is a
race and, especially at the beginning of a long hike, I'd just as soon take
it a bit easy) and I was glad to find someone else who liked to go a tad
slower too, so that I wasn't holding everyone up by myself. The road into
Monte Cristo is about 4 miles, and then the trail to the basin is about
another 2 miles.
We regrouped at Monte Cristo and continued on after a snack break. By then
it had been a while since breakfast and I didn't want to run out of energy
going up to the basin, so I pulled out my gorp and snacked away. I had
this vision that we'd haul all our stuff up to the basin, make camp, climb
Monte Cristo, go back to camp and spend the night, climb Columbia the next
day, pack up camp, and go home. Thus, I thought the hard part would be
hauling the full pack up to the basin. WRONG!
After Monte Cristo the trail is still very good and goes along a ways at a
fairly gentle upslope. This goes on for a ways until you approach the
bottom of a water fall area. From there, the trail gets rather steep and
rocky. There are many places where the "trail" goes over large rocks and
you have to do some climbing. Mostly it is pretty good with nice nooks or
steps for feet. Some of it has to be done with friction, which is fine if
the rock is dry (which is was today). Some of it can get interesting in
the wet, though. Going up here we split in Mats and Albert ahead, and Tom,
Connie, and myself behind. Fortunately this part of the trail was in the
shade still, and this kept the heat down. Still, I was getting pretty warm
in my long underwear and took them off near the top of the steep part of
the trail. After climbing up a ways, the trail again mostly levels out and
is pretty easy the rest of the way to the basin.
At the entrance to the basin the stopped to eat, put on sunscreen, etc. I
was a little concerned as the back side of the basin looked pretty cliffy
with large mounds of talus above and below the cliffs, and I didn't know
that I liked the thought of going up that. I asked Mats where we'd be
camping and he pointed to some snow way up on the ridge line and said up
there. My first thought was, "You've got to be kidding! You want us to
haul our big packs all the way up there?" But that was the plan. The plan
was to pick a good gully through the cliffs and ascend on the left (north)
side of Monte Cristo to a col (pass), leave most of the packs there and
climb Monte Cristo, retrieve our packs, traverse the far side (the near
side looked pretty steep for easy traversing) to the ridge above the
Columbia Glacier (on the far side) where we'd camp. Then continue on to
Columbia Peak and climb it (technical rock) and then either continue on to
Twin Lakes and go out that way or return the way we came. Mats said that
it depended on how bad the talus was as it wasn't so bad going up but could
be worse going down. If it looked that way, the Twin Lakes trail was
easier, but longer. I also discovered that Mats had never been up there (I
thought he had done this route before, but I was wrong).
Here a number of us also filled water bottles. I finally broke open my
bottle of iodine tablets that I had bought years before since I didn't
trust the quality of the water in the basin. The iodine tablets are
getting pretty old, and I should get rid of them at the end of the year.
After the break we went across the basin. In the middle of the basin is a
large knoll known as Ray's Knoll. The near edge is cliffs which extend a
ways of the right side (though it is possible to go around the end of the
cliffs on scree). The easier route is to pass the knoll on the left side.
The top of the knoll is easily accessible from the back and is the normal
camping spot in the knoll. The bottom of the basin is crisscrossed with
numerous creeks and streams. It is generally rocky, though the rocks are
generally large and stable and make for relatively easy going. There are
also meadowy areas that had some nice wild flower displays.
We had the option of going up a gully on the left and traversing the scree
slopes above to the notch, or continuing straight across the basin and
ascending the far side and heading straight for the col (to the right of
the notch). The latter is what we tried. Climbing up the talus and gully
with a full pack didn't look too fun, but I was willing to give it a go.
After going up the talus about as far as we could, we started up the rock
gully. Initially is was real good and actually fun. The rock was solid
and relatively easy. It was somewhat slow with the weight of the pack to
carry up. Further up the going got harder. Here the gully was still
steep, but instead of solid rock there was more loose rock underfoot. The
'solid' rock also became more broken up and fragile (so that some handholds
were apt to pull loose if relied upon). Another danger was rockfall from
the people above you. With the loose rock underfoot, it was easy to
dislodge rock that would travel down the gully, sometimes for quite a
ways. We should have had our helmets on for this, but we didn't think of
it, and I wasn't going to take my pack off and get mine out on the unstable
slope. The going got more tiring due to the slippage. We split into three
groups with Mats and Albert ahead, me in the middle, and Tom and Connie
lower down. I intentionally tried to keep my distance from the other
groups to minimize rockfall dangers. After a long grind up, the gully
opened up onto a more flat part of the scree slope. This was actually
harder travel (for me) since I tended to slide more on the loose rock than
I did in the gully (where I used handholds along the side, and climbed up
the sides a couple times trying for firmer rock).
About this time, the thought occurred to me that I really didn't enjoy this
kind of thing. I like the kind of things I usually do, but this kind of
high alpine work with a full pack (and getting up at 4am) was more work
than the thrill it gave me. This was actually quite a profound thought and
it gave me more to think about the rest of the weekend.
It was a relatively warm day, about 85, and I was making a point of trying
to keep myself hydrated w/out running out of water.
I finally got up a someone flatter place that had some huge rocks where
Mats and Albert were waiting. I dumped my pack, had some food, and waited
for the other two. For a bit I lay down on a rock and dozed a bit. It
felt like my legs were getting too much sun, and I thought that I should
put more lotion on, but I was running low, and wanted to save what I had
left for the next day, so I didn't put any more on. I remember thinking
that it was taking the other two a long time to catch up (they weren't that
far behind me). Finally Connie and Tom came over the edge. Connie had
blood running down her face and was quite shook up. She has had a great
deal of experience in the mountains, but all of it on glacier (she's
climbed Rainier numerous times, Mt. Olympus, the Tietons, etc) and was less
comfortable on the rock. She had slipped on the scree and started sliding
down and hit her head on a rock. The injuries were pretty minor, but the
main effect was that she got really rattled. Fortunately Tom was nearby
and helped her out a bit. They both tried yelling and blowing a whistle
for us, but due to the terrain, we never heard them. Connie got really
freaked out and didn't want to continue on the scree, but there wasn't any
choice and going down would be even worse. So they finally got up to where
we were. We waited for another hour or two and Connie got something to eat
and settled down somewhat.
By now, we made the decision to skip the climb this day and just make camp
and do one of the climbs the next day. One thought was to make camp where
we were, but there was nothing even close to level around. Another thought
was to climb up to the notch and traverse over to the ridge where we
originally planned to camp. The climb up the talus and the rock on the
notch looked like it would be quite a bit of work (especially for Connie
who had gone over to a snow patch where she felt safer). That looked like
the best plan until Tom suggested traversing the near face of Monte Cristo
directly over to the ridge to camp. That had the advantage that it was
mostly snow which would be easier for Connie. There was just one band of
rock that would have to be climbed, and that looked doable. That became
We crossed over to the snow field and started across. It was slow going.
Even though Connie had lots of experience with snow, in her frame of mind
she was being very careful and kicking each step 3 times before stepping on
it. By this time, I was getting anxious. With my acrophobia, I tend to be
somewhat receptive to anxiety, and after the accident I found my anxiety
level heightened. Given my druthers, I would have preferred descending back
to the basin (and maybe even hiking out that evening), but Connie wouldn't
have been willing to go back down the gully (and I really didn't want to
either, but didn't know any really better ways down) and people also wanted
to get at least one climb in so that the weekend wouldn't be a total waste.
We crossed the snow field with out incident. Once, when I was leading, we
discovered a crevasse under the snow (the ice axe handle went in a lot
easier than it normally did) so we back up a bit and went around it (it was
pretty small). At the rock wall, we refilled water bottles from a
waterfall coming down from the upper snow field. The climb up the rock
wasn't bad. It was pretty easy, though there were times when I got a bit
nervous due to the exposure and my pack. We belayed Connie up since she
was still quite scared of rock.
We crossed the upper snow field to the ridge and got quite a surprise.
There wasn't any flat spots nearby! The snow led up to a little rock that
dropped off the other side down to the Columbia glacier (quite a ways below
us). By now it was getting rather late (7pm) and we pretty much had to
make camp here. There was no reasonable way to get to the other side of
Monte Cristo (there was no way the original plan would have worked - the
far side of Monte Cristo ended with glacier that dropped down cliffs to the
Columbia Glacier - you could have (possibly) climbed down and then climbed
back up to where we were, but that would have been the only way).
Likewise, going towards Columbia didn't look very feasible. The ridge went
out and got real steep into a knife edge into an adjacent peak. I wasn't
going to try climbing that, especially with a pack. The only other route
was to drop down the snow field, and then cross a steep glacier to a notch.
This scared me for a couple reasons. One was that there was only a narrow
band of snow across the glacier (the rest was ice) and I wasn't very keen
on having to use crampons on my boots (I had my normal hiking boots which
really weren't meant for crampons) and if you ever did start sliding on the
snow, in almost no distance you'd be on ice and then either into crevasses
or off the cliff. The other reason is that I didn't know what was beyond
the notch. It could be a flat glacier or it could be something else. With
the way the route had gone so far, I thought there could be a good chance
that we'd get there, find the way impassible and have to retreat back
across the glacier. That thought really scared me.
Anyway, the more pressing problem was camp. Connie and Albert had a small
two person tent that they found a place for. Mats had a small one man tent
that he set up on a flat rock. I, on the other hand, had a pretty large 3
person tent. I looked all over, but couldn't find any flat spot that was
big enough. Eventually we settled for a heather ledge down the far side a
bit that wasn't really flat but the best I could find. Tom and I were
going to share it. We set it up and tried orienting it different ways to
see which would work best (and found that no way worked best :-). I
finally left it with the slope going across the tent (which turned out was
the wrong answer). I was mildly spazzed out in that I had decided that I
really didn't want to be here, and just wanted to get out and back down to
the basin. I figured that I probably wouldn't sleep well that night and
was scared that they would want to try Columbia the next morning. I just
wanted to go down. Tom wanted to continue and try Columbia. I didn't know
what Connie and Albert would want in the morning.
With these unsettling thought, we made dinner. I had chicken and rice
(canned chicken w/minute rice and spices [which fit well in a 35mm film
can] that came out pretty good - I had brought tomato paste for dinner, but
decided not to use it since I would have wasted half of it as you only need
half a can of paste for one serving). It was cooling off and I had my
polarfleece jacket on. We were on the east side of the ridge, so we were
in the shadows, but we were also out of the cold breeze coming from the
west. After eating I was going to make my toilet stop and go to bed.
While I was eating I felt a tad cool, but not bad. Interestingly enough, when
I got up and started moving, I got violently cold. I was shivering and
incredible amount. It came on very suddenly. I thought I'd just gut it
out, go the bath room and climb in my sleeping bag, but quickly changed my
mind. I dug out all the clothes I had for my upper body (I didn't feel like
taking my shoes off to put something on my legs) - a short sleeve under
shirt, my long sleeve undershirt, my fleece, and my Gore-Tex. This helped
by I was still cold. I went the bathroom, went up on the ridge and told
people good night (and saw a nice sunset - it would have been nice to eat
up there and watch it go down, but it would have been a lot more trouble,
and besides, I didn't know about the sunset until then. I decided my
camera wouldn't take a decent picture and didn't feel like climbing down to
my campsite to get it anyway) and went to bed.
I quickly found out that I couldn't use the thermorest. I'd quickly slide
off it due to the slope. I also found that laying across the slope wasn't
working. I was trying to get motivated enough to get dressed again and try
rotating the tent when I talked to Tom and he said that he'd just as soon
sleep outside. He always wanted to do that, and only if it started to rain
would he come in the tent. This let me lay diagonally across the tent
which seemed to work okay. I had to find some little depressions in the
vegetation to stick my hips and such into to keep in place. As usual, I
tossed and turned for a while and started getting warm (i.e. hot) and had
to open the bag somewhat. I also found that I had to go to the bathroom.
This is the first time in a *long* time I've had to get up at night to go,
as I'm very careful to go just before turning in. However, tonight, I went
to bed immediately after dinner whereas I usually have some period of time
after dinner before I make my final pit stop. I got some clothes on and my
shoes, left the tent, did my duty, and returned. By now I was plenty warm.
I did some more tossing and turning, and had some trouble keeping cool
w/out freezing myself, but surprisingly got an okay night sleep. I really
didn't think I'd sleep well with the concerns on my mind the position I
The next morning I lay in bed a bit until I heard other people moving
around. My tent was a nice safe spot, and I was afraid of getting up and
being told that we'd be crossing the glacier and trying for Columbia peak.
I finally got up and made oatmeal and heard that we weren't going to do
anymore climbing, but were just going to retreat. I guess Connie didn't
want any more climbing, and Albert wasn't thrilled with it either. I was
glad. We melted some more water and broke camp. The plan was to descend
on snow as low as we could to a little protuberance that was tree'd and
rappel off that down into the basin. I didn't know that I looked forward
to the rappel, having never done that with a pack, but it seemed like the
easiest way down.
We crossed the snow (which was firmer in the cold of the morning, which
made going a bit trickier, but it wasn't bad and certainly didn't require
crampons) and reached the trees with out incident. Mats looked down the
sides to figure out which way would be the best rappel. One side had a
waterfall going down, the other side a steep gully. He chose the latter.
That side actually had a pretty easy way down. With out my pack, I could
have down climbed it (though the exposure would have been scary) and that
is what Mats did (to avoid leaving any slings or anchors up above).
However, since we were going to set up a rappel for Connie (who was still
shook up) the rest of us (excluding Mats) used it. For one thing,
rappelling is rather fun. For another it was quite a bit easier that down
climbing, and easier on your body. We put on helmets for this.
We did the rappel in tree pitches. The first one was pretty short and
only used one rope (about a 24m rappel). There was a decent ledge at that
point. The next rappel was longer and used the two ropes tied together
(about 40m). There wasn't a good bomb proof rock to put the rope around,
so Mats had to take out his protection and set up a triple redundant anchor
system for the rappel. After we went down, he removed his anchors and down
climbed. That put us on a large sloping part of the cliff, and we
(excepting Connie due to her frame of mind) could have down climbed okay
from here (Tom did). There might have been some danger from rock fall as
Mats kicked loose some rock on his way down, but we were off to the side
(for that very reason) and none came near us. The third pitch was the
longest (I went down the full length of the combined rope (almost 50m)) but
it was also the easiest since the rock wasn't very steep. Unfortunately,
it didn't quite reach to the base of the rock. I was the first one down
that pitch and got to straighten out the rope. After getting down to the
end of the rope, I quickly climbed down to the snow and dumped my pack and
went back up to the rope. This was the kind of rock that was easy and fun
to climb around. In fact, later, when I was coiling up the rope, one
snagged a ways up the rock, so I climbed up to retrieve it (and had some
fun in the process). My now my anxiety was gone (since I no longer had to
worry about how we were going to get down) and I was just getting a bit
impatient to get out and get home. Mats ended up belaying Connie down the
last 20 feet to the snow and I carried her pack down for her (since my pack
was already down there, it was no biggy for me to carry it).
From there is was a slow trip down the talus to the bottom of the basin.
Albert (who, btw, is Connie's husband) had gone down, left his pack, and
came back up and took Connie's pack for her on the trip down the talus.
Looking back from the basin, we actually came down the best way possible.
We descended about as far as we could up above the cliffs, landed on one of
the highest talus slopes, and had the least steep cliff on that whole
section of wall. It actually looked like it wouldn't have been a bad way
to ascend to where we camped, if that was what you wanted to do.
Down in the basin, we stopped for some more food and a rest. On the way
across the basin we originally tried the south side of Ray's knoll
(forgetting about the cliffs) and had to turn around and go over the knoll
and around the other side (in hind sight, it probably would have been
quicker from where we were, to go around the edge of the cliffs and down
the talus slope). We had to cross numerous streams to do this and I only
dunked my foot in the water once.
At the entrance to the basin we again stopped to eat and change shoes (a
number of people preferred tennis shoes for the trail instead of their
climbing boots which they used on the rock and snow). I was a bit antsy as
I just wanted to get back to the cars and be done, and didn't care for all
the waiting I was doing.
Going down the trail was uneventful. Tom went down quickly, I was in the
middle, and Mats and Albert stayed back with Connie. Compared to what I
had been hiking on the trail seemed real good, though I was glad that the
trail was dry when I got to the steep rocky section. I had my long
underwear on all day to protect my thighs from the sun (they got a mild
sunburn on Saturday). As I got near to the town, I finally decided that I
was getting too hot, and the sun was lower, and most of the road back was
under trees, so I stopped on the side and took them off. As I sat there a
bunch of flies started to congregate. There were the first bugs that
really bothered me all weekend (although Tom said that mosquitos came out
at night, I didn't notice them inside the tent :-). They didn't seem to
bite any, and were kind of slow and dumb and easy to kill, but they were
quite annoying. I finished changing and continued onto the town. There I
met Tom and we waited for the other three. The flies were annoying here
too. They weren't smart, but they made up for it in numbers. I killed
quite a few, but that wasn't noticeable with all the rest of them. I didn't
notice them while I was hiking, and had just decided to continue on a bit
further and try to lose the flies and had just put on my pack (as an aside,
I had my pack sitting up on the seat of a picnic table while I was waiting.
It sat there just fine for more than 10 minutes, and then fell over while
Tom and I were not anywhere near it - we joked that it fell over due to all
the flies landing on it) when the other three showed up. They were going to
rest a bit, and I said I'd see them later as the flies were really bugging
(oh - that's bad :-) me. Tom and I left immediately, and we were surprised
when Albert and Connie caught up to use real soon. They didn't wait long
before the flies made them leave. Mats needed to eat something, so he'd
On the walk out on the road, we split up similar to the hike in, with Tom
and Albert ahead, and Connie and I behind (with Mats somewhere way back).
About a mile down the road (1/4 the way) Connie asked me if the noise that
she heard was thunder, planes, or avalanches. I hadn't noticed anything
and thought it was probably a plane as the sun was still shining. I
listened for a bit, and then decided that it was thunder. The thunder grew
in strength and started coming more regularly. Then the sky started
clouding over (the thunderheads started against the mountain and worked its
way outward). At the bridge a mile from Barlow pass I wondered out loud
how long before we were going to get wet and Connie looked at the hillside
and said within 5 minutes. Just about then, the drops started falling. It
was a good rain - big drops that just dumped on you. It was still
relatively warm and we were only a mile from the car, and I had a dry
change of clothes in the car so I didn't bother stopping to put on rain gear
(no one in our group did) - we just got soaked. My glasses were useless
and came off. I had to keep wiping the water out of my eyes to see where I
was going. Initially it washes sweat and/or sunscreen into my eyes which
made them burn a bit, but that quickly got washes away. Not being real
keen on hiking in the rain, I increased my pace a bit and left Connie
behind. A short while later I reached the cars and got to dump my pack and
change. It was over at last!
The trip wasn't really that bad. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have
done it (a lot of work for not much gain). It brings my total climbs for
the climbing class to 0 for 5 and virtually guarantees that I won't
graduate, but I've already decided that that wasn't that important to me.
I learned a bit about what I like and what I don't like, and it was an
interesting experience (I can say that now that its over) and had its fun
times. I was pleased with the way my body held out as it wasn't
particularly sore anyplace, although, later that night I discovered that I
was developing a couple blisters (on my left heal and right little toe).
They didn't bother me at all while hiking (though they would have if I was
going a third day) and didn't fill with fluid or pop or anything. They
will just be tender for a few days, grow new skin underneath, and then peel
off. All in all, I guess it was worth doing, but isn't worth doing again.
I think that next time (if there ever is a next time) I'm going to spend
more effort to find out if the leader has ever been on the route before,
and to find out the whole route and check it out on a 7.5 minute quad
before hand. Looking at the map, I don't see how it could have looked like
the original plan would have worked.
Please send comments or corrections to
Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015