Trip Report    

Basic Alpine Climb - Ruth Mountain & Icy Peak Traverse

A successful climb of both peaks in murderous heat and surrounded by swarms of bloodthirsty animals, but with wonderfully clear skies, great views, and with the entire route past Ruth all to ourselves.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • A little bit of potholing on the road to the trail, passable by low-clearance vehicles. The last couple hundred feet before the TH closed off due to washout, but there's enough parking space on both sides of the road that finding a spot wasn't an issue. The TH didn't look too crowded.

    No snow from TH to the pass except for a handful of small, isolated patches on the switchbacks.

    Several convenient sources of running water crossing the trail until you hit the pass. Somewhat disappointingly, no signs whosoever of running water anywhere near the climbing route anywhere beyond the pass for the next 2 days. Topping off all the available water reservoirs before the pass highly recommended, otherwise melting snow is the only option.

    The muddy 3rd class gulley after the pass not as muddy as expected, with only a stream of water trickling through the center of it, but still for some reason the most tedious, universally-disliked part of the route, mostly composed of slippery choss glued with mud, with no solid rock to enjoy, only large steep steps to pull oneself over, and with roots and trees for handholds. More energy-consuming than one would expect - some of the students struggled with it. Could prove to be a major obstacle on a rainy day.

    After the gulley, a brief patch of snow to access the path that circles around the  East side of the bulge, traversing  clockwise at about 5800 before descending to the saddle leading to the Ruth glacier. The path itself starts as a dirt trail, easy to identify  downslope and Northeast of where it flattens out, and remains part-dirt, part snow until the saddle. All snow with occasional rock outcroppings past the saddle.

    All snow on the final couple hundred feet of ascent of the steeper North slope of Ruth. Mashed potatoes, not too soft, easy to walk on. Used crampons as some of the descending parties reported icy conditions up top, but whether crampons were really needed or even helpful was debatable, as the bits of icy crust that we encountered were thin, soft, and melting out by the time we got there.

    A small patch of rock not covered by snow at the summit.

    On descent to the 6600 camp spot, the slope going West from the summit a bit on the steeper side. In combination with softening snow, it proved challenging enough the group and necessitated slowly down-climbing parts of it while facing the slope, with axes in the self-belay position.

    The rest of the route to the camp, going through the rock notch  and clockwise around the snow basin is an easy low-angle traverse.

    The 6600 camp spot is snow free, has space for a few tents and especially bivys, but not the entire area is as flat as one might wish. One pair with a tent decided to camp on snow for a more level and comfortable surface. With the Northernly winds that evening, the area has proven to be completely wind-sheltered, zero air movement. No water near the camp, though, and annoyingly, mosquitoes are abundant in that spot (bug spray is a must, luckily we had some).

    The gulley of death  is dry, and actually pretty straightforward 3rd class scrambling. As noted in some of the other reports, it looks much worse than it actually is. The beginning of the path with cairns easy to spot looking across the gulley from the camp. As suggested in some of the reports, though, a path going a bit more central seems easier. Both would work. In either case, after the initial couple of dozen feet or so of descent, the paths merge as one moves skier's left, away from the gulley, and then continues down to the skier's left, across some snow patches on flat spots and through the trees.

    After the gulley, and on the way to the saddle between Ruth and Icy, it's part scrambling across dry rock, part-snow. One could bypass all the rock, but given the soft snow, opted to stay mostly on rock, as it seemed to offer more secure footing and allow for moving forward faster.

    After the saddle, all mashed-potatoes snow that never hardened up. Wore crampons in anticipation of  more icy  patches up top, but never really run into any. Instead, experienced a bit of snowballing in places. Ditched crampons on the way down.

    The GPS tracks and a booth path lead straight up, very close to the ridge on the Western side of it, some of it going up straight through steeper sections, then traverse horizontally at the top near the bergschrund. Given the current conditions, this does not seem like the safest and most efficient option, as there is a more gradual, easier, and more direct path to the right .

    Stepped out of the booth path / GPS track right right at the (lower, Ruth-Icy) saddle, and veered to the climber's right instead to follow a more gradual ascending traverse away from the ridge and towards the bump at the Western end of the (upper, East-West) saddle adjacent to the NW peak, then straight up across that saddle to the flat area at about 6650, leaving the bergschrund on the climber's left. Both on the way, and looking down from the peak of Icy, this still looked like a safer way to go compared to following the West side of the ridge straight up.

    Past the saddle, after unroping, a short path to the final water-smoothed gulley leads mostly through rock, with only a short traverse on snow that's steep enough to necessitate an ice axe, but doesn't require crampons.

    We found the gulley dry, but sketchy enough as it is. There is not as much loose rock as some of the reports seem to suggest, but the geometry of the gulley virtually guarantees that any loose rock on the day down will accelerate towards the waiting climbers. There is a spot midway through the gulley for a belayer to hide. One climber at a time, with everyone else completely out of the gulley waiting on the climber's left of it, definitely  a must.

    The gulley is a short 4th class scramble in bad-quality rock, very easy climbing but a little hard to protect. A fall would definitely result in injuries. Would not want to do it unroped. Carried and placed 3 cams, BD #0.4, #0.5, #0.75 (one of them off to the right on a double runner), a marginal black tricam, and used a leftover cordelette anchor found mid-gulley at the leftward traverse that must have been abandoned by a recent climbing party, as it seemed in good condition. Did not find the #1 cam placement. Carried mid-sized nuts and offsets, but did not find any nut placement that would inspire confidence. Several large rock flakes looked unstable and moved when pulled. Could be very easily ripped from the wall. Testing anything before stepping or pulling on it before committing to it definitely a must.

    Tight space for 2 people at the rap station with slings. Easy and very short 3rd class scramble from the rap station to the summit proper, with one step that looks more airy than it is (setup a handline for students anyhow for comfort, although it proved a bit tricky with rock being loose and not much up there to properly anchor the handline to). Space for the entire climbing party at the summit.

    On the way down from Icy, the snow has become soft enough for some of the students to have difficulties plunge-stepping, repeatedly slipping and requiring some coaching for how to move faster (by leaning forward).

    The clockwise traverse around the Western part of Ruth that avoids going up and through the summit was a bit tedious to follow with snow getting soft and slushy, but doable.

    The rest of it unremarkable (except for heat, flies, and mosquitoes).

Met at the Glacier Public Service Center at 8am when it opens to get the permit. One party ahead of us trying to get a permit for Shuksan, only a short 20-minute or so wait. No other party yet so far camping at Ruth, as we were told. Reached the TH ahead of schedule. As noted above, road a bit bumpy, but not hard to drive on as long as one is driving slowly. Washout at the TH was blocked off, but a path going around it, adds only a few minutes. No issues with parking. Only one other party was climbing Ruth wih us (we were passing each other on the way), and no party climbing Icy Peak.

We hit the trail at 9:30am as a group of 7. Moved at a good pace, reached the pass in 2.5 hours. Due to the heat, the rate of water consumption was high. Refilled a couple times before the pass. Carried only 2 liters per person from the pass to the camp. In retrospect, should have topped up all water reservoirs and carried 3-4 liters, as there were no water sources other than snow, and with the heat, we were going through our water supplies very quickly.

As noted in route conditions, the muddy gulley after the pass proved challenging for some of the students, so we had to take an extended rest break. On the way to the saddle and beyond it, one of the students started experiencing leg cramps, requiring the party to slow down and take more frequent breaks. We've reached the rope-up point at ~6100 feet by about 2:30pm, or about 5 hours after departing from the trailhead.

As we were running out of water, still had a few hours to go, and according to descending parties, there was no water beyond, we used the rope-up point as an opportunity to get extra rest before the summit push, and to melt snow  for water to avoid the need to ration and risk anyone getting dehydrated. We've taken about an hour to melt several liters, rest, eat and re-hydrate, and started a roped ascent at about 3:30pm. The 1000 feet or so to the summit took an hour, we summited at 4:30pm. No crevasses or any other obstacles on the way up Ruth. We have spent about 30 minutes there, and started descending towards the camp at 5pm.

As noted above, the initial 500 feet or so going down the West slope of Ruth was steep and required downclimbing, it took about 30-40 minutes to get to the flat spot, with some slipping on the way down (but body arresting easily). The rest of it going through the notch and around was an easy traverse that went very quickly and without issues. We've reached the camp at 6600 by just shortly before 6pm, about 1 hour later than I initially planned due to slower pace during the second part of approach and extended breaks, but still with ample time left to prepare for the second day. We've taken a couple hours to setup tents, melt snow for water, take a glance at the gulley to negotiate the next morning, and appreciate the beautiful surroundings, and we went to sleep by about 8:30pm, shortly before  sunset.

Given the slower pace, and expecting a long day, I contemplated starting at 4am, but looking down from the camp, the gulley of death did look sketchy enough to want to descend with enough sunlight, so decided to stick with the initial plan to get up at 4am, and start down the gulley by 5am. The student, who was experiencing cramps earlier during the day was not feeling well, and decided to opt out of Icy, stay in the camp, and rest.

We started down the gulley at about 4:40am as a group of 6. The gulley proved less challenging than expected, and it was already bright enough that route-finding was very straightforward. In retrospect, we could have started sooner. It took a little over an hour, by around 6am to drop the 900 feet or so to the lowest point of the Ruth-Icy saddle at around 5700. Decided to put crampons, refuel and rope up shortly thereafter, and started roped ascent as 2 teams of 3 at shortly before 6:30am.

Crossing the Icy glacier was pretty straightforward. As noted earlier, opted an ascending traverse climber's right moving away from the ridge, as it seemed more gradual and easier, as well as avoiding the need for a traverse along the bergschrund at the top. There were several crevasses on the glacier, mostly to the Norh-West, downhill and to climber's right, but far enough away from our path not to be a concern. It took us a little over 1 hour to ascend the 900-1000 feet to the saddle to the West of the NW summit at ~6650. We reached the saddle shortly after 7:30am.

At the saddle, we unroped, refueled and switched to rock gear at a band of rock that separates the Northern from the Southern slope, and a short stretch of which we later ascended to get to the base of the climb. We have reached the water-smoothed gulley at around 8am, right on schedule.

We've scrambled the gulley about halfway to a point where it was no longer comfortable, and with a place for a belayer to hide to the climber's right of the rockfall. The rappel slings at the top could be easily seen from the belay spot. The climb route initially goes to the right around the corner, with some opportunities to place pro in cracks, then traverses leftward, with opportunities for pro getting progressively worse on the way up. As noted above, used 5 pieces, including 3 cams, 1 tricam, and 1 leftover cordelette that was already present. Led on a single 60m x 8.5mm glacier rope, which was more than sufficient to get to the rap station. Pulled 15 feet of rope for the scramble to the summit, setup a handline, and let everyone Prusik up one at a time. One of the students was apprehensive, but in the end, all climbed without problems. One of the students brought up a second 60m glacier rope for the rappel setup. The summit wasn't windy at all. Great weather, warm, clear and calm, and great views. We didn't stay around, though, as we had a long way to get to the trailhead, and by my estimate, we were looking at about 7pm return time (ended up returning 7:30pm), with little time to spare.

Double-rope rappel for the full 60m distance was definitely the way to go, as it allowed everyone to comfortably get down all the way to the base and out of the gulley, without the need for downscrambling. 

Re-roped and started moving down by about 11am, roughly on schedule. Descending the 900ft to the lowest point of the saddle took 45 minutes. Snow was perfect for plunge-stepping. As the snow kept getting softer throughout the day, some of the students eventually started having difficulty moving at a reasonable pace later on. After several slips, took a closer look to diagnose the issue, which turned out to be due to students being too tentative and leaning backwards, their boots slipping from under them, then moving even more slowly and getting even more tentative as a result. In retrospect, a quick preemptive lesson in plunge-stepping somewhere along the way on the day prior would've been very helpful as a way to increase efficiency during the summit day.

Past the saddle, on the final few hundred feet of scramble back to the camp, one of the students started bonking, necessitating longer rest breaks. All reached the camp by around 1:30pm. The bonking student was out of food, we needed to share. Despite stressing the importance of proper nutrition on several occasions, I found that some students were not eating (and possibly not hydrating) adequately throughout the trip.

The student who stayed in the camp has kindly melted several liters of water for us, which helped a lot with efficiency. We took about an hour to break camp and take extra rest, and started roping up for final descent by around 2:30pm.

As noted above, we decided to bypass the Ruth summit on the way down. While some reports indicated that going through the summit would've been easier than a traverse, having 2 students out of 5 with difficulties necessitated saving energy. In the end, the traverse was a non-issue. We reached the flat saddle point to the West of the summit by around 3pm, and cleared the traverse in about 10 minutes. On the rest of the day down the slope, we started roughly parallel to, and eventually converged with the trail that goes up Ruth towards the summit.

Reached the pass by shortly before 5pm, took another extended break. Complaining about the muddy gulley provided a great bonding experience for the team members.

After we negotiated the pass, the time pressure decreased somewhat, and the slowest person took lead and set the pace on the way down. We headed down the pass shortly after 5pm. After about an hour, students needed rest, but we realized on the way down that with the flies and mosquitoes present, stopping was not really an option. Sent out half the team down faster to reach the next water stop. Decided to keep moving with the other half, albeit at half the speed as a compromise. The last few miles were very challenging for the group.

Reached the TH around 7:30pm.

Total time about 8.5 hours on the first day, and 15 hours on the second day.

Overall, it was a fun trip and a great experience.

It should be noted that while the description at the Mountaineer's website makes this route sound like a good choice for students who don't feel in shape enough to attempt routes like Baker-Coleman, in reality the long approach, scrambley portions, and actual elevation gain higher than what's reported on the site (in the ballpark of 7000 feet according to GPS data assuming that I counted correctly), make it equally if not more challenging. Good physical conditioning still definitely required.