Ruth Mt. - Icy Peak traverse

September 11 - 12, 2002

Dave Svilar


View of route from the summit of Icy.


View of route on Icy from the col.

I went into the hardware store to make a couple copies of the route description.  I spent $0.10 and was sent out the door with a free American flag that normally retailed for over $3.  Their generosity was due to the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  I was so sick of the flag waving and commercialization of September 11 that I had to get away from it.  I don't watch television, but if I was to see another first hand account of the tragedy I would have screamed.  Therefore I headed for the North Cascades for some time alone.

Actually, even if it wasn't September 11 I would have gone because I was unemployed and the weather was superb.  I didn't know much about Ruth Mt. or Icy Pk. but I did know they were close to the north side of Mt. Shuksan and therefore must have great views into the Nooksak cirque - one of the highlights of the Cascades.  From pictures I'd seen Ruth wasn't that impressive - a big pile of snow that wouldn't melt.  Icy on the other hand was a beauty and looked to me like a miniature Mt. Challenger.

I left the trailhead at noon towards Hannegan Pass at a good clip, determined not to let the bloodthirsty flies land on my body.  I made it to the pass in around 1.5 hours and split off on a climbers path towards Ruth Mt.  I reached the glacier and kicked steps up the soft snow reaching the summit in a little over three hours from the car.  I was rewarded by great views and a strange man.  He looked like a leprechaun and by speaking with him I could see why he was alone.  After several odd comments he tried to engage me in a contest to see who had climbed the most mountains.  Just before I was about to push him off the side of the mountain he finally left.

Posing on the summit of Ruth Mt.

The point of this trip was to find a good bivy spot and just lay back and enjoy my time alone in the mountains.  I didn't have to look far because there were several spots already established on the top of Ruth.  What I didn't anticipate taking long was finding water.  I searched for over an hour before finally settling for water out of a puddle that looked more like a tide pool.

Views were superb in every direction.  To the east was the Pickets, to the north were the Border Peaks, next door was Icy - my objective for the next day, and then the magnificent spectacle of the rugged north side of Mt. Shuksan.  I sat out on the summit rocks and took in the color changes with the help of my sunset enhancer as the sun dropped behind Shuksan.  At one point I saw a plane fly overhead which reassured me that the terrorist attacks of the year before weren't repeated.  I slipped into my bivy sack and stared at the stars until falling asleep.

The Picket range.  One of the best views I've ever had of this wild range. 


Sun setting on Icy.  Mt. Blum and Glacier Pk. in the back left.


I took this picture first thing after popping my head out of my bivy sack.  Not a bad way to start a day.

It didn't look like it would take all day to climb Icy, but I packed up and started the traverse shortly after the sun rose.  I scrambled down a gully, cut across a ridge and finally found a trickle of water at the base of the Icy glacier.  I ascended the glacier staying to the left to avoid crevasses.  This glacier was more crevassed than the one on Ruth, but in my estimation did not require a rope for the time of year.  Traveling alone on glaciers is usually frowned upon, but by the end of August most crevasses are open and snow bridges are strong.  After the glacier I ascended scree and finally a short class 4 gully to the summit.  I downclimbed the gully with care and then enjoyed the return trip to Ruth taking in the changing views.  From there I continued to retrace my steps to the bottom of the glacier.  Once reaching the meadows I took a detour up a hillside and fell asleep in the meadow.

Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker from the meadow beneath Ruth.

Finally I got up and made the hike back to the main trail and then the trailhead.  I had gone almost 24 hours in one of the country's most beautiful settings without seeing another soul.  I can't think of too many other climbs that could top the Ruth-Icy traverse and still be safe to do alone.  I reluctantly returned to the rat race hoping the September 11 hysteria had passed.

-written October 2002

This trip even had great views from the road.  I took this one on my way out from my truck window.  Nooksack River and north side of Mt. Shuksan.


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