Snowfield Peak

Ascending from camp on summit day

Snowfield Peak (8,347ft)

Eric and Aaron

April 28-29, 2017

With a tight weather window Friday evening through Saturday morning, we decided to try to climb a big peak in the Cascades. Snowfield peak is one with a road open and plowed to the trailhead, and looked like it might be feasible. Almost every report we’ve found of climbs of Snowfield have been in the summer, so we didn’t anticipate crowds.

Snowfield Peak is a classic Cascades climb with a little bit of everything. You hike through mossy forests on a trail down low, then bushwhack up to treeline, then cross huge glaciers, and finally get a short rock climb to the summit. Our big question was whether to bring skis or snowshoes. Skis would be fun and fast on the glacier, but would be heavier to haul up on the bushwhack, and our packs would already be

Hiking up to Pyramid Lake

heavy with overnight gear and glacier gear. With the tight weather window, we opted to take snowshoes to speed up the bushwhack.

We left town Friday morning, filled out a self-registration permit at the national park ranger station (which still hasn’t opened for the season yet), and started hiking up the Pyramid Lake trail at 12:30pm. Within an hour we hit an intermittent snowline around 2000ft, and continued following the trail to the tiny Pyramid Lake.

I led the way to the right of the lake, occasionally seeing

Looking up at Pyramid Peak from high on the ridge

a faint climbers trail in between snow patches. The ground was soon completely covered in deep snow, though, and we ascended steeply to the ridge above the lake. From here we generally followed the ridge, occasionally traversing right around cliff bands.

The snow was soft and slushy, but too steep for snowshoes to do any good, so there was quite a lot of difficult postholing. By 7pm we reached a flat shoulder around 5400ft and called it far enough for the day. The projected weather window still hadn’t materialized, and Pyramid Peak above us was enveloped in clouds as a cool wind blew across the ridge . Aaron set up the tent as I started melting snow, and by 9pm we were both in the tent ready for bed.

Hiking up from camp in the morning

I poked my head outside at 4am and saw perfectly clear skies. The window had materialized as expected! We were suited up and moving by 5am as alpenglow came across the horizon. Our first challenge was what we expected to be the sketchiest part of the route – traversing a long avy slope beneath the overhanging cornices on Pyramid Peak. This was the safest time to do it, though, when all the snow was frozen up

from the night and the sun was not yet out to warm anything above us.

We soon made it across the slope in crampons, and switched to snowshoes in Colonial Basin. From here we followed gradual snow slopes up to Colonial Col,

Our first view of Snowfield Peak

and finally got our first view of Snowfield Peak.

It didn’t really look like any pictures I’d seen. In all the pictures it’s a black rocky pyramid sticking up out of the glacier, but today it was almost completely white. This year had been a cold and snowy March and April, and this high in the mountains it still looked like winter. So it appeared as though the whole summit pyramid was still plastered in snow and ice.

We descended about 200ft onto the Neve Glacier, then started marching up toward Snowfield. By 9am we reached the base of the West Ridge of Snowfield, and were treated to amazing views of other glaciated peaks in all directions. El Dorado and Mt Baker stuck

Aaron ascending the Neve Glacier

out as massive white peaks to the northwest and southwest, while the jagged black Pickets caught our attention to the North.

The bad weather was supposed to start coming in around 11am, so we had to hurry to not get caught on the glacier in a whiteout. We marched up the easy low-angle west ridge until the ridge ended in a small cliff. Couldn’t piece together where we were based on any route description, but that’s probably because the whole summit was covered in rime ice and deep snow, and I’d never read any report of anyone climbing in these conditions.

Aaron on the summit

We put our harnesses on and got the rope out, but I couldn’t see any rock exposed to put rock gear in, so we decided to just climb up with ice axes. I traversed around left and ascended a gully to an obvious notch, and this matched a route description that said to then downclimb the other side of the notch. But the gully on the other side was steep and choked with rime ice feathers.

I climbed steeply up the ice slope to the left, and there met an exposed knife-edge traverse on more rime-covered sharp blocks. Aaron didn’t like the sounds of

Climbing up to the Notch

those options, and I downclimbed back down the gully. I next looked over to the north face, which is normally a steep rock cliff but was now covered in snow.

This looked doable, and I traversed onto the face, being careful to kick in good steps and firmly place my ice axe in each time. I climbed up and soon reached another notch, with easy lower-angle terrain to the summit. Aaron followed, and I crossed back onto the south face, then climbed up an icey/snowy ramp and found myself on the summit.

The scenery was even more spectacular than before, with the whole North Cascades National Park opening up below us. We spent about 10 minutes on the top, and noticed that Mt Baker, which had previously been cloud-free, now had low clouds forming on the summit. It appeared the weather was coming as forecast, and we reluctantly started to descend.

This time, instead of traversing and downclimbing the sketchy north face, we dropped farther on the

Traversing back to camp

south face and climbed up the rime-ice-choked chimney back to the notch we’d balked at on the ascent. Climbing up the notch was a lot easier than down climbing it, and a lot safer than traversing the north face.

Safely back at the packs, we quickly descended back to the Neve Glacier and switched back to snowshoes. We reached Colonial Col at 11:30am, just as clouds were forming in Colonial Basin below us. We quickly descended to the basin, traversed the avy slope below Pyramid Peak, and were safely back at camp by 1pm. By now more clouds were developing, but we were back at treeline and were in no trouble if visibility dropped.

We quickly packed up and started descending, as light snow and, lower down, rain started developing. Surprisingly, lower on the ridge we encountered fresh snowshoe tracks from someone else, but they turned around and we never saw the person.

We soon reached Pyramid Lake, and from there had an easy hike back to the car in the rain.

Carrizo Plain

Carrizo Plain

Matthew and Amanda

April 22-23, 2017

Until a few days before this trip, I had never heard of Carrizo Plain National Monument. As we were deciding where to go for the weekend, I browsed the map and spotted a large area of green that I hadn’t previously noticed, labeled Carrizo Plain National Monument. It is situated about 2/3 of the way to LA from San Francisco, about a four hour drive from our place. Next, I did a google image search for it, and came across some spectacular photos of hills covered with purple, yellow, and orange wildflowers. Further investigation revealed that the Monument was near the tail end of a “superbloom” of wildflowers due to the abundant spring rainfall. In addition to wildflowers, it looked like there was the opportunity for some backcountry camping, so that sealed the deal.

We started driving Saturday morning and arrived by mid afternoon. There were hordes of tourists, who probably also saw the same photos that we had. While the flowers were past peak color, there were still endless acres of bright yellow flowers. To get a better view and escape the crowds, we drove about five miles up a relatively steep dirt road leading into the mountains. We set up camp about half a mile from the car on a nice open ridge. After a short hike, we enjoyed dinner followed by a spectacular sunset. From our lofty perch we had an aerial view of the wildflower fields a few thousand feet below, and 100 miles to the east we could discern the snowy Sierra. Soon the stars and Milky Way came out and we spotted the distance hazy glow from Los Angeles.

After a generously long sleep, we headed back to the Bay Area and, after spotting a herd of buffalo along the way, arrived by mid afternoon.

Pineapple Pass BC Skiing

Pineapple Pass BC Skiing

Aaron near Pineapple Pass with The Tooth in the background

April 22, 2017

Eric and Aaron

We drove up to Snoqualmie Pass in the morning and started skinning up from the Alpental ski lot around 9:30am. Rain was forecast to start at noon, but we still wanted to fit in a short tour. We skinned up to Pineapple Pass at 5,200ft and got great views of the surrounding mountains. We also saw the rain coming, so quickly descended. The skiing was pretty tough in crusty snow, then deep slush, but we made it back to the car minutes before the rain started.

 

Mount St Helens

Mount St Helens (8,333ft)

Eric near the summit

April 21, 2017

Eric and Birkan

The forecast was for sunny Friday, so we headed south from town in the morning to ski St Helens. There is currently snow all the way from the parking lot to the summit, making for an awesome 5000ft ski descent. We skinned up to the summit by 2pm, being careful not to get too close to the edge of the massive cornice. It was very windy, and every other party we saw turned back below the summit.

The ski back to the car was amazing. The snow looks like it will hold all the way to the parking lot for at least another few weeks.

Silver Star Mountain

Silver Star Mountain (8,876 ft)

Aaron skinning up the Silver Star Glacier

Eric and Aaron

April 16, 2017

Highway 20 just opened up to Silver Star gate at milepost 171. We slept at the pullout near the gate Saturday night and started skinning up silver star creek at 6am Sunday. In a couple hours we reached a basin around 5000ft with orange flagging for helicopter landings. It looks like heli skiing is over for the season, though. We cut up gradual slopes on the right, then traversed under Vasiliki ridge. We climbed left under a big cleaver, then zig zagged up to silver star col. We were the first ones up, but about 10 other skiers were following our tracks up.

At the col we ditched skis and took a break as the other groups arrived. We took out ice axes and scrambled up to the summit block. It looked a little sketchy, and I’d brought a rope, so we roped up. Aaron belayed me as I wriggled up the 15ft snow-filled chimney and tagged the summit, then I belayed him up.

By 1:30pm we we back to the col, and started the amazing ski back to the car. We arrived by 3:30pm after a few breaks, and started the long 5hr drive back to Seattle.

Mt Teneriffe

Mt Teneriffe (4788 ft)

April 2, 2017

Eric and Katie

We hiked up to Teneriffe Falls in the rain, then the rain changed to snow as we summitted. We hiked back over West Teneriffe to make a fun 13-mile loop. There’s still a lot of snow above 4,000ft.

Mount Pilchuck BC Skiing

On the summit ridge

Mount Pilchuck (5,340ft)

Eric and Aaron

March 26, 2017

We hit the trailhead at 7:30am on a rainy sunday morning, and ended up walking in our ski boots for a few miles on the closed gravel road until we reached snow. We put our skis on, but unfortunately the snow was not continuous, so we had to keep transitioning back and forth from skis to boots. Eventually we were able to skin up the last mile to the trailhead, where the snow was several feet deep.

We followed some posthole tracks that soon disappeared, then switchbacked up the mountain. The rain turned to snow, but it let up enough to get a great view out toward Puget Sound. Our progress was a bit slower than expected, and we got up to the edge of treeline on a corniced ridge around 1:30pm. Above us the snow slopes looked a bit risky under the forecast avy conditions, so we called that our highpoint and turned around.

Skiing back down was awesome, but didn’t last long enough and we were soon back to walking down the gravel road to the car.