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Joined: 04 Jul 2018
Posts: 184 | TRs | Pics
Snowfield Peak (8,347ft)
Jan 28-29, 2023
20 miles, 10kft gain
Our original plan for the weekend was to go for some objectives up Cascade River Road. We had heard that there was a boulder blocking the road at milepost 6, but that it might be possible to squeeze around it in a truck. After the boulder we expected a lot of blowdowns on the road, since it isnít officially maintained in the winter. I had previously climbed Forbidden Peak in January 2022 and had to snowmobile up from milepost 5, chainsawing out lots of blowdowns on the way.
This time we would bring multiple chainsaws, including a big one Talon would bring for any huge blowdowns. Based on recent NOHRSC images I expected deep snow to start around milepost 16, and we hoped to start snowmobiling from there all the way to Cascade Pass trailhead, clearing blowdowns along the way if needed. NOHRSC was showing 4-8″ of snow between MP 10-12, but I figured I could drive through that with the truck. By MP 16 Ryan and I would ride on my snowmobile and Iíd tow Talon like a water skier on his split board.
Friday evening we got to Marblemount and started up Cascade River Road shortly after dark. The brown NPS sign at the start of the road said it was open all the way, but then just before milepost 6 we encountered two small ďroad closedĒ signs on stands in the road. We thought this just referred to the boulder making things difficult, so we continued on to scope out the boulder. It covered most of the road, but I was able to barely squeeze around it completely on the pavement with my truck.
Beyond that we thought we were good to go, as long as we could clear some blowdowns out. We proceeded slowly, and it looked like someone had beat us to clearing blowdowns. There were lots of trees across the road, but they were mostly cleared out. Often we would have to stop to clear small debris, but the big trees had been sawed out already. One tree we squeezed under had just a few inches of clearance on the top (we were about 6.5′ tall with the sled on the back). A few trees had branches hanging low and we powered through these like going through a car wash. Some sections were extremely narrow and we just had a few inches clearance on each side.
Eventually we reached around milepost 12.75 and there was a tree across the road that needed sawed. I had a small 10″ chainsaw and Talon was supposed to meet us there with a bigger saw. So we decided to do some grunt work clearing of smaller debris to make things more efficient when he came. We also scouted out ahead a bit. We found three trees about 1-2′ diameter, then a big 3′ tree with the entire root system laying in the middle of the road. That would be the crux.
It appeared if we sawed out the trunk we could barely squeeze by the right side leaving the root system there. We walked ahead another quarter mile and didnít see any more blowdowns, so that appeared, perhaps, to be the end. We decided to make the crux as easy as possible for Talon with his big chainsaw, so we cleared a bunch of smaller debris there. I then jogged back to the truck to get my ax to remove branches.
I saw a set of lights approaching the truck, and was initially relieved that Talon had arrived. But then a set of red and blue lights turned on and started flashing. My excitetment immediately turned to dread. It appeared we were in trouble.
Two officers stepped out and walked towards me. They had USFS Law Enforcement uniforms on and were driving a USFS truck.
We talked to them for a while and they said the road was closed to motorized vehicles and we were not allowed to be there. They said the road was not safe after the landslides that brought the boulder down. They seemed sympathetic to the fact that we were putting in effort to clear the road from blowdowns, but we still had to leave. They then turned around and drove back while we loaded back up.
I believe someone living in Marblemount or along cascade river road must have called them to report us. We turned the truck around (the road was barely wide enough), then headed back out. We soon made it to Marblemount and started discussing a backup plan. It turned out Talon wouldnít be able to join us after all that weekend, so it would just be me and Ryan.
Snowfield peak was just up highway 20 and was a bulger peak I still needed in the winter. We had each already climbed snowfield in April, and we expected conditions to be similar to now. The weather was supposed to be decent there over the weekend also. We already had all the gear required, so we decided to go for it.
At Neve col with Snowfield in the background (photo by Ryan)
A tight squeeze with the snowmobile (photo by Ryan)
New plan - the route up Snowfield
We had heard of an attempt on snowfield a few weeks earlier where the party had trouble getting above treeline and had to bail. I had my ascent plates, though, which should help with the steep bushwhack to get to treeline. Ryan was interested in a possible direct route up Colonial Creek to avoid the difficult bushwhack of the summer route. But we hadnít really done any planning of this route, and the added uncertainty seemed like it would decrease chance of success. I had already done the summer route twice in April, once in May, and once in September, so felt very confident with it. So we decided to go for the summer route.
In theory it would be feasible to do car-to-car, but with the uncertainty of our speed on the bushwhack we decided to go for an overnight trip. That had the added benefit of being able to camp above treeline on the Neve Glacier, which would be very fun.
We drove up to the Pyramid Lake trailhead and slept there that night. Saturday morning we were up and moving by 4:30am. We started up in trail runners on the bare trail until we reached continuous snow at the first creek crossing. There we hid our shoes in the trees and started booting up in ski boots. After about 10 minutes we switched to skis and skinned the rest of the way to Pyramid Lake.
We topped off water there, then A-framed the skis since we knew the next bit would be steep. The snow was partially melted out and icy on the steep slopes above the lake. It was consolidated enough that we were able to boot up easily. The slope angle then eased up a bit and we started skinning.
The skinning became heroic at times, but was mostly manageable. We switched back and forth a few times between boots+crampons and skis, generally making excellent time. At the final steep section around 5,000 the snow got very steep and unconsolidated. I whipped out my ascent plates and they were the perfect tool for the job. Ascent plates are kind of like snowshoes but they donít pivot at the toe, and there is no toe sticking out. They are just a flat rectangular sheet of metal sandwiched between the crampon and the boot. The crampon front points stick out and they are perfect for climbing steep snow.
Starting up in the dark
Booting up above the lake (photo by Ryan)
Skinning up, heroic at times
I continued up higher until the slope angle eased, and then we skinned up to the base of Pyramid Peak at 5,800ft. The next section was a steep traverse below Pyramid Peak that required stable snow, which we had. We spaced out for safety, with Ryan going first and me following. We kept skins on to avoid a tricky transition mid traverse. I recalled traversing in May in the dark and making a transition in the middle. My partnerís ski took a tumble down the face and we were lucky to recover it. I did not want to repeat that event.
We soon made it across and stopped for a break at Colonial Lake. The skies had been partly sunny until then, but we soon got engulfed in a whiteout. Fortunately we had each loaded our GPS tracks from previous trips. I took over navigation and forged ahead in the whiteout navigating by my watch GPS. We crossed the frozen lake, then zig zagged up the slope to Neve Col. It was very windy there and we quickly transitioned to ski mode and skied down the other side.
Climbing up in ascent plates (photo by Ryan)
Approaching Pyramid Peak
Emerging above treeline (photo by Ryan)
Based on the predicted wind direction we expected this aspect to be the most sheltered on the route, so we found a flat protected area and stopped to dig out a tent platform. We had toyed with the idea of summitting that day, but there were so many uncertainties in our speed on the bushwhack that we had deemed it unlikely. There we were, though, at camp by 1:30pm with enough daylight left to make the summit. It was still a whiteout, though, so we resigned ourselves to killing time in the tent that afternoon.
After diggout out and taking a snack break we noticed some brief fleeting clearings above, which gradually got larger. By 2pm we could see the summit starting to poke out of the clouds. We estimated 2 hours from camp to summit and 30 minutes back, so with sunset around 5pm we could maybe make it work.
Traversing below Pyramid
Stuck in a whiteout
We ditched overnight gear, repacked, and roped up for the glacier. I remembered being there in September 2018 and seeing a maze of gaping crevasses, so I was happy to have the rope. Ryan led the way as the summit got more and more in the clear with the sun shining overhead. We weaved our way up the glacier and approached the col near the Horseman. But, just as soon as the clearing had appeared it then disappeared. The wind picked up and we were stuck in another whiteout. We had considered climbing directly up the north face, but with the possibility of cross loading from the wind and route finding issues due to low visibility we decided to go for the standard summer route.
We crossed the col to the south side of the horseman to get out of the wind a bit. At that point navigation was simple, though. We just had to follow the west ridge to the summit, the same route we had previously done multiple times. It is definitely a huge advantage for these winter ascents to have already climbed the same route once or twice before in the summer.
The view from camp
We ditched the ski and rope, put crampons on, and started marching up the rime and thin snowcover. I kicked steps up to near the summit, but got turned around at a dead end. I then down climbed, traversed delicately into a gully to the left, then climbed up to the obvious notch. This notch was the key to the standard summer route. I peered over the edge and it looked a lot steeper and trickier than I had recalled. In the summer it was an easy 3rd class down climb, but in the winter things get more difficult.
I contemplated scrambling the ridge proper, but then I recalled trying this in April and finding it sketchy. We did have the rope and pickets, though. So we decided to rap down the notch. Ryan built a two-picket snow anchor and we tied the single strand of rope to that. We would then leave the rope to prussik back up on the way out.
I rapped down first, then Ryan followed. The 30m rope was plenty long for that rappel.
On the bottom we traversed a mellow snow slope, then kicked steps up the other side. I regained the west ridge proper and crossed over briefly to the north face, then back to the south face. By 4:30pm we tagged the summit.
Skinning up towards Snowfield
Rapping the gullly (photo by Ryan)
The final snow climb (photo by Ryan)
It was covered in a thick layer of rime and snow, and there were unfortunately no views. Luckily, though, the wind had mysteriously died down and it was actually relatively pleasant. We hung out for 5 minutes taking pictures, but our time until sunset we getting slim. It would be very tricky skiing out in the dark in a whiteout.
We downclimbed the route, then took turns climbing back up to the notch with a prussik as backup. I recalled doing this unroped in April, but the snow was much deeper then, making the climb easier. The coverage was thin this time and it was a bit sketchy. On the top we broke down the anchor, packed up, and hiked back down to the skis.
The wind picked up then and I was happy to have my clear goggles to put on. Ryan led the way skiing down and we could just barely make out our up tracks. We made fun turns down the mellow glacier, and just barely got back to camp before needing the headlamps, around 5:15pm.
On the summit
On the summit (photo by Ryan)
Climbing back up the notch
There we were treated to a brilliant sunset in a brief clearing to the west, looking out at Baker and the Pickets.
Ryan took over cooking duties and I set up our mega mid tent. I like that tent since itís super light, requiring just two ski poles as the poles in the middle. It doesnít have a floor so can be dug out in the inside. I then set up my sleeping bag inside a bivy sack with a vapor barrier liner inside. That way the bag would stay dry from tent snow and from perspiration, and hopefully keep me warmer. The forecast low that night was -5F, and we each just brough 0F sleeping bags, so we would be cutting it kind of close.
By 7:30pm we were curled up inside with two warm nalgenes each.
Sunday morning we got up a little before sunrise and I was kind of cold. I did occasional forced shivering, but had generally managed to get a good nights sleep. Ryan went outside to take pictures and I took my time inside eating and packing. The day dawned clear and we had excellent views of Snowfield.
Skiing back in the dark
Nice sunset from camp (photo by Ryan)
We didnít want to merely ski out with such nice weather, though, so we decided to ski Colonial Peak as a bonus point. We packed up all our gear, skinned up to Neve Col, then skied down the north side to Colonial Lake. There we ditched overnight gear and started skinning up the northwest face of Colonial. Ryan had a good summer route planned, and we made fast progress up to around 7000ft. But then the route started traversing above a cliff. We got a bit sketched out by some wind slab and decided to bail.
I think if Colonial had been a priority we would have planned it out more carefully. And in hindsight it looked like a safer winter route if we had gained the Neve-Colonial col and skinned up from there. But since we had already climbed our main objective we werenít quite as motivated to get the bonus point peak.
Sunrise from camp
Back at Neve col
So we turned around and had excellent skiing back down to the gear. Unfortunately my skis got frozen into walk mode, but I managed to get down anyways. We then packed up, transitioned to skins, and skinned across Colonial Lake. On the other side we finally emerged into sunshine and it made the single-digit temps feel much warmer. We took turns skinning the traverse across the base of Pyramid peak and up to 5800ft hump on the other side.
From there we switched to ski mode and skied down back into the trees. The skiing was great, with views of Ross Lake and the Hozomeens to the north. Back in the trees we had to transition back to bare booting to get down a few steep sections, then skied again back in the trees.
Finally once we got below about 4000ft we transitioned for good to booting. We made good time down to the lake, then found our shoes untouched lower down at the creek. We made it back to the truck by 3:30pm and then back to Seattle at a reasonable hour.
Link to more pictures: https://www.countryhighpoints.com/snowfield-peak-winter-ascent/
Cyclopath, bivouacjack, zimmertr, Fred Beavon, SpookyKite89, Bruce Albert, rstoddard24, ejain, The Ghost of Bear 380, jaysway, LukeHelgeson, GaliWalker, Mesahchie Mark, yukon222, peter707, RichP, Tom, rubywrangler, Now I Fly awilsondc
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Joined: 12 Mar 2007
Posts: 1893 | TRs | Pics
Impressive trip, especially with the spur of moment change of plans! 👍
I really enjoyed seeing your pics of this area in the Winter. I recognized several sections from my climb of Snowfield with some friends in the Summer years ago. https://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=7977221&highlight=snowfield Thunder and lightning then so maybe Winter isnít such a bad time after all. 😏.
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Joined: 02 Oct 2006
Posts: 64 | TRs | Pics
WOW! Nice! How many winter Bulgers are left for you?
It's all downhill from here!
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Joined: 04 Jul 2018
Posts: 184 | TRs | Pics
Thanks! Wow that's neat to see the contrast with the summer conditions pictures. Thunder and lightning would be very scary up there. I'm glad to avoid that.
I have 41 left now in winter. But progress is pretty slow so it might take a while to finish.
|How many winter Bulgers are left for you?
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Joined: 16 Sep 2007
Posts: 1406 | TRs | Pics
Another amazing adventure; too bad about not being able to access CRR. Those ascent plates look handy. I have always wanted a better/lighter alternative when the going through forest/snow is impractical for skis, snowshoes are alot of extra weight and you post hole in boots; are they pretty light?
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Joined: 30 Dec 2016
Posts: 74 | TRs | Pics
@cascadetraverser - Eric might also chime in, but I did some research after seeing him use them on this trip
there are actually many different products, you can choose your optimum in the [price]-[weight]-[durability] triangle just like other gear
I think Eric has the Billy Goat Technologieshttps://billygoattech.com/ ones, which are super durable and effective, but a bit pricey and heavy. Good for his use case tho which includes high altitude expeditions where durability is important
BeMoreStokedhttp://bemorestoked.com/sale/snow-stomper-plates?fbclid=IwAR1-tmykQ-SWDj2lK1vzxJfW2uavRNeRexn5-X279p8dfmsVMB7wXX99WgU are super cheap and light, but not really durable.
Local climber Nick Roy is making some sets of DIY ascent plates using carbon fiber sheets. Pretty light and cheap and hopefully more durable than the BeMoreStoked; I'm excited to try out (see pic)
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Joined: 04 Jul 2018
Posts: 184 | TRs | Pics
Yes, I have the billy goat ascent plates. They are less than half the weight of my snowhshoes and are likely the best tool for the job in very specific situations where it is steep powdery snow.
One difference between the billy goat plates and other plates is I've seen the billy goats have the edges folded down. This makes them more rigid so the aluminum can be thinner. But also makes them less slippery. The completely flat ones seem a bit less secure in some situations. Also, the billy goats are aluminum so are super durable. I think that's very imporatant on 8000m peaks where long steep powdery snow climbs are common.
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