Back in da hood to do some bid’ness, I had to get in a climb with Robert, of course. I was hoping to complete the three ridges of Forbidden with an ascent of the complete North Ridge, but in the end, we opted for a location we’d never been to before: Snowfield Peak and the Neve glacier. I thought that would be fitting since it was that impressive massif that I had first witnessed when I drove out to North Cascades National Park for the first time back in November of 2001. I had to get a good look at the new range of mountains that would be my playground for the next few years. Well, upon arrival at the Diablo Lake parking area, I was nothing short of astounded. There stood Colonial Peak dominating the head of Thunder Creek. A recent fall snowfall had given the mountain a chiseled and menacing appearance that made me want to climb in the Cascades all the more.
Fast forward to 2013. We started up the Pyramid Lake trail in surprisingly cloudy weather despite a great forecast. Wispy clouds floated around and eventually burned off by the late morning. The trail up to Pyramid Lake was straightforward and easy. Beyond that, it got a lot steeper and the trail was occasionally hard to follow. Not to worry; any trail in the Cascades is something to be thankful for. But, there were several spots where we had to pull on branches and roots, or use the cliffs to steady ourselves. This is a grade IV approach which is on par with the Goodell Creek approach to the southern Pickets.
To get in shape, I had hiked up little Nanshan (about 300 meters) in Shenzhen on two consecutive days, shooting for under an hour to run the complete ridge. I made it both times by a minute or two although I certainly wouldn’t call it rushing. I did stop briefly to take in the view. Once arriving in Seattle, I took a hike up Mount Si. That was it. So, I was almost prepared to give out of energy part way up, but thankfully I felt good and pretty energetic the entire way up.
Upon getting a good view of the upper basin, we opted to go low down a low-angle couloir which led to a talus field and beyond to low-angled snow that led up past a large waterfall to the high basin. We set up camp on a large rock rib at the base of the snowfield. We were surprised at how many more parties were up here. It looked to be at least five other parties up here – more like Boston Basin than Snowfield. The rock rib had plenty of room though and we spread out in one large section – me opting for the top and Robert electing to sleep down in a section of cut out rock that was a little better protected. We decided that since we still had plenty of daylight (it was only about 3pm), that we should rest up a while, then make a sunset climb of Snowfield Peak. Sometime around 4pm, we set out, making our way southward to the col on the lefthand side of the prominent rock ridge directly in front of us. This was nothing more than a 1200 foot snow slog, and at the top of the col, we were greeted with expansive views of the Neve glacier and the monarch of the area, Snowfield Peak, highlighting the lefthand skyline.
We opted not to use crampons and began bounding down the snow slope to the base of the glacier. Here we roped up and set off on a steady pace. The going was easy. The glacier is gentle and since it was still early in the season, there were no crevasse problems at all, just a small crossing here and there. It was once we crested the last slope of the glacier that I started to lose my energy. Robert was constantly pulling against the taut rope. Realizing that I was out of energy, I stopped at the gentle rock ridge, shed the backpack, and opened some old Goo packets. They had gone bad – just like oxidized red wine and were awful! I had to throw all of them out. However, I did have some recently purchased ones that I was able to take. Almost immediately, I had the energy to join Robert and complete the easy climb. We strolled a gentle slope upwards and then scrambled over semi-exposed terrain to a gully which we climbed up and exited on the left. A nice looking ridge tricked us into following it and we soon realized we had to retrace our steps and drop to a ramp, again on the left. Following the ramp and eventually exiting to the right gave way to more scrambling on a broken face to the summit.
We had made it to the top faster than we’d expected so we took some time to take in the view and take pictures. We still had plenty of daylight and an easy descent in front of us – just that one 600 foot climb back up to the col. No big deal at all. Snowfield has great views. There’s not much else around it that’s higher so you get a good view of most of the major areas of the Cascades. Perhaps the best was the view into the McAllister Creek, which looks terrifyingly wild. There’s a great view of Backbone Ridge as well.
A good dinner complete with spirits helped us enjoy a solid night of sleep. The following day, we felt pretty good so we headed out to climb up Paul Bunyan’s Stump. This little tower was no more than class 3. While I’m mentioning it, Snowfield is the same. It felt pretty odd to not have to bust out a rope for two Cascade peaks back-to-back. This was more of a peak bagging adventure. There’s a short little ridge run on Paul Bunyan’s Stump at the very end.
The descent also seemed shorter than I was expecting. I guess it was just because I had convinced myself that it would not be pleasant. Well, it wasn’t too bad at all. We only slipped a couple of times between the two of us. Beyond Pyramid Lake, the trail was really hot with several tourists as well (I still don’t know why Pyramid Lake gets any visitors). At the bottom, we stopped to dip our heads in the cool water of the creek.