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[TR] Snowfield Peak - North Face / West Ridge 3/31/2013

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Trip: Snowfield Peak - North Face / West Ridge


Date: 3/31/2013


Trip Report:

After having to turn back in January because of poor planning around the shorter winter days, Nate R., Luke S. and myself headed out to NCNP to take another swipe at Snowfield Peak. The forecast was for another gorgeous weekend in the mid- to upper-60’s, uncommon for March. To ensure success this time we went out to the trail head on Friday night to bivy and get a good early start on Saturday morning. The parking pull-off was snow-free this time so we had a comfortable night with gorgeous stars.


At 5 am the alarm went off and we readied ourselves for the approach to camp. Although not terribly far as the crow flies we would gain 5700’ and have to cross lots of soft snow to get there. The trail was snow free for a while and when we got to snow it was firm which made quick progress. We topped the ridge at about 10:30 am, donned snowshoes, and traversed the ridge to the 5800’ notch at 11:30 am.



Ascending the ridge at about 5400'


The warm weather meant we needed to assess this traverse for avy conditions. There was evidence of some pockets falling from the face, but the slope and cornices above, were quite stable. We moved quickly under the face and arrived at the toe of the Colonial Glacier which felt like stepping into an oven. We roped up and Nate led us out across the glacier and up to the col. At 1 pm we strolled in with legs feeling a bit rubbery. Being that it was still so early I floated the idea of going for the summit that afternoon, but after discussing it with the group we decided to rest and take advantage of the early morning crust. We melted snow and re-hydrated then took about a 3-hour nap – it was delicious. The view over to the Nevé Glacier and Snowfield were again magnificent. I was glad to be out here again to enjoy one of the most spectacular glaciers in the North Cascades. The winding S’s of ski turns left by a team that had completed the Isolation Traverse a week prior were inspiring too. The summit pyramid was all crusted up with ice so we knew things could get interesting up there, but that was for tomorrow.






At about 5:30 pm we moved up on the hillside and had dinner. As the sun set the colors and views became more impressive. We moved up the side of Pt. 7505 so we could see the horizon and watched the sun set just to the south of Mt. Baker.




It was an incredibly clear, warm, and calm night – especially for March. We descended back to camp, slipped into our bags, and BS-ed for a while before turning in for the 4 am wake up.


At 4 am the moon cast a silver path right along our intended route across the Nevé. The climb was on so we geared up, tied in, and were off just before 5 am. At just after 6 am the sun began to warm the eastern horizon and the moon’s light became obsolete.




As we approached the summit pyramid we could see the slope up the northern side wasn’t nearly as steep as it had looked from camp. We decided to take a line on the right side of the face toward a gully that led straight to a notch in the west ridge. The snow was in great step-kicking shape and Nate once again led us up the 40-50 degree slope that took us to the notch. Looking back down, the glacier looked like a satin tablecloth, while all the peaks of the North Cascades were capped with the golden rays of the new day.



Route up on the right, and down on the left.


Turning back to the ridge ahead of us we were faced with boulders covered in a 12 inch layer of rime ice. What is normally a 3rd class scramble would be a little more interesting for us. The first bit was rambley and Nate led up it without a problem. He belayed Luke and I up to a ledge where the terrain got a bit steeper and a bit more crusted up. I took this lead, which looked tougher than it was, and in about 30 feet I was standing on the summit ridge. I belayed the others up and we all walked over to the true summit where we took in the views and marveled at the serrated snow-capped skyline. It was now about 7:45 am.



Summit shot 1.



Summit shot 2.


The wind started to blow a little so we decided to move out. Instead of following the same route down we dropped straight off the summit onto the north face and down-climbed back to the glacier. Overall the face was pretty moderate, but there was a short bit just below the summit that was 60+ degrees. As we worked our way down the wind brought continuous spindrift down the slope on us. This didn’t make it difficult, but definitely added to the alpine aspect. About halfway down we turned out and plunge-stepped the rest of the way to the glacier before heading back to camp. Again we were treated to fantastic views all around as we descended the Nevé.



Descending the Nevé.


The slope back up to camp was grueling, but we made it at just about 9 am. We ate, drank, and broke camp before donning our heavy packs for the death march. It was really starting to warm up so we knew time was of the essence. Once at the bottom of the Colonial Glacier we were again in a parabolic oven. As we strolled past the frozen waterfalls a small chunk busted off and sunk into the soft snow beneath it. We could see the main portion of the pillar had a large fracture line near the top and remarked on how it would be cool to see it let go. Not two minutes later this 30 foot pillar did just that with a booming crack. This too, harmlessly slid to a halt, but it was pretty impressive to see and gave us good reason to get to the traverse and out of avalanche terrain. The traverse went without issue, but the snow had definitely gotten softer and wetter so it was nice to be off it. From here on it was a rapid descent from the ridge to the basin and to the trail head. We stumbled to the car at 2 pm to close out a satisfying 9 hour day, topped off with double bacon cheeseburgers in Marblemount.


Approach Notes:

Early season conditions allow an ascending traverse up the hillside to the crest of the ridge leading to Pyramid Peak. We descended this way and it saved us some milage. Not sure if it would be a good option after everything melts out and the brush springs up.

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Nice job, guys! Beautiful pics. Snowfield is a great peak, and definitely worth a return visit with skis :)

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