With a great weather forecast on the cards for the coming weekend, I headed back into the North Cascades to bag some peaks. I was joined by Ananth and his friend Kelsey for a Friday – Sunday trip. The priority for the trip was Snowfield Peak and the Neve Glacier and with the extra time attempt some of the other peaks in the Colonial Basin.
North Cascades National Park
drive time from Seattle
Glacier Travel Gear
We left Seattle around 6 am to give us plenty of time to get to the Marblemount Rangers Station for our camping permits. I was surprised how busy the station was for a Friday morning when we arrived around 8:30. It seemed like most parties were getting permits for Eldorado and Sahale some of the more popular climbs in the area. For camp permits in the Colonial basin, we were the only ones. We were warned by the ranger about the condition of the approach trail, to expect a very steep and brushy boot path above Pyramid Lake.
The trailhead for Pyramid Lake is a pull out on the side of Hwy 20 and has no amenities. We crossed the highway to get to the trail to begin. It took us about an hour of hiking to get to Pyramid Lake at 11 am. I was impressed with how light I’d managed to pack my bag until I discovered at Pyramid Lake I’d forgotten to fill my CamelBak. I filtered some water at the lake before we set off on the climber’s trail. This trail climbs straight up the East Ridge of Pyramid Peak. At times it’s so steep you have to pull yourself up on roots and rocks, definitely not an easy task with a big pack on. It is also extremely overgrown in places and requires careful attention you are still on the trail while bush-bashing through the overgrowth. It had been raining that morning so the bush-bashing left the front person soaked. I was thankful the weather was a little overcast so at least we weren’t overheating on the climb up. Unfortunately, on the climb up I lost my lens cap and a filter somewhere in all the bush-bashing.
We cleared most of the thick forest at 5000ft where we stopped for a bite to eat at 2:30. I didn’t realize how tired and hungry I was until we stopped. We started getting views down to Diablo Lake and over to Pyramid and Colonial Peak (the basin of which we were planning on camping). The trail after this point traverses under pyramid peak following some snowfields and above a waterfall to get to the newly formed lake at the bottom of the Colonial Glacier. The traverse under pyramid had obvious rockfall risk so we donned helmets and got out our ice axes for the snow traverse. At one point we had to cross a snow bridge over a waterfall which was still in good enough shape that it wasn’t too sketchy.
The lake at the bottom of the Colonial Glacier was a welcome site which we reached around 4:30. We scrambled up the rocky ridge to find the campsites next to a small tarn. The wind on the ridge was pretty strong and we chose sites with windwalls already built up to set up our tents. The wind made it a little challenging but we managed and then spent the next hour sheltering for the wind in the tents. I was pretty cold in my 3 season small backpacking tent which felt like the wind was coming straight through even with the wind wall. I went and joined Ananth and Kelsey in their 4 season tent to warm up a little. While I was gone from my tent. I’d left the door open a little and a mouse got in and ate through my food bag! It only had a corner of one of my oat bars but from then on we were more vigilant with our food. Ananth and I filtered water down near the Colonial Lake because this was running and seemed like a better water source then the stagnant tarn at our campsite. By the time we got back to camp, the wind had dropped significantly and we were all able to make dinner and enjoy the views a bit. We made for bed at sunset (around 9 pm) and I warmed water for a Nalgene knowing that this was going to be our coldest night and I only bought my summer sleeping bag.
We got up early, ready for a big day of peak bagging and left camp with first light at 5:30 am. There was a boot path that took us to the end of the rock ridge and to the start of the Colonial Glacier. From the day before there didn’t seem to be any big crevasses present on the glacier, we roped up regardless knowing that we’d need to be roped up for the Neve glacier. As we climbed towards the Colonial-Neve Col we were rewarded with beautiful views of the Colonial Basin and surrounding peaks. The wind from yesterday had completely gone and there were no clouds in the sky. It was still pretty cold and the snow was solid as we made our way across it.
After an hour from camp, we got to the Colonial-Neve Col. I was feeling a little sore after climbing the steep slope and probably a little dehydrated from the day before so I quickly filtered some water and prepared a Nuun tablet to help. We got our first views of the Neve Glacier (the biggest non-volcanic glacier in Washington ) and Snowfield Peak which seemed to sit high above it. The glacier seemed in great condition, some crevasses were opening in the middle but looked easily avoidable. We lost about 300ft descending from the Col into the Snowfield basin and onto the Neve Glacier and had to scramble over some rocks (in crampons – eww) to avoid a collapsing snow bridge. The trip across the glacier took us a little longer than expected, we were all dragging our feet a little and we didn’t unrope and start scrambling towards the Snowfield summit until 9 am.
We unroped on the West Ridge, moved our rope in a safe spot away from rockfall and headed up an obvious boot path to the summit pyramid. All the beta we had read talked about heading towards an obvious ‘notch’ in the rock. You travel up the notch then before heading over it you traverse to the left to gain a ridge that leads to the summit. There was some exposure in the scramble but the conditions were great, the rock in good shape and the route mostly obvious so we made easy work of the scramble. We reached the summit around 9:50 and stayed there for about 30 mins. The views were incredible, we had 360-degree views of all the North Cascade Peaks and enjoyed pointing them out and getting lots of photos.
Our trip back across the Neve glacier was quicker but the sun was heating up and we made sure to move quickly to not get fried by the UV reflecting off it. By the time we climbed back to the Colonial-Neve Col it was 12:30 and my feet were aching due to the heat and having to kick steps to get traction in soft snow. We ate and rested at the col for about 30 minutes, I had to take ibuprofen for the pain in my feet which thankfully seemed to help. We saw other people (our first for the trip) crossing the Neve glacier since we didn’t pass them they must have approached from a different trail. Our next goal was to head across to the 3 peaks of Paul Bunyan’s Stump, Pinnacle Peak and Pyramid Peak which sit on the West side of the Colonial Basin.
The traverse across to the shoulder of Paul Bunyan’s Stump was very steep and Ananth had a hard job of kicking steps for Kelsey and I. We unroped on the north shoulder of Paul Bunyan’s Stump which on this face of it was surprisingly vegetated. The route up Paul Bunyan’s stump starts north of the peak, passes under the east face, ascends the south face and ends on the west face. The final part has a lot of exposure and with all the loose rock it didn’t leave me with the best feeling as we climbed it. When we finally reached the summit I was a little sketched about and didn’t really want to move too much. The views were definitely dramatic from the top. My favourite of which was the view of the Neve Glacier outlet. The descent back down to where we’d left our packs was obviously worse than the ascent but was better in that we knew what to expect. It took us an hour to get down to our pack and it was 4 when we arrived.
The next goal was over to Pyramid Peak, which we knew was a simple walk-up. We decided to stay high and traverse under Paul Bunyan’s stump in the Colonial Basin. We got to a very steep snow traverse which combined with some melted out snow moats did not leave me with confidence. Kelsey and I were pretty spent (it was 4:30) and it didn’t hurt my ego to forgo the other two peaks so we turned around here to head back to camp. Ananth, on the other hand, pushed on to do the other 2 summits.
Kelsey and I filled up on water on the way back to camp where we arrived around 6ish, to finally rest our feet for a bit. Ananth arrived back at camp exhausted by 7:30 happy that he got both of the other peaks. By the sounds of it, I was glad to miss out on Pinnacle Peak because it sounded like a very sketchy scramble. We were all exhausted after a long day, Kelsey and Ananth were in bed before the sun. I stayed up to take a few photos before retiring to my tent.
We got up early on our third day with a mind to climb Colonial Peak. Ananth was still exhausted from the day before and the rest of us wanted to get home at a reasonable hour so we ditched the attempt on Colonial and decided to just pack up camp and head back to the car. We were joined by a pair of goats at camp which kept us entertained as we packed up.
None of us was looking forward to the approach trail on the way down but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I’d heard about many people getting injured on the way out being tired and taking a fall. Each of us slipped on at least one occasion on the steep descent but thankfully with no injuries. It was a hot day when we reached the cars at 1 pm and made a well-earned stop for ice cream at cascade farms on the way home.