Snowfield Peak - 8347' / Neve Peak - 7505 / Paul Bunyons stump - 7480
What: Snowfield Peak, Neve Peak, Paul Bunyons Stump, and the west peak of Colonial.
Stats: 2 Days, 9000 feet gain day 1 and 3000 gain day 2.
With the additional perfect weather in the forecast for the past couple days, Jake and I discussed what to climb for the two days he had available. We threw out ideas like Silver Star, Chiwawa and Fortress but we eventually decided to go for Snowfield Peak, as it was a Bulger neither of us had done and it's an absolutely gorgeous area. The only issue was the traverse below the cliffs of Pyramid Peak at the 5800 foot level since it is known for avalanche risk and rockfall. However given all the warm weather recently, and after looking through my photos from Jack Mountain just over a week before I felt comfortable with it, and we would make sure we didn't ever do the traverse after noon. So, we met at the Pyramid Lake trailhead late Sunday evening and I crashed in my van. Jake slept in his vehicle as well and we had a peaceful night on the side of Highway 20.
At 4:30am we ate and packed up our packs and were on the trail by 5:30. It was an overcast sky which I figured was just the morning marine layer. This overcast was quite nice as it kept the sun and heat down for the steep ascent. We reached Pyramid Lake after just over an hour from the highway, and didn't have any issue finding the climbers trail which went around the right side of the small pond. We both couldn't believe a maintained trail existed to this uninspiring little lake, but we were happy to have it for the first 1500 feet of gain. Heading up the climbers trail, the terrain steepened substantially, as it went straight up the ridge. At times we were literally climbing roots, trees, and moss covered rock slabs amidst a light mist. At about 4100-4200 feet we hit snow that covered the climbers trail, and we switched into our boots to continue booting up the snow. It was a very quick transition from bare ground to 3-4 feet of snow cover! Eventually we ascended into the clouds, however we noticed they were rising, roughly the same rate we were haha. We never needed snowshoes on the ridge, as the fog and overcast kept the temps down and the snow was fairly firm. We reached the traverse left at 5800 feet around 8:30am and made quick work of it in a complete whiteout. I couldn't even see the giant cliffs of Pyramid above us to the right, however we would find out moments later the top of the clouds was only 500 feet above us! It took us 10-15 minutes to finish the short traverse and reach the terminus of the Colonial Glacier. Here we put our snowshoes on, and walked right across a large flat section, that we did not determine to be a frozen lake until we reached the far end when we noticed large cracks and thin snow cover! I don't really like walking across frozen lakes so this got my heart pumping crossing over the cracks that were slowly opening.
We then began ascending towards the Neve col, and after a few hundred feet above the lake we emerged above the clouds to a completely clear day. We finally got unobstructed views of all the surrounding peaks; Pyramid, Pinnacle, Colonial, Neve and PBS (Paul Bunyons Stump). We were blown away with the beauty of this area, and equally amazed how summer-like the conditions on the glacier was. It honestly felt like July, and with the sun now out it was very hot on the glacier. By about 10:30am or so we reached the 6900 foot Neve Col and to our surprise, the established tent site was dry! There was also running water a few steps away, and I was thrilled to have such luxury. I set up the tent and Jake filled water bottles while we relaxed for an hour or so drying our shoes and eating lunch. We decided we would continue up to Snowfield peak the same afternoon after we got camp set up. We emptied our packs of everything except for the essentials, and began the short descent to the Neve Glacier just before noon.
We made very quick work of the ascent up Snowfield from camp as the total elevation gain was only another 1600 feet. With the complete snow coverage of the Neve Glacier, we did not feel the need to rope up, and simply picked the path of least resistance in our snowshoes directly up the mellow snow slopes to the base of the upper west ridge of Snowfield Peak. We reached the dry ridge at 7800 feet and ditched the snowshoes and continued up 500 feet or so on Class 1-2 rock and scree until we reached the summit scramble. The normal route for the final 100 feet crossed over to the right (south) side however there was still some lingering snow patches on the ledges on the south side, so instead, we continued directly on the crest of the west ridge, up some class 4 rock and over a short knife edge section. We met back up with the "normal" route which we bypassed above and the last 35 feet was an east scree romp to the summit.
Jake and I both fairly quickly agreed this was definitely one of the best summit views we have seen in the Cascades. It was completely stunning with the entire Inspiration Traverse, the Pickets, Chilliwacks, the big 9ers in the North Cascades and the western Pasayten were all staring directly at us from this centrally located vantage point. Words cannot describe how beautiful it was. Since we summitted at 2pm (8.5ish hours from the car at a leisurely pace with many long stops), we decided we would relax on top to enjoy the sun and views until 4pm. Two full hours on a beautiful summit is not something I am able to do very often so we took advantage of it. We also figured as the afternoon went on, the lighting for photos would also improve and we were right! Some of the better photos we took right before we left at 4. One thing we noticed that really grinded our gears was a smoke plume off to the northeast It was large enough to definitely be a forest fire, and since we had service on the summit, Jake called the Forest Service to report it, and we found out the Methow ranger district was doing an intentional burn of 400 acres. I guess that was good news it wasn't an out of control forest fire in May, but that smoke, although not affecting our visibility for the time we were on Snowfield, I knew the winds were going to shift and blow that sh## to the west overnight.
We began the descent and had no trouble running down the route and snowshoeing down the glacier. By 5:30pm we were back at Neve col camp and quickly grabbed our dinners and the stove and hiked up 600 feet to the summit of Neve Peak where we would wait and watch the sunset. We cooked dinner on top and took in the evening lighting on the north cascades, and really admired at the view of Snowfield Peak and the large Neve Glacier right in front of us. We also studied Colonial Peak and PBS as we wanted to climb those two peaks the next morning.
As the sun got lower and lower, and photography improved. What ensued was one of the better sunsets I have ever seen...I took something like 150 photos of just that sunset haha. The orange glow behind Mount Baker and Shuksan was incredible, and the pink alpenglow off to the east on Mount Logan, Goode, and the Inspiration Peaks left us speechless. Check out the photos of the sunset below!
Sorry for so many photos but I couldn't resist! Once the sun went down, we ran back to camp in just a few minutes and went right to sleep. The next morning we got up at 4am and to my dismay we smelled smoke. Our plan was to climb PBS then cross over and climb Colonial and hopefully make the traverse back below Pyramid Peak around 10am. We traversed the snow down to the saddle at the base of the south ridge of PBS. Overnight the snow got hard and we needed our crampons to make the traverse at 5am! Ascending PBS went very quick, and there was no point of the ascent I thought exceeded class 2. The ridge was an easy hike, and when we hit the cliff guarding the final 150 feet of the south ridge, we cut left around the west side and found an easy slope up the upper part of the west face until we hit the ridge, and scrambled the last 15 feet on the north side of the highest point. The smoke from the fire the day before was very thick off to the north and completely covered the Hozomeen Spires, however it wasn't too bad in the Snowfield Peak area luckily. We had excellent early morning lighting on Baker and Shuksan along with Bacon Peak, the Three Sisters Range and Mount Blum.
After a nice 20 minute summit stay, we dropped down back the the saddle, then back onto the Colonial Glacier. We then crossed over and ditched our packs 200 feet above the frozen over lake at the base of the glacier, and ascended the still hard snow towards Colonial. Since I hated the aluminum crampons I had, I just decided to use my snowshoes for traction. To make a long story short, I effed up and led us up the wrong west peak of Colonial, despite studying the route on both Snowfield Peak and PBS. We decided to just head down without going over the the higher east peak since we wanted to start down early enough before the snow turned to complete crap. Back at our packs, we started the long hike out, crossed back over the edge of the frozen lake and descended back down the ridge. My boots were once again soaked so it was very nice to get off the snow and switch back into our trail runners. By 1:15pm we were back at the trailhead, and on our way to Marblemount for snacks.
This was an incredible 2 day trip and am very glad we decided to make it happen! Given the current good snow conditions, it would be a good time to visit.
Note: Jake's photos can be seen here