Snoqualmie Pass Summits

Rather than devote a separate page to each summit in the Snoqualmie pass region, I will just summarize some climbs/hikes here:

The Tooth

This peak is one of the classics in the region, and I've climbed it five times (June 1994 and April 1995, October 97, November 97 (solo), Sept 2002), via the moderate (max 5.4) 4 pitch SE face. Early in the season, the good way to reach it is by staying to the left (west) of the South Fork of the Snoq. River. Eventually, you'll get into the wide, south tending gully leading up to the basin below the Tooth. This gully is avalanche prone, so be careful. You can stay to the trees on the right or left of the gully, but even here you're exposed to some risk.

Once in the basin, wander up to the gendarme which sits just SE of the Tooth. The usual way get to the climb proper is to scramble the gully to the left of the gendarme and then skirt around the back to the notch at the base of the SE Face. Early in the season, when the gully on the right of the gendarme has good snow in it, it is fun to climb this gully to the notch directly. This gully is an avalanche chute however, so beware.

The climb itself is pretty straightforward, with only the first and last pitches providing any real challenge. Rap and downclimb the route. Gear: One rope, small rack, and ice axe (if early season).

Red Mountain

(May 1995) This is a fun, non-technical climb from Commonwealth basin. Hike up the basin (staying in the bottom is probably the safest route, early season) and eventually cross the north-east fork of Commonwealth creek. I started by climbing the South face, but as it got dicey, I traversed over to the West face, which was still snow covered. Some steepish snow takes you right to the summit. Gear: Ice axe and crampons (if early season).

Guye Peak

I've climbed 4 different routes on Guye Peak.

North Ridge: (March 1996) During a cold snap in March, I went looking for the East Gully. Unfortunately, I went too far north and missed the entrance to the gully. I eventually found myself on verglassed rock and so descended and continued traversing north until I could gain Cave Ridge. From here I hiked up the North Ridge. The snow was in superb shape and the East Gully would have been a great climb at this time of year. Be sure snow conditions are good. Gear: Ice axe and crampons.

East Gully: (March 1996) 3 days after my failure to find the East Gully, I dragged a friend up to look for it again. By this time, however, 3 days of warm weather had turned the snow into waist-deep mush and the climb was miserable. From the summit, we decided to descend the North Ridge to Cave Ridge (as is normal), but from there we decided to head straight down into Alpental (west), rather than descending east into Commonwealth basin and walking all the way around Guye peak. This turned out to be a huge mistake, and the descent turned into a major epic of horrible snow, ugly rappels, and a close call on some mossy, wet downslabbed rock. It appears, however, that the descent from further north on Cave Ridge is a bit better (lower angle perhaps and at least there are trees the whole way for good rappels). Bringing a ice axe, crampons, rope, small rack, and picketts is a good idea for this climb. Don't be stupid like we were and do it in mushy snow. It was pretty dreadful.

East Gully: (March 1998) Climbed the E gully in great conditions. Good step kicking snow, with a few icy spots. Descent via the N ridge and Commonwealth basin. 3 hours car to car.

South Gully and South Spur (May 1996) This is a fun sramble. With good route finding, it is clearly 3rd class, but we made it a bit harder and climbed 3 roped pitches (only one of these really needed any gear). The most challenging part of the climb is the descent. From the south peak, walk north and scramble up the east face of the middle peak. From the middle peak, downclimb or rappel (good tree anchor) the gully/face to to top portion of the East gully (a single rope will get you to within 15 feet on easier ground of a huge tree). Depending on snow conditions, this can be pretty dicey, especially for beginners. I lowered my partner down to this tree and then rappelled the route, downclimbing the last piece to the tree. From this tree, we set up a belay from which you can just reach the top of the East gully and again anchor at a tree. On solid snow, this was probably the best pitch of the day. Once out of the East gully, you're on the North slope of the North peak and you can walk off. The recommended route is to walk down to Cave ridge and then descend East into Commonwealth basin. This is guaranteed safer than the direct descent into Alpental. Gear: Rope, small rack (long slings are good), ice axe.

South Rib (March 1998) Climbed alone on the last day of this mild winter. Easy access, decent rock, much latitude makes this a fun climb. The snow conditions were so so, and I alternated between the spur and gullies on the right. The most challenging part of the climb was the traverse from the S to the N peak, which is a corniced snow ridge. The E face of the Middle peak had a couple feet of steep snow on it. The rap into the E gully was uneventful, but windslabby. The "huge tree" I describe above apparently doesn't exist anymore. Weird. After the rap into the E gully, I debated descending the gully, but thought it better to take the normal descent. I climbed up the gully and skipped the N summit. On descent, I traveled North, and then down to the alpental ski area. The descent went well, as I made certain to go far enough N to where the W slope is more gentle and tree covered. Gear: axe and rope (probably not vital, but nice for the summit traverse or bailing)

South Rib/Gully (May 5 2001) What a difference conditions make. In the week prior to our climb, between 2 and 4 feet of new snow had been deposited at higher elevations. We decided that due to extreme avalanche danger, we should climb a lower peak, closer to the road, with easier access. We left the car around 11:30 AM (late, but I expected the round trip to take no more than 6 hours). From the steep buttress toe, we sidled up and right, heading up more snow. Rather than continue around to the right (which eventually would have taken us into the gully separating the South Rib and South Spur) we headed up what looked like it would be mild fourth class rock.

The rock was largely snow covered, extremely wet, and hard to protect. Belay stations were scarce. About 3 pitches (up and trending right) got us to a decent tree belay and an easier pitch got us into the mouth of a high gully on the face. Another short pitch gets into the gully proper. At this point, we'd been climbing for maybe two hours, and decided to have a break. It was snowing steadily (but not too hard) and visibility was rarely over a few hundred feet. The slowness of our progress and the terrible conditions (realize that most of this was terrain that you would solo without question in the summer, but felt incredibly unsafe under these conditions) caused me to question whether it was wise to continue. I got pretty chicken and insisted that we bail. My bro agreed and we futzed around (for probably over an hour) trying to find a good way to get down. The nearest good rap stations seemed more than 80 feet off of easy terrain, and we could see no good tree anchors below. I even downclimbed a ways to check things out and found only wobbly horns and evil looking, slippery slabs.

At this point, we decided to commit to the climb, get up, and get the hell off. I knew if we got up, we could bomb down one of the easier routes. I figured there was a good chance that we'd be spending the night up there, but at least the forecast called for improving weather. It was probably past 3pm at this point. We shortened the rope and simul climbed/soloed for a few hundred feet up a moderate gully with essentially zero protection opportunities. This was nerve-wracking. The gully divides and we went right, staying to the far right and climbing broken but dry and positive rock. There was a 20 foot stretch of loose, mid-5th class way above the last manky tree anchor. This was terrifying. At the top of this, I found a small tree and the first crack in a while. The crack was too narrow for my cams and too even (and facing the wrong way) for the nuts. I jury rigged something and belayed my brother up. I was hating life pretty bad at this point, so asked my brother to take the next lead, which looked easier but turned out be perhaps the loosest pitch on the climb. He eventually got to a solid tree, above which were more trees, snowslopes, and rock steps.

I felt better about our chances now. I led out and we simul climbed up this terrain, using the frequent trees for anchors and progress (some very nasty tree/brush grovels; some pretty sketchy snow-on-slab climbing). We climbed on a short rope (probably 120 feet) making only 200 or so feet of progress on each lead (we chased the path of least resistance, so our route was often windy). We each took two turns at the sharp end before my brother reached the final snow slope to the summit. I felt like howling in joy when I saw them, but realized that celebration might be premature. We still needed to get over several summits via some exposed, corniced ridge climbing. As we reached the first summit (near sunset), I realized that the clouds had lifted. We didn't have a minute to enjoy it though, and bombed on to the first notch. We debated briefly if this was the East gully (my memory was hazy). We went with what I knew worked, which was to continue over the next summit. I led steep snow to the second summit and down to the second notch, where we could look down into the East Gully.

Here we found a tree nicely set up for a rap and headed down. 80 feet gets you to somewhat easier terrain. We roped up again (I figured it might give us some chance in an avalanche -- we were up to our waists in windslab at the head of the gully) and bombed down the gully at high speed, but sliding over a few icy/rocky parts. We sidled out of the gully and down into the basin under moonlight, frequently falling into hidden holes under the snow. We reached the car around 10:30 pm.

Lessons? Conditions can make a big difference. Start early. Committing to the climb is better than futzing around. Bring pitons. There were very few cracks wider than 1.5 inches. Many of them were just seams. A piton here and there would have made our lives happier and safer.

Gear: 9mm rope, axes, 4 med-big hexes, 8 stoppers (on the big side), 4 cams to #2 camalot (if anything, bring a couple TCUS and ditch the big cams). 3 double slings, 5 single slings. 5 doubles and 3 singles would be more reasonable.

Chair Peak

North-East Buttress: (October 6, 1996) Due to some planning problems, we got a late start and left the Snow lake trailhead at 10 am (too late at this time of year). Our next mistake was leaving the Source lake overlook trail (this is the old Snow Lake divide trail) too early. You cross a slide zone / talus field at around 4000 feet and start to climb upwards. We left the rough trail at 4200 feet, thinking this was the talus field described by Beckey. This approach works, but is more arduous and climbs through several bluffy, wet sections. The correct approach (we discovered this on the descent) is to find the old divide trail as it switches back E across the slide zone (btwn approx 4200 and 4300 feet), across a stream, through some forest and then an open, level section, just before the divide (closer to 4400 feet on my altimeter). The correct talus field is identifiable by the obvious notch in the divide at the top of the talus field (which Beckey describes). We reached the "thumb tack" (small gendarme) in the basin E of Chair peak in under 2 hrs. We scrambled up some 3rd class bluffs to reach a notch in the divide (we headed for a notch closer to the buttress, but the grassy gully going directly up from the thumbtack looks easier). Here is the description of our climb (which is a pretty good description of how _not_ to climb it unless you have a lot of time):

  1. A short pitch in a chimney/gully going up and right to rap anchors about 100 feet above the base. Class 4, not much good pro (I didn't place any).
  2. Another short pitch continuing up the chimney into muddy gully ending at tree patch. Class 4, with one harder step then easing in muddy gully.
  3. Another short pitch from the middle of the tree patch, up and onto the right side of the crest. Look for piton and horn anchor near a small tree on right side of crest. Rope drag a problem. Loose rock, mud. Class 3.
  4. Another short pitch up easy ground to just below the open book. Class 3. Loose rock, mud.
  5. About 60 feet above a poor belay station into open book. Face climbing on right side of book (the inner corner of book is muddy, but doable looking). Scant pro, looseness. Possibly some ancient pitons.
As the climbing was getting harder, and the route was no longer obvious (Beckey's description gets pretty confusing at this point: he says to stay left of crest by climbing open book, but the open book is clearly right of the crest...), and since it was about 3pm, we decided to head down. From bottom of open book we could easily downclimb to the bottom of the muddy gully (below trees) and from there, 2 single rope raps reach the ground (danger of rapping of rope on last rap, as it is about 100 feet to level ground).

We should have started earlier, taken the time to find the efficient approach, and climbed the route smarter. It is possible to combine most of the first 2 pitches we did. It is about 180 feet from the base to the bottom of the muddy gully (where there is a good tree anchor). It would be efficient to climb this as one pitch from the ground with a long rope, or if the belayer stands in the start chimney. Easy simul-climbing possible from the bottom of the tree patch to the base of the open book. I'm still a bit confused about the route from this point on. The climbing higher on the route definitely wasn't that pleasant: pretty exposed, poor rock, little pro. Keep an eye out for ancient pitons, (The variation described - up a bit from the tree patch, then left into low angle area to heather patch and up to more trees - seems more obvious, but less direct.) This route may really be better during a cold snap in the winter. I'm sure the rock would be more stable and frozen mud is always fun to climb, although the open book might represent pretty hard mixed climbing. The variation to the left might be an easier option.

North-East Buttress: (August 15, 2001) This route is actually pretty nice (the above experience notwithdstanding) if you do it right. I left the car at 2pm, reached the base of the buttress by about 4 (reaching the divide via the talus field and notch), and was on the summit by 4:45. Reading the description in Beckey closely is important. From above the tree patch work left about 50ft on broken ledges (or just start angling up and left, which is what I did). Either way, you are headed towards an obvious tree that is on the left edge of a dark rockband. I'd say it's about 80 feet left of the obvious open book on the buttress crest. There are a few class 4 moves in getting to the tree (things get steep when you're passing the rockband). At some point, you should see two rap bolts on your right. Remember this tree, because it enables (probably two single rope) rap down to the tree patch. From this tree, angle in a shallow basin up and right to regain the main crest, which is fun scrambling to the top (or rather, between the false and real summit). The real summit is reachable directly via 4th class or via a walkup up the back.

On descent, if you bring a rope, downclimbing/rapping the route seems feasable, although the walk off the S. Shoulder route isn't that bad. Mainly, the danger is to go too low, which happened to me -- eventually I found myself dropping into decaying gullies, with overhanging dropoffs. At this point, climbing up and out was the right solution, eventually reaching the second (further from the summit) rap gully. From here, traversing around the shoulder becomes more obvious and eventually you crest the shoulder, dropping down into a nice slab/talus field. Then a leftwards descent brings you back into the rubble/snow basin below the 'tooth' face of Chair. Climbing on this feature looks nice, actually. About an hour back to the basin, 2 more hours to the car. I headed back up to the divide via grassy gully. I then attempted to take this feature all the way to Snow lake divide, but that's a bad idea. Better to find the talus field used on ascent...

I saw a couple on the climb. They were stuck in exactly the same place I found myself in years before (just to the right of the open book). I didn't have the heart to advise them of the better way. They summited around 6 (I actually hung out for nearly an hour, fearing for them, as they seemed really scared and a bit green). On descent, they were about halfway down and not moving quickly (they decided to rap the route, I advised them to go down the way I came up instead of their way...). I'm guessing I was an hour ahead of them and just reached the car at darkness. I hope they had headlamps!

North-East Buttress: (February 10, 2001) A winter climb, finally. We headed up the cat track, and reached the NE buttress in about 2.5 hours. We'd intended to climb the N face, so we traversed out and checked it out. Standing below it, we got pretty intimidated. Besides, we had a party of 4 and weren't sure we had enough gear to climb it as two separate parties. We opted to do the NE Buttress instead, starting around noon.

I led the first pitch, which went through the shaded gully. Despite the shade, the ice wasn't really very good. It was a mix of slush, ice, and rock, but I eventually scrabbed my way to the trees and brough the other 3 up. We moved the belay up the buttress and from a many-ice-axe belay, Dave led out across the snowfield. He attempted the ice drip near the middle of the rock band, but shitty ice turned him around. He then dropped down a bit and moved left and headed for the obvious tree/bush on the crest. It's about 60 meters, from our belay to the tree/bush, so Nate had to start simul climbing (with a rope trailing, which I belayed) before he got there. All in all a little sketchy. Dave brought us up to his belay and then Nate led all the way to the summmit. We could have pretty much unroped, but we were all pretty tired/cold at this point, so better safe than sorry. We reached the summit around 4:30. Having a big party is slower, but sure lightened the mental load. All in all a great day, with a great bunch of people. Descent: head down the leftmost gully (you can see the notch at the bottom of this gully) towards the notch. Fixed raps down from the notch. 50 meters gets you to steep ice/snow. It relents after a bit of downclimbing. Note, this descent actualy takes you down the northern of the twin gullies, we didn't check out the other option. Rack: (we brought a lot more, but only used): pins from KB to baby angle; 2 ice screws; 2 pickets; a few tree runners.

Circumnavigation: (Summer, 1996) I haven't climbed this yet, but in Summer 1994 I circumnavigated Chair peak. I started by heading up the Snow Lake trail. Where the trail (old divide trail, now called Source lake overlook trail) doubles back and turns NE, I scrambled N to gain the long E ridge/shoulder of Chair peak. I hiked the shoulder and eventually traversed under the N face of Chair to a smallish notch/pass on the N side of the peak. From here, a couple of rappels took me to easier ground on the W side of Chair. I traversed south along boulder fields (dropping down to the trail which connects Melakwa lake and Melakwa pass would have been easier, I think), until I reached a gentle SW spur coming off of the S end of the Chair massif. (This spur drops down to just E of Lower Melakwa Lake.) I scrambled this ridge and eventually gained the pass just N of Bryant peak. From here I descend basically straight E towards Source lake, which was a stupid move. Much of the descent was vertical bushwacking and rappelling through dense undergrowth. Perhaps heading N along the gentler slopes on the E of the Chair massif would have been easier. I eventually hit easier ground and the climber's trail which is used to access the Tooth, and from there, sped back to the car. At any rate, it was an exhausting, if adventurous day of exploration.

NW Face of Snoqualmie Mountain

I've tried to climb this twice, the first time I was successful, the second time not:

W Ridge of Lundin Peak

Climbed June 25, 1996. A beautiful ridge climb. For ambience, purity, and lack of crowds, it certainly beats the Tooth. A good approach we discovered was to take the trail to Red Mtn pass to about 4800 feet (small basin and pond here). At this point, one can make a brush free traverse NW, eventually getting bluffed. There are ledges through the bluffs that allow descent to the avalanche slopes S of Lundin peak. From here, climb snow (talus) up and traverse under the S face of Lundin (neat looking climbs here) to reach the W ridge where it begins to get steep (5800+ ft). We simul-climbed the ridge staying on or N of the crest. There are trees, blocks, and cracks for protection where necessary. A couple of moves might qualify as class 5, but mostly it is very easy. To descend, downclimb the SE ridge to the first saddle, from here descend S reaching the talus/snowfield. We descended to about 4400 ft (on the E side of the creek) and then began a descending traverse SE to reach the Red Mountain trail at about 4200 ft, with minor bushwacking. The rock is pretty good. Gear: Rope, ice axe, tiny rack (6 slings, handful of stoppers). Time: 7 hours (car to car).

Lundin - Red Traverse

(Early September, 1997). Cllimbed Lundin (alone) via W ridge (3 hrs to summit). This being late season, it was a mistake to leave the trail at ~4000 ft. I should've used the above (higher) approach. Descended the E ridge (short rap). Then I followed a trail to the pass above the small pond (from this trail, look back and see a great crack on the N face of Lundin, unclimbed, I think). Then I took the trail down for a short distance, before picking up a faint tread going up the SW face of Red. The W ridge looks really loose. (2 more hrs to the summit, largely due to backups at the rap station on Red.) Then I decended the E ridge (loose) in an attempt to get all the way to the PCT but was stopped by large notch (5400 ft). A couple of raps, or checking out the N side might get you down here, but I descended the rib on the S all the way to the basin. At this point, it is smarter to head up the talus back to the PCT. Instead I bushbashed (bad, at this time of year) down meet the Com. trail (best to take the stream, probably). Took the Com. trail back to the car (quicker than the pct). Total time 8 hrs. Took a 50m 6mm rapline and harness.

Mt Thomson, W Ridge

Climbed in mid-November (credit El Nino?) in beautiful weather. Left Seattle at ~5pm (dark already) and started hiking from the PCT trailhead at about 6:30. 3+ hours of walking (the last half in beautiful moonlight along Kendall ridge) got us to a bivy at Granite (Gravel?) lake. Clear and cold at night (20 degrees, breezy). We woke at 8am and were walking by 8:30 (too cold to lie around). After missing the trail for Bumblebee pass (it's the first notch, not the second or the third after the lake...) we reached the pass, dropped our packs, sorted gear, etc and started across the basin towards Thomson by 9:30. We ended up climbing the standard (non-direct) route, because the direct variation was still in the shade (and it was damn chilly and windy in the sun). About 150 ft (the last 80 5th class) of loose climbing up and right brought us to a tree belay. From the tree belay, we followed a ledge leftwards (snow) up to dirty area (bushes) near crest. Here you can look around to see direct route and rap slings. A couple of 5th class moves (avoidable) on improving rock takes you to the great slab. Instead of climbing big slabby headwall, head up and left on slab to the W corner (another view of direct route). A few more 5th moves takes you to rotten notch near summit. Cross notch and then a couple more exposed moves take you onto the final summit ridge. We descended the E ridge (on S side via 2 rappels and much nasty, loose downclimbing) until we got badly bluffed (a few hundred feet from bottom). At this point we traversed to N side and took snow down to 5900-6000 ft notch. From notch follow trail back down scree to basin. Pass to summit: 2.5 hrs. Summit to pass 1.5 hrs. Pass to car (via Commonwealth ck, cutting off last 2+ miles of PCT) 2.5 hrs. Gear: 10.5 rope, 4 friends, 6 large stoppers, 5 slings. Should have brought small stoppers too, and a couple more slings. Conditions were brilliant, if a bit chilly. All the snow was extremely hard and gullies are becoming well frozen. A bit more rain and snow with this continued cold weather will bring about excellent, thin mixed climbing conditions (not that I'm complaining about the sunshine...).

Other climbs

Here are a few climbs that look neat, which I haven't done yet: