Snowfield Peak is an outstanding summit in the North Cascades about 5 miles ESE of Newhalem as the crow flies. The mountain is not visible from the North Cascades Highway, but its subordinates to the north are. These peaks occupy many a lens frame during the late spring/summer/early fall months when the highway is open. These subordinate peaks are Colonial Peak (7,771 ft), Paul Bunyans Stump (7,480+ ft), Pinnacle Peak (7,360+ ft), and Pyramid Peak (7,182 ft) and are typically viewed to the southwest from Diablo Vista--a rest stop/overlook about 10 miles east of Newhalem.
Snowfield Peak's most distinctive feature is its broad Neve Glacier on the north and northwest flanks. This is one of the larger non-volcano-related glaciers in the Washington Cascades and measures roughly 750 acres in size. This glacier connects with the Ladder Creek Glacier at its NNW side. The broad two-tiered plateau in which the Neve lies drains two directions: east via Neve Creek into Thunder Creek and west via Ladder Creek into the Skagit River.
A long, high ridge extends east from Snowfield Peak and contains such seldom climbed subsidiary summits as The Distal Phalanx (7,560+ ft), Mantis Peak (7,614 ft), and Styloid Peak (6,972 ft).
The standard approach (the one used by probably greater than 95 percent of climbers) is via the Pyramid Lake/Peak Trail. The 1,150-ft trailhead for this is 6.5 miles east of Newhalem on the North Cascades Highway. A well-worn trail climbs to the lake in just over 2 miles. From there, the trail is more indistinct as it climbs up to the East Ridge of Pyramid Peak and beyond.
From the East Ridge of Pyramid Peak, one then climbs southward onto the Colonial Glacier on the east flank of Paul Bunyan's Stump, then to the Colonial-Neve Col, then onto the Neve Glacier. One ascends the Neve (a good way past crevasse fields can be found through its center) to the base of the peak either on it's West Ridge or below its Northwest Face--the latter can apparently be used if snow covers the route to the top.
The last 100 vertical feet of scrambling to the top involves class 3 or class 4 climbing. Depending on the route taken, it can be made as difficult as class 5.
Another (longer) approach to the mountain that is probably seldom used is the Ladder Creek Approach, which begins at a crossing of the Skagit River at the Gorge Dam Powerhouse at the east end of Newhalem.
Snowfield Peak is located in North Cascades National Park. As such, camping permits are required for the East Ridge of Pyramid and beyond. Pyramid Lake itself is located in Ross Lake National Recreation Area. There used to be a party limit of six, but this may have changed. One of those despicable Trail Park Passes may be necessary to park at the trailhead, which is just a gravel strip across the road from the trail. There are no toilet facilities at the trailhead.
When To Climb
This peak could conceivably be climbed at any time of year. I myself climbed it on December 1, 2002 on a very low snow year. The North Cascades Highway is typically open year-round to some point just beyond the trailhead. It is likely the trail to Pyramid Lake would be manageable year-round. If you can get up to the East Ridge of Pyramid without any problems, then the terrain opens up (no more bushwhacking) all the way to the summit. There are two glaciers and roughly three basins to cross. Feasible crossings of the glaciers obviously would depend on crevassing from year-to-year. (The Neve Glacier was still easily crossed on December 1.)
Camping is allowed for this climb (see Red Tape section). Though not impossible, it is unlikely one could climb Snowfield Peak in one day, therefore necessitating a camp either at around 5,500 feet on the East Ridge of Pyramid or further along at the large tarn at the northwest toe of the Colonial Glacier (good water source here). It would be a long slog to attempt to go any further to camp than this if only doing Snowfield Peak. However, there are some other attractive climbing features in the area of the Neve Glacier--most notably The Needle, The Horseman, The Horseman's Pack, and Cat's Ear--making a multi-day camp on or near the Neve Glacier more convenient.
Mountain conditions would depend on conditions of the North Cascades in general. Some weather links: