approx. 8000 in, 1000 out
We took two and a half days to complete the climb and summited on July 7th. The condition of the route was very good. There was enough snow covering the loose rocks and scree to make the traverse onto the colonial glacier nice and easy, and both the colonial and the Neve were in good condition with few hazards.
Climbing Snowfield Peak
There was a long list of climbs Jordan and I had on the agenda for this spring and summer, unfortunately I tore my ACL during the winter and I was not able to get out for a climb until last weekend. Snowfield peak was the mountain of Jordan’s choosing and we went with a group of five including Jordan, Myself, Ian (Jordan’s Brother), Doug (Jordan’s Father), and Zach (My cousin).
Jordan, Me(Brian), Ian , and Zach.
It was 5 months ago to the day when I had my reconstructive knee surgery to repair my ACL, MCL, and lateral meniscus after injuring it playing soccer. It was my first climb back so I was hoping for a nice mellow journey; maybe a little glacier travel, with a walk to the summit. But what I got was Snowfield peak. I really did not know much about this mountain, Jordan picked it out and it sounded mellow enough; how hard could it be to walk across a snowfield? So I decided to go without looking into it at all. Turns out it wasn’t quite as mellow as I had hoped.
The trailhead begins about 5 miles east of Nehalem on the north cascades highway (highway 20) at an elevation of 1150ft. The trail initially has a reasonable grade where 1500 feet are gained in just over two miles to Pyramid Lake. This is where you get your first glimpse of Pyramid Peak rising steeply above you. At this point I thought to myself oh S#*!, the rest of the approach is going to be steep and my knee is in for it. All I knew was that we were planning on camping at the base of Pyramid Peak, and that I just about had to break my neck to look high enough to see the summit. I figured that if I was really careful I would be able to at least make it to base camp where I could hang out for the weekend just relaxing while I rested my knee for the down climb.
So we continued our ascent where we gained 1800 ft in the next mile and another 1000 ft in the mile or so after that. We then stopped to set up camp on the upper portion of Pyramid’s East Ridge (Elevation 5400ft). We were not able to find flat ground for two tents, so we just dug out some tent platforms on some shallow snow on the ridge. At this point I was utterly amazed, not only that my knee was holding up, but that I was experiencing no knee pain whatsoever, and it was the least swollen it had been since my surgery. I guess all I needed was a little hiking/climbing to get it into shape; maybe I should have done this a bit sooner.
That evening we passed the time in our usual fashion, drinking whiskey (Even a cheap whiskey is a good whiskey in the mountains) and passing around a cigar while watching the sun set. Unfortunately Jordan only picked up a 375ml bottle and it didn’t quite suffice for the four of us (Jordan, Zach, Ian and me. Doug decided not to partake.), it was still nice to have however.
We got up in the morning and began our climb to the summit of Snowfield Peak around 7. We first had to traverse the base of Pyramid Peak along its east side to get onto the Colonial glacier where the snowmelt from above provided us enough water to refill our water bottles. We then set off traversing some loose scree where I was watching every step very carefully to avoid twisting my knee that could result in catastrophe. Then it happened, I stepped on a microwave sized boulder and it let loose, and all the rocks and boulders above and below me began to fall with it, and I was right in the middle. Boulder after boulder was hitting my leg and I just kept thinking that one of these was gong to take my leg twist it, and I would be back in the operating room looking at another 6-9 months of rehab. So I reached for my axe to try and pick some more stable rock to pull myself out of the mess. The slide finally stopped, and somehow I came out of it with just a few bruises on my left shin and my right hip. So we continued across the colonial glacier.
Traversing from Paul Bunyon's Stump to the Colonial/Neve Col
Crossing the Colonial Glacier
At this point we had a slight navigational error, we ended up heading west toward Paul Bunyon’s Stump and found ourselves a high camp looking west, not at the Colonial/Neve col. Good news was that it was a simple traverse over to the col (6800 ft) and little time was lost. Now we had our first glimpse of the Neve glacier and Snowfield peak, I took this opportunity to take a shot of Jordan silhouetted using Snowfield Peak as a backdrop. From here we dropped about 400ft onto the Neve glacier below.
Jordan and Snowfield Peak
Crossing the Neve took a while, the thing is huge, but the crevasses were minimal and were easily crossed by jumping or walking around them.
Our other rope team on the Neve Glacier
Jordan Jumping Crevasse on descent.
We finally got off the glacier to begin our 400 foot scramble to the summit. The majority of the scramble was very easy, but at the top it got a little hairy, and the route became hard to follow. We went up an obvious notch, that appeared to be correct, but at the end of the notch there was a nasty 20 foot down climb that needed to be done before finishing up the class 3-4 scramble to the summit. It turns out the down climb was deceptive, and was much easier than it looked. Jordan completed it with little problem. Meanwhile I found another way around by down climbing the notch and proceeding further north before heading back up to the summit. Zach followed my lead to the summit as well, but Ian and Doug still did not feel comfortable and turned around at this point. I dubbed it Ian and Doug’s tribute to Ed, by turning around ever so close to the summit. I really think Ian was more concerned about getting on his snowboard he worked so hard to pack in and mob across the Neve.
Meanwhile at the summit Jordan and I recognized a signature in the climbers log from a friend’s uncle who climbed the mountain in 1986 in the nude. We got a good laugh out of that one.
The descent of snowfield peak went smoothly, especially for Ian who was across the Neve glacier on his snowboard before the rest of us were even roped up. We eventually reached the Colonial Glacier where we un-roped and glissaded wherever possible on our descent back to camp. This was especially good for me as the down climb is much harder on the knee than the ascent.
Ian Boarding the Neve
View of Eldorado From the Summit
Scramble to the summit.
Leaving the Neve Glacier
Glissading the Colonial Glacier
When we got back to camp however we were in for a surprise, Ian who was back 45 minutes prior to our return, informed us that Jordan, Zach, and My tent was almost blown off the ridge while we were gone, and that some other climbers were nice enough to see it overturned on some brush at the edge of the ridge and anchor it down. It turns out that the anchors we had in the snow were not sufficient after the snow was softened due to a long day of being in the sun (You live, you learn). Doug on the other hand was smart enough to throw some rocks inside the other tent to weigh it down a little. Anyway, we were thankful that it had not blown off the ridge, and we all slept pretty hard that night.
The Down Climb
The next morning I woke up with the knee feeling very good, but I was still dreading the rest of the descent through mosquito ridden brush on steep slopes with poor footing. I knew it would be hours of sustained concentration to make sure every step was bomber to avoid falling or twisting my knee. To make a long boring story short, I made it down with little problem and the knee survived. Jordan and I were back to the car about an hour before the rest of the guys, so we laid our pads out and re-hydrated while taking in some sun in the parking lot. When Doug showed up he looked a little beaten up, apparently he had gone head over heals a couple of times on the descent, and in his usual fashion left some of his blood on the mountain. What a crazy old guy.
Climbing down the steep brushy trail
I put Snowfield peak in the books as a good climb and a must do for any mountaineer in the area; you just have to tough it out during the approach. It felt great to finally hit a summit again as it was my first one in over 7 months, and my first climb with my new ACL. I made it up and down without re-injuring myself, and that’s a win in my book. Now I have to figure out what is on the agenda for next weekend.