July 25, 2004

Big Snow Mountain (6680′)

——————– Summary ——————–

Starting Point: Dingford Creek & Myrtle Lake & Big Snow Creek & Big Snow Lake & Snowflake Lake  (hike & climb)

Summit: Big Snow Mountain  (climb via Northwest Slope—Northeast Ridge)

——————– Full Report ——————–

On Sunday, Janet and Alan joined me for a trip up the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River to climb Big Snow Mountain.  Temperatures were predicted to drop 10 degrees from Saturday’s mid-90s, but heat would likely still be a factor.  I chose to approach the mountain via Dingford Creek for two reasons.  First, I couldn’t bear the thought of driving all the way up the terrible Middle Fork Road to Hardscrabble Creek.  Second, I figured the Dingford Creek Trail would be shady and relatively cool.

After passing the Taylor River Bridge, I was quite delighted to find that a lot of maintenance work has been recently done on the Middle Fork Road—at least as far as the Dingford Creek Trailhead.  The legendary potholes and washouts have been filled in with gravel and quarry spalls, such that this road now falls into the “average” category among logging/forest roads.  By old Middle Fork standards, it’s now a velvet highway!

We started up the trail at 7:30am and enjoyed 5½ miles of morning coolness.  After reaching Myrtle Lake (2.4 hours from car), we cut right and thrashed through forest with moderate underbrush until reaching a large talus slope below tall granite cliffs.

From the highest extent of talus, we scrambled up a boulder-filled cleft that sliced through the cliffs.  A cascading stream could be seen near the top, so there was some uncertainty as to whether this cleft would really go.  As it turned out, only a few Class 3 moves were needed to pop over the lip, at which point we were abruptly greeted by the teal-blue waters of Big Snow Lake (4.3 hours from car).

Big Snow Mountain Above Big Snow Lake

Being close to noon, the air was starting to heat up and sap our ambition.  Only with great effort were we able to pry ourselves away from the tantalizing lake.  A path led us around not-so-tantalizing Snowflake Lake and onto the heathery slopes above.  With full sun exposure taking its toll here, Janet decided that the lake was more enticing than the summit, so she retreated while Alan and I proceeded.

A brushy and cliffy area above the lakes momentarily barred our route to the higher alpine slopes.  We scoped out two adjacent gullies and chose the left one, which looked wetter but less brushy.  It required several hundred feet of scrambling up crumbly, mossy rock along (and sometimes in) a tiny stream;  although these were not ideal climbing conditions, the cool, moist air was most welcome.  At the gully head, we veered slightly right up talus, polished slabs, and hard snow patches until encountering another cliff.  I tried to turn this one on the right but immediately encountered a dramatic impasse in the form of a ½-mile-long rock wall that plunges 400 feet to Big Snow’s western flank.

Ascending From Big Snow Lake

We backtracked a bit and contoured about 500 yards to the left until reaching a moderately angled snow couloir on the mountain’s northwestern flank, then ascended this to the northeastern summit ridge.  An easy snow traverse and rock scramble put us on top just after 2:00pm (6.7 hours from car).

Alan and Gold Lake

Milder temperatures and a slight breeze made the summit very comfortable, so we lingered for almost an hour.  Fittingly, the summit cairn of Big Snow Mountain is a pile of snow-white quartz rocks.  I left a small register in the cairn, although Alan and I both suspected that registers fill up quickly on this appealing mountain.

It would probably not surprise anyone that the views are splendid from Big Snow.  All of the central Alpine Lakes Wilderness peaks, as well as numerous lakes, are strikingly visible.  Now, to be honest, I think the nearby major mountains look slightly less spectacular from this northwesterly perspective than from a true northerly or southerly perspective (such as given by Hibox Mountain).

Hibox Mountain, Huckleberry Mountain, and Alta Mountain

What I found remarkable, however, was how all of the sub-summits and satellite peaks stand out so clearly on these major mountains.

Overcoat Peak and Chimney Rock

Conspicuously represented are all three of the “Queens,” all five of Lemah’s “fingers” (anatomically correct, no less), all three of Chimney Rock’s summits plus its Overcoat satellite, all three of Summit Chief’s “chiefs,” and every point on Bears Breast’s rugged backbone.

Bears Breast Mountain and Summit Chief Mountain

Distant peaks were lost in the summertime haze, but we could see a large smoke plume (the Pot Peak fire, perhaps?) to the northeast.

Alan and I left the summit at 3:00pm, just as two other climbers arrived (they had come from Lake Dorothy).  Our down-climb went well, but it got progressively hotter as we descended.  By the time we rejoined Janet at Big Snow Lake, I could not resist the temptation to jump in.  It was totally refreshing, and all of the afternoon’s heat and sweat were magically washed away!  The tonic effects of the water even seemed to stay with me for the remainder of our trip back to the trailhead (4.8 hours from summit).

Stats (car to car):  15 miles, 5500 feet gained, 12.3 hours.

Route Comments:  Big Snow Mountain could well be called “Big Easy Mountain” because it offers the feel of a big mountain without too much difficulty (by Cascades standards, that is).  Nevertheless, our route seemed to epitomize Cascade climbing:  we experienced a deep forest trail, lowland lakes, alpine lakes, bushwhacking, talus hopping, gully scrambling (on a wide range of rock qualities), heather slopes, polished slabs, a snow couloir, a summit-block scramble, and amazing summit views—all for the price of a 5000-foot-plus elevation gain.

——————- Complete Photo Gallery (double-click to enlarge) ——————-