July 8-9, 2017

Big Snow Mountain Carryover Loop:  Dingford Creek to Hardscrabble Creek

Big Snow Mountain Summit Camp

Big Snow Mountain (6680′)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Central Cascades

Starting & Ending Point: Dingford Creek Trailhead (Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road)

Way Points: Myrtle Lake & Big Snow Creek & Big Snow Lake & Snowflake Lake & Big Snow Mountain summit & Hardscrabble Gap & Upper Hardscrabble Lake & Lower Hardscrabble Lake & Hardscrabble Creek & Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road & Dingford Creek Bridge (hike & climb)

Campsite: Big Snow Mountain summit

Summit: Big Snow Mountain (climb via Northwest Gully—Northwest Slope; descent via Northeast Shoulder—Hardscrabble Couloir)

Approximate Total Stats:  20 miles traveled; 550 feet gained and lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

I teamed up with Lisa L. last weekend for a climb of Big Snow Mountain in the western Alpine Lakes Wilderness. To increase the variety factor of our climb, we did a carryover loop—entering via Dingford Creek and exiting via Hardscrabble Creek—and added a summit bivouac. The total loop turned out to be more challenging than we expected, but it had the feeling of a remarkable adventure route in our own backyard.

Day 1 – Trailhead to Summit via Dingford Creek:

We hiked up the Dingford Creek Trail to Myrtle Lake, then thrashed our way through dense brush in a southeasterly direction to intersect the stream draining Big Snow Lake. This stream pours down a steep, boulder-filled defile between tall cliffs. The ascent starts out with easy boulder hopping but gradually turns into some interesting Class 3 scrambling on wet, mossy rock. At 4900 feet, we suddenly popped out at beautiful Big Snow Lake (6.0 hours from TH), with its vertical granite faces plunging into deep blue water.

Big Snow Lake

On the near shore, the water turns to a jade-green color, and scattered lakebed rocks show through the translucent surface. My brother Brad calls this “magic water” and I couldn’t agree more.

Big Snow Magic Water

After a cooling dip in the lake, we followed a path to the right in a counter-clockwise direction around nearby Snowflake Lake and up to a heather bench. When the bench ended at the base of a moderately steep stream gully, we went straight up on snow and Class 2-3 rock. This was Lisa’s least favorite part of the trip, but at least it was fairly short.

Lisa In Upper Stream Gully

The unpleasant stream gully deposited us on easy snowfields about 1000 feet below the summit of Big Snow Mountain. It was a straight-forward boot ascent from there.

Climbing Upper Snow Slopes

Along the way, we passed an interesting rock formation on the mountain’s northwest slope. I thought it looked like a tuning fork, whereas Lisa thought it looked like a raptor. Perhaps it’s a raptor perched on a tuning fork.

Big Snow Mtn Rock Raptor

We arrived at the summit around 6:00pm (9.8 hours from TH). The register here is a thick notebook inside a waterproof plastic box. It appears that this peak gets a half-dozen or so parties per year, with approaches split between Myrtle Lake, Hardscrabble Lakes, and Gold Lake.

Big Snow Summit Register

I would have to declare that Big Snow Mountain must be one of the finest viewpoints in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. When standing on its summit, the entire chain of craggy Snoqualmie peaks—from Mt. Daniel to Kaleetan Peak—stretches out in front of you like a chorus line.

Summit Chief Mountain To Lemah Mountain View

The 70-degree evening weather called out for snow-margaritas, and we were in no position to decline.

Big Snowrita Time On Big Snow Summit

The summit features four good, level bivouac spots, each with a view of the surrounding mountains. As a bonus, we found running water in a heather meadow only 50 feet below the top.

Bivouac Site On Summit

Sunset coincided with a full moonrise over Chimney Rock and Lemah Mountain.

Sunset On Chimney Rock
Moonrise Over Chimney Rock and Lemah Mountain
Moonrise Over Chimney Rock and Lemah Mountain

Day 2 – Summit to Trailhead via Hardscrabble Creek:

We awoke to sunrise on Mt. Rainier and clear skies overhead.

Sunrise On Mt Rainier

Our descent route followed the long northeast shoulder down to an obvious 5700-foot gap in the ridge. The morning snow was just firm enough to warrant crampons.

Leaving Summit On Day 2

From the gap, an easy snow couloir led down toward Upper Hardscrabble Lake.

Descending Hardscrabble Couloir

The snow ended about 500 feet above the lake, leaving us to pick our way around cliff bands and down talus slopes. At the lake (3.2 hours from summit), we met two campers who gave us some good information about getting down to the Middle Fork Road.

Upper Hardscrabble Lake

A well-defined footpath leads from the upper lake down to the lower lake, staying on the right (north) side of the outlet stream the whole way. We circled around the head of Lower Hardscrabble Lake and crossed multiple inlet streams to reach the western shore.

Lower Hardscrabble Lake

Does anybody remember “The Great Trog” of Nooksack Cirque? This 8-foot-high boulder could be called “The Little Trog.”

Little Trog At Lower Hardscrabble Lake

There is a footpath leading down-valley from Lower Hardscrabble Lake, but the first ½ mile is very vague and difficult to follow. Eventually, the forest and brush open onto a large boulder field, which is well marked with ducks and cairns.

Boulder field Along Hardscrabble Route

Beyond the boulder field, the foot path becomes very well-trodden and easy to follow. We quickly descended the remaining 1000 feet to the Middle Fork Road, which we intersected at a point closely west of its terminus (6.6 hours from summit). I’ve never been a fan of road walking, but this 7-mile segment from Hardscrabble Creek to Dingford Creek is about as smooth, shady, and pleasant as a dirt road can be. Of course, that didn’t stop me from whining and complaining the entire way.

Hoofing Out Middle Fork Road

We reached our car at the Dingford Creek Trailhead shortly before 5:00pm (9.9 hours from summit), laden with blisters, sore knees, and great memories.


——————– Photo Gallery (click to enlarge) ——————–