Blog: More Than A Summit

Snowfield Peak Trip Report

August 31st, 2018

Story captured by Brooke Jarvie

On August 10-11, the objective was Mount Baker via the Coleman-Deming, and this trip was supposed to be particularly spectacular because it coincided with the Perseid meteor shower. It has been a hot and dry summer with very little rain, but this weekend, rain was forecasted (and not the it’s-misting-and-I’ll-be-fine rain, but put-on-a-rain-suit-or-bail, because things are about to get soggy). Sunday morning looked less severe than Saturday, and the team opted to go for the Easton instead of the CD, mainly due to increased safety on this route. Fast-forward to Friday evening, and the soggy forecast turned to extra soggy, and we decided to switch objectives altogether rather than postpone or brave the rain. Snowfield Peak, here we come!

On Saturday morning, we managed to fit five of us (Forrest, Amber, Brett, Artemiza, and myself) into one car, and we swung by the Marblemount Ranger Station to pick up overnight permits. Thanks to the rain forecasted (way less than on Baker!), this was a quick process without lines. We ditched some of our gear that we had packed for Mt Baker in the car (some of the crevasses rescue pieces because we were going to be on a flat, mild glacier as a group of five, some of our warmer layers, etc). It turns out I forgot my phone, and so began the process of me encouraging Forrest to take pictures every 10 minutes for the duration of the trip (Forrest: Of what?! Me: Everything!)

Part 1: The Warm-Up

In my mind, the trek to Snowfield Peak can be neatly divided into several sections. The first section is the warm-up, with some mostly mild incline for a couple of miles up to Pyramid Lake. Everybody worked out the kinks in their muscles and we discovered that Amber and Brett shared a love of Dad Jokes…cue a mile or so of entertainment, and mostly bad (but funny!) jokes. Pyramid Lake is a small lake full of logs, which has an excellent jumping rock and someone on facebook once said carnivorous plants. Forrest wanted to jump off the rock, and I wanted to search for the plants, but we decided that was a reward for tomorrow on our way out.

Photo Credit: Brett Banka

Part 2: Trail Scramble

From here, we skirted to the west of the lake and followed the climbers’ trail (you can also go around to the east side and up a scree field to a ridge trail, and eventually the two paths will merge. The west trail is more user friendly). The trail turns into a scramble, where sections of the dirt trail has kicked-in steps or roots and convenient trees that you can use to help ascend the steep sections. We promptly gained ~1400 feet in elevation and enjoyed the mossy trees and old growth forest. This went on for a while and eventually we broke out of the trees into a clearing, where we saw our first view of Colonial Peak. This area was also overrun with plump and beautiful blueberries, so we took a snack break and admired the views. It was overcast and cool, and so far, no rain, so we felt pretty lucky.

Begin the next trail scramble! If there is a crux on a dirt trail, this is it. The scrambles become a little more vertical, as roots and rocks become ladders for short sections at a time. It also began to rain, but spirits were high and we kept snagging fistfuls of blueberries and huckleberries as we worked our way out of the forest and into the alpine meadows, which afforded a phenomenal view of Colonial Peak, Colonial Basin, Pyramid Peak, and more. It was still raining, but the sun was peeking out and there was a big rainbow arcing over the view back towards Ross and Diablo lake. The leprechaun’s gold is in the dam!

Photo Credit: Forrest Barker

Part 3: Transition to Colonial Basin

In the transition to Colonial Basin, it thankfully stopped raining. There was slab scrambling to make it to a long scree field with two waterfall crossings. The first waterfall had a precarious snow bridge over it, so we climbed below snow line to cross a stream below it. The second one was at the entrance to the Basin and there was a beautiful silty blue lake, complete with icebergs.

Photo Credit: Forrest Barker; Brett and Artemiza right before the scree field crossing over to Colonial Basin

We trudged happily into camp next to the lake, dropped packs, and it promptly began to rain again…and this was the rain we were afraid of being caught in on Baker. Commence panicked rummaging through packs to get tents and rain flies up (Artemiza had cleverly folded her tent and rainfly so that the rainfly would keep the tent dry during set-up). Amber and Artemiza were in one tent, and Brett, Forrest and I were in the other. We crawled into tents, ate dinner, and promptly passed out. We had a tentative start time (wake up at 5 AM), but we weren’t anticipating the need for a true alpine start. We also wanted the rain to stop and let things dry.

Photo Credit: Brett Banka; Lake at the bottom of Colonial Glacier where we camped

Part 4: Snowfield Approach

At 2 AM, Brett convinced me and Forrest that is was 5 AM, and we confusedly looked out of the tent flap and were wondering why it was so dark outside. It was also still pouring, so we figured we would sleep for another hour and then check on conditions again. At 3:15 AM, Brett’s watch dutifully reported 6:15, and given that it was still pitch-black outside, we checked alternative sources. Turns out that Brett had somehow reset his watch, and we were NOT in fact in some sort of twilight zone where the sun didn’t rise. It was also still pouring. We went back to sleep.

Once daylight hit, the rain stopped and we set off on the approach to Snowfield. We skirted around the left side of the lake and scrambled over a large boulder section, and then through a small scree field to get to Colonial Glacier. We donned our crampons and crunched our way over the ice. The glacier was completely exposed blue ice with no snow bridges, so you could see all the crevasses and holes clearly. We then worked our way up a steep snow slope to Col between the Neve and Colonial glacier, where the snow disappeared and some of us worked on our crampon-on-rock skills.

Photo Credit: Forrest Barker; The rope team crossing the Neve Glacier on the way to Snowfield Peak

We descended down to the Neve Glacier, which we couldn’t actually see except for some glimpses through the quickly moving clouds. The first half of the Neve glacier has a relatively flat portion, which cascades downward in two directions and is filled with crevasses and jutting ice (which is one of my favorite views!)

Photo Credit: Brett Banka

Photo Credit: Brett Banka; Forrest in his classic propeller hat

We roped up to work our way through some open crevasses and snow-bridges. At that point, the sun started finally poking through the clouds and we were given more expansive views of what surrounded us. Mountains flitted in and out of view, and as we worked our way over the glacier, several of our climbers were able to look down into open crevasses for the first time. We debated which peak was Snowfield Peak through the clouds, unroped and worked our way over to the base of the west ridge, only to realized that there was a gigantic plume of smoke rising immediately behind the mountain. Normally there is a cornucopia of mountain views, and instead all we could see was a thick haze. At the base of Snowfield, we dropped packs and followed a network of paths leading up to a rocky notch. In that notch were a couple of easy scramble moves, which led to the third-class scramble potion of this route.

Photo Credit: Forrest Barker; Smoky view of Amber coming down from the scramble to the summit of Snowfield Peak

Artemiza started up what turned out to be the correct gully, while the rest of us decided to explore some alternative routes. After a couple of false starts and downclimbing, we re-routed over to the correct gully and followed Artemiza to the top. It was extremely hazy, and there were still zero views. Artemiza had claimed a rock and was napping and waiting for us to join her—we snapped some quick pictures and scrambled back down to our packs.

Photo Credit: Brett Banka; Paul Bunyan's Stump and Pinnacle Peak

The smoke was growing thicker, although the clouds had retreated so we now had views of the full Neve Glacier and surrounding peaks. Brett and Artemiza kept surreptitiously snapping photos while Forrest kept pushing everyone along, because we were considerably behind schedule and still had a big push to get back to the car.

Photo Credit: Brett Banka

Our group summited Snowfield, and on the way down took an epic group photo with Paul Bunyan’s Stump, Pinnacle Peak, and Pyramid Peak in the background.

Photo Credit: Brett Banka

Part 5: The Descent

The journey back to camp was uneventful (except Brett saw a goat!), and we packed up quickly, refueled, and set out on the trip back to the trailhead. Here’s the thing about this section: you don’t remember just how much elevation you gained, or quite realized how many short but steep sections there were, one after the other. Then there are some places that you remember (that place where we tried to knock over a dead/rotted tree because it looked like it could present a serious hazard for unsuspecting climbers) and far more places that you don’t, but the ones you do remember never seem to appear until far later than you expected. Everyone’s knees were angry, and we were racing against the setting sun. We divided into two groups and regrouped at Pyramid Lake right as the sun set. This was a bittersweet relief point, because the crazy trail scramble was over, but we still had two miles out and everyone was tired. It was also dark now, so we put on headlamps and made our final push.

Forrest made it out first (he was carrying two backpacks, and so wanted to move fast), and the rest of the team trickled in behind him. We were very excited once we started to see signs of civilization through the trees (lights!), although they looked like buildings rather than cars, so we weren’t totally sure if they were near our parking lot or not. At one point, Artemiza and I realized we could see the road, and I believe one of us gleefully yelled, “ROAD!” Forrest was stretched out on his back, shoes off, and looking for any remaining meteors from the Perseid meteor shower when we arrived in the parking  lot.

Artermiza recounts the highlights of the trip from her perspective:

I absolutely loved this trip. The most stunning scenery I have seen, combined with a wonderful mixture of terrain. It’s hard to pick a favorite part of this hike. The stunning waterfalls, the steep peaks and rock walls surrounding us, the wonderful glaciers, the lake, and yes, even the scramble up to the peak – they were all of breathtaking beauty. It feels that the area is a hidden gem, and the main reason it’s so well hidden is that it is blood painful to get to it (and out of it!). But that also makes it that much more worth it and rewarding once you get there – if it was a 15 min walk from the road it just wouldn’t feel the same. Going up and down from the camp site felt like Mailbox peak (old route) tripled. The rain through the night unfortunately hid away the meteor shower from us, but was very peaceful and put me back to sleep after every awakening. It also helped that I was super tired from the first day climb. The glacier crossings were awesome – I just love glaciers. I felt strangely good about the scramble up the top to the summit, and being on the summit was an awesome experience. The worst part was the descent, feeling that it would never end. Towards the end of the 14-15?? hour day my knees were in utter agony, and my feet were covered in blisters, and every time we stopped I was fighting myself not to fall asleep sitting upright - I was that tired. So I had to keep going and push for the finish line. I never felt so good lying down on the gravel with my shoes off – and catching falling stars in the night sky. Thank you!

Here's to Climbing for More Than A Summit!


Have you purchased your tickets for the Peaks of Life Mountain Gala?

We are less than a month away from our biggest event of the year! Please join us on September 21 at our 4th annual gala by purchasing your tickets here! Our theme this year is "The Cascades are Calling," which will include a silent auction, Sasquatch hunt, prize wheel, and more! Seating is limited. Contact us for more information at info@peaksoflife.org

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Mount Olympus Trip Report

August 24th, 2018

Story captured by Amber Chang

Last September, I went on a backpacking trip in the Olympics with a group of girlfriends and I remember catching glimpses of Mount Olympus peeking out between the trees. This planted the seed that eventually blossomed into the goal of climbing it – I just didn’t know how soon it would be before I got the opportunity. So when we discussed climbs for the 2018 climbing season at a Peaks of Life meeting and Olympus came up as an option, I was eager to be a part of it.

Photo Credit: Anita Gray

On Friday afternoon, our group of four climbers (Forrest, Robert, Ryan and I) caught a late ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and headed to the Hoh River trailhead so we could (hopefully) get a few winks of sleep and an early start on Saturday morning. Anita and Christine started the hike earlier on Friday to break up the 18-mile approach into two days, and we hoped to catch them on the way in. After a pit stop at a gas station for last-minute snacks and a seemingly endless road, we finally made it to the trailhead at 1:30am.

We were awoken by the sounds of an approaching vehicle and the shuffling of gear from our new parking lot neighbors around 5:30am. After bleary-eyed pack rearrangement, coffee, and a chat with our parking lot neighbors, we started on the trail at 6:20am, racing against the impending heat of the day. The trail was flat for the majority of the 18-mile approach and we arrived at the Lewis campground at 9:30am where Christine and Anita were supposed to be camping. We glanced around for their tent, but didn’t see them so we assumed that they had already left camp. Our group of four decided to continue onto the second half of the approach and took a second break at Elk Lake (approximately 13 miles into the approach) where the junction to continue on the incline upward begins.

Photo Credit: Ryan Dubberly

As Ryan had described to us at our pre-climb team dinner, the elevation/mileage profile of this climb was similar to hiking from Issaquah to North Bend (if it were flatter) and then climbing Mount Si. This was our Mount Si segment. As we arrived closer to camp, there was a ladder slung over a scree slope with a rope handline to assist getting down. Thankfully, after this, camp was just a 10-minute hike away. When we arrived, we expected to be greeted by gales of laughter coming from Anita and Christine.

Photo Credit: Christine Keubler

When we got to Glacier Meadows, there was no sign of the two, so we unpacked our tents, creating mini gear explosions and plopped ourselves down for quick naps. Two hours later, we awoke to the sound of Anita calling out to us. We welcomed the two to the campsite and, with our group now complete, prepared our dinners, discussed our game plan for summit day, and turned in early for sweet alpine bedtime.

Sunday morning, we straggled out of our campsite at 4:00am and trudged towards the Blue Glacier and soon we were rewarded with a gorgeous moonlit view of the glacier as we reached the top of the moraine.

Photo Credit: Forrest Barker

We descended down the scree, donned our crampons and harness, and roped up to cross the glacier. I was on rope with Forrest and Ryan, while the other rope comprised of Robert, Christine, and Anita.

The Blue Glacier is really something else. We could see and hear water rushing deep into the earth in some places. As we crossed, the sound of intermittent rockfall broke the early morning silence.

Photo Credit: Anita Gray

We headed up to Snow Dome, took a quick break, and continued on towards Crystal Pass.

Photo Credit: Christine Keubler

Photo Credit: Anita Gray

On our approach on Saturday, we passed multiple groups that attempted the summit that day and most reported the route being out, which definitely made Forrest stoked for the challenge. As we neared the bergschrund that had been reported as “out,” we discovered a small snowbridge that got us over to a rock section before we had to climb out of the ‘schrund. Forrest led, kicked bomber steps up, and set up a picket to belay us up.

Photo Credit: Christine Keubler

Photo Credit: Ryan Dubberly

We crossed the pass and traversed behind Five Fingers Ridge and ditched our crampons below the false summit. At false summit, we then dropped slightly back downhill and prepared for the climb up to the true summit. Forrest placed gear for the first bit of it to make the route more obvious. We were able to scramble the rest of the way up unroped and were quickly met with gorgeous views all around us.

We signed the summit register, snapped our photos and quickly began the descent before we roasted during the heat of the day.

Photo Credit: Forrest Barker

We were able to join two 60M ropes and do a single long rappel down from the summit to the base of the summit block. As we crossed back over the Blue Glacier, we spotted almost a complete set of mountain goat remains – it looked like it had been swallowed by a crevasse and then spat back out by the glacier – a stunning find!

Photo Credit: Amber Chang

Photo Credit: Anita Gray

Photo Credit: Ryan Dubberly

The hike back up the scree felt like the crux of the day. It was sliding around horribly and we had started on the uphill section a little too prematurely. We finally made it up and back to the campsite where we nursed our beat up feet, chatted with our Mountaineers friends / campsite neighbors and promptly passed out from the exhaustion of the day.

Photo Credit: Anita Gray

On Monday morning, we packed up camp and headed on our way shortly before 7am. We were all eager to get back home at a decent hour of the day and cruised back to the parking lot – first passing other climbers, which became backpackers, and then day hikers, and then finally families with small children – marking our decreasing distance from the parking lot. We arrived back at the parking lot at 2:30pm, dropping our packs in relief, chugging water, and stuffing our face with snacks as we elevated our swollen feet.

Mount Olympus was such an unique climb and opportunity. The long approach is often a deterrent for many, but it was awesome seeing a group of individuals band together to tackle this beautiful climb for a good cause. In total, our climbers raised over $1600 for Seattle Children’s.

Here's to Climbing for More Than A Summit!


Have you purchased your tickets for the Peaks of Life Mountain Gala?

We are less than a month away from our biggest event of the year! Please join us on September 21 at our 4th annual gala by purchasing your tickets here! Our theme this year is "The Cascades are Calling," which will include a silent auction, Sasquatch hunt, prize wheel, and more! Seating is limited. Please contact us for more information at info@peaksoflife.org

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Mount Rainier Women’s Climb Trip Report

August 17th, 2018

Story captured by Anita Gray

Our women's team headed up Rainier's Emmons Glacier on July 21-22. The week before the climb was a little bumpy. Despite a beautiful weather forecast, there were a couple of reports about rapidly deteriorating conditions on the Emmons route. Late season conditions arrived a little earlier than usual this year, and crevasses were open with weakening snow bridges. A friend recently reported one of their climbers punching through a snow bridge just outside of Camp Schurman. So, we discussed our options: is the Emmons within the team’s ability and comfort level? Do switch over to the DC and hope that we can get permits last minute? Do we postpone and try for the DC later? Do we bail? Or do we go ahead with the Emmons, which will have a potentially high probability of a turnaround?

We met for a pre-climb meeting the Thursday prior to the climb for an in-person discussion and decided to go with our original plan. Forrest ended up needed to join this climb as team-lead, turning it into a mostly women’s climb. He did bring a dress, and became an honorary woman for the weekend!

Our team of five met (Anita, Christina, Kara, Eve and Forrest) at 7:30 am at the Ranger Station on Saturday morning, where Anita arrived laden with banana bread for everyone. Forrest made coffee for the group while waiting in line waiting to secure an overnight permit, and by 9 am, the group was heading out on the Glacier Basin Trail.

Photo Credit: Anita Gray

By the time we hit the Interglacier, I (Anita!) was hitting my stride and only suffering from the sweltering heat of the day.  We put on crampons and headed up in a much more direct route than I had taken previously – luckily there was more of a boot-made staircase this time around, which makes steep ascents on snow much smoother.

Steamboat Prow crept closer, the last 30 minutes or so of that long steep trudge was a challenge, and I was very thankful to finally sit and take a break and eat some food.  We were making good progress time-wise, we were just now going to need to rope up for the final hour’s glacier crossing up to camp.

The crevasses were wide and open and Eve (with whom I was on a two-person rope team) applied her climbing experience to route finding our way up, over and around the gaping holes in the snow.  By the end of this climb, I was getting used to stepping over these wide cracks that led to deep dark blue ice of unknown depth.

Photo Credit: Christina Walker

We arrived into camp six hours after starting out, and discovered that we needed to barter some gear for a fuel canister. It turned out our supposed ‘full’ fuel canister was in fact rather low.  After making camp, we ate dinner and tried to get in what sleep we could.

Photo Credit: Kara Hedges

All too soon the alarm was sounding, and adrenaline took over.  I packed my gel shots loaded with caffeine that I knew I’d need (thank you Eve!) and warm layers including my summit jacket that only gets used on climbs like this.  Gaiters, crampons, ice axe, helmet and headlight on.

Ok…deep breath…here we go.

Photo Credit: Eve Jakubowski

The next few hours were kind of a blur.  We were keeping a quite brisk pace up solid snow that had a steep incline to it such that you often had to duck or French step with the points of your crampons to ascend.  We would stop every 90 minutes or so to drink fluid and take in snacks.  Christina would take a power nap.  I would just keep the thought patterns in my head spinning in a positive direction as best I could.  I felt strong, but the mental fears of needing to turn around perhaps, again, kept creeping into my consciousness.

Photo Credit: Eve Jakubowski

We deliberately slowed our pace when we realized we would top out before sunrise if we kept going the way we were.  The trail edged up, relentlessly.  I was breathing hard, wondering just how much longer this steep gradient was going to last.

That’s when Forrest announced that things were “about to get steep” as we hit the section of the trail that was the ranger re-route.  “What?! Steeper than it’s already been?” It involved a far-left traverse followed by a far-right traverse to reconnect with where the original trail goes to the summit more directly.

Photo Credit: Anita Gray

Every time we got to a section of the re-route that a stumble/fall could produce a team pulled off the mountain scenario, Forrest would place a picket and a running belay as we moved through.  One section was quite a vertical climb of snow with steps kicked in nicely.  This sort of turned a corner and it felt like we were finally within an hour or so of the summit.

Photo Credit: Kara Hedges

I started to get excited.  The sky was glowing amber as the sun rose and there is that wonderful and albeit surreal visual of the stream of people with headlamps in front of you getting ever lighter with each passing minute – and it is just so beautiful it takes one’s breath away.  I had a feeling that we were going to make it!

Photo Credit: Kara Hedges

The final push to the summit presented a challenge to me that I could not have imagined.  Penitentes.  These are extremely sharp snow formations that stick up like thousands of ice picks. That last section required us to walk on top of these Penitentes and it was by far, the toughest physical and mental challenge of the ascent so far.  Each step, your body weight was only distributed through about 10% of your foot as you had to balance precariously with your crampons.

Photo Credit: Kara Hedges

I cursed those penitentes of death under my breath (and out loud) the whole rest of the way which seemed like the longest hour of my life.  We finally got to a rocky scree slope that Forrest told me led all the way to the summit.   This was where we could remove our crampons and head up without packs.

Then the summit of Columbia crest was in sight!  The air was thin, my heart was beating out of my chest.  I was the last one to clamber up and when I finally stood on the summit, I became overwhelmed with emotion.

Disbelief, pride, exhaustion, accomplishment, a sense of “Finally!  I have made it!” 8 years after my first attempt – I was finally atop Rainier.

Most of all – I had this overwhelming relief that I would never have to put myself through this again.  Ever!!!!

We took our obligatory summit photos and posed with the Peaks of Life Banner.  I cried tears of joy and took a video expressing my gratitude to Forrest and Eve for their help getting to the top of this monster of a mountain, unfortunately, the playback is almost inaudible due to the wind howling.  All you can see is my facial expression and tears – and that will be enough when I look back on it in years to come.   We were the only ones out on Columbia Crest at that time – 8.5 hours from when we had left camp the night before.  We later learned that the DC route was out and that was why we were lucky enough not to have to share our photo spot with a large group of other climbers.

Photo Credit: Anita Gray

By 8 am we began our descent, and it was a long, long slog down the steep snow back to camp. This time, however, we could actually see what we had walked up during that long cold night. We ended up accidentally going off route, which turned out to be a short cut and basically eliminated about an hour of extra traversing. Unfortunately, this also meant that Forrest had to run up ~1500 ft to retrieve our snow pickets, which we had left for other teams to use.

We ended up fully plunge stepping through the soft snow down the final stretch to camp, where we packed up camp and re-roped up to head down the Emmons over to Steamboat Prow. Everybody got off the rope at this point and it was each man for himself.

The team glissaded down some chutes on the Interglacier, and then began the painful trudge back to the cars. The team made it out by 7:30 PM, and headed to Enumclaw for some much-deserved burgers.

We had done it.  We had gotten to the summit of Mt Rainier.  Though I still couldn’t feel my feet, I fell asleep with a big grin on my face.

Congratulation to Anita, Kara and Christina for earning their first Rainier summit! They also collectively raised $4500 for the uncompensated care fund at Seattle Children’s Hospital, making it that much more successful of a climb.

Here's to Climbing for More Than A Summit!

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Peaks of Life climbs for 'more than a summit.' On our blog, we represent the children and families we serve at Seattle Children's Hospital, while providing valuable information for our dedicated climbers and volunteers.

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