Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Stupid Early

"That is Stupid Early" : Kyle Freeman

I didn't have a problem waking up when the alarm went off at 3:30 am,
it was only I after I started driving up toward the pass that I
started to doubt my decision.

Foggy startOn Sunday when I saw the TNAB announcement for the Summer Solstice for Thursday evening 6/19/2008 for Snoqualmie Mountain I knew I wanted to go but I knew due to other commitments I wouldn't be able to. So I started planning my own Dawn Patrol. The week was already going to be extremely full. Monday was my 19th year wedding anniversary and Wednesday my wife's 40th birthday party and Saturday I was throwing her a big party. Trying to fit it all in was going to be tough. The weather forecast called for clear skies all day Monday and Tuesday morning at the pass. I sent out an email with the plan to depart Target at 4 am, which as Kyle points out is stupid early, but the the whole point of summer solstice is taking advantage of the daylight and the sunrise is at 5:08 am and morning twilight at 4:27. I didn't expect anyone to really take me up on the offer because most folks would rather sleep than get up that early for a hike. Another factor though was that given the 200% of normal snow fall this past winter and the very cool spring the snow melt is much further behind than it should be. This meant that given the early start crampons and an ice ax would be required. J.K. and a Terry (a guy who had joined Dawn Patrol but yet to make it out) both expressed interest, but J.K.'s lack of crampons prevented him from joining me and Terry couldn't work out the logistics.

When the alarm went off at 3:30 am I didn't have any problem waking up, but when I started loading the car the sky, even in the dark, had that flat pallid gray from high clouds. The further I drove up the canyon the more bothered I became by the overcast skies and the more convinced I became that not only was this a stupid early but that I was stupid as well. A couple of times I considered just pulling off the freeway and catching a few hours sleep before heading into work, but I kept driving till at 4:30 am I pulled into the Alpental parking lot off exit 52 at the top of Snoqualmie Pass. Even as sat in my car and I stared up at the gray sky over Guye Peak I considered just kicking the seat back and catching some Z's....................................................................................................

Then I thought nah, I've got up this early and I'm here, maybe it will at least be foggy and I'll get some good "moody" fog photos. I put on my pack and started out across the snow and debris of the avalanche field that extended all the way to the road. Soon I crossed the small creek and the snow disappeared and I was in the rock and mud. The higher I wandered up through the trees the more snow remained in the shadows and between trees. The trail was hard to pick out in places and at time it was straight up through the brush. I stayed close to the creek as I recalled the trail following the creek up and I knew there was the crossing over the creek to head up to Snoqualmie Mountain. I approached the creek a couple of times as I couldn't recall where the crossing was at exactly. Soon I broke out of the trees to the talus field where the sign points the way to Guye Peak and left to Snoqualmie. The snow in the open field was hard and crunchy, almost to the point of requiring crampons but then I angled left just below the band of cliffs to the creek crossing.

The crossing is a perfect geographical creek crossing. A waterfall some 20 feet above has carved out a flat area and then the stream has carved a trough in the granite which just before the lip of another set of cliffs spreads wide as well so that even in full spring run off you can easily and safely cross the water without wetting more than the toes of your boots. I stopped for 10 minutes or so taking photos of the falls. As I turned around to watch the water flow over the edge and down the slope I looked up and saw a tiny patch of blue sky and clouds breaking over the Tooth up the canyon. Suddenly I felt a whole lot better about the hour I'd spent hiking up the falls, the promise of a beautiful day and blue sky possibilities made me smile.

From here the trail wanders up through the trees until a steep ridge opens up above you and you see a ridge line that the first time you hike the trail your tempted to thinking must be the top. Having been suckered into that false notion before knew it was time to put on the crampons. I sat down in the snow and set my new Cannon Powershot G9 on timelapse pointing at Guye Peak as the fog rolled in and our and the blue skies opened up. Ice Ax in hand I tromped, zigging zagging back and forth to the top of the ridge, where you can see a much longer and more gentle ridge line leading way up to the summit. A huge cornice snaked its way along the ridge, which I gave wide berth as I continued plodding upwards. Near the top the pitch steepens again and before long I was looking at the summit.

The summit of Snoqualmie Mountain has a west-east ridge that sits between two rock horns and a small cirque below them and then the deep chasm of the canyon of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie. By now the sun was shining brightly and the summit was clear though most of the peaks surrounding were covered in a blanket of clouds and fog. I ate some food, took of my pack and wandered around taking photos and videos of the beautiful scenery. Typically if you wander to the west end of the ridge line and descend a few hundred yards you can look down into Snow Lake. With the clouds obscuring everything but the peak tips of distant mountains there was nothing but a field of white.

As I approached the summit from below the ridge was covered with what looked to be a large cornice, so I had safely come from beneath to a snow free rock outcropping. Fromthis higher vantage what had appeared to be a cornice was mostly a snow wedge with solid slopes on both sides vs. the classic corniced overhang. Using my new trusty mono-pod (the last one snapped on Adams when it got caught in snow during a glissade), I was able get a nice "top of the mountain" self portrait where with the clouds it looked like I was a lot higher the 6200 feet above sea level.

Back Down through the FogAs I made my way down, I left my crampons on. The snow was still to hard to glissade on, and I wanted sure footing as I made my way down. As I started down the long gentler sloping ridge the fog blew in and I was completed covered in gray. By starting early I had hit the weather window perfectly, had blue skies and sun; now that I was traversing down the gray and pea soup moved back in. I followed a glissade path down the steep ridge a bit off from my ascent. I hoped there'd be foot prints that led me back to the trail and the creek crossing. As I wandered through the woods looking for the path I soon could tell I had gone to far and it was unclear where the crossing was. The good news is that down was the only real direction that mattered so I zig zagged through the snow and tree wells making my way down and down. Soon I came to the upper section of the avalanche that I had crossed in the beginning. As I crawled over snow and trees that were snapped like twigs I was humbled by the power weight and force of snow and vowed to stay clear of dangerous conditions in winter.

As I made my way down there were several times when I ended up in vegetable glissades, grabbing and clawing at shrubs and trees to stop my slides. Luckily there were no Devil's Club or other pricklies. I finally got sick of sliding down the slick hillsides and I ended up just walking down the rocks in the middle of the small creek, this was actually surer footing than the slick forest floor. I did have great views of the base of the avalanche as it spread out across the flatter lower sections of the forest. The entire snowfield was covered with a green carpet of needles and small branches which prevented the snow from melting as fast as it would otherwise.

As I wandered back across the road to the car I was so glad I went. It was still stupid early but it was well worth it, the early start resulted in me hitting the weather window perfectly. I had spent a beautiful day above the clouds with blue sky on the summit of a mountain.


  • Wake : 3:30 am

  • Leave House : 3:45 am

  • Arrive Alpental : 4:30 am

  • Start Hiking : 4:45 am

  • 1 Hour 11 minutes to the waterfall crossing

  • 11 minute break at the waterfall

  • 1 hour 52 minutes from the falls to the summit

  • 35 minute break at the summit

  • 1 hour 18 from the summit to the car

  • Total : 5 hour 8 minutes

  • 5 miles (on this route due to no switch backs)

  • 3100 vertical feet

Photos and Video

Set on


Blogger Stuart said...

Three hours to climb 3,000 feet is very impressive Mark .. I doubt I'd be able to keep up with you.

Great description, makes me wonder why I haven't stumbled upon your blog earlier.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Traveling Hipster said...

Very survivor manish video, did you have to hike back down to get your camera?

2:04 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

@Stuart I was going pretty slow due to the snow, last year was 2 hours. :) I honestly have never clicked through to the trailspotting blog either, but I just subscribed so I'll get the feeds.

@Josh since when did you get blog that you never post on? Yes I had to hike back down and get the camera, just like survivor man!

2:09 PM  
Blogger Traveling Hipster said...

Blogging is something I want to do.... just not at diligent as you! Anyway I enjoyed the survivor man style!

2:54 PM  
Blogger King Edward said...

Awesome blog Mark!

6:23 AM  
Blogger Reese Zollinger said...

Great post Mark - looks like a great way to celebrate the solstice.

7:38 AM  

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