Snowfield Peak and Paul Bunyan’s Stump

Colonial Peak, Paul Bunyan's Stump, and Pyramid Peak

Back in da hood to do some bid’ness, I had to get in a climb with Robert, of course.  I was hoping to complete the three ridges of Forbidden with an ascent of the complete North Ridge, but in the end, we opted for a location we’d never been to before:  Snowfield Peak and the Neve glacier.  I thought that would be fitting since it was that impressive massif that I had first witnessed when I drove out to North Cascades National Park for the first time back in November of 2001.  I had to get a good look at the new range of mountains that would be my playground for the next few years.  Well, upon arrival at the Diablo Lake parking area, I was nothing short of astounded.  There stood Colonial Peak dominating the head of Thunder Creek.  A recent fall snowfall had given the mountain a chiseled and menacing appearance that made me want to climb in the Cascades all the more.

reasonable_trail above_trees Fast forward to 2013.  We started up the Pyramid Lake trail in surprisingly cloudy weather despite a great forecast.  Wispy clouds floated around and eventually burned off by the late morning.  The trail up to Pyramid Lake was straightforward and easy.  Beyond that, it got a lot steeper and the trail was occasionally hard to follow.  Not to worry; any trail in the Cascades is something to be thankful for.  But, there were several spots where we had to pull on branches and roots, or use the cliffs to steady ourselves.  This is a grade IV approach which is on par with the Goodell Creek approach to the southern Pickets.

To get in shape, I had hiked up little Nanshan (about 300 meters) in Shenzhen on two consecutive days, shooting for under an hour to run the complete ridge.  I made it both times by a minute or two although I certainly wouldn’t call it rushing.  I did stop briefly to take in the view.  Once arriving in Seattle, I took a hike up Mount Si.  That was it.  So, I was almost prepared to give out of energy part way up, but thankfully I felt good and pretty energetic the entire way up.

snow_basinUpon getting a good view of the upper basin, we opted to go low down a low-angle couloir which led to a talus field and beyond to low-angled snow that led up past a large waterfall to the high basin.  We set up camp on a large rock rib at the base of the snowfield.  We were surprised at how many more parties were up here.  It looked to be at least five other parties up here – more like Boston Basin than Snowfield.  The rock rib had plenty of room though and we spread out in one large section – me opting for the top and Robert electing to sleep down in a section of cut out rock that was a little better protected.  We decided that since we still had plenty of daylight (it was only about 3pm), that we should rest up a while, then make a sunset climb of Snowfield Peak.  Sometime around 4pm, we set out, making our way southward to the col on the lefthand side of the prominent rock ridge directly in front of us.  This was nothing more than a 1200 foot snow slog, and at the top of the col, we were greeted with expansive views of the Neve glacier and the monarch of the area, Snowfield Peak, highlighting the lefthand skyline.

neve_glacier_panorama neve_glacierWe opted not to use crampons and began bounding down the snow slope to the base of the glacier.  Here we roped up and set off on a steady pace.  The going was easy.  The glacier is gentle and since it was still early in the season, there were no crevasse problems at all, just a small crossing here and there.  It was once we crested the last slope of the glacier that I started to lose my energy.  Robert was constantly pulling against the taut rope.  Realizing that I was out of energy, I stopped at the gentle rock ridge, shed the backpack, and opened some old Goo packets.  They had gone bad – just like oxidized red wine and were awful!  I had to throw all of them out.  However, I did have some recently purchased ones that I was able to take.  Almost immediately, I had the energy to join Robert and complete the easy climb.  We strolled a gentle slope upwards and then scrambled over semi-exposed terrain to a gully which we climbed up and exited on the left.  A nice looking ridge tricked us into following it and we soon realized we had to retrace our steps and drop to a ramp, again on the left.  Following the ramp and eventually exiting to the right gave way to more scrambling on a broken face to the summit.

summit20130629_203455We had made it to the top faster than we’d expected so we took some time to take in the view and take pictures.  We still had plenty of daylight and an easy descent in front of us – just that one 600 foot climb back up to the col.  No big deal at all.  Snowfield has great views.  There’s not much else around it that’s higher so you get a good view of most of the major areas of the Cascades.  Perhaps the best was the view into the McAllister Creek, which looks terrifyingly wild.  There’s a great view of Backbone Ridge as well.

A good dinner complete with spirits helped us enjoy a solid night of sleep.  The following day, we felt pretty good so we headed out to climb up Paul Bunyan’s Stump.  This little tower was no more than class 3.  While I’m mentioning it, Snowfield is the same.  It felt pretty odd to not have to bust out a rope for two Cascade peaks back-to-back.  This was more of a peak bagging adventure.  There’s a short little ridge run on Paul Bunyan’s Stump at the very end.

The descent also seemed shorter than I was expecting.  I guess it was just because I had convinced myself that it would not be pleasant.  Well, it wasn’t too bad at all.  We only slipped a couple of times between the two of us.  Beyond Pyramid Lake, the trail was really hot with several tourists as well (I still don’t know why Pyramid Lake gets any visitors).  At the bottom, we stopped to dip our heads in the cool water of the creek.


Mount Assiniboine Movie

Recently, Mike Nash, whom I met on Mount Assiniboine asked me if my movie had been completed.  Well, I’d finally got around to it in 2009, three years later.  But, I realized that I had only created it for DVD.  Here’s the movie, finally, for everyone to enjoy.  You can also see it and read the story here.

KCTS 9 and KYVE 47 premiere “North Cascades”

KCTS 9 and KYVE 47 premiere NORTH CASCADES: People, Places and Stories on 1/17

Original Production Highlights Environmental Issues and Stories of Individuals Who Protect and Promote the Region
SEATTLE—KCTS 9 is proud to present the premiere of North Cascades: People, Places and Stories, a special showcasing the breathtaking park through the words and actions of Washingtonians of all ages.

Airdates: Sunday, January 17, at 10:30 p.m. on KCTS 9 and KYVE 47. Repeats Wednesday, January 20, at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, January 31, at 4:30 p.m.

KCTS 9 will also be producing a Spanish-language version, which will air on V-Me on Saturdays, January 23 at 7:00 p.m. and January 30 at 7:30 p.m.

Written and produced by Emmy Award-winner Doug Tolmie and hosted by KCTS 9’s Enrique Cerna, North Cascades: People, Places and Stories provides an in-depth look at the region and its relationship to the community. North Cascades highlights both critical environmental issues and the stories of passionate citizens who have worked to create, maintain and preserve this stunning part of our state for the future good of all.

“The North Cascades features one of the most ecologically diverse landscapes in the world,” notes Cerna in the program. “It’s home to a national park, two national forests, more glaciers than any other place in our country outside of Alaska, and more than 300 peaks above 7,000 feet in elevation.”

Three of the stories featured in this program are:

* A profile of legendary mountaineer Fred Beckey who has been climbing in the North Cascades for nearly seven decades, racking up more “first ascents” than any other climber in history. The 86-year-old is the author of the Beckey Guides, indispensable guidebooks for climbers and hikers exploring the backcountry.

* The return of wolves to the North Cascades. Scientists and conservationists are tracking two wolf packs, one in the Methow area and the other near Republic. After being hunted to near extinction, the natural return of this iconic predator is exciting news for wildlife biologists—and a cause of concern for ranchers.

* A look at the North Cascade Institute’s nationally recognized education program, The Mountain School, where hands-on activities introduce hundreds of students each year to diverse ecosystems. Says Professor John Miles of Western Washington University, “There’s a concern that kids are getting disconnected from nature, and if they get too disconnected then they will not be the stewards of the North Cascades of the future.”

North Cascades also examines the effect of wildfires on the ecosystem and First Bloom, a program that teaches kids how to design and develop their own native plant garden.

The full-length program will be available online at in English and Spanish after the premiere. The program will also be available via Comcast Video on Demand.

Like National Parks: Northwest Stories, which premiered in September, 2009, North Cascades is part of KCTS 9’s be more green project, through which we explore the science, policies and personal choices that shape our environment. Viewers can watch complete episodes of National Parks: Northwest Stories, find the replay dates for Ken Burns’ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, sign the National Parks Stewardship Pledge, find hikes and read media coverage on the parks at

For additional details, a press preview DVD or interview opportunities, contact Daphne Adair, | 206.443.4835 or 206.599.9435.


The KCTS 9 mission is to improve the quality of life in the communities we serve by providing meaningful programming on air, online and in the community that informs, involves and inspires.

Program description
North Cascades: People, Places and Stories

North Cascades: People, Places and Stories provides an in-depth look at the region and its relationship to the community, highlighting both critical environmental issues and the stories of passionate citizens who have worked to create, maintain and preserve this stunning part of our state for the future good of all.


Doug Tolmie, writer and producer
Enrique Cerna, host and executive producer
Bill Strothman, photographer
David Solheim, editor

North Cascades: People, Places and Stories is made possible by support from the following:

The Wilderness Society
Sun Mountain Lodge
Mazama Country Inn
Brainerd Foundation
PCC Natural Markets
KCTS 9 Members

Sharkfin Tower

Still wanting to do a climb in North Cascades National Park, I solicited Daniel for a midweek climb of the North Ridge of Forbidden Peak.  I want to have climbed all three ridges on the mountain.  Then of course, I’d have to come back and climb the wild and enticing Northwest rib.  I thought the chances might be low that he could pull it off in such short notice, but either way, I’d be happy:  If the trip fell through, I’d just stay in Robert’s cabin, extending my trip and building more trails.  But, Daniel made it happen.

I was a little late in arriving the next day, and we wasted a bit of time hunting down the rope from a co-worker, but we arrived at the Boston Basin trailhead around 3pm, enough time for the relatively modest hike in.  the trail was hot and the usual July biting flies were out, serving to push us onward and upward to our camp, somewhere beyond Sharkfin Col on the Boston Glacier.

(above) Sharkfin Tower is located between Boston Peak and Forbidden Peak

I have been to Boston Basin many times but never to Sharkfin col, the key to accessing the North Ridge route and, unfortunately, upon arriving in the high basin, I realized that our lack of planning might cost us, or so it would seem.  Locating the col is tough; from below, there seems to be multiple possibilities, and all are unsavory.  So, we moved right, looking for a break in the imposing cliffs.  We found one, almost immediately underneath Sharkfin Tower.  We hopped over the bergeschrund, climbed some low fifth class rock, and continued up to the base of the tower.  The rock pitch wasn’t very hard, so we were skeptical that this was the route to Sharkfin Col.  The view from the snowfield at the base of the tower confirmed it – the col was much farther below to the west.  It was getting late at this point so we wondered what to do.  Daniel suggested a climb of Sharkfin Tower instead of Forbidden.  It didn’t take much persuasion; I’ve been stymied once on each ridge I’ve climbed.  Maybe this was fate.  Plus, I could use the extra time back in Seattle.  OK, let’s do it!

But then, we had an even better idea:  climb now, during the sunset, bivy at the base, and hike out in the morning.

We found a good bivy site, then headed up Sharkfin Tower for our sunset climb.  The climb is great, I really can’t say enough about it.  The only problem is it’s so short!  There are only three pitches and all are easy.  We soloed the first, a rather exposed but easy traverse to the base of the ridge.  The second pitch is the money pitch – right up the edge of the ridge on solid granite.  We just simuled through the third pitch to the summit just as the sky turned a deep orange.

The final rappel was by headlamp, but we were back to the bivy sites less than two hours later.  After a late dinner (the sun went down around 9:30pm) we turned in, probably around 11pm.

I slept like a log on the edge of the cliff, much like Frodo and Sam in “Return of the King”.  Daniel woke me up in the morning around 6:30.  Apparently, he’d been up for a while taking pictures.  It wasn’t until he had to say, “Uh, turn around and have a look”, that I realized just how fortunate we were.  Iw as delighted to see the ocean clouds down in Boston Basin.  I always enjoy being above the clouds.

Daniel patiently waited on me while I prepared my things.  We made two rappels down to the Quien Sabe Glacier.  Below the glacier, we began feeling raindrops.  The rain was quite gentle at first, then stopped.  A second gentle shower visted us, then stopped.  It wasn’t until the third time that the rain we realized how fortunate we were that we didn’t find Sharkfin Col.  The clouds opened up.  I quickly pulled out my rain jacket, but Daniel, who only had a soft shell just endured the driving rain.  My shell ended up making very little difference actually (and I am half wondering about the place that I ordered in from in the US…have they been importing fake goods from China?)  It rained the whole way down and the wet brush caused the moisture to penetrate every dry spot.  We were utterly soaked when we got back to the car.  Good thing we weren’t on the North Ridge.  To quote Daniel’s pithy comment:  “What a wonderfully successful failure!”