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Snoqualmie Mountain for the Solstice
posted by John : June 19, 2008

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Not Snoqualmie Falls

When TNAB season rolled around I told Amy that I really, really wanted to hit a couple of TNAB trips, but would likely skip others that I'd already done. Two of them were the Solstice Party on the Thursday closest to the Summer Solstice and Snoqualmie Mountain. Can you believe that this year the Solstice Party was on Snoqualmie Mountain? Two for one!

We were in the snow from the parking lot. It promised to be a long trip especially since we couldn't find the trail. I know, I know. It sounds like the usual trip of mine. Couldn't find the trail, went the wrong way, got chased by a bear, found an abandoned gold mine, but then couldn't remember how to get back to it. The same old story.

This time it was the result of a massive avalanche that came down during the winter. Full grown trees had been snapped in half and debris covered the entire area. The first quarter mile of the trail looks to have been completely obliterated, though it wasn't much of a trail to begin with. (It's the same trail used to access Guye Peak so I recall it well.)

We cut across the debris field (and left the snow behind), but wound up too far east. We tried to cut back to the east, but ran into nasty brush so followed a talus field up. Usually, Tokul refuses to step foot on rock, but this time she was ok. Not happy, but ok. Since it was the Solstice trip there were over 20 of us and working our way up a rather recently settled talus field meant rocks were shifting and rattling around. None really took off downhill, though.

At the top of the talus field we followed the base of a cliff to the west, which was a bit sketchy at times. One of the hikers lost his footing and slid about 10 feet down the slope before coming to rest in some trees. Shortly after we found the trail and shortly after that we were in the snow consistently.

When it's snow-free the trail is pretty steep. Covered in several feet of consolidated snow we were able to kick steps up cutting the switchbacks. This shaved a lot of time off the trip, but it was a definite thigh buster.

It was just under an hour when we popped out of the woods at a waterfall. It's a great little spot that regrettably dries up in the summer. With all the snow this year it was still flowing strong and quite pretty. The first drop is perhaps 20 feet tall. The water flows under a snow bridge, across the trail, and then off another 20 foot drop.

On the other side of the falls we were again kicking steps up the steep hill. Most of us traded trekking poles for ice axes and the going was slow. We wound our way up the hill between widening tree wells until we emerged on a rare flat spot with views back to Cave Ridge and Guye Peak. I stopped and put on crampons not because they were necessary (though they were helpful), but because I've owned them for almost two years and haven't really had that much opportunity to use them.

My gear change left me near the back of the pack so the steps others had kicked in were pretty firm and easy to use. With the crampons, though, I took advantage of the open slopes and passed people as they followed the trail when it peeked out from under the snow.

The final ascent was up a narrow ridge with cornices running along one side. The depth of the snow is astounding. Some of the cornices are developing cracks and it seems only a short matter of time before they give way. We gave those a wide berth on the way up.

When we finally arrived at the summit it was a sight to behold. Just as in previous years (2006, 2007) there was no shortage of food or beverage. A good time was had by all. I switched from t-shirt to fleece and then added a shell on top. Thinking of the steep downclimb to the waterfall I kept my crampons on, but whether this was a good decision would remain to be seen.

As we started down the quality of my decision became obvious. Everybody else got to glissade, but I was stuck with great traction that threatens to break your ankles if you catch a spike in the hard snow while flying down the mountain. Since I had already done the whole broken ankle thing I plodded along and cheered as others broke records for quickest descent.

The crampons were amazingly helpful when we were on the steep, hard slopes above the waterfall and I avoided the falls of many others. We made great time below the waterfall and were able to actually follow the trail right into the debris field and out into the parking lot.

Although the actual distance was pretty short (3.6 miles) we gained over 3,100 feet and topped out on the highest point at Snoqualmie Pass. We even waved at the Granite Mountain lookout where there just might have been a USFS ranger waiting for us.

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