North Cascades Stevens Pass Touring

Arrowhead Mountain, Stevens Pass

What started as an idea to make a solid attempt to take on Jim Hill Mountain turned, out to be a relaxed post Christmas tour to Arrowhead Mountain. A much needed tour after a few days regaling of old Christmas past with family and friends. The weight of honey ham, seasonal meats and cheese, and a few many holiday spirits needed to escape our bodies in exchange for a solid tour.

We started out at the Henry Creek approach on the east side of US 2. Making our way to FS road 687, skinning the logging road up the twisty switch backs to the clear cut. Arrowhead Mountain was hovering above us so we knew we where headed in the right direction. After the clear cut the tight trees get thick and the trail is steep. A slight skin track was broken before us and we where able to navigate through it while noting the map to reinsure confidence in our navigation. The open ski glades started to pop out as we where skinning through the tight treed forest making our way up toward the rocky clumping to the summit of Arrowhead Mountain.

Although the tempter was only around 30F, seasonal treats might have been escaping through our skin… I was sweating like the honey ham I had for Christmas dinner! At the summit the wind chill was brisk and we quickly snacked to get over the bonk of the strenuous tour. The views are amazing from the summit, Jim Hill, Lichtenberg, Rock Mountain, Nason Ridge, etc…. I could see a passing train and hear the roar of the mighty BNSF train passing through the legendary North Cascade train tunnel!

Enough of the snacks, it was getting cold and we needed to warm up to prepare for our decent through the open glades of POW we passed while making our way to the bottom. Early season conditions do exists, so travel down with caution. Lucky for us our descent was filled with good times, and POW turns that felt bottomless. Jim Hill will come to us again with more planning and time. But for a short, steep, and rewarding tour I would recommend Arrowhead Mountain as a must tour.




Climbing Stevens Pass

Prusik Peak, West Ridge

The great debate, skiing vs snowboarding, Hillary vs. Trump, is OJ Simpson innocent? And then the big one; to approach Prusik Peak from Snow Lake or from Colchuck Lake. Certainly there are merits to both but in this increasingly partisan world, people have picked their approach and climbing teams all over the Northwest and beyond have been ripped apart by their inability to see the other side.

On one hand you have Colchuck Lake; less mileage and slightly less elevation but a grueling climb up Asgard Pass gaining 2200ft in less than a mile. On the other hand Snow Lake; nearly 6 miles longer but a much more gradual elevation gain, a well marked trail and significantly less snow and ice this time of year.

Fortunately Whitney and I are rarely consumed by such mindless bickering so after weighing our options carefully, I won and we went from Snow Lake.


Personally, I wasn’t keen on trying to tick this one off in a day, but we didn’t like our chances for getting a permit in the Core Zone so Whitney suggested we just go for it. So we did, starting out from the trailhead at 5:15am. The spillway at Snow Lake was running about ankle high when we crossed at 8am, stopped at Lake Viviane for an early lunch and made the turn off to Prusik Pass at 11. From here the trip gets better.


The snow is patchy beginning in the upper lakes becoming fairly consistant by the time you hit Perfection Lake. Trying to find the high point on Prusik Pass we lost the climbers trail in the snow and started on the route a little early. In this way we got an extra pitch in on some mossy rock that wanted climbing. No doubt we are not the first climbers to climb this desperate crack. From there the climb was as follows.

Pitch 1

The longest pitch, it ran through just about all 70 meters of the rope but its fairly soft climbing trending left until you hit the ledge.


Pitch 2

This one was a quicky. You jump over to the north side and up a short slab until you hit the piton and slingable block right before the crux.

Pitch 3

The crux is really only 3 frictiony moves that feel exposed because theres nowhere to protect. Whitney clipped the piton and pulled the crux like a pull tab. From there, climb high and right traversing the south side with excellent exposure, until you hit the notch and then back over to the north side. Communication was a little tough here and rope drag was bringing us down so we stopped to belay.


Pitch 4/5

From here you scoot out onto a series of wide ledges back on the north side. They can really just be done as a casual scramble to set you up at the bottom of the final pitch. This is where the climbing gets really jazzy. Climb up a dihedral on the left then move right to a big lay back flake. We skipped the obvious wide crack directly above and instead climbed right around the corner to two smaller chimneys to make the summit at 4pm.


From the top it is 5 raps down the north side to the base. We traversed back around to where we stashed our gear at the start and were on our way out by 530pm.


We hit Snow Lake at 8pm. Nada Lake at 830pm. Car at 1050pm. The last couple miles were dark and pretty slow. A brutally long day but an absolutely classic climb, for hotdog and hamburger lovers alike. Next time we’ll try it from Colchuck.

Stevens Pass Movies

Jim Hill Mountain, Lanham Lake

What happens when 6 peakers commit to a moderate Saturday tour off Highway 2? We weigh accessibility, snow stability and snow quality to select a suitable tour for the day. We had the following constraints to work with:

  • Somewhere on Highway 2
  • Moderate avalanche risk
  • No new snow in the last 5 days
  • Sunny conditions over preceding days
  • Solid base
  • Calm weather

We chose Jim Hill Mountain for the following reasons:

  • Accessible from Stevens Pass Nordic Center via Lanham Lake
  • Northern aspect (snow less likely to be sun effected)
  • 3500 feet and 10 miles (good distance for Jan daylight)

The results were solid. Major takeaways for those doing the tour:

  • Go left at Lanham Lake to ascend the eastern slope of the valley and gain the ridge at 5500 feet.
  • Travel quickly to allow time for laps on the upper bowls.
  • On the descent, traverse right (north) along the ridge to avoid getting cliffed out.
  • See map for additional context

Here’s the play by play…

08:40 am – Stevens Pass Nordic Center Parking lot

David questions the quality of snow given parking lot temperature, ~32 F.

Jim Hill Mountain

David discusses the route with Tim and Whitney in the parking lot

09:00 am – Lanham Lake Trail

We set out from the Nordic Center through the woods. The trail is well marked and well traveled. We don’t do much route finding. The route climbs gradually toward Lanham Lake along the west side of the drainage.

10:05 am – Lanham Lake

We arrive at the lake, eat a quick snack and follow the skin track across the lake continuing up the valley. Visibility is poor, but we see the lower slopes of Jim Hill ahead.

Jim Hill Mountain

The crew crosses Lanham Lake

10:35 am – Upper Valley, Lanham Lake

We stop to consider route options. The existing skin track doesn’t head “up” the way we expect it to. We question whether or not we went to far up valley. From Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes Washington, we know the route ascends the valley’s eastern slope and gains the ridge at 5500 feet. After several minutes of discussion, we cut back and across that slope.

Jim Hill Mountain

We approach the head of the valley and start to question our route. In retrospect, we should have started climbing the ridge at the lake.

12:05 pm – Almost to the ridge

We pay dearly for our navigational error at the lake. Sam sets a fierce skin track to get us back to the standard route. The trees are tight and the hillside steep. Ultimately we boot up a 150m section to get through the worst of it. Brian steps on a submerged tree and drops 4 feet into the snow. Go left at the lake, you’ll burn a lot less energy.

01:00 pm – On the Ridge

Things go faster once we connect with a skin track that climbs moderately toward the ridge. Up on the ridge, we approach the bottom of the cloud layer. We entertain the idea that we might break through.

Skinning on the ridge, seeking the sun

01:15 pm – On the Ridge, 6,200 feet

We have  a decision to make… We’re on the ridge facing south towards Jim Hill. To our left, is a bowl with tracks and people descending toward Henry Creek (the other ascent route). We see a saddle that provides access to a ridge that leads to Jim Hill. However to reach this, we need to traverse/descend into the bowl, then climb to the saddle.

To our right is a continuation of the ridge that we’re already on. There’s a saddle just west of the peak. If we can get to that saddle, we will boot the last two hundred feet to the peak, enjoy the views and descend.

We decide to head right. There’s another group behind us that heads left.

01:30 pm – Jim Hill Mountain, 6,400 feet

The ridge terminates in the upper slopes of Jim Hill Mountain. Sam and I survey the bowl below the peak and immediately notice the debris of a large slide.

A slide path under Jim Hill Mountain (left)

We see another debris field further up the bowl, under the saddle to the right of Jim Hill. We’re in a safe place, so we wait for the group and study the terrain. We see evidence of wind affected snow close to the ridge line. NWAC listed wind slab as a potential risk for the day and this confirms that there’s high risk on the terrain ahead. After discussion with the group, we decide to descend the same way we came up.

Making the call to turn around. It’s cold in the shade

02:15 pm – Dropping off the Ridge

We hug the ridge on the way down as we drop towards Lanham Lake. We find many open powder pockets in the trees.

Whitney grinning ear to ear

David makes the white fly

The trees are quite dense in places, and the terrain is steep. We proceed with caution and stick together. 2,000 feet of deep powder turns to the lake before conditions turn crusty.

03:40 pm – Back at the Car

Overall, it was a great day. We considered terrain carefully and made turns in deep, dry snow. With more knowledge and time to explore, you could access some excellent terrain. We’ll be back.

Stevens Pass Touring Central Cascades

Yodelin, Stevens Pass

I took my friend Mel up to the Yodelin area at Stevens Pass. We’ve been getting hammered with snow in the Pacific Northwest this December and I wanted to get her into a zone with lower consequence considering it was her first time out on her splitboard.

Splitboarding @ Yodelin, Stevens Pass

We got up to the nordic center around 9 am. The parking lot was about halfway full, but it seemed to be with only families sledding and wandering around the base area. We saw only 2 other touring groups throughout the day. The first group was two skiers skinning up about the same time as us. We saw one skier skinning up solo as we were leaving. I wouldn’t recommend riding solo based on the amount of tree wells in that area (I always ride with a partner). Yodelin appeared to have seen about 10-20 people touring the days prior based on the previous tracks.

Splitboarding @ Yodelin, Stevens Pass

We were able to reap some great rewards. The snowpack felt very stable. We saw no slide activity in the area. My biggest concern with Yodelin would definitely be the tree wells. We saw and battled many that got very deep in areas. Keep your partner within viewable distance, which can be hard in the dense trees.

Splitboarding @ Yodelin, Stevens Pass

We stopped after our first short lap to do some beacon training. It’s the first time I’ve done it this season, and I highly recommend everyone brushes up on this each year, or major trip. In every group people are of varying abilities and you always want to be sure you feel safe with your partner(s).

Splitboarding @ Yodelin, Stevens Pass

Happy trails and enjoy the deep snow we’ve been blessed with this season out west!

Splitboarding @ Yodelin, Stevens Pass

More Photos

Stevens Pass Touring Central Cascades

Tye Peak, Stevens Pass

With the second storm in two weeks coming through the Cascades we took a quick trip up to Stevens Pass on Saturday for some winter analysis on the area. Tye Peak was the test subject and offered some shelter from the snowy weather which only got more severe as the day went on.

We started from the parking lot in about 6 inches of light fluffy snow that got deeper and deeper nearing Skyline Lake. The lake is frozen over, although we still opted to skin around it and then up to the ridge at about 5220 ft.

Dropping off the other side down into the creek is still fairly exposed and if you trend left to stay higher up in the top of the basin you have to navigate some very big boulders. However we found if instead you ride straight off the ridge the turns are better, steeper and a lot better coverage. In this way you end up crossing the creek at about 4400 ft.


Going up Tye Peak the stability above treeline was solid although with the increasing weather a storm slab was beginning to develop. There is about a foot and a half on top of the old snow from earlier this week but the rain seems to have removed any weak layers.

The turns were deep off of the top and no further testing was required. The results are in, winter is here!

Stevens Pass Movies Central Cascades

Rock Mountain, Stevens Pass

Last Friday, February 28th, 2014 we set out on a splitboard tour up Rock Mountain off US2 in Washington. This was a first attempt for the #magicblack #peakoftheweek crew. The tour began with some mellow switchbacks, as most tours often do. After about 3 switchbacks we began a steep accent up a ridge near the middle basin of Rock Mountain. We observed a several wet slides that had happened within the last day or so. We kept as close to tree lines as we could, trying to avoid the wide open, steep faces. I’m not quite sure what came over me, but I blazed the steepest skin track I’ve been on to date.

Rock Mountain Tour - 02.28.2014

With hearts beating fast and breaths deep, we reached the top. The warm snow was quickly cooled as we lost daylight and winds picked up on the ridge we just ascended on. Selfies and beers were had before we suited up for a fun decent. The snow for about the first 2,000 yards was crusty on top, hard to make turns in, but seemed very stable. Once we got back to the steep open faces, the crust layer softened and the turns got way more enjoyable.

Rock Mountain Tour - 02.28.2014

Overall it was a great tour. Next time we have to arrive earlier at the trailhead if we want to make it all the way to Rock Mountain… we have our eye set on you buddy 😉

Rock Mountain Tour - 02.28.2014