The Snoqualmie Haute Route

For starters, this route is described in Martin Volken's guide book "Backcountry Skiing Snoqualmie Pass." And you can purchase that book for around $80 on Ebay. It's out of print, which just makes me shake my head: it makes no sense at all. Martin wasn't joking or exaggerating when he named this tour for that most-famous-of-all european high routes. Erica Engle and I followed Martin's route, with some variation, from Snoqualmie Pass to the Skykomish River near Highway 2; we found magnificent high mountain touring through the solitude of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

With a late start on Tuesday, we hurried up out of the familiar valleys near the pass and bedded down in a snow cave. A little fire of Hemlock twigs added festivity to the evening, and we got to sleep at a reasonable hour despite the excitement of the coming days.

We rose in the dark on the second day and filled water from the outlet of Joe Lake before heading north toward the high wall of Chikamin peak. Streamers of snow whipped off the ridge above, and we braced ourselves for a brisk crossing. Atop Chikamin we found ourselves suddenly and happily in the high alpine zone: cornices, steep walls, and startling couloirs surrounded us. We skied eagerly toward the Lemah peaks and the Overcoat Glacier.

Nearing the high col between Overcoat peak and Chimney Rock, we looked back at our tracks. Snoqualmie Pass and the interstate seemed far, far away.

Reaching the flank of Summit Chief mountain demanded some clever route-finding. Ben Haskell and Martin Volken had described a "billy-goating" traverse near the ridge crest, but we were unable to locate it. Instead, we weaseled down and then back up. The good shaded snow consoled us for missing out on Martin and Ben's secret passage.

Summit Chief mountain dominated the next stretch of the tour. We skied down under its many-faceted northwest walls on our way to a second camp, and I almost gave myself a neck cramp craning up to see it. Grandiose!

We were happy to have a spacious snow cave the second night, because the driving slush outside failed to provoke an early departure. In fact, it failed to provoke any departure at all. Through shear abstinence from any democratic process, or from any decision-making process whatsoever, we chose to stay put. Luckily, I brought the jelly beans.

Our rest day did include one quick and very damp tour out into the shadow of Summit Chief. The storm kept rolling, and we scampered back to the cave and the joys of FM radio.

The last day saw us touring quietly through the murk toward our exit: a high col leading to the Necklace Valley. Off to the east we glimpsed Mt. Hinman, butsadly had to abandon our plan for a side trip. Next time, I promised myself. The descent quickly distracted me with mile after mile of magnificent old growth: yellow cedar (a cyprus and not at all a thuja, as Erica reminded me), red cedar, western hemlock, and doug fir each provided the proudest of specimens. I liked it so much that I think I will have to go back in the summer to enjoy the charms of the Necklace Valley.

At the trailhead a chipper and patient Nicholas Pope greeted us with high-fives and beer. He caught us on camera, smiling and content with another wild Cascades adventure.