Gold Creek Circumnavigation – PNW Report from Louie

Post by blogger | June 25, 2012      

This spring I was busy with school and as a result, didn’t get out on the planks as much as I would have liked. No matter, there’s a time for everything and summer in Washington is the time for skiing!

Looking back at a day's work during our 2-day ski traverse. Chikamin Peak can be seen far back as the highest peak on the horizon. Sometimes you're amazed at how far you come, sometimes you're amazed at how little, especially when the skis come off and you're yarding on vertical vegetation to progress the route. Both modes were encountered.

Andrew called me up with a plan for a multi day tour out of Snoqualmie Pass. This is one of the many areas of Washington I have yet to explore, so at the last minute I agreed. I drove there that evening, and after meeting Stefan, the third member of our group, and dropping off his car at the end point, we agreed to start early the next morning. Even though we woke up at 3:30 a.m., we were skinning in daylight almost immediately. Ah, those long summer days up here in the north country!

We were able to put on skins surprisingly early, although I switched back to boots quickly as we ascended the steep, hard snow towards the ridgetop. It was an odd feeling scrambling up rocks only to step onto the wide, flat, “catwalk” section of the PCT. The easy stroll only lasted a few feet until we were back on steep snow.

We continued traversing, skiing, and climbing toward Mt. Thompson, our first goal of the day. As we neared it, we decided to check out a sweet, north facing chute that Stefan had in mind.

Skinning on the south side of Mt. Thompson

As I crossed over to the north side of Mt. Thompson and made my way toward the top of the chute, I started getting excited. The north side consisted of majestic vertical rock faces, underneath which our chosen chute snaked seductively. We stopped at the top of a sheer drop, where we took a break and scoped the line. Far below, the valley was choked with several miles of green — green that we would have to navigate to get back to our beloved white snow. “Well, it doesn’t look that thick,” we reasoned, “It’s only a few miles.” The lure of steep corn proved too much so we went for it.

Scoping our line and enjoying the view from a shoulder of Mt. Thompson

Stefan taking the first few turns.

Stefan taking the first few turns.

Andrew ripping up the wide open corn in the lower couloir. Our upcoming 'schwack stretches behind him.

The couloir skied beautifully even with a few stray rocks lower down. Nearing the bottom we encountered a waterfall. We had two choices: either boot back up the couloir and have more traversing and climbing to get to camp, or find away around and bushwack up the valley. We shied away from the potential rockfall and extra vert of the couloir, and opted for the ‘shwack.

We found a way through steep slide alder, rocks, and trees around the waterfall, and then started to make our way up the valley. Every time I end up bushwacking in the PNW (which is all too often), I am always convinced that it is the worst one I’ve ever done. Whether they are getting harder, I’m getting lazier, or my memory is conveniently selective, this trek qualified. We battled through dense, prickly foliage until we couldn’t take it any more, then took an extra long break next to the river. After napping, eating and cooling off, we powered it out and made it to the promised land of snow leaving the green, man-eating, carbon based life forms behind.

Andrew beginning the part where skis start to seem silly. As always seems to happen with these things, I didn't get pics of the truly fun parts.

After making it to the head of the valley, we couldn’t discern an easy route through the trees, intermittent snow, and cliffs to the alpine above. We opted to make camp, a little short of our goal for the day, but not for lack of effort.

After copious calories and zzz’s, we found an easy route in the morning. After a few minutes of climbing, I could already feel the previous day catching up. We slowly left the lowlands behind, and emerged, victorious, into the alpine once again.

Stefan nearing the end of our climb out of the valley.

We continued through gloppy snow, and decided to go for the summit of Chikamin peak. The highest point on our route, Chikamin was hard to resist. We booted up, stashed our skis at the end of the snow, and scrambled the last few feet to the summit. At the top we were treated to the view of the rest of our route. “We have to go all the way over there!?” After a brief break, we made our way back to our skis. Despite the snow being quite soft, the skiing was enjoyable.

Andrew booting towards the top of Chikamin. For most of the trip we had great views of Rainier and some of the other volcanoes.

We still had three climb/skis remaining, and a substantial amount of distance. I rationed out my remaining food, and we set off. As we made our way along we enjoyed views of different valleys, mountains, and ski descents. The first climb went quickly, the second was agonizing, and the third surprisingly short. I won’t say it went quickly, but we made it soon enough. For our last ski we were blessed with a surprising amount of snow. After that petered out, the trail appeared serendipitously at the end of our ski tracks and we followed it to our waiting car.

Skiing through the trees towards the car.

The car might have been waiting but the keys were not, having been forgotten in my car the day before. Stefan, adept at the essential ski mountaineering skill of hotwiring his own automobile, set to work while Andrew and I let our feet breathe and packed for the drive.


After a few worrisome minutes of cranking, the engine roared to life and we were off, eager for a smorgasbord of dollar menu items at the North Bend McDonald’s.

As was said at least once on the trip, “A pretty good intro to the Snoqualmie Pass area.” I’m going to be back, that’s for sure. Thanks Andrew and Stefan for an incredible trip!

That’s my take, for more check out the report over at Turns All Year.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


10 Responses to “Gold Creek Circumnavigation – PNW Report from Louie”

  1. Nick June 25th, 2012 10:20 am

    Wow – great trip! I am always amazing at how beautiful the North Cascades are. Love the shot of the summit of Thompson .

  2. Lisa June 25th, 2012 10:49 am

    Stunning photos! Quite a nice playground, except for the green jungle gym.

  3. Joe John June 25th, 2012 11:46 am


  4. Joe June 25th, 2012 12:48 pm

    Awesome trip! I used that car trick this weekend.

  5. Jason Hummel June 25th, 2012 2:07 pm

    Nice. Great touring and lines out there, eh. For their size those peaks pack a bunch. In fact, you mentioned getting beyond Chikamin. When you are ready for that, let me know and I’ll give you advice on routes. BTW, love that you guys got the Gold Creek treatment. It’s a fun place!

  6. Kirk Turner June 25th, 2012 10:45 pm

    Nice work! With you louie, its not skiing uless you shwack somewhere along the way….

  7. Silas Wild June 26th, 2012 1:12 pm

    As a visitor from California once mentioned to me on a Picket trip, “no quantity of stairmaster workouts can fully prepare one for North Cascades brushmastery.” (grin)

  8. Forest June 27th, 2012 10:28 am

    And thanks for the sustaining trip report! Sure looks good from up here in New England where we’re surviving on dreams for a few months. I have a friend headed for Shasta on Sunday but sorry to say I won’t be able to “help” on that one.

  9. Mark W June 27th, 2012 9:55 pm

    Awesome off-season fodder. Very impressive. Waiting for more.

  10. Pete H July 4th, 2012 9:02 pm

    Nick – that’s the Central Cascades! Important distinction here.

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