Chair Peak (Snoqualmie Range, North Cascades, WA; 6,238')

Chair Peak rises above Snow Lake just North of Snoqualmie Pass. It is a popular winter climb.

Topo Map


None so far


Fred Beckey, Cascade Alpine Guide, Vol. 2 , The Mountaineers (Seattle 1987)

Chair Peak from the East in late April

Date: April 24, 2005

Party: Paul and Dietrich Belitz

Route: Approach only (to East Shoulder), ctd to Snow Lake

Equipment: AT Skis

Time: Alpental - E Shoulder: 3 hrs 30 mins
E Shoulder - E end of Snow Lake: 1 hr 15 mins
Snow Lake - Alpental: 1 hr 50 mins
Roundtrip from Alpental: 6 hrs 50 mins

Trip report:

This was our annual spring trip to Seattle, to visit Paul at the Engineering Open House and get some North Cascade skiing in. Like last year, Monique opted to stay in town, which was just as well, as the snow would have been awful on foot or snowshoes. Paul and I headed for Snow Lake, which we had seen far below last year, and to get some vertical feet in we decided to go there via the East Shoulder of Chair Peak.

The weather forecast was pretty awful, and indeed on Saturday night it was raining hard in Seattle. On Sunday morning I woke up to a spectacular dawn, though, and when I picked up Paul at 6:45 we had reasonable hopes for at least a few hours of sunshine. While driving up to Alpental it was obvious that 2004/05 had been the driest winter on record for a long time: There was no snow to speak of anywhere. We started out at 8am following the summer trail to Source Lake, and almost all the way to the lake there were occasional bare stretches of trail.

Above Source Lake I switched from sneakers to boots, and as as soon as we left the trees the snow became pretty awful; deep, wet, and surprisingly unconsolidated. We fought our way up the boulder fields above Source Lake, routinely sinking in to our thighs, which made for very slow progress. Above the boulder fields I headed straight up, hoping for easier going on the steeper terrain, while Paul decided to skin around to the right. His choice turned out to be the better one; I encountered snow just as awful as before, only much steeper, whith third-class moss and five-foot moats in between. I clawed my way up using my ski poles as dead-man anchors, and finally reached the bowl below Chair Peak, where I also switched to skinning. Paul was waiting for me on Thumb Rock.

The final chute up to Chair's East Shoulder brought some more wallowing, and when we finally topped out it had taken us three and a half hours from Alpental, compared to two hours in the rain the year before! We took a break and admired the views, and then we started down towards Snow Lake. Paul was mightily attracted by the slopes straight down, and I had a hard time convincing him that the cliffs below made it advisable to go much farther east. We still cliffed out and had to go back up occasionally, but finally got down to the lake at its far eastern end. About 300' above the lake we met two hikers in light boots who had a hell of a hard time in the deep, wet snow.

At the lake we fed the grey jays, which sat on our skis and even ate out of Paul's hand. Then we skinned back up to the saddle the summer trail comes over, and skied down towards Source Lake, more or less following the summer trail through the cliff bands. When the terrain opened up a bit we got some nice turns in before we hit the trail again and ran out of snow. The winter route on the west side of the valley looked hopeless, so we strapped our skis to our packs and hiked back out.

Last year the weather was lousy but the snow was okay, this year the weather was great but the snow was lousy, and there was just not enough of it! We should try to do this on a nice day with good snow sometime!

Photo Gallery:

Click the pictures to see a higher resolution image.

The morning fog burned off ... ... while we hiked up to Source Lake Chair Peak from the south Paul in the chute leading up to the NE Shoulder Dietrich coming up the chute The snow was wet and heavy (note the slides!)

On the way down to Snow Lake Grey jay at Snow Lake Skinning back up from Snow Lake

Date: May 2, 2004

Party: Paul and Dietrich Belitz

Route: Approach only (to East Shoulder)

Equipment: AT Skis

Time: Alpental - E Shoulder: 2 hrs

Trip report:

Monique and I had driven up to Seattle for the weekend, to see what the Engineers at UW are doing with the ungodly amounts of out-of-state tuition we are paying them to educate Paul, and to get a shot at the North Cascades in Spring. Monique did not feel like snow hiking, though, and preferred to stay in the city.

Paul and I set out from Seattle on Sunday morning at 6am with the idea of skiing Snoqualmie Mt. When we arrived at Alpental an hour later, we realized that Snoqualmie was no longer in condition: The SW slopes were mostly devoid of snow. We also realized that it was raining, as usually seems to be the case when we arrive at Alpental. We decided to wait a while and see whether the rain would stop, and then climb towards Chair Pk. Half an hour later it was clear that the rain would not stop anytime soon, so we got going anyway.

We bootpacked past Source Lake and started climbing the slopes that lead up to the Snow Lake divide. Light rain alternated with drizzle. I had brought a shell jacket, but no rain pants (on purpose), and also no gaiters (not quite on purpose), and my Golite wind pants channeled the water straight into my boots. We climbed fast in order to stay warm, and soon entered the whiteout region. Paul knew the route from the time he climbed Chair Pk in Winter 2003, and led us up a succession of increasingly steeper gullies until we topped out on the E Ridge of Chair at about 5,500'. I took his word for where we were at, as visibility was not more than 50'. While we were contemplating how great the views would be if there were any, it stopped raining at least, so that was some progress.

We contemplated skiing down to Snow Lake, but were worried about cliffs we might not be able to see, and went into the saddle between Snow Lake and Source Lake instead. From there we skied back down to Source Lake. The skiing was fun, we had dried out a bit, and so we decided to go back up to the base of the first gully to get some more skiing in. While we were climbing back up the clouds started to break, and we got glimpses of Snoqualmie Mt. and The Tooth. So we decided to go back up all the way to the ridge, in the hope of getting some views after all in exchange for a total of more than 4,000 vertical feet. Indeed, from the ridge Snow Lake was visible 1,500' below, and the mountains were drifting in and out of the clouds. Chair Pk was still thoroughly socked in, but after a while the clouds lifted there, too, and we saw the NE Buttress and the N Face only a few hundred feet away. Both look horrible without snow and ice cover, and probably are: wet, brittle rock with downsloping holds.

This time we skied back down the gullies we had come up, and managed to do so while taking off our skies only once, to negotiate a rock step at the top of the uppermost gully. On the avalanche debris above Source Lake I waved to a lonely guy who was skinning up, when he suddenly pointed at Paul in the distance and yelled, "is this Paul?". It turned out he had met Paul once at Crystal and of course recognized his by-now famous homemade orange backpack. The pack has seen its fair share of abuse by now and will need a replacement sometime soon, but whatever will replace it will have to be orange again. After chatting for a while we skied back down to Alpental for the drive back to Seattle where I dropped off Paul and picked up Monique for the long drive home to Eugene.

Nice trip despite the rain, but we should have started out later!

Photo Gallery:

Click the pictures to see a higher resolution image.

It was foggy and wet both above ... ... and below ... but while climbing up the second time it started clearing We could see The Tooth ... ... and Snow Lake ... ... and eventually even Chair Pk.

Getting back down ... ... was quite steep in places ... ... and great fun