Background

I first learned about the Glacier Lake Couloir from my buddy Nick who skied it in blower powder December 2021. It’s a long ways back in the Snoqualmie backcountry, deep in Gold Creek where few skiers enter each year.

I’d kept the idea on the backburner for the last few years, always tempted by it but never committed to walking all that way past so much snow. There had been a few days where I’d nearly pulled the trigger but opted for lower entry-cost skiing instead.

My vision for the trip evolved to a linkup with the south face of Chikamin Peak. After running past Chikamin on the PCT multiple times it seemed worthy. The conditions to link up the two would need to be special: either an overcast day with high clouds and protected powder on south faces, or the even rarer combination of north facing powder with south facing corn. In either case, it seemed a longshot.

Finally, it seemed to be aligning after a March storm where Snoqualmie’s snowpack came in perfectly rightside up. A rain event cleared out a natural avalanche cycle and finished with over a foot of cold, NW flow powder. I couldn’t pass this one up…

Trip Report

I proposed the idea to Kyle earlier in the week to sow the seeds for a long walk out Gold Creek. Not all partners are stoked on walking past tons of great snow to go ski snow, but I knew Kyle would be keen on the idea. We stayed in touch as each of us had a few ski days before our big day. At points we weren’t sure if the conditions would be right or if we’d still link up for the idea. But after I went out to the KAZ the day before and found excellent conditions we confirmed the plan the night before.

We planned to enter via the KAZ. It gives you some actual skiing on your way out as opposed to just walking up Gold Creek. It adds elevation gain but pays itself off when you are able to ski traverse pretty far into the Gold Creek drainage.

We met up in North Bend at 4:45 AM and drove up to the pass. Snow fell in perfect stellar crystals. Winter isn’t gone yet! The pass was eery at 5AM with nobody else around but our shadows in the streetlights.

Skinning up Kendall Knob was hilariously bad. With the rain event, terrain below 4500′ was a slippery few inches of light snow on a stout crust. Combine that with an atrocious skin track and there was much grumbling. Some tree belays and combat skinning ensued…

We cruised to the top of Main Vein in the KAZ under 2 hours, re-using my skin track from the day prior. We dropped in, skied some lovely turns, and began our adventure into Gold Creek. We were able to ski down to a bench around 3700′ in Silver Creek before having to don skins for a short bump up to steeper slopes below Collar Mountain. From around 3900′ we were able to ski traverse all the way from below Collar to below Alaska Mountain. The stout crust that was so annoying up Kendall Knob made for lovely traverse conditions! We were stoked to be getting so much horizontal distance done quickly.

Kyle traversing.

We transitioned to skins below Alaska Mountain and began the walk out towards the Four Brothers. We were aiming for an alluvial fan at the head of Gold Creek where the avalanche paths of Chikamin collect. We skinned through sidehill slopes below Joe Lake and found the alluvial fan which gave us easy passage across the multiple forks of Gold Creek at the head of the valley. From there, we began our climb up to the south slopes below the Four Brothers.

The weather had been moody all morning, with high clouds and patches of broken low clouds and on/off snow. We were treated to a lovely cloud break just as we reached the upper bench below the Four Brothers. We had great views of the Four Brothers massif as well as our desired line down the south face of Chikamin.

Clouds returned as we continued on to the saddle south of the southmost ‘brother’. We reached the top of the Glacier Lake Couloir right around 6 hours in. Quite the walk for a couloir.

We had brought a 30m rad line to ski cut the upper slope of the couloir given the potential for wind loading. Looking down into it from the top, there’s a slight convexity that prevents you from seeing the whole line. It looks deep, dark, and dank. Once you ski in just 10 or 20 feet, however, you see that it’s really not steep at all and quite a pleasant width. Kyle gave me a belay for the first turn as I tried to see what snow would move…nothing. There was 5-6 inches of lighter snow on a firm crust and it was apparent from the crowns on the sides and top of the line it had already slid, presumably during the rain event. I came off belay, Kyle pulled the rope, and we prepped to ski the line.

Looking down the Glacier Lake Couloir.

The top 100′ or so feet were kinda punchy as we were mostly skiing on the bed surface of the natural slide. But once we got down into the line proper the slough and fresher, less wind impacted snow delivered face shot after face shot. Kinda insane to have that kind of powder in such a remote line. We leap frogged for the first 500′ or so feet to the big fin in the middle of the line, then I took the final 1000′ down to the lake. While I wanted to stop for cool pictures the skiing was too good. Sometimes you just gotta ski!

Looking down the second half of the line.

The position of this line is what makes it special. You are SO far back there, the rock walls are profound, and the surrounding terrain is massive. That last premise kind of got lost with the cloud cover: we were in HUGE terrain. The magnitude was muted with overcast and low clouds. However, we were quite glad to have the safety of the clouds preventing warming with all this new snow. Climbing up those south facing aspects in full sun would have been scary.

Looking back at the couloir from slopes just above Glacier Lake.

We stopped for a quick snack break on Glacier Lake. We agreed to continue on towards the upper slopes of Chikamin as the cloud cover was giving us the necessary protection from the sun. We’d need good visibility to drop the south slopes of Chikamin but we had also spotted a couloir off Chikamin’s ridgeline that would drop us back into Gold Creek. That would be our backup option.

Snow continued to lightly drip from the sky as we climbed up the slabs on Chikamin. Again, the magnitude of the terrain was completely lost with limited visibility. I’m sure skinning up the slopes above Glacier Lake towards the summit of Chikamin is super pretty; it felt like it, I just didn’t see much.

Our aim was the shoulder just south of Chikamin’s summit; we’d be able to easily skin to there and ski down the south face. We left the concept of the summit open but once we got to the south shoulder a) it was quite cold and windy and b) the summit block did not look skiable in the shallow snowpack we’re experiencing right now. We felt we had good enough visibility to drop the south face and transitioned quickly.

Looking down the south face of Chikamin.

The south face of Chikamin is sometimes referred to as a ‘couloir’ but in my report I’m opting to not call what we skied the south couloir. There’s a cliff band right around 6000′ that this year was not filled in. It’s in the true ‘fall line’ of what is probably considered the couloir. Instead, we skied from 6600′ to just above that cliff band/constriction in a fatter year at 6100′ and then traversed skier’s left slightly to another ramp that skis just to the skier’s left of the constriction. A nitpick maybe but just trying to be true to the line’s definition.

The south face’s pitch is lovely and the conditions we had were very pleasant. Maybe 6-7 inches of light snow on a firm bed surface made for fast turns and little concern for deeper weak layers. Slough management was key but was quite manageable.

We fist bumped once off the south face, glad to be out of the bigger, more consequential terrain for the day. We continued skiing back down to the alluvial fan we had climbed up where we stopped for a deserved pizza and Red Bull break (don’t knock it ’till you try it).

Getting out was quite tame, much tamer than we anticipated. We were able to skin up a few hundred feet from the alluvial fan, just above the skin track we had set, and were able to ski traverse all the way back to below Alaska Mountain. Yay crust! For once.

From below the outlet of Alaska Lake we walked back towards home via the KAZ. Thankfully I had Rihanna, Tame Impala, and Kanye West downloaded to distract me from how much walking we’d done. I managed to fall in a creek…classic Gold Creek things.

We punched the climb up Sterling Direct and skied out the Commonwealth, making it back to the car in 13 hours on the nose. Awesome day, special conditions, and lots of walking. Gold Creek sometimes can be quite pleasant.

Looking back at the depths of Gold Creek.