Middle Fork Snoqualmie Snowshoe 01-09-2022

Cover Photo: View East of the Middle Fork looking from left to right at Russian Butte, Little Comrade, and Zorro Point.

The Middle Fork Snoqualmie River with Green Mountain in the background.

Benson had called me the night before to inquire if I was interested in getting out Sunday. It had been about three months since my last outing. Benson said he was going stir crazy in town and wanted to get into the mountains. The forecast for Sunday was a blue bird day full of sunshine, and it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed, especially since we have had a couple of weeks of nonstop snow and rain. About a month ago we planned an outing, but as Benson arrived at my place, it was about 18 degrees in the mountains, and brunch seemed more appropriate. As a result, my gear was already packed thanks to brunch, and I said if you are here at 6:30 am we are on!

View of Mount Rainier from Lake Washington

As we headed East on I90, we were greeted with an amazing sunrise. One of the benefits from an early start. It made the early start much more enjoyable knowing we would have great weather and future views to enjoy. Snoqualmie pass was closed at exit 34 from a 20 year record snowfall. As we approached North Bend, the sun was beaming across the pass, illuminating the sky with an explosion of orange, pink, and purple.

As we approached exit 34 for the approach to the Middle Fork road, we were greeted with a miles-long convoy, trucks lined up on the shoulder, cars chocking the on and off-ramps, parking lots at gas stations, and restaurants full of drivers waiting for the pass to be cleared.

As Benson and I drove down the Middle Fork Road, it became impassable at about milepost 3. We opted to park our rig well before the impasse, which later in the day would prove to be a wise decision given the number of people who later opted to enjoy the weather, drove beyond the abilities of their skills and vehicles and got stuck, blocking egress for many people who parked too close to the impasse. This however meant a two-mile snow walk around the road to the trailhead for Green Mountain.

Point where we opted to retreat.
Ready for 2022!
Benson taking lead.

Benson and I made our way on the road, parallel to the river which was a beautiful blend of blue and green in the icy environment. We passed many ice formations on the rocks and enjoyed the views of the mountains as they as we progressed up the valley. To the left of the river, Green Mountain came into view. Along the same ridge, we could see Bootalicious Peak, Moolock Mountain (which we summited in snowshoes last season), South Bessemer, Bessemer, Bessaquartz, and finally Quartz Mountain. All of these are on our list of objectives for 2022 so it was great to have a clear day and see what lies in our future.

Middle Fork Snoqualmie with the view from Green Mountain to Bessemer

More Middle Fork Views…

As we continued up the road to the trailhead prior to milepost 5 and the bridge over the river, we can across an abandoned, burnt-out Jeep Cherokee. Sadly this seemed like very recent vandalism, and a reminder of the Middle Fork days in the ’70s, ’80s, and early 90’s when the area was sadly a dumping ground for old cars, appliances, and meth heads, which has been well documented by Harvey Manning and is also why I am a supporter of the Mountains to Sound Greenway, https://mtsgreenway.org/.

Most unfortunate…

Benson and I made our way past the Cherokee, crossed the bridge, found the trailhead, and were greeted by a totem of good tidings, Smoky the Bear.

We set off the bridge and immediately crossed a small stream – I took a large step up to my calf, but fortunately, my boots and gaiters kept the water out. We set off on a trail Benson has used in three previous outings up Green Mountain, but the snow-covered any trace of a trail and we essentially were bushwhacking across slide alder, downed trees, thick bushes – many of which were laden with snow and therefore lower than usual, presenting an endless series of traps for our snowshoes, which almost immediately donned as we were consistently punching through the snow and using our hip flexors more and earlier than expected. The going was slow – my avalanche shovel kept getting snagged as I went under blowdowns, resulting in countless unplanned faceplants, and I only became more entangled after many bear crawls trying to escape the branches. I should have taken off the handle of my shover much earlier as it would have saved countless snags and falls. We struggled through some of the worse terrain I have encountered. The snow was deceptive as without snowshoes we were post-holing quite a bit, and with them constantly snagged by the underbrush.

The trail without snowshoes
The “trail” with snowshoes

Now it was our first outing in about three months, so neither Benson nor I were in top shape, but seriously?!?, this terrain really burned our energy and sapped our spirits. Our pace was almost three times our rate on the snow-covered road, and slower than many of our vertical routes last year as well. In part, this is why I shy away from shoulder season climbing, but it was great to get outside on such a great day.

Oh joy! Snow bushwhacking.

After trudging into more passable terrain, we finally intersected with the CCC trail that leads to a decommissioned forest service road much of the way up the mountain. By this time it was already past noon, and we figured even with a more easy route up, it would be 4 PM by the time we would summit, be nearly dark, and certainly result in a missed Popeyes visit. We took a break, enjoyed some miso soup and beef sticks, and decided after 3.5 hours of trudging through snowy sludge, we had enough for the day and opted to descend, with the hope that Popeyes would be open, given Snoqualmie Pass had been closed and the chicken supply chain could have been disrupted.

Better terrain!
Forest Ghoul?

After retracing our steps and falling more times than I could count on all the downed branches, twigs, and all manner of foot entangling terrain, we finally made it to the bridge. At this time of the day with the weather we encountered many parties enjoying the sunshine and snow. As we approached our car, we encountered several vehicles stuck in the road due to improper tires, inappropriate vehicles for the snowy road, and most likely unskilled drivers with less than good judgment. Fortunately, we parked sufficiently far back to avoid the roadblocks, and a pair of Rangers patiently waited for our parking spot, all too happy to delay their responsibility of managing the kerfuffle of entangled and stuck drivers.

Russian Butte with Little Comrade.
Final view of the river.
Ok, final one I promise.

As we drove into the sun over Seattle, we stopped at Popeyes. It was about 3:30 PM and they were closing at 4. Fortunately, the chicken supply chain remained intact during our adventure into the brush and snow and we enjoyed some well-earned calories for the day.

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