Colfax Peak

May 5, 2019


Mount Baker Highway, WA

In the spring of 2016 I soloed Mt. Baker and Sherman Peak on skis and two years later, in the spring of 2018 I climbed that infamous Lincoln Peak with Matt Lemke, but the trigger to tag Colfax Peak was never pulled for some reasons. This is one of the three sub-summits of Mt. Baker massif that’s eliminated from the original Bulgers list but because it holds more than 400 feet of topographical prominence this is included in the new list of “Washington Top 100”. Jake R. and I had been talking about Colfax Peak for at least several months. We almost went for it in the winter but I lazied out because I didn’t want to walk extra distance unless I absolutely had to. I had seen reports that hordes of skiers and climbers started to go up the Coleman-Demming Glacier in the first week of May and knowing the road was snow free to within 1 km from the trail-head I immediately threw out the idea and Jake quickly agreed.

Lukas from B.C. and I had also been talking to each other for months on Instagram and this time he messaged me to do Dalton Dome. I wasn’t keen to slog back up Mt. Garibaldi that soon so convinced him joining on Colfax Peak, and meanwhile Jake invited Selena E. and Brenda G. to come from Seattle side. The five of us grouped near the Heliotrope Ridge trail-head at around 10:30 pm. The drive wasn’t smooth for Lukas and I because I somehow stupidly got my stock Tacoma stuck in snow and then slid it into the ditch while backing up. About 1.5 hours were wasted swearing, shovelling and playing with the brand new chains on the muddy wheels while reading the instruction brochure. One of the chains were seriously fucked but with one chain on the rear wheel we did manage to free the truck. It was now almost midnight and thank to the 1 am starting time another all-nighter push was in the cards..

Colfax Peak via Coleman Glacier. GPX DL

The trail-head gearing up took longer than expected but we did manage to start the slog at 1:20 am. The lower portion of Heliotrope Ridge trail was completely snow free that none of us was expecting. No complaint from the four of us on snowshoes but this wasn’t fun for Lukas wearing ski boots and carrying skis. The snow wasn’t continuous until almost at 1400 m elevation and once the skis and snowshoes were donned we were pretty close to treeline. In the pitch dark we followed a well-defined set of skin tracks out of the trees and onto a hogback feature that brought us up pretty high. The slog up onto Heliotrope Ridge seemed to drag on forever and the grade was relentlessly steep for the whole time. The snow condition was firm and icy that no footwear was better designed than the Lightning Ascents snowshoes. Lukas was having a hard time such that he had to do a ton of transitions from boot-packing to skinning, to ski-crampons, then back to boot-packing and finally, to boot-packing with crampons. By the time we regrouped at the toe of Coleman Glacier Lukas decided to wait and save Colfax Peak for another day. It was still dark and cold with no one else was around. It was a tough decision for him. I then decided to ditch most of the technical equipment I had brought this far including avalanche gears (beacon, probe, shovel), the 30m rope along with some unnecessary rescue equipment. Given the firm conditions I wouldn’t worry about crevasses nor any form of avalanche.

I then took over the charge leading the four of us onto Coleman Glacier, plodding past several football fields of camping areas. Aside from one team that started about an hour ahead but moving ridiculously slow we were the second team going up. The long stretch of side-hilling near the ridge crest was painful on snowshoes but the going got better soon. The route weaved around some serac debris zones and other than two huge crevasses that must be crossed on snow bridges the route was very straightforward to Baker/Colfax col. This was my first time on Coleman-Demming route because I did Mt. Baker via the Easton Glacier from south.

Brenda hiking up the lower Coleman Glacier with headlamp on

Me leading the way. Note the serac debris. Photo by Selena E.

Looking back at Selena plodding. The horizon is turning pink

This was the first crevasse that had to be cautious about

Selena ascending Coleman Glacier with Colfax Peak behind

The large and bottomless crevasse that we must cross on a piece of snow bridge…

Almost at the col now, looking back at the Chilliwack horizon

The false summits of Colfax Peak from Baker/Colfax col

This is the southern view from the col.

We did a long break at the windless col for food/water, donning harnesses (might as well put them in use), and taking the two axes out. The decision to bring two axes was also questionable but since we brought the redundancies we had to justify the purpose of doing that. There were two separate sets of tracks on Colfax Peak’s standard route so route-finding was also not required. The tracks were probably made in the afternoon and the steps were frozen staircases for us and very easy going. The bergschrund was easily crossed and we soon were on the false summit. We didn’t bother to tag the highest point of this false summit because the tracks clearly led down and around on the south (skier’s left) side to bypass some steep ridges. This section was exposed but not very steep (35-40 degrees).

The start of Colfax’s E. Ridge was easy peasy

A zoomed-in shot towards Welch Peak in Cheam Range

Brenda climbing the first 40+ degree section

Our first glimpse of Twin Sisters Range

Looking south down at Loomis Mountain and beyond

Jake, Selena and Brenda traversing around the false summit

There’s another crevasse to be aware of at the col between the false and true summits. The tracks crossed the questionable sagging two times. I tried to avoid that by skirting around on the south side of the ridge crest but at one point I felt the snowpack was hollow underneath. It might be my illusion but I quickly backtracked and went on the tracks in trust of previous party’s decision. Again, with the firm condition the snow bridge had no issue holding the five of us weight and then after a short pitch of 45 degree climbing we were all on the summit. The sight of Lincoln Peak brought back fond memories. That peak is damn impressive from all sides…

Summit Panorama from Colfax Peak. Click to view large size.

Assassin Spire attached to Lincoln Peak is still waiting for its second ascent..

That dome-shaped forested summit in foreground is Mt. McGuire

The massive Mt. Rainier is visible way to the south

The very top of Lincoln Peak starts to catch some sunlight

This is looking down into the hills and flats of Fraser Valley

Another look at Lincoln Peak when it’s just about to catch sunlight

A closer look at Twin Sisters. The highest peak is South Twin

The rarely visited southern end of Twin Sisters Range

Lincoln Peak is now under full sunshine

Our group shot on the summit of Colfax Peak

Me on the summit of Colfax Peak with Lincoln Peak behind

We stood there for at least 40 minutes. The sun was still behind Mt. Baker and I wanted to wait until the sun came out for better photos. Watching Lincoln Peak slowly lightening up was also cool. Once we had enough photos it’s time to head down. Jake, Selena and Brenda still had Mt. Baker to do but having already been up there and knowing Lukas was still somewhere down waiting I decided to not slog back up Mt. Baker. After staying good luck to the others I turned the music on and turned my plunging mode onto Coleman Glacier. I didn’t bother with snowshoes but keeping the crampons on. Other than the aforementioned crevasses there’s nothing else to be cautious about. In less than an hour I was back to where Lukas was waiting. It turned out that he had spent at least 4 hours sleeping and it certainly helped a big time that he brought a foam pad and an emergency blanket. I continued boot-packing down the steep zones below Heliotrope Ridge on crampons but Lukas was faster on skis. The skiing sucked because of the icy conditions but was still faster than me walking. The snow was too steep/firm for snowshoes but a bit too soft for foot travel. I still opted for post-holing rather than putting forces onto my ankles and knees. The crampons were kept until way down on the trail. The final 3 miles or so’s boot-packing was not fun, but went by quickly.

Selena starting her descent

Zooming-in towards the false summit pyramid.

Carefully down-climbing the 45-degree pitch off the true summit

A solo climber passed us here. Mt. Baker behind

Looking back at Jake, Selena and Brenda down-climbing

Selena re-ascending onto the false summit. Twin Sisters behind

Brenda descending off from the false summit

Jake and Brenda down-climbing

In the early season one could also cross this bergschrund in the middle

Jake went a ways to invest his fallen camera

Jake found and retrieved his camera from this bergschrund…

Brenda and Selena crossing the bergschrund

Time to descend Coleman Glacier now. Looking back at Colfax Peak

The seracs are massive…

As you can see the condition was rough for skiers…

Impressive glacial scenery on Coleman Glacier

As typical as what you see on a Mt. Baker’s trip…

Lincoln Peak

The NW Face of Colfax Peak boasts a few classic ice/mixed routes

Looking down at the Glacier Creek valley where we came from

Lukas trying to make some turns on the still-icy snow

Skiing onto the “hogback” and we soon bailed skier’s left of it

The boot-pack was long and tedious at the end.

Our round trip time was 9.5 hours and that included some waiting time here and there, as well as a rather lengthy summit stay. I think we got Colfax Peak in the easiest possible condition so as always, timing is everything. If not because of the zero sleep this would rather be a “type 1 fun” outing. It was “type 2” for me because I was super sleepy on the descent that I actually took a break on the glacier and fell asleep while sitting on my backpack. It was a hard fight to stay awake on the road. I pulled over two times but did manage to get us back to Vancouver safely. The border had no delay. That evening I slept for 14 hours straight trying to make up the loss of sleep in the past week.