Silver Peak (I-90)

January 10, 2023


Snoqualmie Pass, WA

Silver Peak is the highest peak in the area immediately south of I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass and subsequently boasts over 600 m prominence. It’s actually one of the easiest P600m objectives in Washington. In summer months one can easily hike the PCT from Mt. Catherine trail-head to Silver Peak’s south ridge and the round trip can be done in mere 1-2 hours. The bigger challenge is to do this peak in winter as the forestry roads are closed (snowed in) and the peak itself boasts substantial avalanche terrain so a longer day and a stable snowpack is needed. The way to attack this peak in winter is from Annette Lake and the south ridge might still be the easiest option, but Matt J. had published some “beta” about the NW Ridge from Lake Annette trail. The NW Ridge looks rugged on the satellite images but since it’s already a “proven” option I might as well stick to the known. Shayan M. suggested to follow Matt’s route for a sunrise hike on Tuesday. I was initially not keen as I seriously needed some rest-days. To get Silver Peak done as a before-work exercise required another vampire styled all-nighter push but the weather was too nice to pass, so I pulled the trigger.

Shayan’s car needed some maintenance so I unfortunately had to be the driver again. At least the road’s paved so I could drive the Corolla to save some gas. I however, suggested us to leave White Rock at 10:30 pm immediately after work, as that would give us at least 2 hours of sleep at the trail-head. The usual midnight departure time would basically mean “no sleep” and I didn’t think I had enough gas to pull off another day like that with 3 hours of driving on each end. The final kilometer before the trail-head was surprisingly not paved with lots of pot-holes but didn’t impose too much of a problem to the Corolla, but I had to drive at a snail’s pace. It was still raining and snowing by the time we got there but the forecast promised to clear in the morning. We indeed got about 2.5 hours of sleep and by 4:15 am we finally dragged our tired selves out and started the plod. It was still drizzling but what else could we do at this point.

Silver Peak winter route via Lake Annette trail. GPX DL

The trail was snow covered right from the start but the snow condition was hard-packed such that snowshoes weren’t needed as long as we stayed on the trail. This is typical in Washington state as each officially maintained trail sees zillions of hikers every week such that snowshoes are rarely needed. We gained more elevation on this trail than anticipated (over 500 m) and the last stretch before Lake Annette even had some annoying elevation loss that must be regained on the way back. To follow Matt’s route we did not need to plod all the way to the lake and instead, we strapped the snowshoes on and dived into the forest about 300 horizontal meters before reaching the lake. We picked a route in between Matt’s ascent and descent tracks which I thought would be the most direct option. Indeed, in about 5 minutes we picked up a set of skin tracks and used that to lead ourselves onto a broad open slope. I’ve noticed this gigantic slope on the satellite images and the plan was to ascend the climber’s right side of it. Unfortunately the recent snowfall and the winds had completely eliminated the skin tracks so we were on our own trail-breaking from this point onward.

Shayan plodding up the Lake Annette trail
Traversing a slope (on trail) with full moon above

This slope was much bigger than I thought and the recent snow was also quite deep. At this point we had ascended through the mist layer such that we could see the full moon and the stars above, but we were about 2 hours before sunrise and we only had 400 m elevation to gain. I on purposely slowed down so that we wouldn’t summit in the pitch dark. After making a diagonal traverse due south (climber’s right) I led a line staying on the edge of the slope for the rest of the way up, and that brought us directly onto the NW Ridge. We picked up some old footprints on the ridge. The ridge traverse was harder than I thought with multiple obstacles requiring side-hilling onto the semi-exposed south side slopes, some minor bushwhacking and scrambling. There’s even a false summit that must be surmounted which meant more route-finding, side-hilling and scrambling. There were at least one or two spots that almost made me to switch footwear to crampons but I was being stubborn and either (barely) made it through with just snowshoes, or found an easier, but more contrived way around. The arrival on the true summit was about 30 minutes before the actual sunrise and we stayed for almost an hour to soak in the views. The views were phenomenal but the cold winds were brutal. I had to put on all layers and could only manage 5-10 pictures in one batch before having to warm up my hands.

Shayan ascending onto the massive slopes now
About halfway up the slope. It’s a big one…
The background skies were getting brighter and brighter
Higher up we weaved through some trees
Almost about to gain the NW Ridge, looking back.
Onto the NW Ridge now. It’s more complicated than appeared here
Our first unobstructed view of Mt. Rainier, behind Abiel Peak
Upwards and onward along the NW Ridge of Silver Peak
Shayan ascending a tricky zone.
Shayan plodding up, approaching the summit of Silver Peak
Tinkham Peak in the foreground
Mt. Catherine in foreground with the Snoqualmie skyline behind
Shayan on the summit of Silver Peak about half an hour before the actual sunrise
Me on the summit of Silver Peak at dawn
In the foreground is part of Roaring Ridge
Mt. Rainier in the far distance catching the first beams of sunlight
A zoomed-out photo of me on the summit of Silver Peak soaking in the views
Granite Mountain is that snowy face with Kaleetan and Chair Peaks behind
Shayan on the summit with sun rising
A wider view of the actual sunrise behind Roaring Ridge
A colourful skyline behind the Snoqualmie Pass peaks
Snoqualmie Mountain is that broad and snowy one
Another photo of the sunrise. The low clouds made for different colour themes
Shayan celebrating the massive success
A zoomed-in view towards Mt. Stuart in the far distance
One more photo of the sunrise before heading down
We couldn’t believe Silver Peak itself could catch a morning shadow
Another photo of Granite Mountain, Kaleetan Peak and Chair Peak

Eventually the cold winds forced us to retreat. Descending that NW Ridge still required lots of care and we even took some variations in the micro-terrain to avoid some exposed spots. I briefly thought about to descend the south ridge to make a loop, but I wanted the fastest way down to prioritize getting home in time for work, and the fastest option is always to stick to the known. To descend that massive open slopes we opted to glissade the middle of it. The glissading was slow thank to the not-that-steep angle combined with the heavy recent snowfall, but we did descend most of that slope on our butts. The rest of the return was long but uneventful and we met several hikers (oddly, all solo hikers) on their way up. None of them seemed to be doing the peak. Our round trip time was just under 6 hours. Shayan wanted to be dropped off in downtown Seattle to reunite with his brother so I did that, adding about 20 minutes of detouring but that’s okay. I pulled over only one time while driving the rest of the way home to take a break and I did eventually get home in time for work. I then worked all the way through to 9 pm and that’s quite an exhausting show.

Shayan regaining the false summit
One last photo of the Snoqualmie area peaks
Much of the NW Ridge was navigated through tight trees
Me descending through some tight trees
Shayan on the typical terrain on the NW Ridge here
One last look at Mt. Rainier behind Abiel Peak
Squeezing through tight trees…
A zoomed-in view of Kaleetan Peak and Chair Peak
Me about to drop in onto the massive ass west side slopes
Let the glissades begin!
Shayan halfway down the face. It’s a fun ride…
The bottom of the face, looking back. We glissaded the middle of it.
Back onto Lake Annette trail now
The rest of the descent was long and boring…