With a beautiful sunny weekend ahead, Ryan and I set out to do some spring snow climbing and chose a prominent summit in the Snoqualmie Pass area, Kaleetan Peak (meaning “Arrow” in the Chinook language). With the shockingly low snowpack this year, we weren’t exactly sure what sort of conditions we would encounter.
We opted for a lazy alpine start of 6am leaving from the Denny Creek trailhead in order to minimize the already-small risk of wet loose avalanches on the descent (in warm afternoon conditions, “solar” aspects can often become destabilized).
Our plan was to ascend the peak via an East facing couloir to access the normal scrambling route from there to the summit. We packed for non-technical snow climbing including ice axe and crampons, both of which turned out to be essential on this route in these conditions.
The Denny Creek trail to the pass is very pleasant – dense forest, waterfalls, and nice views down the valley as the trail gradually gains elevation to Hemlock Pass..
Intermittent ice and snow can be found just below Hemlock Pass but it should be gone fairly soon. Arriving at Melakwa Lake early in the morning, the air was cool enough to break out the gloves as we admired the thin glaze of ice on the water from the freeze the night before – a good sign that snow conditions would be nice and consolidated on the path ahead.
After traversing around Melakwa Lake to the West (left), we tried to do the same around Upper Melakwa Lake but it didn’t go so we backtracked and crossed the scree field to the East. This would be easier with a thick coating of snow – the rock hopping all the way to the top of the valley was tedious and consumed quite a bit of time.
As we gained elevation in the valley, we transitioned to snow and crossed to the west face in order to begin climbing up to the chute which opens out onto the South/East ridge of Kaleetan and affords access to the broad South face. This route requires avalanche knowledge in wintrier conditions. We did see evidence of wet avalanches some days old on these East slopes, but nothing fresh. We did see some rockfall action from the cliffs above as the day heated up so we helmeted for most of the rest of the climb.
Unfortunately the morning sun had softened the already-shallow snow in the chute, leading to a tiring ascent through the slop as we sank to our knees.
As we neared the top, the terrain steepened considerably and the snowpack became shallow with even some exposed rock right below the near-vertical wall of snow guarding the exit (remnants of the large cornice that must have already failed sometime this spring). This section was pretty intimidating – I was concerned about the 6″ deep packed snow slab we were climbing on and its tenuous anchoring to the rock. Climbing out of the couloir was pretty awkward as well but with some confidently kicked steps and a good axe placement we were on the ridge. I requested that we not downclimb this section on the way down and opt instead to follow the summer route down the South ridge and Ryan agreed (we’d also avoid repeating the rock hopping approach). If we had a rope we would have probably tried to rappel this section.
From here, the upper mountain appears like a technical rock spire but it was actually easier than what we’d just passed. The route joins with the normal summer route and we followed a mix of snow and scree on a direct route to the summit gully. The last 50′ or so of the climb is fun, easy Class 3 rock scrambling. It’s definitely easier than the Mt. Si haystack.
By about 10:45, we summited and enjoyed the unusually fine view of all the rugged peaks in the surrounding Alpine Lakes Wilderness – from the nearby Chair Peak-Denny Mountain ridge, to mighty Mount Stuart in the East all the way to Glacier Peak and Baker in the north and Rainier in the south.
It’s always interesting descending a route you haven’t scoped out on the ascent, but for safety and fun we decided to take the “normal” route to Melakwa Lake following the South ridge. The ridge is too rugged to scramble easily all the way from the summit to Pt. 5700, so we descended a few hundred feet into the valley, contouring below some cliffs before regaining the ridge through some trees. The only difficult part of the summer route right now is the few hundred feet of steep snow from the valley up to the ridge. In the shaded Northwest aspects the snow was quite firm so we put on crampons and booted straight up.
Once on the ridge, it was fast moving to Pt. 5700 which offers the best view of Kaleetan we found all day.
The summer trail to Pt. 5700 from the lake is hard to follow in a few places but we had no problem working our way down through the mostly melted-out woods back to the outlet of Melakwa and the trail back to the cars.
Car to car elapsed time: 8.5 hours