Glacier Lake Couloir + South Face Chikamin

A Land Near and Far

After a rough month or so, 2nd winter finally returned at the end of February 2024. These blasts of cold air are so difficult to predict before hand, but they are always fascinating to watch play out. 1st winter in January brought record low temperatures, high winds, and a deep freeze. While this round did not appear to be that extreme, the promise of continued NW flow looked highly favorable for some good skiing.

With a free weekend, I reached out to Sam to see if he was interested in skiing something. He pitched me the idea of skiing Glacier Lake Couloir on the backside of Four Brothers and possibly the south face of Chikamin on the way back. I had never skied at the head of Gold Creek because of the long approach. I had always figured that you could get north facing powder in the couloir or south facing corn on Chikamin, but not both. However, the cold, showery weather made me reassess. If it stays mostly cloudy with light snowfall and minimal winds for a few days, why couldn’t we get stable, dry powder on both aspects?

On Saturday, I skied a big day of easy Crystal pow while Sam scouted at Snoqualmie. He reported good snow and stability on all aspects. Furthermore, there was a crust below 4500 ft, which would accelerate trail breaking down in Gold Creek. It seemed that we had a nearly ideal setup: cold stable snow above 4500 ft and fast travel conditions beneath that. The only question was if we would have sufficient visibility with the intermittent snow showers. But it seemed like it was worth at least giving it a shot!

We got an early start, leaving from Exit 52 a little after 5 AM. Fat flakes were coming down, so light that the flakes were almost transparent as they stacked up on the pavement. As we walked under the streetlight beneath I90, for a moment, it was perfectly calm and still – perhaps the most peaceful moment I have had beneath an interstate.

So peaceful.

The typical approach to Chikamin is a long flat skin up Gold Creek from Exit 54. However, Sam and I used a strategy that our friends Nick, John, and Sofia established two years ago of approaching through the Kendall Adventure Zone (KAZ). Although this significantly increased the total amount of vertical gain, it greatly reduced the distance skinning up Gold Creek and added some good skiing along the way.

The Kendall Knob front side was crusty and slippery. Sam and I slid around in the dark, bashing through trees. We tried to follow some sort of skin track, but it appeared that a split boarder had made it their mission the day before to completely side slip the entire skin track, even in the open areas. It was so bad I had to boot one section. I suggested to Sam that this might be the hardest part of our entire day and he chuckled.

Morning light came early and we enjoyed the soft light and high clouds on our was to the KAZ. I love this cold showery weather, watching the sun filter through snowflakes as they seem to almost hover in the sky. It reminds me of weather in the Rockies, not the Cascades. The snow here has also been strangely reminiscent of Intermountain blower lately. It only happens a few times a year, but when it does, Snoqualmie is truly amazing.

Soft morning light.
More wonderful rays of light.

We dropped into Main Vein about two hours into our day. Surprisingly, no one had skied this line the day before. The light was dangerously flat, so we skied carefully down into the basin below.

Dropping into the KAZ.
West Couloir of Alta is very much “not in”.

Since we had to skin out of a flat basin beneath KAZ, we decided to bump up a little. Then we began a long downward traverse up valley. With the supportable crust beneath a few inches of light powder, we were able to cover a large amount of distance, reaching the outlet of Alaska Lake at 3100 ft. Suddenly, Chikamin was not very far away!

Long traverse up Gold Creek.

Our goal was now to reach a flat meadow beneath Chikamin around 3800 ft. We traversed beneath Alaska Mountain, crossing avalanche debris so big it had carved a moraine like feature through the slopes. Gold Creek is the land of giant fall lines and even larger avalanche paths. Beyond Alaska, there was some steeper side hilling and a fair bit of up and down before finally reaching the open meadow.

Giant avy debris beneath Alaska Mountain.

We were stoked with our progress so far. Now we simply had a 2500 ft climb to the entrance of Glacier Lake Couloir. I haven’t been skiing that much this year and so I was a bit apprehensive how my fitness would hold up on such a long day after almost 9k vert the day before. Fortunately, Sam is in great shape (he skied 55k vert in a single week recently) and he offered to do most of the trail breaking for the day. As long as I kept up with food and water, I knew I could slog out a long day.

Beautiful old growths back in Gold Creek.

The steady snowfall began to slow and the light got brighter as we reached tree line. For a brief moment, we finally got good visibility of the south slopes of Chikamin and Four Brothers. It was a wonderland of smooth snow, steep couloirs, and jagged cliffs. If not for the five hour approach, this zone would be a freeride heaven! The visibility disappeared as quickly as it came, but it was inspiring to get a glimpse of the wonderful terrain around us.

A brief moment of good visibility.
Sam with the south face of Chikamin behind.
Such soft light and shadows!
Lots of sick lines in this zone.

We continued to the east of Four Brothers, wrapping into a high west facing basin. We were able to skin all the way to the ridge before traversing left along the ridge to the top of the line. After 6.5 hours, we were finally at the top of our line!

The top of Glacier Lake Couloir is a blind roll. After that, it is much less steep and narrow. Because wind slabs were our primary concern, Sam had brought a short rope to ski cut the slope. I put him on belay and he took a few turns. He could feel a hard layer beneath, which means the upper couloir had probably slid during the last avalanche cycle. The top was a little wind affected, but we suspected it would get good further down.

Sam making cautious turns above the roll.

After regrouping 100 ft down, the visibility improved dramatically and we could see most of the line. Glacier Lake Couloir is deep and dark, with huge cliffs on both sides. However, it is not that steep or narrow. This combination made it absolutely perfect for linking turns and ripping with some serious speed. As we got lower, the snow kept getting better and we were getting face shots every other turn. It was probably the best snow I have ever skied in a couloir!

Sam gets pitted in the Glacier Lake Couloir!
Fantastic conditions!

Sam was stoked out of his mind when we got to the bottom of the 1600 ft line at Glacier Lake. It was certainly a gamble to walk past so much good snow for this line, but we knew at that moment that it was worth it!

Looking back up at the line.

As we at lunch on the frozen lake, I thought back to my previous visit to Glacier Lake 9 years ago. Back in 2015, Blake, Ethan and I ran out the PCT from Snoqualmie Pass to Glacier Lake, climbed Chikamin, and descended back to Snoqualmie Pass. Blake and I were just college freshman, and Ethan was only entering high school. For all of us, it was our first day over 20 miles in the mountains. Sam and I were retracing our steps from that day, only with ski lines instead of trails.

At this point, we had two options. We could climb to our south and then return over the same shoulder of Four Brothers which we had ascended, or we could head towards the summit of Chikamin and try to ski the south face. The sun had not come out strong, which meant the steep south face would still be safe. But we were concerned about navigating the steep face with poor visibility. We had gotten a glimpse from below and felt like there was a good traverse above the main cliff, and the LiDAR on Caltopo confirmed this. We decided to go for Chikamin.

Sam led us on a long climb up the slabs towards Chikamin. We skinned up seemingly endless rolling slopes with perfect snow, but we had neither the time nor visibility to ski them. Once again, the LiDAR layer was crucial for navigating the rolling terrain with such flat light. Old timers might not like it, but we were definitely dependent on our cell phones on this tour. Without them, we probably would not have attempted this tour in such variable weather.

Just before we lost all vis.

The south ridge of Chikamin was more variable, with icy snow, rocks, and steep rolls. We had to boot a short section, stopping around 6600 ft. We could faintly see the rocky summit block above us, but had no desire to continue up in the cold wind. Instead, we transitioned and got ready to ski the south face.

Good snow on the south face also!

The upper south face is a gully feature, and surprisingly wide and mellow. Once we dropped 50 ft, the visibility improved dramatically, as did the snow. Once again, we were skiing deep blower powder!

Around 6100 ft, we traversed left to avoid cliffs and ripped some wonderful open powder slopes. Aside from major sluffing, the stability and snow quality was fantastic for an alpine south face. It was all playing out as we had hoped!


The rest of the descent was fun, although progressively crustier. There was some incredible sluffing through a steep forest where the sluff ran for hundreds of vertical feet. Pretty soon, we popped out at the meadow beneath Chikamin once again.

We both felt relieved to be back down in the valley after such a successful linkup. We still had many hours to go, but there was no more uncertainty. We had accomplished what we had come to do.

Sam did manage to fall into a creek.

We skinned for a little, traversed downhill to Alaska Mountain, and then began the long climb back towards the KAZ. We were once again grateful for the easy trail breaking, since you gotta do it both ways on this one!

Back in KAZ once again.

When we finally returned to the base of the KAZ, we were happy to hop on a skin track and crank out our last climb of the day. The skinner up Sterling Direct was a beauty, and we both cruised up to the final pass as dusk approached. I had never done a 10k day in winter before, but I was feeling shockingly good on the final climb! More impressive was Sam, who was looking equally strong despite doing 90% of the trail breaking!

We donned headlamps and dropped down into the Commonwealth. The exit traverse was super fast and the Commonwealth Luge Track was in all-time condition. The snow was fast and grippy. And because of the late hour, we did not have to worry about scaring any snowshoers!

It was twilight at the pass when we finished. From darkness to darkness, we had not seen a single other person. I had always imagined skiing Chikamin on a bluebird day, gazing down to I90, just like I always admire it from the highway. But the murky weather we had experienced created an entirely different vibe. It felt like we had just visited a distant mystical place, where the snow is always blower, couloirs carve through each cliffside, and ski lines are only limited by fitness and imagination. Could this really be Snoqualmie Pass – a land both near and far?

This was an incredible day on the tail end of a lackluster winter. Skiing in the PNW is about riding the ups and downs, and picking your moments to get after it. Huge thanks to Sam for throwing out a crazy idea and getting it done! The day went incredibly smoothly because of his fitness and our experience in the mountains. And in the end, the worst part actually was skinning up Kendall Knob!


  • This tour was 21 miles and 11k ft gain. It took us 13 hours.
  • Approaching and exiting through KAZ added at least 4k gain (maybe more) but added in some good skiing! I enjoyed this approach if KAZ is skiing well.
  • I would not attempt this tour if the trail breaking was deep in Gold Creek or if glopping was likely. There is a large distance to cover in the valley and it would be soul sucking if slow.
  • There were a few creek crossings that took some time, but we always found a bridge we could skin across.
  • The south face of Chikamin was nowhere near as steep as it looks from afar.
  • We did almost no booting during the entire tour, which is great when it is deep up high. I love lines that you can approach top down.
  • There were small trees to belay off of at the top of Glacier Lake Couloir.

2 thoughts on “Glacier Lake Couloir + South Face Chikamin”

    1. The strava embed can be used for that! You can download the GPX from strava desktop.

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