July 24: Big Four Mountain


On the walk to the ice caves below the north face of Big Four Mountain.

At loose ends, I decided to drive up the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River and hike to Boardman Lake. But, the guy at the Verlot Ranger Station told me that Forest Service road 4020 up to the lake was washed out for all but high-clearance vehicles (which blocked the road to Lake Evan and Bear Lake, too).

The walk to the ice caves below the north face of Big Four Mountain provided an easy alternate choice. I'd been to the ice caves two years earlier when there was a little new snow on the ground and hadn't explored much. It would be interesting to go again.


Boardwalk through the woods.

The walk is about a mile and only a couple of hundred feet up. From the picnic area, much of the trail is on boardwalk as it wanders across a marshy river of grass, through a pretty woods, and up a slope.

From the trail, a glimpse of what was to come.


No big ice cave formed this year, but that didn't keep the people away, with a half-dozen folks seen here at the bottom of what Beckey calls "Rucker's Glacier." Click for an enlargement.

When the trail breaks out into the open, it's into a scene of glorious devastation. The whole area is repeatedly swept by avalanches of snow and rock from the north face of Big Four Mountain, its five summits nearly a mile above.

But it was glorious, as flowers and shrubs, protected under winter's snowpack from the worst of the onslaught from above, now thrived in the summer sun amid the devastation.


Ice, rock, and two tiny people enjoying just being there, seen here sitting on a boulder on a hot July day. Cool air, occasionally even fog, issues from caves in the ice at the bottom of the 4,000-foot north face of Big Four Mountain.

So close below a mountain face of such size, the very scale of the scene made photographing it difficult. The best that I hoped to do was isolate a detail here or there.

Note the massive, fractured layers in the sedimentary rock of the face, and the size of some of the foreground boulders. (For scale note the couple sitting on one.) However, the two hours I wandered along the ice I heard rockfall only once.

After this year's heavy snowfall during a wet Cascade winter, no big cave had melted (yet) into the main lobe of ice. But the ice that extended across the bottom of the half-mile width of the mountain's face did hold a number of smaller caves.

And then there were the waterfalls.


Of countless waterfalls, here's a picture of three, with Goatsbeard in the foreground. Click the pic for a larger Fireweed variation.

Oh, were there waterfalls. Meltwater fell from a dozen snowfields scattered from top to bottom across the half-mile width of the face. Waterfalls slid and waterfalls leapt into the air in billows of mist to splash and fall some more, and the longest went for four thousand vertical feet.

As I wandered below the face, the many variations on the sound of falling waters combined to provide an evolving symphony of sound.

The area was dotted with goatsbeard and flowers -- fireweed, columbine, paintbrush, and more. (Unfortunately late afternoon's low light made most of my flower photos less than successful.)


The bottom few hundred feet of a four thousand foot waterfall, in this different perspective on the face.

Late light on Big Four Mountain.

The two north face climbing routes that Beckey mentions take the two sunlit ribs. The towers left of the face have been traversed on a hard multi-day summit route, too.


In May 2018 I was back on the water.


Posted July 2017 HOME | TOP | BACK