The weather forecast for this weekend looked very bleak earlier in the week. By Marybeth and I crossed our fingers and for once in WA the weather turned from rain and snow predicted to mostly sunny with a few flurries. Happily we geared up for another journey into the Enchantments. This time the Plan was to go up to Little Lake Caroline and set up basecamp. If there was time and weather allowed we would attempt to climb Cashmere Mountain.

Saturday started out sunny and warm. The trail to Little Eightmile Lake is in good condition, but we would have roasted had it been high summer. The area is an old burn an this shade is difficult to come by. We turned right at the junction by Little Eightmile Lake which is really more of a puddle and began the long swtichbacks to the top of the ridge. There are several downed trees here that need to be navigated. Otherwise the going is pretty straightforward and good views abounds as you climb higher. We didn’t hit significant amounts of snow until about 6000 ft. There are easy to follow tracks though and we didn’t find it necessary to bring out the snowshoes. The 200 ft descent to Lake Caroline is very steep, but plunge stepping made it very doable. We walked around the right side of the lake and crossed the log jammed outlet a few yards upstream on a log. From there we put on snowshoes and followed tracks another half mile to the left until we reached the river. We followed that to Little Lake Caroline.

There was a good campsite on the other side of the lake that was melted out and in the trees. Marybeth decided to try crossing the ice away from the river outlet. I waited on the the other side with my hand on my InReach. She made it safely though and I followed.

After setting up a cozy camp we decided to go for Cashmere Mountain or at least Windy Pass. We  used our snowshoes and followed tracks and party melted trail to what seemed like the described ridge in the route. As we climbed thick clouds rolled in and obscured a once clear view of Dragontail and Colchuck in a mere two minutes. Snow fell thickly to almost white out conditions and the while picked up significantly. It had snowed intermittently all day but this by far was the worse. We had a quick discussion and opted to descend. We knew it would probably pass, but didn’t want to take a chance in case it got worse. Of course when we were almost at the lake the sky cleared. So we spent the rest of the evening snowshoeing the flats.

The night was very cold and we awoke to blue skies and a crystallized tent. After finally gathering up the nerve to emerge from our sleeping bags we cooked breakfast and packed up. Marybeth had examined the ridge between us and Lake Caroline on the Topo map and thought it might be a fun cross country detour. We headed toward the trailless ridge with out snowshoes. It was a steep climb, but very doable. There are some cornices on top to be aware of, but they can easily be avoided.

We walked left along the ridge admiring the brilliant views of Asguard Pass, Colchuck, Dragontail and Cashmere. The ridge is broad in most places and narrows in some. We steered clear of the edges do to the cornices. Eventually it becomes a third class scramble over rock and talus. We opted to turn back here and descended by plunge stepped down the way we came up. We contours right along the slope halfway down observing any avy danger above. This led us to the ridge above Lake Caroline. From here we simply followed our tracks from the previous day until we reached the melted out trail. From the snowless burn it was only another 2 hours to the car.

Though we didn’t summit it was a beautiful weekend to be in the backcountry! Another great adventure of a permit camp in early season. 🙂

We couldn’t do an overnight this weekend as we needed to fulfill some half day obligations on Saturday. So we opted to head out to Mount Rainier National Park to complete a well known conditioner: Camp Muir. Lots of folks use this trail because it reaches 10080ft and features 4640ft of gain in 4.5 miles. Folks also claim that it tests the hiker mentally too as the camp can be seen for almost the entire hike, but it never seems to get closer!

I was told all of this before setting out Sunday morning with Damien. It was my first time climbing to the camp and I was curious to see if it was as bad are everyone said it was. The sun was blazing when we began walking around 8am. We started with a thick layer of sunblock, glacier goggles and caps to protect ourselves. There is a fairly good stamped out trail and the snow was frozen still so we didn’t bother with snowshoe. I did put on crampons for the steep climb up the hill to Panorama Point. I liked being able to front-point. Damien didn’t bother though and did just fine.

It was a lovely clear day and the Tatoosh Range, Adams and Helens were visible as we climbed. I didn’t find that looking at Muir the whole way was a problem. I just picked smaller landmarks like rock piles to mark my progress. After Panorama Point there are only a few steep places. The rest of the gain seemed pretty gradual to me. I did end up putting on snowshoes as the sun softened the snow. It was very hot out with no breeze. That was the biggest challenge for me.

Ay 9000 ft Damien began to feel the altitude. At this point the camp seems closer than it is and there are no rock piles. I chose to mark progress with the perpendicular  ski tracks along the track. I think I sped up at this point. Altitude has never bothered me though I always notice the thinner air. I just don’t feel oxygen deprived for some reason that I cannot explain.

There were a fair amount of folks on the top. A mix of AT skiier, snowshoers and hikers. We found a bit of shade and stayed there for about an hour listening to distant avalanches before heading back down. The snowshoes were great on the descent. Otherwise it would have been a posthole nightmare. There were also some glissade tracks that we used as well.

 

All in all a great conditioner… if only the sun wasn’t so hot!

The weather was looking questionable in the mountains with avalanches from the new snow predicted to fall and the lowlands appeared as though they would be very soggy, even on the east side. Damien and I opted to backpack to Lake Stuart in the Enchantments wehere we’d be high enough to avoid the rain, but low enough to steer clear of avalanches. We were looking for a good conditioner and figured that, since the ranger told us Eightmile Road was still closed, a total of ten miles per day with a gain of 3100 ft would be acceptable considering the limited options. As it turned out, Eightmile Road was open which cut our Milage in half. It was still a wonderful trek though.

Saturday we started at the trail head at about 9:00am. It was snowing lightly and chilly, but not unpleasant. The trail is in good shape. Even when we reached snow about a mile it there was no need for snowshoes the entire journey. There were some icy patches though so beware. We ended up not using our microspikes, but they might have made the going a bit faster since we stepped gingerly in those places. The snow grew thicker as we ascended and it was strangely fluffy. Viability was low, but we could still see the ridges right in front of us. More than anything we were happy to be experiencing some form of winter finally!

We arrived at the lake at about 1:00 and set up my tiny REI Dash tent and decided to attempt to walk around the lake counter-clockwise. After some bushwhacking we encountered a river that rain into the lake and blocked our way. We decided to follow the river into the winter wonderland of the forest. The tranquility was spellbinding and we enjoyed the solitude.

Snow pattered on the tent all night. When we woke the next morning the once grey sky was now blew and the majesty of Mount Stuart loomed before us. Fluffy snow covered the ground and sparkled in the sunlight. It was peaceful. Quiet. Beautiful. We didn’t rush that morning as we packed up camp and headed out of Enchantments. The beauty of the snowy wilderness made things too wondrous to rush. Instead we lingered to soak in winter… in April.