We began this weekend’s excursions with two options: Sherpa Glacier or Lake Stuart. The object was to scout out the route to Sherpa Glacier for future climbs. Whether we ended up at the base of the glacier or at Lake Stuart to camp would depend completely on trail conditions. Rain was expected even in the desert over the weekend so we figured this was a good chance to go exploring.

Eightmile Road was still snow covered and there was a descent snowshoe track all the way up. The predicted rain never too shape. In fact it was rather warm and sunny instead! Two sets of backcountry skiers and a snowshoer passed us, but we did not encounter the hoards of day hikers we came across a few weeks earlier. As fpr us, we had opted for snowshoes after a great debate between that and skis. We we’re sure of the snow-cover and conditions off trail if we headed to Sherpa Glacier.

The Stuart Lake Trail was well packed down to the junction with the Colchuck Lake Trail. Here is where things got interesting. The Colchuck trail was packed down as far as we could tell, but there was not a single track heading to Lake Stuart. We forged on breaking our own track and route finding our way through the forest. Staying on the trail wasn’t that easy, but going in the right direction was pretty straight forward.

We came to an open area near several creek and a march soon after leaving the junction. From here there was a full view of Mt Stuart and Sherpa. We decided to forgo using the beta we had (which wasn’t much) and head off trail directly toward the glacier instead of turning off further down as our information recommended. We were, after all, exploring. Damien got very excited about crossing all the creek every time he saw a long. I mentioned that the beta had said to stay on the right side of the creeks, but he didn’t hear me over the rushing water. We battled our way through the trees and snow drifts, up and down hills and endless forest. Damien did eventually reexamine the map and discover were were on the wrong side of the creek. We opted to navigate back to the trail and get to the meadow as the beta suggested.

We re-discovered the trail after a bit of tracking and ascending a few slopes. From here we were able to stay on the trail to the open meadow which, despite the incoming thick clouds, offered a great vantage point to study the route to the base glacier. It appeared we’d have to fight our way through forest and traverse around a large secondary peak… it was 4:00pm at this point and it would take well over 2 hours to reach the glacier while breaking trail in snow. In summer with the road open and melted climbers trail to follow things would have been different. But we had gained what we hoped, some beta, and decided to continue on to Lake Stuart for the night. We could see the plateau not too far off and had about 800ft of gain to go.

The clouds continued to build as we half stayed on the trail and half route found our way to the lake which we reached exactly on sunset. The moment we took our packs off at camp the clouds finally opened and a light rain began to fall. We set up quickly and finished getting everything in as the rain grew heavy. Warm and dry inside we got into our big puffies a reveled over how tired we were. It had been a 10 hour day with 9.5 miles. Long hours and high mileage winter trips are rare and we were excited to have had a taste of suffering again… or I was anyway. I live for a good sufferfest.

The heavy rain turned to a wet snow overnight. I actually woke up to find the tent walls were severely sagging in due to the weight. We pounded on the walls to knock off the snow and continued to do that every few hours. Some string wind gusts hit us as well, but nothing we were too concerned about.

In the morning a wet snow/rain was still falling, but it was lighter than it had been overnight. Heavy mist clung to the mountains that shadow the frozen Lake Stuart. However, as soon as we packed up and shouldered our packs the rain stopped! In fact, on our way back the clouds began to thin and reveal some sunshine along with some excellent views of the surrounding Enchantment Peaks. We did not take our detour through the forest and over creeks on the way back. Instead we broken trail to where we had broken off the day before. By the time we arrived back that the the skies were once again blue. So much for the full day of rain that was predicted. However, I think the rain in the canyon was much worse than the rain we experienced by the lake. There was a massive new rock slide on the road. Plus, the snow-cover on the road that was continuous all the way to the Trailhead the day before, now had several large melted out sections. Spring is on the way for sure… but I intend to enjoy the snow as long as possible!

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