It can be hard to find good adventures on the shoulder season, but as long as you are not adverse to rain and snowy conditions you can usually find something! Damien and I were going to do a Loop backpack called The Cradle this weekend which is located at the end of Icicle Road in Leavenworth. No many folks go to the very end of the road. We also wanted to add an ascent of Bootjack and Highchair mountain tot he second day since the route to those peaks was right off the loop. We were also prepared to revise out plans as the mountain conditions lately have been a question mark.

We started off of the Icicle Creek Trail. The drive across the creek just before the TH is still very doable in any vehicle. After about 1.5 miles at a huge camping area we turned onto the French Creek Trail. leads though the forest for a long time gradually ascending. It was raining throughout the day, but not pouring and the cool temp made the forest jaunt pleasant. At the next Junction we stayed left on the French Creek Trail and a few yards later came to the edge of a very deep French Creek… with the trail on the other side. Damien tried to find an alternate place to cross, but there were no better options. The water was deep enough to make removal of the pants necessary. It was actually deep enough so that the water was actually just below my hips. The key was to go inott he water and aim slightly up-stream to avoid a waist deep drop and then circle back to the trial on the shore. And, yes, it was FREEZING! Strangely once out of the water a dripping wet we didn’t feel very cold.

We continued on. The trail grained elevation more aggressively for about 600 feet before changing once again to a more gentle uphill grade. Mist hung low in the sky, but we could still see the bottom of Cradle Peak to our right. We passed though an Avalanche debris field and several meadows before once again going aggressively up after a horsecamp. Here snow covered the ground pretty solidly and we lost the trail at times. We managed to get back on it though without too much trouble. After about 1000 feet of climbing the trail begins to switchback up the ridge until reaching the top overlooking the snow engorged Cradle Basin. It was dark back then so we took out our headlamps before descending. The lake was frozen and it was hard to see exactly where it was. We set up camp in some trees near a thawed out pool.

In the morning we reviewed our options. There was a lot of deep snow and potholing ahead of us in the next two basins until we began to climb to the ridge by Bootjack. The forecast called for a big storm in the evening and moderate rain in the afternoon. Naviahgating through the deep snow in the basin could take hours and if we did end up having to turn back and go out the way we had come we could be looking at returning to the TH the next morning (we were 12.5 miles in). Highchair Mountain would be be a good choice of a climb since the snow covering nearby ridges looked slippery and questionable. With these being the circumstances we opted to change the loop to an out and back.

Of course this also meant we needed to cross French Creek without pants again! We made the right choice. The rain picked up as soon as we got back to the car.

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