Normally Damien and I don’t go to the same location two weekends in a row. However, although the location of our venture was the same this weekend: Colchuck Lake, the objective was different: our wedding!

Originally we were going to get married on a summit, but this season unusually high snowpack and continued snowfall into spring left us with another weekend of considerable avalanche danger. The weather called for one and off snow and sun all Saturday and, on Sunday, cloudy followed by a snowstorm mid-morning. This was as good as a weather window we expected to get based on the past few weekends. We met Ian, Rodica, Nick and Ivan at the bottom of Eightmile Lake at dawn. After some discussion, Damien, Nick, Ivan and myself decided that we would use at skis. We figured the conditions would be icy like the weekend before, but we still willing to give it a go. Ian and Rodica don’t ski so they used snowshoes by default.

It turned out that it had snowed over the week so the snow-pack was relatively soft and not a crunch-fest. We made great time up Eightmile Road to the TH of Stuart Lake. As predicted we have a mix of sun and light snow on the journey. Once on the trail and in the forest Damien and I discovered just how much our constant conditioning throughout winter had paid off. We were the only skiers unperturbed by the tight, packed down, up and down trail to the junction. The first Bridge over Mountaineers Creek is in decent shape, but be careful of some holes where folks have punched through. The bridge directly after turning onto the Colchuck Lake Trail at the junction is in similar shape as last week and, if not dug out, did not appear safe to cross. Luckily the snow/ice bridge we had used last year was still in so we all crossed safely with that method.

We made our way up the well traveled trail is Colchuck Lake. The new snow made things much softer than last weekend and skinning was easier since you didn’t have to worry about sliding down on hard pack and ice. We decided to set up camp bear the dam so we would have the best view of Drangontail and Colchuck Peaks. T he weather was cooperating when we set down our packs. The sky was actually blue! Damien immediately made the call that the qwedding would commence in 15 minutes. We had a weather window!

After some coordinating we journeyed onto the frozen lake. It felt surreal to me. Somehow, after an autumn of heartbreak in 2014, we had somehow managed to find each other at the right moment. Somehow, since our relationship began, things have always manged to fall into place in the end; even if the journey was rocky at times. And now we stood across from each other on Colchuck Lake, the lake we passed so many times that first summer together when we climbed in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Once again, a new chapter in our lives would begin in the shadow of these mountains.

To keep with the theme of how much timing has played a role in our relationship, a large cloud crept over the lake two minutes after the ceremony ended and unleashed a whiteout! We set up camp in the passing storm and had a small reception under a large tarp that Damien and I hung. It seemed that everyone had brought dessert and alcohol! Mountaineer style reception in the backcountry!

We woke the next day to cloudy skies and didn’t linger with the impending big storm looming. The ski down much much nicer than last week. Turning was easier in the softer snow. However, we did decid to boot pack in from the snow bridge to the TH since the turns were tight and the snow was packed much harder as lower elevations. We skied the road though of course and returned to the card for some green velvet wedding cake!

 

It seems like Mother Nature wanted to be tricky this weekend with the forecast. We ended up with much more blue sky on Saturday than we bargained for. With another heavy snowfall on Friday night leaving avy danger considerable on Saturday we found ourselves trudging up Eightmile Road for the third weekend in a row. This time our destination was Colchuck Lake. The ski went pretty fast this time around. The snow has consolidated quite a bit with all the rain. In fact is was raining moderately when we started out. There is a solid main track in the road, but snowshoers seemed to be plodding along all over the place even on the skin track which makes things a bit less pleasant for skiers like us. Luckily, the three snowshoers directly ahead of us (also on their way to Colchuck Lake) stayed in the main snowshoe track and  there was enough un-trodden snow to make our own skin track off to the side.

We did not have to make our on trail or do any navigation one we left the road and entered the forest on the Stuart Lake Trail. There was a good track well beaten into the snow. It was a bit icy though from the rain of course. We ran into some folks with sleds coming down from Colchuck. The area is no longer deserted I supposed a spring was only days away. The bridge of Mountaineer Creek is definitely better crossed on foot and not on skis. There are a few holes where people punched through the snow, but crossing was decently secure.

The Bridge right after turning onto the Colchuck Lake Trail was more intimidating. Large holes in the snow n the bridge and it looked like it would need to be dug out. Luckily there were two snow bridges over the creek. we took the thicker one on the right. Once on the other side in the talus field the rain van ished and the sky turned blue. However, with the clear skies came high winds. We didn’t notice in during the initial climb through the forest up to the lake, but as we gained elevation and came to the open areas wind swirled the snow around us. It was actually pretty awesome!

We set up camp on the edge of Colchuck Lake in the early evening with great views of Dragontail, Aasgard Pass and Colchuck Peak. The Lake was windswept so we could see the turquoise blue ice and cyclones of snow as the wind swept over the plateau. The freezing level dropped and light snow fell making for a pretty perfect alpine evening in the Enchantments.

The morning dawned clear and cold as predicted. Very cold! The jounrey down ended up being a treacherous one. The snow was like stryofoam, perfect for crampon and horrible for skis. Damien managed to ski the entire way back down to the creek on the icy snow. I did a combination of walking and survival skiing. From the bridge we decided to mostly walk to the second bridge which proved to the the smart choice in the very frozen and narrow section of trail. We put the skies back on for the final 1.5 miles after the bridge, but it was rough going and our knees rattled the whole way back to the road. Luckily it was a quick ride back to the car from there, but our knees were still rattling on the ruts in the road from all the tracks. Still another fun weekend in the mountains… though we are really itching to climb!

Another weekend with high avalanche danger, only this time the danger was high even below the treeline! I don’t think I’ve very seen that before. We knew we have to be very cautious and decided on Lake Stuart since we recalled the trail being very gradual and off any major avalanche path. We started up Eightmile Rd. Unlike last week when there was a good trail stamped out there was only a fairly new and uneven footpath in (not snowshoe) as we ended up breaking msot of the track on your own through very heavy and saturated snow. It was clear there had been rain over the week. At one point a snowmobile passed up. Further up at about 2 miles down the road they left their sled and began to skin as well which gave us a nice break. They stopped at the Eightmile Lake TH though and we once again broke trail the rest of the way to the TH.

No one had been on the Lake Stuart Trail for a long time. No tracks. We didn’t run into many issues though and we were ablwe to stay on the trail. The biggest problems was our ski tips getting jammed under heavy, wet piles of snow and then having to dislodge them. The large bridge crossing over Mountaineer Creek was pretty sketch. It snow was piled high about the railing, probably 2-3 feet and it was well cornices. I highly suggesting removing skis for the crossing. Luckily no one went for a swim. From there the trail steepens but we were able to stay mostly on track though huge piles of snow on the trail and downed trees made for some interesting route finding. We finally arrived at the junction with Colhuck Lake Trail and the trail evened out a bit. Shortly after the junction (stay right) there is an open area (a swamp in the summer) where the trail disappears. The key here as we learned last year  is to go in the clearing for several yards and then head right into the trees to find the trail.

By now the snow was beginning to turn into cold rain and we were pretty tired from plowing our way through heavy snow. But it was pretty cool to be the only people that had ventured this far! We finally broke out of the trees and into Stuart Meadows. On a clear day there are great views of Stuart, Argonaut, Sherpa and Colhuck. Of course at that moment they were hidden in the clouds. Ahead we could see the high Plateau where Lake Stuart was nestled. the slopes looked a bit steeper than we recalled. We also observed a long avalanche slope topped with cornices that drained right into the middle of the meadow and onto the trail. We decided that our destination would be the meadows, about .75 miles short of the lake.

Damien strung up the tarp in some trees on the edge of the meadow and used two skis lashed together to drain the fabric. Ot kept up from having to stay inside the tent all evening which was great. The rain/sleet continued to fall from the sky most of the night and it was accompanied by extremely loud gusts of wind that kept waking me up.

But when we woke up we were surprised to unzip the tent to calm bluebird skies and a full panorama of mountain views. We enjoyed a pretty leisurely start to the morning, reluctant to pack up and head out. It waking up to views like this that make trudging through cold rain worth it! We were able to follow our track back out. The challenge was getting down the switchbacks from the junction to the bridge. The deep track through the heavy snow made turns nearly impossible and the ski trips kept getting hung up in the thick, wet snow. It made for some impressive face-plants on my part!

Eventually we found our way back over some new downed trees back to Eightmile Rd. We didn’t remove our skins until after the uphill section ended near Eightmile Lake TH. From there is a pretty much a fast glide all the way back down to the bottom at Icicle Rd. A nice change from plowing through thick snow!

 

 

 

This past weekend was a great example that avalanche predictions are just that: predictions. Saturday and Sunday were forecatsed moderate so we decided to try for Eightmile Mountain, a peak that has very little beta and seems to be rarely attempted especially in summer when it is an arduous bushwhack. It was supposedly a nice AT ski though. The Eightmile Road was crusty, but once we got on the trail conditions were good. It was even sunny which was not it the forecast making for a lovely bluebird day. However, we ran into two skiers coming from the lower slopes of Cashmere. They were pretty shook up as they’d been knocking down 8 foot slabs. We made a mental note. There were a few old, mostly concealed snowshoe tracks for the first 1/2 mile, but those petered away and we were left to our own navigational skills. Route finding was pretty straight forward and I think were were able to remain on the trail up until Little Eightmile Lake. We noted some shooting cracks though as we skied along.  Things got a bit challenging navigating through some boulders with hidden holes and ascending the final slope to the lake which was rather bushwacky through dense trees. We should have ascended on the far left of the slope where the trees were more open. Either way we manged to make it to the lake as clouds closed in a snow began to fall. We set up camp about halfway around the frozen lake so we’d be closer to the start of the route in the morning. At this point we were questioning if the avalanche danger was truly moderate.

It was still snowing the next morning. Throughout the night Damien, counted the rumble of 6 avalanches and a 7th one went off soon after we woke up. Clearly things were not moderate and we made the call not to make an attempt the summit. We still took a tour around to the other side of the lake to get eyes on Eightmile Mountain. We observed massive wind loading on the slopes of all the mountains in the area which made us confident that choosing to not climb had been a good decision. We packed up and left mid-morning under clearing skies following the faint tracks nearly covered from the heavy snow. Everything was pristine with the fresh 5 inches of powder. Tranquil and truly a winter wonderland. We did find that the new snow was very sticky when we removed our skins to ski down the abandoned road back to Eightmile Rd.  It was pretty much a tripping hazard. Back on the main road though we were able the snow powder covered up yesterdays crusty surface so we had a descent ride back down to the car. We heard of several avalanches incidents that had occurred over the weekend when we got home/  Sometimes observations are the best ways to mitigate disaster.