Damien and I haven’t spent any time above 10k feet since Mount Shasta back on Memorial Day weekend. With several projects involving climbing at high altitude looming in the suddenly not so distant future (where has this summer gone?!) we decided that a trip to Mount Rainier National Park was in order. We developed a plan based around two obstacles: we did not have an overnight permit and, again, the forecast was HOT! Thus, the strategy was to start from Paradise in the early evening so we would only catch the tail end of the heat, then climb through the night as far as we could go on the DC route. Summiting Rainier in a day was partially on our minds and we brought gear for a summit bid. However, the main focus of this excursion was to spent time at/above 10k.

We did our best to prepare for the impending all nighter. Saturday morning was sent mostly hanging around the house and napping. We headed out to the park early afternoon and, after fighting some strangely heavy traffic, stopped at Longmire to pick up our climbing permit. It was bizarre to actually get a glimpse of the park during midday. We’re usually only in the front country very early in the morning, very late or in winter when it’s empty. At 3:45 the park was a bit of a circus. We were eager to get on the trail and away from the crowds.

We swung on our packs at the overnight lot at Paradise in early evening at about 5:30pm. Our packs were lighter than normal for a Rainier climb, but with climbing gear in tow they still weighed respectable amount. The trail to Panorama Point was crowded with people. This provided some entertainment for me: folks wearing Mary-Jane shoes and jeans. I was annoyed by the fact that there seemed to be an unseemly number of descending visitors that did not make way for us as we traveled uphill with heavy packs. I know that some people do not know that uphill trekkers have the right of way, but if you see someone with a large pack you should step aside out of common curtesy.

Beyond Panorama Point the crowds thin considerably. Sweating in the early evening heat we watched as the sun edged in what seemed like excruciatingly slow motion toward the horizon. At Pebble Creek we paused to filter water and cool down in preparation for the snowfield ahead. From then on it seemed that the tourists ceased to exist.

The snow was sloppy from the radiation of the day as we began to climb up from Pebble Creek at 7100 feet. However, as the sun slipped finally behind the lower slopes of Rainier the temperature abrupted dropped. We found a good up-track which was further improved by a team passing us (their objective was Rainier in a day). I think it’s the first time we ever found a good track going up the mountain. As we climbed we turned back to gaze at the hues of the pink and purple sky behind Adams, Hood, Jefferson and Helens. All the mountains surrounding us glowed in the soft pastel colors of evening light. Rainier is always a magical place, especially this time of day when the crowds are gone and there is nothing but the splendid, tranquil, beauty of the volcano.

The snow stiffened as we continued upward passing familiar slopes and talus ridges. Ahead the glaciated mountain loomed before us fading into the darkness. At 9:45 we switched on our headlamps and donned our crampons. Our feet with unbalanced on the rapidly solidifying snow. As our crampons crunched in the hardened snow we caught a glimpse of what we thought was a rescue flare streaking across the sky. I would find out later that it was a fireball meteor. We were surprised to reach camp Muir at 10:30pm. Our calibrated altimeters somehow got off count during the climb which is pretty typical on Rainier and read 9800 feet instead of 10100. We had climbed to Muir in 5 hours which was a record for us with or without heavy packs.

Camp Muir was abuzz for with activity.  The guided groups were preparing to depart at their standard 11:00pm. Private teams were also milling about cooking and sorting gear. Damien and I dumped our packs on the dusty ground and, after a quick snack, settled down against some rocks for a 15 minute recharge nap. I especially needed it as fatigue was beginning to take its toll. Damien also alerted rangers and guide of the “rescue flare”. They seemed surprisingly unconcerned.

We were roped up at moving across the Colwitz Glacier at 11:20pm. I had never departed this late to climb Rainier and it felt strange to be part of a conga line of teams instead of climbing in silence. We moved well across the glacier. There were a few crevasses to step across, but nothing significant. However, we began to fall apart on the ascent of Cathedral Rock at 10,470~ ft. The “trail” up the rock formation is my second least favorite aspect of climbing DC (my least favorite being the cleaver). The tread was extremely dusty and, as always, the volcano crude unstable. The upper portion where rock meets dirty glacier had some crevasses, but what was more noteworthy was the audible roar of water coming from beneath the ice. Finally, we stepped onto clean glacier ice and received a healthy blast of wind. The gusts could not have been more than 20mph, but it definitely made it feel colder. Under the twinkling stars and frothy milky way we made our way to Ingraham Flats. There is a sketchy crevasse step-over here that got our attention. The others were minor.

Damien belayed me into the camp and we stared up at the procession of headlamps journeying up the clever. We both felt trashed for lack of sleep and the fatigue seemed to be making the elevation of 11,100 feet seem worse than it really was. Ahead laid another 4500~ feet of gain. The route this season features a marvelous 600 foot descent mid-route before climbing back up. We decided that Ingraham Flats was as far as we could safely go. We must have sat there at camp in our giant puffys for a good 30 minutes before willing ourselves to get back to our feet. Exhausted, we descended back down to Camp Muir which had lighter winds.

We did not have overnight gear. However, we did bring our sleeping bag covers for a situation like this. Damien opted to sleep inside the hut. I did not wish to join the snore-fest indoors so I slept on the bench outside. However, I could only insulate half my body with my backpack, so my lower half stayed pretty cold preventing me from getting any meaningful sleep.

Damien wanted to head down right away in the morning to avoid the next impending heatwave. I wasn’t too jazzed about that since I despise descending hard snow in crampons. I felt wreaked for the first 600 feet. After vitamin I and some coffee infused chocolate though things became a lot less painful. At about 8,000 feet the snow was soft enough to begin glissading which I took advantage of (crampons off of course!).

Once again things got busier the lower we went. At Panorama Point the folks in jeans once again dotted the trail. Back to society. Somehow, we managed to drive home without falling asleep at the wheel. Another learning experience as with many of the trips this summer.

After some high stress weekends in the mountains, Damien and I decided to take a rest and do a simple backpack with two straight forward scrambles. Our plan was to complete the Cradle Lake Loop and on the second day hop up to Bootjack Mountain, cross the ridge to Highchair, retrace our steps and then complete the backpack. We had attempted this itinerary in late October last year. It ended up being an out and back trip to Cradle Lake because of deeper than predicted snow. We didn’t expect to have this problem in July of course!

The trail begins at the very end of Icicle Road. It follows the Icicle Creek trail 1.5 miles through the forest until reaching a junction with French Creek Trail where we turned left. We continued through the forest though it opened every now and then as we followed French Creek for 4.7 miles until we came across the junction with Snowall Trail. We took a left and immediately arrived on the shore of a very deep French Creek. We both have vivid memories of having to cross this creek in October without pants with water nearly up to our hips and WOW had it been cold! Damien and I were both wearing shorts and with the water level being lower and the temperature being uncomfortably warm we were much more enthusiastic about this crossing in July. In fact, the water skimming the cuffs of our shorts as we crossed was downright refreshing!

We trekked onward following the trail as it switchbacks up through the forest. Not far up the trail we began to realize how poorly maintained the track was. Shrubbery hung over the trail scratching our legs as we gained gentle elevation through the woods. The trailed intermittently flattened out for stretches and the woods gave way to glorious wildflower meadows in the shadow of The Cradle…at least they were glorious at first glance. These meadows painted with ever color of an artist’s palette swallowed up the already thin trail. Several times we lost the track in the waist and sometimes shoulder deep grasses or flowers. Route finding skills came into play as we wandered through the meadows making our way up the valley. The sun also blasted its sweltering rays into the flora, which somehow seemed to have an insulating quality as we bushwhacked our way along the barely there trail. At least we had the relief of the forest every now and then even though the shrubs mangled our legs.

Finally, we reached the head of the valley and headwaters of French Creek. The trail turns left here and switchbacks up open hills of grasses and flowers. Most of the elevation gain had thus far been in the sections of trail under the cover of trees. Gritting our teeth we trudged up the exposed slopes drenched in what felt like gallons of perspiration. Finally, the small saddle in the ridge we where destined for came into view and we made the final grueling, long switchbacks to the high point of the trail (not including summits). The book said that this point was supposed to be 6100 feet, but my altimeter and GPS read 6500ish. Nevertheless, from this point we were rewarded with sprawling views of the Stuart Range and an inviting looking Cradle Lake about 250 feet in the basin just below us.

The trail to the lake wasn’t obvious so we just descended straight down the slope to the shore of the lake. We picked up the trail there and followed it around the right side of the lake passing a single tent, which surprised us. Damien and I continued past their camp in search of solitude and found a secluded place just past the creek at the foot of the talus ridge leading to Highchair Mountain. The mosquitos were hungry, but we were keen on getting into the lake. Quickly we stripped down to our underwear and stepped into the delightfully cold water feeling the sticky sweat drift away from our skin. Refreshed we swiftly set up our tent and dove inside away from the biting insects. There was no need to set up the fly so we watched as the sun drifted behind the mountains and mosquitos and flies buzzed hungrily just on the other side of the mesh. We still had to filter water so we armed ourselves with our puffies and long pants before venturing outside to the creek. After a lovely freeze dried dinner we settled in for the night completely exhausted.

 

We were packed up and walking in the cool morning hours of 6am the following day. Covered from head to toe in deet, we still had to deal with the buzzing of the biting bugs, but at least they didn’t land on us. As our beta instructed we followed the trail along the creek for one mile. At this point we were supposed to meet a junction with a trail on the left. This trail was on our GPS map as well so we were confident it would be there. It never occurred to us that there might be an issue. However, when we came to a junction is was marked off by branches as social trails often are in the National Forests. Confused, we checked our GPS which showed we had passed the junction. We figured we’d missed it and backtracked. Several minutes later our GPS showed we had passed it again! Now very perplexed, we diligently walked back to the blocked off junction. The trail on the map didn’t exist… unless it was this marked off trail and the GPS was off. Not knowing what else to do we stepped over the branches and followed the marked off trail.

Things seemed to go well for the first 15 or so minutes on the thin tread, but then the trail began to veer away from the direction we were meant to be heading and we found ourselves a quarter mile away from the “trail” we were supposed to be on. We had a good view of the sub-summit of Highchair and we studied the terrain. Damien suggested that we ditch the traditional route of summiting Bootjack and then following the ridge to Highchair. It would require a lot of backtracking anyway. It appeared we could climb Highchair via it’s West ridge and follow the next ridge to Bootjack making for a direct traverse. The appeal of a direct route and the fact that there didn’t seem to be a trail to Bootjack anyway made our decision easy.

Highchair was on the other side of the valley from the ridge we were on. However, the ridge is U-shaped so we traversed the ridge staying high and aiming for the saddle on the left of the sub-summit. The terrain was a mix of heather, forest, tall grass and blocky talus fields. The bushwhacking was minimal and terrain pretty decent for cross country travel, though it still slowed us a bit. The heat was debilitating though, especially for me. Just below the saddle we stopped in the shade by a snow patch and filtered water from a small melt stream in the talus. This was our last appealing filtering option for the day. We continued to the ridge and followed it to the blocky sub-summit (the rocks are red from iron content). From here we followed the talus and scree (class 2) to the summit. You’ll know you’re there because of the massive ammo box labeled “Summit Register” at the top.

From here views abound with Mount Rainier taking center stage. Also visible are Dragontail, Stuart, Argonaut, Sherpa, Cashmere, Adams, Eightmile, Daniel, Glacier… basically you can see a heck of a lot of peaks! It was also clear from this vantage point that we could have taken a direct route by climbing up the foot of the ridge from Cradle Lake.

We lingered for a long time, hesitant to begin moving in the sun again, but the ridge to Bootjack beckoned. We descended loose rock down into a larch filled basin just below the ridge and skirted the talus below the gnarly part of the ridge at the edge of the trees. Just before the ridge drops to its low point there is a small pond with tadpoles called The Oasis. We rested here in some shade. The water was kind of dirty here so we did not filter. Soon after this spot we rejoined the ridge and began the 1.5 mile walk to Bootjack. Every now and then a gentle breeze refreshed us, but mostly we cooked in the sun’s blaze. There is a faint climber’s trail that meanders on top of the rocky ridge, or just below it on the right side. About .3 miles away from Bootjack the ridge turns broad and grassy as the route climbs to an unnamed high point with some shady trees. The ridge then descends to a small rocky saddle (we skirted a gendarme on the left side to gain the saddle). From here it is a quick 150-200 foot class 2/3 scramble to the sub-summit and short traverse (class 2) to the true summit on the right.

We were greeted by 2 day-hikers taking in the view. Our entire route from the day before all the way to Cradle Lake and the cross-country route we had taken to Highchair and then Bootjack was visible from this vantage point. Of course, we had the same amazing views of the mountain range as well.

We were again reluctant to leave the summit, but we did coax ourselves up. Damien and I scrambled down the other side of Bootjack and joined a faint trail. There are several turns along the trail that can lead you astray. The general idea is to make sure you end up going down the opposite side of the ridge away from Bootjack and not into the meadows just below it. The Blackjack Ridge trail wasted no time in elevation loss. It plummets straight down for over 1000 feet with no switchbacks. Then when the switchbacks do start they are exceedingly steep. May kind of descent trail!

We reached the road in early evening and walked .25 miles back to the Icicle Creek TH. A little more of an exploration weekend than the easy  backpack with scrambles we anticipated. Not exactly a rest weekend, but still excellent!

This was one of those trips that didn’t exactly pan out as intended, but still ended up being incredibly awesome (that is if you enjoy a good sufferfest). The original intention was to climb as many of the Lemah summits as possible (there are 5 total) and then traverse to the next mountain over and climb Chikamin. There is a small bit of information on the tallest Lemah called “Main Lemah” or “Lemah Three”. The remaining 4 minor summits have beta that amounts to one sentence for each in the Beckey guide and a blurry, un-detailed distance photo with dotted lines in the same book. Chikamin has more beta, but the only info regarding approaching the climb from Chikamin Lake was a drawing and the same blurry photo. Information on traversing from the Lemahs to Chikamin Lake also amounted to the same vague drawing and blurry photo. In conclusion, we had minimal beta on our objectives and route. We knew going in to expect the unexpected.

Day 1:

Our goal for day one was to complete the approach to the Lemahs and camp on the slope directly beneath Lemah 5. We did have pretty good beta on the approach luckily. We began at the Pete Lake TH and walked 4 gentle miles to Pete Lake. while contending with mosquitoes for the first hour. Deet seemed to keep them mostly at bay. From the Lake we continued on until we reached the primitive/bridge river crossing junction to Spectacle Lake. From here we turned left and trekked another mile before crossing the first bridge. The second bridge (Lemah Creek Bridge) has been washed out, but there was no need to cross. At this landmark we departed the trail and followed a faint boot track through the forest up the creek. This track went from faint to non-existent when we reached mossy rock benches. The idea is to just follow the creek more or less until reaching beautiful Lemah Meadows. We were very tempted indeed to just set up camp in this gorgeous, secluded oasis. A blanket of fragrant green grass engulfed a large open area with a deep, refreshing creek winding through it. Just ahead all five of the Lemah’s jagged summits rose into the skyline.

Though we did take a break here to soak our feet in the cool creek and enjoy the view we managed to tear ourselves away and press on. Damien and I headed across the meadow aiming for the obvious snow couloir on the right side of the Lemahs. Of course this was not to be a simple walk through a meadow. We had to contend with about ½ mile of bush whacking through dense willows and then navigated snow covered talus where under-snow creeks carved hollow tunnels just waiting to collapse. By the time we reached the snow finger we felt a bit beat up. Determined, we continued up the snow slopes with towering rock walls rearing above us on either side. It felt like a snow couloir canyon and streaming down the walls were countless waterfalls! There were some massive boulder islands in the couloir guarded by moats up to 30 feet deep. I had never seen anything like it. About halfway up we paused to rest on a small island of vegetated ground and rock that we were able to access since a significant moat was strangely absent. We still had about 1500 feet more to climb to get of the base of the Lemahs and it was getting late. Conveniently, there was a small flat area on the island  and we decided that this would be camp 1.  It was a spectacular place to spend the evening and more importantly the rock island provided protection from the fall line of any canyon debris.

 

Day 2:

We continued up the couloir at sunrise which gradually grew steeper as we ascended. About 200 feet from the top of the couloir we veered off to the left just to where the towering rock wall dissipated so we could cross onto the Lemah Snowfields. However, there was still a short rock wall to scramble with a small, but noteworthy waterfall. Of course the climbable part of this rock wall was currently submerged under the waterfall which made for a rather interesting mix climb. Usually with my crampons and axe I climb frozen waterfalls and not running ones!  We took a short break on a heather bench before continuing into the snowfield beneath the Lemahs. We examined the route up Lemah 5. Basically, the idea with to climb to the notch between Lemah 4 and 5 and then ascend the ridge. The way to the notch was about a 50 degree snow slope with some slabs melted out. These slabs were guarded by significant moats 20-30 feet deep and about 3 feet wide. If you fell on the snow above then and didn’t catch the fall in time you’d be swallowed. We decided we could avoid being directly over all but one of these moats and opted to go for it with caution. Damien and I left our overnight gear in a depression in the snow and began to climb. We did not use a rope since it was only 50 degrees. A second axe might have been nice for security, but we did ok with just one. We kicked in extra deep over the moat run-out. Luckily at notch we were able to access the rock ridge since the moat was small enough to navigate.  However, we found that the ridge led to a false summit. In order to get to the true summit we had to cross another snow field to the next tall summit spire. This was guarded by a formidable 30 foot deep x 3 feet wide moat. No access. At least we had great views from the middle false summit.

We had to descend most of the route facing the slope which was tedious and painstakingly mind-numbing. We returned to our gear and reloaded our packs. After some discussion we decided to make Lemah Main the priority and began to traverse the snowfield. We opted not to rope up on the glacier since crevasses were not is issue until late season. We noted the route up Lemah 4 as we passed beneath it. It was guarded by unpassable moats. It took us some time to get the route of Lemah 3 (main) into view. We traversed slopes under the towers and then beneath steep slabby buttresses and under Lemah 2 until we could climb back up and around to the top of the buttress to view the way up. This was the worst looking route yet. Thin snow on top of slabby rock, huge moats, waterfall traps. Yikes. Feeling a bit defeated we reflected on how to proceed with the trip. Clearly, we had come too early to climb any of the Lemahs. Lemah 1 was in front of us abruptly jutting out of a craggy ridge wall guarding the way to Chikamin Lake. As previously mentioned, we had a drawing of this ridge and blurry photo. It was difficult to tell where we were supposed to go up to access the top of the ridge and there was a big question mark as to what the descent to the lake would be like or if it was possible. If we chose wrong it could easily cost us 2 hours. We studied the poor beta we had and compared it to the landscape, then made our best guess.

We traversed what remained of the the snowfield and then down to some turquoise glacial tarns where the wind suddenly picked up. It was a gorgeously rugged landscape and we couldn’t help but pause for a moment to enjoy it all. Jagged rock towers, untouched snow, crystal blue pools and majestic Cascade Views. It’s a good thing we stopped to admire everything, because our brains were about to be subjected to mental overload.

We ascended the 40 degree snow toward the ridge crest until it petered out to talus and rock. The anticipation was disconcerting. We had no idea what we would find. Was this what it felt like to do a first ascent? We topped out on the ridge crest. About 700 feet below us was a small pond and to the right we knew was Chikamin Lake. Luckily, we had topped out on a broad bench on the ridge. But several meters below us was a cliff blocking access to a snow finger… a snow finger that led down to a maze of snow fingers and benches which randomly may or may not cliff out. Still we thought getting to this snow finger might be the first step to getting down. We traversed along the lake side of the ridge on a heather bench. This bench hit an unpassable wall and cliffed out below us. We turned back and backtracked to where we had first popped up on the ridge top.  No beta. Just a topo map now and what we saw in front of us. It looked like the slopes down to the lake grew gentler on the far right side of the ridge (we could not see it from our vantage point). The only way to gain what might be gentler slopes down would be to climb along the rocky top of the ridge. With no other option we began to scramble the ridge which grew more exposed and technical as we traveled. At its worse it was exposed class 4. We bypassed the class 5 high point by moving just below it on some very loose, blocky rock with no room for error hoping that when we got around the corner we would finally be able to see an escape route. Our brains were fried at that point. Would it go? Would we have to find another way? Were we trapped on the ridge? Down climbing to where we had started would be extremely sketch. I have a new respect for first ascensionists. Having the mental aptitude to withstand constantly not knowing if a route will go takes massive fortitude.

We were exceedingly relieved to discover gentle talus, scree and snow slopes down the Chikamin Lake once we rounded the corner. We picked our way down to the lake feeling a massive weight lifted from our shoulders. At least a figurative weight; our packs were still pretty heavy. Mentally drained we set up camp 2 on the breezy shore of Chikamin Lake in the shadow of Chikamin Peak. Aside from cliff faces on the snow slopes, Chikamin Peak appeared to be climbable. Of course the question remained as to if the summit block was guarded by a moat. We would go for it in the morning.

Day 3:

Breezes turned to severe wind overnight and we woke in the morning for find ourselves engulfed in heavy mist with minimal visibility. We were on the crest and thick clouds were being blown in heavy shrouds over us. However, we could see clear skies on all the surrounding mountains and valleys in the tiny pockets of visibility granted us. We waited three hours hoping the mist would burn off or lift. A few times it seemed like it would, but the cloak always returned. We were nervous about climbing Chikamin in low visibility with the cliff faces we had seen the previous evening. It seemed unwise especially when our brains were still shot from yesterday’s epic. We made the agonizing decision to abandon Chikamin and press on through more question mark terrain after concluding the low clouds would probably hang around for several more hours if not the rest of the day. We knew we already had at least 6 hours of travel ahead to reach Spectacle Lake.

There is a faint trail from Chikamin Lake back to the PCT. But is is a vague trail in the summer through a maze of benches, ledges and cliffs topped off with a steep ascent to another ridge crest to gain the PCT. Add early season steep snow slopes and, you guessed it, more sketch moats to this and you’re basically back to route finding and hoping the way you choose will go. However, this experience wasn’t nearly as taxing as the previous day. We managed to navigate down to Glacier Lake after climbing into and out of a moat, traversing 30 degree slopes and navigating through a partially snow covered boulder field full of traps. From there we crossed a high plateau and faced the wall guarding access to the PCT. Again, we got lucky and chose the correct route up to the top of the ridge on steep snow finally gaining the PCT or patches of it anyway. At that elevation it was mostly snow covered.

It didn’t matter that the PCT was partially concealed though. After what we had experienced this route- finding was peanuts to us. We easily made our way to Park Lakes and then began the long descent down to Spectacle Lake. Of course as we lost elevation the bare parts of the trail increased until we were walking on mostly dry switchbacks.

It was strange to camp on Spectacle Lake and hear voices of nearby backpackers. We didn’t like it even though the lake wasn’t crowded. I think it was the first time since last fall that we camped in the near vicinity of other parties! We’re used to solitude. We had to shelter from the mosquitoes in the evening. A stark reminder that summer climbing season has officially begun and we were more likely to run into people and insects on our trips moving forward.

 

Day 4:

This was by far the least eventful day as it was completely spent on a maintained trail. We departed the lake at 5:30 hoping to beat the heat and the mosquitoes on the 11 mile trek to the Pete Lake TH. We managed to beat the insects and sun until the final 5 miles. Suddenly the buzzing, biting, vermin were waging war on us and battling them with chemical warfare (aka: deet) was doing nothing. All we could do to escape was walk as fast as possible without stopping which thus caused us to get overheated. It was pretty torturous and we dove into the car when we finally reached the TH to escape. This concluded our epic alpine adventure which we realized had been a gigantic loop around Spectacle Lake! Maybe it wasn’t the trip we intended. However, although not full of summits, it certainly wasn’t void of knowledge gained, epic adventure and raw beauty. I could have done without the mosquitoes though!

Damien and I have been looking for the opportunity to try our our new Katabatic Expedition Tent. Lots of new snow had fallen over the week when the freezing level dropped to 2500 feet and we figured that made this weekend the perfect time to do so. Our destination was a far as we could get on the Plateau near Slippery Slab.

We began at the Surprise lake TH. There was about an inch or two of snow right from the start and it slowly increased as we gained elevation. There was a boot track in for about two miles. It was pretty easy to break trail though as the snow was no more than 5 inches up to the junction with the Trapp Pass Trail. However, as we began the switchbacks up to the pass with shimmering, fat snowflakes falling from the sky things began to get more challenging. By the time we reached the top of Trapp Pass we were cutting our way through 12+inches of fluffy powder.

We were granted in and out views of the ridge we were about to follow and Slippery Slab in the distance. We had been in this very spot just over a year ago when we had section hiked the PCT and turned off to do a side trip up Thunder Mountain. It looked very different now, but very gorgeous indeed. As more snow feel and the mist traded places very few minutes with hints of blue sky we turned off the trail and began to navigate along the ridge. The climbers trail was impossible to distinguish so we basically stayed the the right side of the ridge and cut through the trees and snow. Sometimes the snow was just a few inches and other times it was knee deep. When we exited the ridge and came out below the rock band on the left side the the ridge the fluffy snow was wind loaded and the high angled slope. We fought our way though waist deep snow. There was no base we found ourselves dropping into tree wells and gaps in the talus. It was more like swimming and cutting a deep channel than climbing.

After a long traverse we swam up though shoulder deep snow and up to the basin below Slippery Slab Tower. But then we were pretty beat and we nervous about all the pothole traps in the big boulders and talus hidden by snow that laid ahead. It was also getting on to evening. We found a ncie flat place on the edge of the basin by the ridge and dug our a large platform to set up our giant tent. Wow is it gigantic. The wind picked up a few times at night, but we only heard the wind in the trees. The tent barely flapped or made a sound. Bomber!

About two inches of snow feel overnight, but luckily we had cut a huge trench the day before on our way up from the basin and it was very easy to follow it back down to Trapp Pass. The same was true to the rest of the track back. A few more weeks of snow like this and there will be a good enough base to start climbing and skiing!

Damien and I headed out for a backpack/scouting trip this weekend. The Enchantment permits were finally over and although weather and snow conditions were not promising for climbing Cashmere Mountain we decided to head in that direction anyway and scout out the route. We were happy to discover that Eightmile Road was still open. The trail was snow free to about 6000ish feet just before the pass above Lake Caroline. At the shore of Caroline there were a few sets of boot tracks and we got  abit turned around trying to identify the set of tracks that were actually following the trail to Little Lake Caroline .5 miles away. Although heavy rain was predicted we only experienced light to no rain right until we set up our tent on Little Lake Caroline. Then a cold, steady rain settled in.

It was still early in the day though and less than stellar weather never really deters us, so we set out to take a look at the trail to Windy Pass. We wanted to start in the dark the next day so we figured we’d see what we were in for… plus we had a feeling that just a bit higher up the rain would turn to snow and we love snow! As we suspected the rain did turn to snow at about 6600 feet and it was beautiful! We turned back once we got to the basin 400ft from the pass so we could turn in early. There had been a boot track the whole way so we weren’t too concerned about finding our way to Windy Pass.

The next day we woke before the sun and headed out. The rain had turned to snow overnight and there was fresh dusting at our camp and thicker fresh powder the more elevation we gained. Boot prints were blown out starting just we we had turned back the afternoon before in the basin. We put on our snowshoes and pretty easily navigated up the the ridge line just right of Windy Pass enjoying a fiery sunrise the sunrise! The clear skies didn’t last though as as we followed the ridge snow began to fall. No trouble there though. It gave things a more alpine feel! The ridge to Cashmere was pretty mellow and broad until about 7600 feet where we reached a talus hump covered in the thin layer of fresh slippery snow. We were able to traverse this sketchy section, but at 7800 feet, just before the false summit we decided to call the scouting complete for the day. The rock there was much more vertical and climbing technical rock in thin, slippery snow was not on our agenda.

The snow cleared by the time we got back to camp and the sun appeared for the hike out. With all the fresh snow there a wonderful bounty of animal tracks on the trail! Winter is coming and I’m so so happy!

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.

With some significant rainfall in the outlook for Saturday and a chance on Sunday we had to revise our climbing plans. Instead we opted for a long backpack through the Pasayten wildness called Seven Pass Loop (27 miles), aptly named since it goes through 7 passes. The trip begins on the PCT North from the trailhead just a bit further than Harts Pass (pass #1). There was heavy mist and a bit of a typical WA drizzle when we started out with a nice crisp autumn feel ton the air. I love this type of weather (seriously, I do and that’s why I live in WA). The trail is pretty level and follows open slopes below Slate Peak where we had intermittent views of the wildness whenever the mist parted. As to be expected we ran into a good amount of through-hikers due to reach Canada and finish up the PCT next day. We crossed over Buffalo Pass and then went up a few switchbacks to the top of Windy Pass. From there the trail descends a bit through larches (still green but they will turn soon). Then we followed along more open slopes and onto a ridge. We crossed Foggy and Jim Pass and didn’t even notice! The trail eventually switchbacks down for a long time until reaching Holeman Pass at 5000 feet. But then it was raining pretty steadily. In fact there had been a mini flood running down the trail!

At Holeman Pass there is a signed 4 way junction. We left the PCT and turned right onto connector trail #472A. This trail is not nearly as well kept as the PCT. There are fallen logs to cross over and places where the grass is encroaching on the trail. The fallen trees are easy to go over, under or around though and it is pretty impossible to loose the trail. It is still what i would consider maintained. It’s just not immaculate. There was a fair amount of mud. I’m not sure how much was a result of the rain, but it seemed live the area was just damp in general.

The connector trail was flat so the two miles to the next signed junction went quickly. We turned right again onto the West Fork Pasayten River (Slate Peak 8 miles). The trail follows the Paysaten River though it cannot be seen at first. It was in the same condition as the connector trail. There is a campsite in about a mile on the shore of Shaw Creek which the trail crosses. The next set of camps is about 2 miles further at the next creek crossing. But then it was about 5:30pm and we were pretty cold and damp. We decided to call it a day and set up camp at a small site in the trees above the creek. It’s always an adventure setting up camp in the rain, but we managed to keep things mostly dry. We were happy to remove of sticky goretex and cuddle into our puffys! It rained pretty hard all night.

The next morning it was still raining, but not nearly as hard. We packed up camp in the dark and began moving at first light. Two miles more down the river there is a bigger camping area. The trail crosses the river shortly thereafter and turns away from the West Fork. Finally there is some climbing as the trail ascended up the slope and then turns right to traverse the ridge moving very slowly upward. Not a steep grad by any means. The tree broke away about three miles from slate Peak which could be seen easily in the distance since the clouds had broken up and blue sky was appearing. We followed the open slopes to a talus and scree field below Haystack mountain. Here the trail switchbacks up the final few hundred feet the the road. We took a small side trip and followed the road right to the summit of Slate Peak and the Lookout (which is closed). At least we climbed one summit! We had great views from the top all the way to Canada!

From Slate Peak we followed the road back down to the car passing Slate Pass, the final pass. Rain never stops us!

 

After a few weeks of long climbs through rough terrain Damien and I decided to use the long 4th of July weekend ti complete a backpack that as been on my list a very long time: The Icicle Divide. The route goes from Stevens Pass to Leavenworth mostly along the top of Icicle Ridge and covers 45 miles. With light packs and on a trail that my book reported is sometimes get lost for a few yards, but is easily picked up again, we thought this would be a great rest weekend option for us. Oh little did we know….

 

Day 1: Stevens Pass to 1 mile Short of Mary’s Pass, 15 miles

We started out fresh, clean and with no abrasions on the PCT heading south at Stevens Pass. The trail wanders up and down through the ski area for several miles. This was reminiscent of when we hiked the PCT from Stevens to Snoqualmie. It was even the same misty weather! The trail finally turns away from the Mill Valley skiing area, passing lake Susan Jane and cresting over a small rise and reaching the first trail junction at 4900ft.  Here we turned off the PCT and onto the Icicle Creek Trail. This tread passes Lake Josephine and continues to descend and follow the Icicle Creek until 3800ft. Of course after loosing elevation one must go back up. Here we took The Chain Lakes steeply up for 1000ft, before it mellowed out a bit for the rest of the climb to Chain Lakes at 5600ft.

These chains of aptly names lakes sit beneath the Bull’s Tooth Ridgeline and offer spectacular camping. Of course it was way to early for us to set up camp! We still had many miles to travel. So under now blue skies and admiring lofty mountains views surrounding us we pressed on. We climbed switchbacks before the Upper Chain Lake to reach a small Pass Overlook Upper Doelle Lake on the other side and some gorgeous mountain views. There was snow ont he descent to the lake and due to the steepness we opted to use ice axes… Damien glissaded in shorts. I plunge stepped. The trail follows around the left side of the lake, crosses the outlet and then follows the waterfall down to the lower lake. When the terrain evens out you need to cross back over the outlet. Of course when i did this I fell and my foot went into a huge deep in the stream what had been concealed by overhanging grasses. Quick first-aid patched up the gash on my knee. We continued on around the left side of the lower lake the trail vanished into the thick grasses on the hill overlooking the meadow we were supposed to descend into. After some searching we decided to just go down off trail. Besides, the mosquitoes were getting to bad for us to do too much looking for the actual trail.

Once in the meadow at 5600 ft we stayed left as my book described until we found the trail heading back into the forest. The trail climbs up Icicle Ridge gradually and reaches the high point of the ridge at 5800ft. Note that close to the top of the ridge there is an flattish area that appears to be a junction of some kind. Stay to the right here. It was evening now and we still have two passes to cross over. The trail along the ridge was thin, but we were able to follow it just fine for some time admiring the emerald green slopes that surrounded us. Then suddenly the trail stopped short on top of what seemed to be a small mudslide area. We could not locate the trail or think of any alternate but to drop down into the basin below and hopefully find the trail somewhere.

We dropped down to the shadowed green basin filled with zig zagging streams and buzzing mosquitoes. We played with the idea of setting up camp since it was already about 7pm, but opted against it as the insects seemed lick the deet right off us. Instead used the GPS to point ourselves in the direction of Frosty Pass and followed the course… a course through thick brush, tall grass, nearly vertical slopes and fallen timber. Oh, and we were still wearing shorts. However, we did stumble back onto the trail… feeling a bit more torn up than we had at the beginning of the day. We followed the trail to the forested Frosty Pass, staying the Icicle Ridge Trail at the junction. Now getting close to 9:00pm we were able to see Mary’s Pass still far in the distance… I think the one mile calculation from Frosty Pass was wrong in the guide. We decided that 15ish miles was good enough for the day and if we could find a place to camp by water before Upper Lake Florence, our original destination beyond Mary’s Pass, we would call it a day. As it turned out we did find a flat place near a creek 800ft below the pass. We quickly set up the camp…we were so tired and hastily trying to escape the mosquitoes that we could not find the cross bar for the tent when we dumped everything onto the ground, so we used our poles instead. Then we dove into the flyless tent and watched the buzzing mosquitoes swarm outside… they didn’t go away until almost 11pm. Thats when we finally went back out to filter water and have dinner.

 

Day 2: To Lake Augusta, 10 Miles

We rose to a windy, cold more that felt much more like fall then summer weather. Better than being hot though and no bugs! There was heavy misty swirling around us in the winds as were packed up and left camp to climb the final 800 ft to Mary’s Pass. We did come across some snow going up the pass and led us to taking out our axes again. But the switchbacks were easy to find between snow patches. On top of the Pass we did see much aside from the swirling light. We did get a glipse of Florence lake about 400 feet below before it too vanished in the mist. We continued to traverse along the ridge and soon found ourselves on Ladies Pass with a similar view. From here it was like we entered late autumn. Thick mist swirled around us as we traversed gullies, small basins, scree and jagged and rocky ridges. We crossed some snow, but did not take out of the axes. This continued until we finally dropped down into a deep snow filled and wind blasted basin. Here through waves of mist we could see still mostly frozen Lake Edna. There was single tent on the shore getting completely battered by the strong gusts.

We followed the trail away from the lake. The ski began to clear up a bit and the winds died enough for us to stop for a small break, but they never truly settled down. The trail drops about 2000 feet all the way down into the forest to Index Creek at 4800 feet. And then, you guessed it, we had to go all the way back up again. We climbed about 1000ft through the forest until things began to open up near a cascading creek. We lost the trail and picked our way up the steep and, in places, snowy slope, until we found ourselves back on the trail. We climbed to about 6600feet to a wide flat area and followed carins to our left to the saddle overlook the next valley at Big Jim Mountain at 6700 ft. Of course we once again went down into the valley and followed a small stream on think tread before crossing it after .25 miles. The crossing is barely visible. We could only found it because it was on the gps tracker. The next landmark is Carter Lake. The trail goes around it to the right and then to a junction. Following the Icile Ridge trail we now followed more eastern WA landscape up steep switchbacks across grass and ponderosa pine to the high point of the backpack at 7200 ft atop of the saddle of Big Jim Mountain. Here is was extremely windy, but the views were spectacular. On one side to the west we could see the distance passes we can crossed to get there. It was stormy looking. To the east it was sunny and we could see Lake Augusta below and distant Cabin Creek Valley and the section of Icicle Ridge we would walk along the next day. We knew already it would be a long day, but for now were were almost to camp!

We descended about 400 feet to lake August and made a nice camp in the trees on the far shore near the outlet steam. We had to be careful not to loose anything in the strong wind, but we were mostly protected by the trees and shrubs around us. At night we could see the town lights of Leavenworth, Cashmere and beyond. It was beautiful and I was glad we were in the alpine and not in the town. I rather watch from a far distance in the solitude of the mountains.

 

Day 3: to Leavenworth… a relentless 18 miles

Even though we had turned in hours before dark the night before it still seemed like the alarm rang all too soon at 3:20am. We antisipated a long day though. My book indicated the the section through Cabin Creek presented the thinnest trail. Furthermore, two hikers we’d run into coming from the opposite direction as us the day before mentioned that the resent burn and overtaking forest had made that section of the trek horrendous. We wanted to start moving quick and we shouldered out packs a little before 4:30am.

It was still windy and mist hung over the mountains. The rising sun reflected off the fog turning it shades of pink and orange. We descended at first following the outlet stream before we began to switchback up the ridge to our left to the Junction of the Hatchery Trail. Here a sign marked that the Icicle Ridge Trail was not maintained. We would come to believe that the last time the trail was maintained was when it was built.

At first it wasn’t so bad. We followed along a dry ridge top that looked a bit moon-like. Sometimes we lost the trail, but with a bit of searching we always regained it easily. It was when the trail turned off the ridge to descend into the creek that we ran into trouble. The trail vanished. Did not exist. Our GPS told us more than once we were standing right on it as we plunged straight down through the grasses it and it was not there. after passing the grassed we found our way through think pine forest riddled with fallen logs and then when that was over we thrashed our water through barely penetrable side alter. I swear these type of plant gets angry at you for stepping on it. The branches grab were ankles and hit you in the face on purpose! Then it was through another layer of pine and another layer of alder… and we were only the valley floor. We crossed soggy marshes and walked through some less dense forest until finally reaching Cabin Creek. Panting we crossed the log jam and rested here until the mosquitoes got to be too much. Then we walked to the edge of the marsh and followed in left until an organge ribbon marked the trail going into the forest. A TRAIL!!!!!!

We followed this trail marked by ribbon for about ten minutes until it entered a burn left over from the Cabin Creek Fire. If i recall this area burned last year and because the soil was now so fertile it was overgrown by fireweed, shrubs, grasses and alder. No trail at all. We continued to fight upward through the thicket that was at times insanely steep. We tired to go to the left to where the trail was supposed to be at one point, but fighting the alder proved to be just too much. We decided to go higher to where the alder was thinner before traversing. It was painstakingly slow, painful and frustrating work. We battled the grasses, alder and then the thick and steep pine forest ascending to 5800ft and then back down  in search of the trail and by some brilliant stroke of luck we found it at 5500ft. Words cannot come close to describing how elated we were!

Finally back on overgrown, but defined trail we traversed to a low saddle and then switchback up the the ridge-top at 6700ft (carins helped at times). It was once again extremely windy and with hoods up and traversed the top toward the distance black rock outcrop marking the high point off the ridge. There were a few ups and downs on the way and sometimes we lost as much as 500ft. Luckily the heavy misty was swirling enough to sometimes provide views of The Enchantments (Colhuck, Argonaut, Drangontail) and Stuart Range (Sherpa and Stuart). Plus of pain of the morning was beginning to wear off. The ridge was just like The Sound of Music and we loved it!

We finally crested the high Point near the junction of the 4th of July Creek trail. Ten miles to go! We continued a long the ups and downs the the ridges admiring the Enchantments and eventually getting views the desert-like eastern slopes. The trail lost elevation extremely slowly. In fact were were sure it would never descend all the way down. But abruptly the slow traverse a long the ridge-top turned into short and steep switchbacks down toward the canyon bottom. The short and steep switchbacks lasted above 1000ft until reverting to longer switchbacks but it all went faster than expected. Our feet hurt, but we seemed the fly down the ridge and we arrived back at the car at the Icicle Ridge Th at 8:30. Two hours before our expected ETA.

 

So not a rest weekend, but still pretty  awesome!

 

Damien had family obligation this weekend so Melanie and I decided to do the Enchantments Traverse with a side trip up Little Annapurna.  Melanie had never done a backpack with this much elevation gain or a scramble before so I figured this would be a good intro for her, plus she always wanted to do the traverse. The weather seemed unstable all week fluctuating from sunny to rainy to snowy. In the end it seemed like Saturday would be partly sunny with bad weather pushing in Sunday night and a washout for Sunday. This the plan was to get as far as we could on Saturday and camp at Leprechaun or Vivian Lake. That way it would lower down and the descent would require less navigation in low visibility since its pretty straight forward. I knew I needed to treat any decisions I made on this trip as though I were going solo since I was the only experienced one. I didn’t want to be in anything sketchy so this seemed like the best plan.

We thought we would have to walk the road, but it turned out of be open allowing us to bypass walking the 4 miles up gravel. I was elated since I’ve walked up the road about 5 times already in the past 6 months. The skies were cloudy, but no precip. The trail was much drier than expected almost no snow until we reached the Junction of Stuart and Colchuck Lake Trails. From here and up to the Colchuck Lake we encounters a few larger patches of snow, but nothing to significant.

Once at Colchuck Lake the snow cover increased. It was mostly snow around the lake, but there were still dry patches. Some were even rather large. There is a good boot track with the only tricky navigate being on the peninsula before the smaller lake. Below the talus field of Colchuck Col the ground was blanketed in snow, but there is a good boot pack. Aasgard Pass is pretty much 98% still under a thick blanket of snow.

We took a break before heading up the pass. The weather was still cloudy, but seemed okay and no storms that I could see were heading our way. After reviewing ice axe arrest to Melanie and deciding that the snow was much to soft for crampons we headed up. The summer route had no tracks on it. Instead the staircase of kick steps left straight up the center of the Pass. They was excellent  secure steps and I so easy to ascend I got a bit bored. About halfway up near the narrow gully to the left several route up branches away from the main steps. I opted to stay out of the gully and go straight up ascending a few areas of talus/scree that were melted out. Around 7000ft a cold wind suddenly came down the pass and several minutes later snow poured out of the sky. Hail was soon added to the mixture. With a few more layers on we continued up the pass hoping that maybe this would pass quickly. We hadn’t seen the system coming since it up from the Enchantment Core area where i could not see the sky. The system passed over in about 15 minute and things seemed to ease briefly, but then another wave came followed by another. We could see the storm system passing over us and then onto Cashmere and they all looked menacing. Melanie was getting her first taste of how unpredictable alpine weather could be. The bad weather had basically come in early at 2:00pm.

We finally reached the top of the pass. I felt surprising good after ascending 2200ft in 3/4 miles. Melanie was pretty spent though, more from being unfamiliar with how to mentally manage alpine elements than the physical exertion. It was much colder than forecasted at the top. About 30 degrees and visibility was low in the snow.  The ground was fully snow covered and snowshoes would be a good idea (which we had). We layered up, ate and considered the options. We could press on with the plan skipping Little Annapurna to make sure we got to Vivian. But the unexpected cold made me wary with our ultra light three season tent, 30 degree bags and medium weight puffys. Route finding in low visibility and searching for tracks that were filling up with snow at that moment also raised a red flag. With an experienced person to assess decisions on direction with me I would have felt pretty confident about moving forward in the storm, but I had to treat this with I was solo. The right thing to do was to descend to the lake were it was warmer and I could easily find the way out back the way we had come in the morning.

This turned out to be great opportunity for Melanie to learn some alpine climbing techniques. We plunge stepped down the first 3rd of the pass and then glissaded the rest of the way down. Melanie did great and successfully self arrested to stop her glissade too! The glissade itself was pretty awesome. Prefect snow conditions and a fun ride down.

We camped at the edge of the lake below Colchuck Col in what remained of the severed trees from an avalanche last this winter. Luckily we were able to camp under three trees that remained standing to shield us from some of the rain. We stayed relatively dry that night, though the rain pounded pretty loudly on the tent. I was glad to not be on the high plateau.

We woke to a still rainy morning though it wasn’t a downpour anymore. We broke camp and headed back to the TH. The miles went by pretty quick once we got around the lake. We got  abut turned around on the tricky peninsula, but found our way back on track. And of course just as we reached the TH the sun started to come out just a little… but blue skies never revealed themselves. Not quiet our original plan for the weekend, but still a fun experience.

Damien and I contemplated attempting a summit bid of Cashmere Mountain  for about a week. But as the weekend approached and we studied the weather it appeared that the Cascades were win for a massive dumping of snow! Saturday and Sunday night the freezing level was supposed to drop as low as 4,000ft! Excited for the season’s first major snow accumulation event we prepped to climb Cashmere in light snow (5 inches was predicted) and mentally prepared for this trip to end up being just a backpack due to the weather conditions. Either way the promise of the first snow was exciting. We missed it!

The drive to Leavenworth proved to be an obstacle course of swerving around massive rocks and downed trees on the highway. When we arrived at  the Eightmile Lake Trail-head On Saturday morning rain was cascading out of the grey skies. Fat, cold drops of rain to be exact. The wind was something fierce too though not as horrible as we’d had it on Rainier. Covered in Gore-Tex from head to toe Damien and I braved the storm and entered the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

The first 3 miles of the trail only gains 1000 very gradual feet. By the time we reached the Junction of Little Eightmile Lake we were dripping wet (though the gore-tex was still holding up). But we were still in good spirits. We hoped that maybe as we climbed the rain would turn to snow. However, as we turned onto the Trout Creek trail and began the climb it appeared the rain continued to thrash us for freezing droplets. The wind began the howl through the valley below too making a sounds almost like ghosts which was appropriate since it was Halloween.

We climbed quickly up through the burn anxious to get to camp. From the top of the small pass above Lake Caroline we could see that it was indeed snowing higher up on Windy Pass in the distance. We followed the long switchbacks down to the lake and followed the trail to our first creek crossing. The water was very high and the logs that were supposed to be used for the crossing were fulling submerged. Luckily to the left  a few yards upstream there were few logs and rocks that were not overly submerged and provided a safe crossing. Another 1/2 mile on the trail we were awarded with our second risky crossing, this one more treacherous than the first. The logs, again, were under deep water. To the left there was a log jam. Somehow we managed to cross those logs some of which were floating and not anchored to the creek-bed.

When we arrived at Little Lake Caroline a lot of the tent sites were occupied with massive puddles. We found one that was just muddy though and put up the tent doing our best to mitigate the rain getting inside our little home. Then we waited… and in the early evening the rain turned to snow!

We woke up the next morning to 1.5 feet of snow, much more than predicted. And huge flakes were still cartwheeling in vast numbers through the sky! We assessed that we could make up up to Windy Pass. However, we doubted that we could make up to the summit of Cashmere with this very fluffy new snow, especially through the exposed section. We also had concerns of being able to find the trail out after another few hours of snowfall. We decided that the safest option was to head out.

It was winter wonderland! We decided to walk around Little Lake Caroline instead of attempting the creek crossing again. On the second crossing the water level was a bit lower so we were able to use the direct logs. We lost the faint trail a few times in the deep snow, but luckily we managed to get it back. The snow line ended up being at about 4000ft exactly. But we we got below it the temperature was cold enough for snow to be falling instead of rain which was a very welcome relief from what were were expecting.

We arrived back at the trail-head all too soon, but we were very happy! The season’s first snow!