What a difference a week makes. The previous Saturday
we hiked up to 3000' before encountering enough snow to cover the trail.
We failed to reach the summit of Pratt Mountain due to insufficient snow
on the ridge at 4600'. The next seven days brought a net of over 3 feet
of new snow to Snoqualmie Pass. We discovered that there was much more higher
up. I joined Gary and Mark for this trip. Mark and I met Gary in Issaquah
at 7:30 and headed for the pass. There was a little snow along the highway
beginning around Preston and most of the way thereafter. The drive was fine
though there was snow on the roadway from near the summit to our exit at
Hyak. The Department of Transportation folks had not done any plowing for
the sno-park and we squeezed into the last legal spot. There was no room
along the frontage road to park.
A group of Mountaineer snowshoers were getting ready to go and I recognized
Pete and was recognized by another member. A few cars had a healthy snow
cover and had obviously spent the night. We managed to be the first ones
to get going and had untrammeled snow. There was a packed trench on the
road/trail but it was covered by the 5 inches of new snow received over
night. The trees were heavily flocked, it was snowing lightly, and all
was right with the world. We made steady progress as the snow was so light
that we could slide right through it rather than the typical wet snow slog.
The snow soon stopped and we were able to strip down to long sleeve shirts.
I took the better weather as an opportunity to dig my camera out of
my pack. We cruised through the first few switchbacks when a couple of snowshoers
came up on us. They had no poles and powered right by us. With our new trail
breakers the going was even easier. Soon we had views out to the south.
It was cloudy enough to make it hard to see the ski areas right across from
us. We could see down and the highway was now plowed bare. On we went as
the route paralleled the highway then began to turn into the valley below
We caught up to the snowshoers as they turned off onto a side road
to the right. Mark and Gary stopped here for a bite to eat. I wanted to
keep going so I now had a chance to break trail. I had a tough enough time
just seeing the ground through my fogged up glasses. When I could find
the track from the day before the going was easy enough. It was probably
6 inches of new snow but easy to bust through. When I got out of the buried
track I quickly sank to my knees and more. I continued to break trail up
to the "T" where the road goes uphill to the right and downhill to the left.
Gary and Mark soon caught up and it was decision time. Staying on the
road to the right promised a buried track from yesterday. Turning left promised
more of an adventure. Left it was. I had brought my new fatter and shorter
touring skis and my snowshoes just in case. It was a good thing I did.
We skied a short downhill then followed the road uphill. Gary turned off
onto the gentle and mostly bare slopes to our right. At first all went
well. We gained a few hundred feet fairly quickly. A lone snowshoer had
been following our tracks and caught up with us. He decided to take a food
break and we continued on.
The fresh snow was now very deep. Gary and Mark had no problems but
I am considerably larger and my extra 40 or so pounds really made a difference.
I started sinking in to my knees even with skis. Even on moderate slopes
I could not get enough traction as I sank in deep. They pulled far ahead
and I decided it was time for snowshoes if I was ever going to reach the
lakes. While making the change I pushed my ski into the snow vertically and
reached resistance at a depth of about 60 inches. Yikes! No wonder I was
having some problems.
By staying in the ski tracks I "only" sank to about knee deep with
ever step. When I tried to cut a switchback I was wallowing up to my waist.
Granted, MSR snowshoes are not built for soloing in 60" of soft snow but
I was in a track set by two skiers. The going was agonizingly slow. At long,
long, long last I reached the lower lake. I was just about done in when the
other snowshoer caught up with me. He had been enjoying the trench I had
set and quickly offered to take the lead. With his help we made good time
up to the middle lake. Mark and Gary were well into their lunches.
When they had stopped earlier along the road I checked and my thermometer
read about 35 degrees. We were now some 600' higher and it read 26 degrees.
A cold wind was blowing and some light ice pellets. Now it really felt like
winter. After a nice lunch I was ready to get moving to warm back up. I
was too beat to think about skiing down and elected to snowshoe down the
nice trench. Gary and Mark had a great time skiing down. I took about 1/5th
the time to descend as to ascending. Once back on the road it was time
for me to switch back to skis.
The upper road was very good skiing. The only problem was the mass of
humanity that was now coming up. Most folks were good about getting out
of the way but several dogs would not get out of the way necessitating controlled
crashes. Several snowshoers also would not cede the right of way. I wish
I had the skill to jump out of a deep trench to go around them but that
was not an option. All in all, descending the upper half was great. Lower
down the snow became much slicker. My legs were about dead after all the
trail breaking and now I was in no shape for ice. All went well as near the
last switchback Gary had a pole failure. I gladly offered mine and switched
back to snowshoes.
The lower road was now so hard that boots would have been fine but I
kept on the snowshoes so as not to cause any postholes. Near the bottom
it truly became a zoo with large snowshoe parties, skiers, and lots of sledders
to avoid. When I finally reached the car there was another kind of zoo.
There must have been at least 50 cars illegally parked in the interchange,
all the way from Hyak to the start of our route on both sides of the road.
Under each "no parking at any time" sign was another car. I have never seen
anything like that before. If the one police car present could have written
a ticket for each car it would be a bonanza for Kittitas County.
This proved to be a huge change from the previous weekend. Five feet
of new and slowly consolidating snow was beautiful to see and quite a chore
to break trail through. The skiing was great and the snowshoeing was quite
a workout. I'm just glad we were there early before the crowds. The lakes
were well worth the effort.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Into The Clouds
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2006