Suzanne and I tried Higgins last winter. Soft unconsolidated
snow stopped us at the top of the boulder field well below the summit.
I was extended an invitation for a winter Higgins trip in a group where
I had only hiked with one other person. Kim and I picked up Carla and met
Janet, Mark, and Matt at the 128th St. Park and Ride at 7:00 AM. We were
on our way soon after. The area north of Seattle received from a few inches
to a foot of snow the past week. I was a little apprehensive about being
able to drive to the trailhead, even though it is at only 1350'. The snow
proved to not be a problem. There was one big log that had blocked the road
but has been removed. We found another fresh downed tree across the road.
It was not too big and three of us lifted it so the cars could pass. We reached
the trailhead at about 8:30.
There was a little snow at the trailhead but also some bare ground.
At 8:42 we headed out. The route used to start on a nice old road reverted
to trail. Since a new round of logging a few years ago it now starts with
a half mile or so of wide logging road. The road is moderately steep as
we gained over 500' before real trail began. This trail is across on old
clear cut. It is narrow and had some snow on it. We did now have views
out to Whitehorse and Three Fingers. Once across the clear cut the trail
There are a number of trees down along here but most were easy enough
to get over, under, or through. The boardwalks are mossy, rotting and very
slippery in the summer. This day they were snow covered and easy to walk
across. Soon we were dropping down for the always interesting crossing
of Dick Creek. A little before the creek we stopped to put on snowshoes.
With the shoes we rock hopped over one channel then over the other to the
far side. No slips into the water by anyone.
Once across the route begins a steady climb along side the creek.
For the most part we stayed on the summer trail. The west ridge of Higgins
soon took shape to our right. Our destination was the old Higgins lookout
site. There is also a middle then farther east real summit of Higgins. Ours
was the lowest but most accessible of the three summits. At 4849' it is
about 3500' above the trailhead. We chose to climb directly up the ridge
and run it to the summit instead of continuing up the valley on the route
of the summer trail. The snow provided good solid steps and the climb to
the ridge was fairly easy. Especially if you weren't the one breaking trail.
The ridge is heavily forested and has several good sized ups and
downs. For the most part the snow was pretty well consolidated on the
ridge. We climbed up then dropped over 100' to a saddle. There was only
one spot that was reasonable to continue up the ridge. We climbed up aiming
for this gap between two trees the would get us back on gentler terrain.
Janet had her foot step give way as she was pulling herself up between
the trees and I went down to lend a hand. The hand part worked well but
my snowshoe slipped and I managed to hit her in the head with my shoe. Oops!
Definitely not intentional. Everyone made it up that spot and we were back
on the move.
We continued a gentle climb and had another 100' descent. For the
most part the ridge was easy walking. At one point I came upon a post hole
that went way down in a gap between rocks. The ridge was very narrow here
and I gingerly stepped around it. We did have one short view out but for
the most part the forest was too thick. The map showed the ridge getting
very steep near the summit and we expected to have to contour around to
the north side. That's just what happened.
The traverse was across a very steep slope. If the snow was too hard
or icy I would not have tried it. At least not without crampons. As it
was the snow was soft but allowed fairly secure steps. It was too soft
for an ice axe to do much but we did get them out for the crossing. After
crossing below the summit we reached an mostly open slope on the north
side. This is where the summer trail switchbacks up. We were able to walk
directly up the slope. In short order we all topped out on the summit.
The forecast was for a high 6000' snow level and showers beginning
in the afternoon. We had clouds but no rain at all. It was warm enough
that Janet and I were in short sleeves much of the day. It was also windless
except for shortly into our summit stay. It was cold when the wind blew.
Mt. Baker was blocked by a peak but the Olympics were in the clear. Whitehorse
had some sun shining on the north face and Three Fingers was clearly visible.
Very nice views considering that the summit is under 5000'.
After at least half an hour on top we headed down. It took us nearly
4 1/2 hours to reach the top. We still had some 4 hours of daylight left
as we descended. The immediate question was whether to retrace our track
along the ridge top or descend the summer route to Myrtle Lake. We had
a short discussion at the place where we traversed under the summit and
the straight down route won. At first we were on a moderate ridge but as
it steepened we chose to head straight down the fall line. It was very steep
at first then became more gradual. The snow was about perfect for a steep
descent as we sank in enough to grip firmly but not sink too far. With hardly
a fall among us we reached gentle terrain.
The valley has a number of streams coming down from the ridge. The
snow was 10+ feet deep along both side of many of them. We seemed to always
be able to find a solid snow bridge to cross. We came to the big meadow
and followed along the edge of it. The summer trail is on the opposite side.
A larger creek came in on our right. We followed it through largely open
forest meadows. When the terrain began to drop more steeply we had another
discussion. To get to the lake we needed to be on the other side of the creek.
It was a good 10 or more feet down to the bottom with vertical walls.
We retraced our steps back up the valley and found a spot where we
were able to climb down a little and get across. A short time later we
ran into Myrtle Lake. It's tough to get down to the shore in the summer
but with all the brush buried by snow it was easy. We had a clear view all
around the lake. We did find a number of trees near the shore with half the
trunk cut out. Beavers? Hikers with no common sense? Either way those trees
will likely not live much longer.
Now it was time to figure our way back down. We headed away from
the lake on the left side of another deep creek trench. Dick Creek should
be right ahead of us. In a few minutes we reached it. Getting across was
not easy. We looked up and down and Matt found a reasonable spot. He tried
to stomp steps down but ended up sliding to the bottom. There was a log
across to an island. He took his shovel and dug away the snow to make for
a reasonably angled descent. In the mean time Mark dropped down and crossed
to the other side, kicking steps back up to the top of the trench. One
by one, we made our way down, across, and back up.
A short climb away from the creek and we were back to good terrain
for descending. We lost about 400' more and ran into our uphill tracks
where we headed up to the ridge. Now it was just a downhill slog to our
crossing of Dick Creek. The crossing proved to be no problem. The first
four were sitting waiting and had too much time on their hands. They
were busy making snowballs. A few came my way as I was crossing the creek.
Since none of them knew me they quickly stopped. I would not have been
mad but they did not know that.
Kim was the last to reach the creek. They all knew her. As she reached
the middle of the creek the snowballs began to fly. At first they all
missed then Janet began to zero in. Half a dozen direct hits later she
made it across the creek. It was now after 5:00 PM and daylight was waning.
A short way down the trail snowshoes came off and we booted it on out. Back
out of the woods in the old clear cut we had a nice view of Whitehorse with
the last of the day's sun. A lot of the snow along here had melting and
the footing was better than I expected.
Once back on the road the last half mile went by quickly. I reached
the cars at just about 6:00. It turned out to be a long day. We spent nearly
9 1/2 hours traveling a little over 8 miles. With ups and downs I would
say there was about 3800' of gain. Our loop provided a variety of terrain,
a nice summit, and a snow covered lake. The weather was a lot warmer than
expected and the rain held off. I had a chance to hike with a group of
new friends to a fun summit. Higgins is not an easy trip in the winter
but it was well worthwhile.
More comments, reports, and photos here:
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Crossing Clear Cut
Kim On Trail
Encased In Snow
Summit In Sight
Higgins & Skadulgwas
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2007