Mt. McCausland

Two years ago I took my first winter trip up Smithbrook Road, just east of Stevens Pass. Gary and I had a great time skiing and snowshoeing up Mt. McCausland. We chose a return trip for this day. Trail Pair had already planned this trip so we all agreed to meet at the trailhead. Gary and I met in Bothell at 7:00 am. We were all together and on the trail by about 9:00 am. The way begins by climbing up a gap dug in the high snow wall along the highway. We then had to hike along the top of the snow wall a good ways until we reached Smithbrook Road.

As has been the case for the last two months, the forecast was overly pessimistic. The partly cloudy skies turned out to be nearly entirely clear, at least over us. Moderate wind was only on the summit. The high temperature was more like mid 40s than the mid 30s forecast. All in all, it was a really beautiful day. Trail Pair got out ahead with just boots. The road was mostly snow with a snowshoe trench. The trench was rock hard. They did not need snowshoes until leaving the road after 2 1/2 miles.

Gary and I carried snowshoes and used skis to begin. We avoided the icy trench and set a track in the snow. Smithbrook Road gains elevation at a very moderate grade. After so many gray days this winter the colors were outstanding. Because of that we stopped often to take photos. Shortly before the first big switchback there was an igloo along the road. It looked to be very nicely done. We saw two cars at the trailhead. One was icy from an overnight stay and one had arrived that morning. It didn't appear that anyone was at the igloo.

Trail Pair were well ahead of us although we heard voices near the switchback. Rather than skiing up the switchbacks we chose to ski up through the trees along the creek. The route was easy, even for me. We soon popped back out on the road beyond the switchbacks. The views kept getting better as we gained elevation. Most of the rest of the road was gently up then down until the next switchback. At that point we caught up with Kolleen and Bob.

On our previous trip we skied along the creek to the left of a cliffy knoll. This time we saw snowshoe trench heading above the valley floor. I stashed my skis, Gary put his on his pack, and all four of us donned snowshoes. The route was easy to follow as it headed in the direction of Mt. McCausland gaining elevation at a consistent rate. When we reached a gully the route switchbacked up along side it. We entered the gully and could now see a ridge just above us.

This route went to the right of the knoll which our previous trip passed on the left. We soon came out of the thick forest into a more open forest and meadow area. We had good views of Lichtenberg Mountain and could soon see the left ridge and summit of Mt. McCausland. Kolleen and Bob were quickly back on the move while Gary and I lagged to take more photos. At the end of the road where we put on snowshoes I sank to my knees in the soft snow. The existing snowshoe trench really saved us a lot of time and effort.

There was still not a single cloud in the sky. It felt like 50 degrees. I was sweating like crazy. It was the last day of winter and it felt like late spring. The route wound around trees, went up and down, and generally was a lot of fun. The grade became steeper when we began the final 900' climb to the summit. Gary and I reached a point where the trench continued straight ahead but fresh tracks turned right. Kolleen and Bob were now making there own trail. I'm sure the other route went over to the Lake Valhalla overlook and likely down to the lake.

The snow was soft with a harder crust down 6 to 10 inches. It was just about perfect for snowshoeing. Especially when someone else was making the track. Thanks again Kolleen and Bob! As we climbed the views became better and better. Soon we could see Rock Mountain and Mt. Howard. The Chiwaukum Range came into view with Arrowhead Mountain a tiny bump below them. Mt. Stuart was in the clouds but Mts. Daniel and Hinman were cloaked in white. Nearer the summit we could see part of Lake Valhalla and then Glacier Peak. Glacier has been so bare the last few years. It was nice to see it all white.

At 12:15 we topped out on the 5747' summit. Only a cold wind kept it from being perfect. There are trees along the summit ridge but we could move to views of Sloan Peak and the Monte Cristo peaks. We were all ready for lunch at this point. It was about 4 1/2 miles to the top. After a nice stay on top Bob and Kolleen were the first to head down. Gary and I stayed a little longer. By about 1:30 we were ready to leave. The view was so nice I could have spent more time up there. Unfortunately, we had to get moving.

Gary switched to skis for the descent. I had the nicely packed snowhoe trench to speed my descent. Even out of the trench the going was easy. In places I sped past Gary and at times he zoomed by me. After dropping about 500' we met a lone snowshoer coming up our track. Back near the top of the gully I saw a couple with a dog at the top of the knoll. They were the only people we saw until the last couple miles of road.

I thought Gary might switch back to snowshoes for the forest section down to the road but he chose to ski all the way. It was an interesting descent on non metal edged touring skis. Back down at the road I switched back to skis for the descent. The trench was narrow and icy so I stuck to our morning track. We chose the road for the swichbacks instead of the forest we ascended. Back at the igloo a family was playing in the snow. We passed a couple more groups who were coming up. The descent was slow and steady but much better than slogging with snowshoes. Just what my tired legs wanted.

This was an excellent ski and snowshoe tour. The weather was nearly perfect. The snow was great. The summit view was well worth the effort. The crowds were non existent. What more could you ask for? The distance was 9 miles with about 2800' of gain counting ups and down. I'm sure I'll be back in another few years.

Snow Wall
Gary On Road
First Views
Blue Sky
Peaks Ahead
Near End Of Road
Snow Gully
Snowy Meadows
Untracked Snow
Mt. McCausland
Mt. Lichtenberg
Lichtenberg Again
Trail Pair's Tracks
Yet Another
Lilchtenberg Summit
Break Time
Glacier Peak
Mt. Daniel
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Photo Page 2

Trips - 2006