Mt. Washington

Lousy weather was coming in. A crust was on top of a few feet of recent snow. Gary and I chose to stay closer to home. We had not done Mt. Washington in the winter. The avalanche danger was not high at lower elevations making this a good bet. We met at Eastgate at 7:45 and were through North Bend, off at Exit 38 and into the lot by 8:15. The road up to the lot was plowed with snow on both sides. A turn around was plowed at the end. We were the first to arrive and parked along the side of the turn around. The lot is smaller with all the snow but has room for about 8 or 9 cars. Another vehicle came in and it sat behind us with the motor running while we got ready. This was strange and Gary finally went over to it. Turns out it  was a Search and Rescue member involved in a practice exercise. By 8:25 we were on our way.

The short trail up to the road was very icy. The road to the railroad grade was plowed. Why? At the grade the plowing continued to the west while the grade east was under snow. We walked the gravel to the start of the Mt. Washington Trail. Once again there was no sign marking the start. We went only a short way and decided it was already time for Yak Trax. The snow was thin and packed down by snowshoes. There were clouds but also some sun shining through. This did not last long. The snow slowed us down but the fact it was packed down helped.

We took a break to remove clothing as it seemed unusually warm. Gary's thermometer read 41 degrees. That was about 5 degrees warmer than the expected high for the day. We slogged on and took another break at the Owl Spot. An earlier view out showed us the peaks across the valley. Now clouds had come in and the tops were hidden. It was also noticeably cooler. A few minutes later we reached the junction with the old trail. No visible prints went that way. At the creek crossing there was several feet of snow. We had to climb down and then back up again.

Our road walking continued. Forest gave way to an open snowy hillside. There were no signs of sliding or sloughing. Gary glided along but I began to posthole. The snow had a hard crust on it but when I broke though I sank a long way. After a fall through to my crotch it was time to break out the snowshoes. A little wind picked up and I was no longer overheated after the break. In fact light snow began and I put on a jacket too.

The earlier group put on snowshoes about where we did. All postholes ended. The trench became deeper. Without the trench we would have made much slower progress. We recognized the pond though it looked more like a snowy meadow. The route went left from there then back to the right and went much farther fairly flat than I recalled. The trail then split. A gentle uphill looked like where the new trail leaves the old road. Another route headed straight up an opening in the forest. We chose to take the lower route. In short order it ended. Not wanting to break trail we headed back and took the other route.

Within a few minutes we intersected the trail once again. A little more traversing to the left and we were at the bottom of a big open slope. The track went steeply up though not straight up. With any signs of avalanche we would not have gone up. The steps were hard and made for easy climbing though with a few larger steps. At the top of the slope we were back on the summer trail. We began a gentle traverse to the right that took us all the way to the north ridge. By now it was snowing a bit harder. There would be great views here on a clear day but we could not see much of anything. The trees here were also much more heavily flocked.

The trail does not stay on the ridge. It traverses across the slope on the east side. I was concerned that the track would be angled making for a tough traverse. Instead, a nice flat track crossed the slope. In a few minutes we reached the road below the summit. We could walk the road left to the summit ridge and walk easily up. We chose to follow the track straight up the slope. It did not follow the summer trail but headed straight up to the summit. Steep but with reasonably good snow we went straight up. We topped out on the 4400' summit in the hardest snow of the day. The summit rocks were completely buried. The bottom of the weather station tower was buried. Visibility out was nil.

We climbed into the trees. Branches were cut to create an open space with a good wind block. The thermometer now read 30 degrees, quite a drop from a few hours earlier. We arrived at 11:42 making for a not so fast 3:17 time up. With most of our clothing now on we were able to spend over half an hour on top enjoying lunch. Finally the cold drove us down. Our arriving footprints were already snow covered. Not buried but with about an inch of new snow.

We chose not to down climb the steep first part and instead walked down the ridge and took the road back to our tracks. Coming down was much faster. Back at the  pond we found a number of other tracks. It looked like an army headed past the pond on an old road. None took our route. It looked like just a couple snowshoe tracks headed back down. That group really packed down the trench and made descending even easier. We zipped along to the Owl Hike Spot where we met the first two people of the day. They went past the pond and on to the north ridge. Poor flotation led them to turn around. They met a group of four that continued on that route.

We kept snowshoes on all the way down to the railroad grade. The snow was softer and thinner than in the morning but there was enough to keep them on. We met only one more couple in the first half mile of the trail. Back at the trailhead there were now 8 or 9 cars. Some must have been heading along the grade or down to Twin Falls as we saw only four people all day. This was a fun trip. The tracks ahead made for easy navigation and no trail breaking. The falling snow, flocked trees, and minimal view made this seem much more alpine than a 4400' bump just a few miles from downtown North Bend. I would not have followed our route with anything but low avalanche danger but with the right conditions it was a blast. A fun winter day in early spring in the mountains.

Plowed Road/Trail
Brief Sunshine
Clouds Roll In
Washington Creek
Snowshoes On
Deeper Trench
Gary On Open Slope
Road/Trail Below
Jim Ascending
Back To Forest
Gary On Summit
Weather Station
Descending Ridge
Road Below Summit
Traversing Slope
Icy Trees
Tracks Near Pond
Naked Forest
Recrossing Creek
GPS Track
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Photo Page 2

Trips - 2009