So I gotta give a quick thanks to Simon for dragging my sad ass up to Lake Serene a few weeks ago. In a world of exhaustion and shattered muscles and low red blood cell count and probably dehydration, someone recognized me from this blog. From the Mt. Hinman run, which was literally the opposite of my trek up to Serene, which I tackled with Simon and the Choose Mountains crew after a week of no sleep, running twice a day, and donating blood 24 hours prior. That’s how I deal with stress, what can I say? He was probably shocked that this panting, sweaty hiker had pulled off a 24 mile trail run. Yeah well in July 2015 I had all of my red blood cells and the legs of a fucking gazelle. In February 2016 I was more of a pre-hibernation bear.
So guys, I’m still here. I swear. Just lurking in the thick clouds and rain and snow that the Seattle winter has thrown at us. I mean shit, we broke a record for wettest winter on record. Meaning it was rainy by Seattle standards. So here’s a full dump of what I’ve been doing to try and survive the winter. This is where to go when avvy conditions are high, when you don’t want to lug 50+ lbs of gear, when you have no friends to tow your stuck car out of a snowbank because it’s 6am on a Saturday.
1) Boulder River. Here’s a better report from last year. I seem to always be the only one suggesting this one. What’s not to like?! It’s unbelievably green, and reminds me that the Seattle winter is good for some things. Many things thrive in these conditions. I am not among those things. It’s a 9 mile hike if you do the full trail, but honestly feel free to turn around after the third waterfall. It’d be a killer trail run too if you want a moderate distance without the technicality or elevation.
Boulder River gives you lush green moss, a rushing river, and a few surprisingly huge waterfalls, especially this time of year. The road is easy, it’s just over an hour from Seattle, and you get to enjoy the silence of the woods. Best of all, spring flowers should be popping up any day now! There is a great campsite about 4.5 miles into the trail right next to the river, and a few ~1 mile in if you want an easy one. In fact, if you duck off the trail at a certain point just before the first campsites, you’ll move from second growth forest to a much denser, older growth, suddenly surrounded by emerald colors and hanging moss on a small cliff above the river. But let’s keep that section vague enough to stay secret.
Warning: Pretty big blowout about 2 miles in. Other than that… super muddy. Basically its own mini river at some points. Bring your goretex everything.
2) Heather Lake. February 2015, again February 2016 (no pics this time).I spend a lot of time at Heather Lake. It was one of my first hikes out here (my first was really the DC route up Rainier, but that’s more of a climb, and is a hilarious answer when anyone asks). The WTA description says something along the lines of “good for a kid’s first ‘real hike!'” and my roommate and I thought “great, that means it’s good for moms!” We took our mothers here back in August 2014. Besides that, it has been a winter trip for me.
The road can be snowy, but usually not too bad. Clocking in at 4.2 mellow miles round trip, “Lake TwentyTwo Lite” is what I like to call it. Less exposure, not as steep, less avalanche terrain, and the same steep cliffs in the backdrop but slightly shorter. In winter you will want to bring microspikes, maybe snowshoes if the snow level has been low lately. But avvy danger is low, the trail is straightforward, and the lake is beautiful, especially if you can see the snow-dusted crags above it. In spring, you might be lucky enough to see frost flowers below the cliffs, which Jonathan and I encountered last year.
Warning: Look before you sit, because I dropped my trusty pocket knife up there. It will bloom with the tulips.
3) Hex Mountain. Sometimes you’ll be lucky and the east side will clear up. So if you’re bold enough to drive through blizzard conditions at Snoqualmie, this is when you go hit up Hex Mountain. 6 mile snowshoe, the occasional steep section, but mostly quite manageable. If you have an affinity for slogging through powder (or more fun, running back down through powder), you could give it a shot without snowshoes. Great views of the Enchantments and even a peak at Hinman and Daniel if you’re lucky.
Warning: very tight parking, and the road (though paved) is quite icy. We got towed out of a snowbank after trying to dig the truck out with our ice axes. My buddy had forgotten to bring chains, but remembered his tow straps!
Tip: stop at Owen’s Meats in Cle Elum on the way home and get a steak. Or some jerky. Crap, I’m drooling. Get the ribeye. Or the NY strip. Filets are for the weak.
4) Skyline Lake. This is a sweet snowshoe or ski up by Stevens Pass. It’s 3 miles round trip, so if you’re camping, you can set up camp, ski or snowshoe back to the lodge for burgers and beers and real bathrooms, and then return to your snowy paradise to sleep. I have yet to spend the night there, but I have several friends who (miraculously) found their way back to camp after enough whiskey to inebriate a buffalo while I happily drove home in my warm dry car to sleep in my warm dry bed.
Warning: Get there early, or the parking lots will be full. If you have 4WD, tell them you’re dropping something off and you’ll definitely find a spot that the plebs in their sedans and summer tires couldn’t ready. Don’t drink and ski. Okay, drink a little and ski. I’ll watch and laugh.
5) Kendall Peak Lakes. Or Gold Creek Pond, which is where we thought we were going, until we had been snowshoeing/skiing for two hours and I knew we couldn’t possible take that long to go a single mile. Gold Creek Pond is 2 miles round trip and very flat. Kendall Peak Lakes is 9 miles round trip, and not as flat. I. Freaking. Counted. 1600 Steps. And turned around to Surafel and yelled WE DEFINITELY MISSED THE POND but we had gone too far to give up. But it was a lovely snowshoe along a wide road and trail until the very end, and I hear the views are lovely when you aren’t socked in by trails.
And I ran into Michael at the lake, who came up Rainier with us in the summer. He introduced me as “mountaineer extraordinaire, who has climbed Rainier twice!” to his snowshoeing class, and then they all got to watch me work on my pizza slice and faceplant on skiis instead of be a bad ass.
Warning: Don’t test out new ski boots on this one. I had a blister the size of a silver dollar on my heel. I had to wear flip flops for the next three days. In January. I looked great at work.
Tip: Make sure you’re on the right trail. Don’t be lazy and stop caring about life and love and beauty just because the Seahawks are down 31-0. Also don’t take off your skiis before packing down a nice spot to sit. I hopped off my skiis and landed in chest deep powder. Which is nice and fluffy and fun, until you realize you’re stuck.
6) If you get lucky enough, and it’s clear, head up to Artist Point. Here’s your packing list:
- The ten essentials (lazy start here) x3 for your noobie party
- Hot chocolate or tea (the 11th essential in winter)
- Common sense and bravery
- Wrists that did not just get rebuilt with steel plates and screws after being shattered
- Two fully functioning ACL tendons per person, one in each leg
- A general knowledge of snowshoeing and acceptance that snowshoeing is not always just around a golf course a la Eastern Massachusetts
- Optional: A zen mantra to repeat when your helpless party members flail in snow and realize they do not know how to snowshoe
My mother and brother visited in mid February, and I mean let’s be real I’ve been waiting 18 months to show them what freaking Shuksan looks like in person. You all know how I feel about Shuksan. Ned had just gone snowshoeing and loved it, my mother said she’d be fine despite her fresh wrist, okay great I’ll go reserve some rental snowshoes for the weekend and we’ll go to Artist Point woo!! I was pumped. The forecast was grim but we thought what the hell, let’s go for it. Ned had 24 hours of music he wanted to share that he had collected over the past few months and my mother had a year of pent up gossip and questions, so a 3 hour car ride would be okay.
The beginning was great. Ned had no idea how to put on snowshoes and kept tripping himself. My mother was already behind. I was decked out in my usual mountaineering gear, realizing I’d probably have fit in better if I had showed up wearing jeans. “We’re going up THAT?”! They were both shocked. I forgot my mother was afraid of heights. And my brother was already complaining he was tired. And my mother couldn’t risk falling because she had a broken wrist. And two barely functioning ACL’s. And there I was, telling both of them that they had told me they’d be fine, simultaneously realizing they probably would have been fine if it was a New England snowshoe around a lake, and eventually coming to the conclusion that I had taken them to a snowshoe that miiiight have been pushing it a bit.
I dragged them up the slope because I’m a selfish unforgiving person, took them across the flat part to where they could have seen Shuksan if it was clear, and sat down to have snacks. We did not tackle the final section to actual Artist point, which was a bummer because I like showing people how deep the snow is using the parking lot bathroom as a scale (it’s usually buried).
On the way down, Ned was fine. My mother hid her eyes on the slope. She joked that she needed those horse blinders that only allow you to look forward. The powder was too fluffy to glissade, but the slope was too steep for her to walk. I should have shown her the pic of my friend diving headfirst down a similar slope into powder. The pinnacle of hilarity was her sitting on her ass in the middle of a learn-to-backcountry-ski group working on their kick turns around her while she tried to scoot down a six foot slope and I debated whether to laugh or cry.
The two of them are troopers and made it back to the parking lot alive, and by then it had started to clear up! We dropped the snowshoes and poles in the car and I made them walk over to Picture Lake so they could get a glimpse of Shuksan towering over everything. Had to make the 3 hour drive worth it. So you could say we drove 6 hours round trip for a 2 hour snowshoe and a five minute view of Shuksan from a parking lot. They’ll never get the “in the middle of the mountains” feeling at this rate.
Warning: Don’t be afraid of heights or deep powdery snow.
Tip: No, the skiiers in bounds will not randomly ski out of bounds. No, the backcountry skiiers will not crash into you. They assume you as a snowshoer have no idea what you are doing and will dodge accordingly. You are a traffic cone. Especially with those red REI rental snowshoes.
(Disclaimer: my family is great and Calvin and my father whined just as much going to Blanca Lake as my mother and Ned did going up Artist Point. It’s a Jakubowski thing. If we aren’t whining we’re probably bored.)
Where Not to Go
Answer: halfway up Eldorado. “I’m sick of bailing because of weather!!” proclaimed John, a few days before my birthday. It looked like there might be a clear window Saturday morning, so we grabbed Simon who had just learned crevasse rescue and headed out Friday evening to start climbing at 8:30pm. I strapped skiis and snowshoes and avvy gear onto my pack, laughing at the hilarious idea of me carrying that much weight on the Eldorado approach. The very approach that made me swear last time to not ever carry more than 40lbs up that shit again. Psych.
We crossed the first log over the river without dying. We got slightly sidetracked in the dark and eventually found the trail after fighting through downed trees and branches and mosses. I was in a world of misery. It was raining, it was 11 pm, this is so steep, why did I wear these shoes, why am I carrying skiis, why did I also bring snowshoes, why didn’t I work out all winter, when are we going to be at the boulder field, WHAT WAS I THINKING. I almost gave up like 6 times. You guys know me, I’m usually a head-down-plow-through-it-eff-everything type. Not on this. I was a “waaahhhhhhh, helpppp, my liiiiiiife” type. I also drank all of Simon’s water because I knew if I took my pack off, I would not be putting it back on. The skiis stick up two feet above your head and hit every branch, and stick down a foot below the pack so there’s no good way to put the pack down. Brutal. And there’s nothing like army-crawling under logs because you can’t figure out how to get the skiis to fit.
We made it to the boulder field, excited for snow, hoping for perfect crampon conditions, or at least good snowshoe conditions. No. It was 45 degrees and raining, not 25 and snowing like the forecasts all said. It was a mess of slush and slipping and getting stuck in snowshoes and after like 100 vertical feet we pulled over to the side, gave up, and set up camp. I love digging, and was beyond thrilled to be shoveling out a platform. It was 1am, that’s past my bedtime, and if the snowpack were a person, I’d have punched them in the face. I take a lot of pride in being decent at breaking trail, but this… no sir.
The next morning (happy birthday me!) we took off to try and gain elevation. John and Simon were optimistic. Or maybe they were pretending. Needless to say, snow conditions deteriorated as we started climbing, and eventually with a few mini avalanches and plenty of postholing (in snowshoes) and slipping and fighting up the slope, we decided to just go back to the tent and hang out. John snowboarded down while I got myself stuck several times and Simon… I don’t know, he seemed to have a fine time walking. I needed a personal helicopter, or a zip line to the bottom, or the power of teleportation.
Back at the tent Simon and John surprised me with a birthday cupcake and Sweet & Sour Pork which I’m pretty sure is the best and hardest to find dehydrated meal out there. We napped for a few hours (4-5 hours of sleep Friday night was not much) and woke up around 5, debating whether to go down then or not. Nah, let’s just stay. Nothing to do back in Seattle, plus if we wait until Sunday we can go out for steaks on the way back.
And that’s exactly what we did. The trip back down was not as miserable as the way up, and went much faster. I have never been so happy to see my car.
Tip: Stop at Rhodes River Ranch in Oso and get the ribeye, or the Oso burger, or the bison burger, or the prime rib. It is amazing. Also, the bathroom at the Eldorado trailhead is five stars right now. Fresh two ply toilet paper, no stink. Love it. And the brewery in Darrington has free dinner on Friday nights!
Warning: Mentally prepare for a butt kicking. If the boulder field snow is hard packed, you’re going to have a great time with crampons and you’ll be up it in an hour. If it’s slushy melting rain-on-snow threatening avalanches, it’s not worth trying. But hey, you got a workout carrying all your crap all the way up here right?!