Remember that post about demoting yourself from Plan A to Plan B to Plan C to “eff it Uber please bring me mac n cheese” a few weeks ago? Sometimes the opposite happens. You have a plan, and it’s an okay plan (doesn’t matter what level it is), and then it just completely surpasses all of the expectations you had for it. That’s how this day was. Hiked January 14th, 2018.
- Distance: 9 miles round trip
- Elevation: 3500ft gain (5700 highest point)
- Weather: 50’s and sunny
- Commute from Seattle: 2:30 without traffic
- Did I Trip: Yes. Snowshoes and I do not mesh well. My snowshoe waddle is almost as hilarious as me trying to ski.
We delayered immediately because it was unseasonably warm and apparently I’m a sweaty person. 15min later, Surafel gave up and strapped his snowshoes to his pack. It was a good choice, because we didn’t hit snow for another solid 1,800ft of elevation gain. And when we did hit snow, being my usual stubborn self, we continued on in boots. No one had been up there yet and breaking trail is a fantastic workout and there’s just something so beautiful about laying the first set of tracks. Plus the postholing wasn’t too bad (shin to knee deep for the most part minus a few good thigh-deep-fall-on-your-face) and putting on snowshoes involves squatting for a while so it was easier to just break trail. It isn’t a real winter trip without some good postholes, it’ll just lack that feeling of struggle and accomplishment. “It feels like 2015” I remarked. “Don’t say that!” 2015 was a brutal dry year for the Cascades. Sitting here in the dark dreary misery two weeks later, I can attest that it no longer feels like 2015.
The route is very mellow and passes almost no avalanche terrain through the woods. The trail is loosely blazed with orange tape, which was helpful as well, though if you have a good trail nose you’ll be fine following it regardless. We finally broke above the trees, where we immediately encountered the nightmare that is breakable crust. You punch through thick rain crust which jabs your shins and your knees and it’s almost strong enough to stand on but not quite and we finally caved and put on snowshoes. You’re facing a true avalanche slope which had some nice loose wet point-release avalanches on it, but you can head right towards a patch of trees to avoid it entirely. The texture up here was totally cool, but I couldn’t capture it on camera. Fresh snow that immediately got rained on but hasn’t been touched by anyone so far develops very neat fine runnels, and the low sun reflecting off faraway glaciers makes everything in the background glisten.
I cruised up to the ridge overlooking Baker and Shuksan, and backtracked towards Surafel to head up Excelsior. Surafel went up through the trees while I wrapped left around the tree patch (there’s plenty of space between you and the avy slope if you stay near or in the trees). I topped out on the shoulder below the true summit to wait and admire the views of Baker and Shuksan. What a freaking beautiful day.
I heard nothing but silence after a few minutes, so I started worrying. What if he was stuck in a tree well or something?! That had happened a few weeks prior, a friend fell into a tree well maybe 8ft behind me and I heard nothing despite his shouting. I yelled Surafel’s name, and heard “what?” from almost directly in front of me. He was blending in with the trees that sneaky bastard. He dropped his stuff to break out the good camera and snap pics while I ran up to tag the summit.
The summit is listed as 5,699ft, which is annoying. Covered in snow I’m sure it’s more like 5,707ft or so, but for the sake of this post I rounded it off to a slightly less annoying 5,700ft. It ended in a massive cornice hanging off the north side, and with the lack of company I just snapped a few pics and plunge stepped back to our break spot where we enjoyed tea and cheese and salami and I had this bag of toasted coconut flakes that I had made that morning that I had been talking about for the entire hike. It was. So good. Which was a relief, because I had severely burned the first batch at 4am (it toasts so quickly!) and had frantically made a second batch to salvage my great hike snack idea. We marveled at the fact that we LIVE here, it’s only a two hour drive and a short hike to get to insane scenery like this. Scenery that most people will never see in their lives. Scenery that so many people don’t know exists. I didn’t know it existed until I moved here! Look where we are! We passed our contagious enthusiasm to a few other parties and reluctantly decided to head back down.
The trail was completely hard packed. No snowshoes necessary. There weren’t that many people up there, maybe 12 or so (plus dogs, how many dogs equal one person?), and yet that was enough to basically bulldoze a sidewalk. The contrast between the way up and the way down was amazing, though it slightly ruins the adventure of being the only ones up there. I was glad we had the privilege of breaking trail and being the first ones up there. But for the way down, I didn’t even bother to put my snowshoes back on, I just booted it. There was one skiier, who I was jealous of since the sun had turned the morning’s brutal crust into nice spring corn (or slush, but still).
We were down in under two hours, much faster than I expected and I was a little sad when we got to the parking lot. It had been a long amazing day but I couldn’t help but think we should have spent more time up high and enjoyed the sun more. Those days are so few and far between in winter. There really is nothing more spectacular than a bluebird winter day, and this snowshoe had completely blown away any expectations I had set for it. Snowshoes might suck, but they can still take you to some pretty awesome places. Guys, I live here!!