Photos from this trip can be found here.
Great weather, great hike, poor choice of boots. Sharpen up your acrobatic maneuvers as you encounter what seemed like an endless sea of blowdowns in the first or so mile. The trail looked as though it hadn’t been stepped on in a while, the trackless snow at 2,700 feet elevation further solidified my suspicion. I held off for another 500 feet before unwillingly putting on my snowshoes. Thank goodness I brought them along. I brought my mountaineering boots with me instead of the regular hiking boots. I haven’t visited the Highway 20 area in the wintertime, so with the road closure, my image of the North Cascades at this time of the year was pure snow and ice.
The boots felt too rigid for the steep and dry slope in the first mile, the slight pain of blisters forming started to surface. It was a relief the minute I stepped into the snow, although I began to post pole almost immediately. The snow was packed enough so there wasn’t too much sliding around. The trail disappeared in the snow and shortly afterward I was scrambling with my GPS.
Since I had originally planned on going to the lookout tower, we took the summer route. Big mistake! The route sat just below the ridge and it already looked steep on the topo map, but it felt much steeper in snow. After spending an hour breaking the trail in slush and not making it very far, I ditched the idea of going to the tower and instead we headed for the lookout summit. To get there, we would need to get ourselves back on the ridge and follow the ridge line to the col and take a right, pretty straightforward. We only had to get over a couple of thigh-burning hills, no biggie…NOT.
By now the boys have learned to stay behind me whenever they get tired and don’t feel like breaking their own trail. Why break your own when you can step into someone else’s—smart dogs! We stayed close to the trees on the ridge as we traversed through the steep hills with cornices spilling over the edges. At least we knew that there was “solid ground” underneath all that snow wherever the trees were. We stopped occasionally to admire the peaks and the lakes below. Before long we found ourselves near the col, surrounded by peaks and ridges in all directions but to the east. The view there was still obstructed by the summit, but not for long. There was nothing but pure whiteness, clear blue sky, and stillness all around. Once on the col, we started heading east toward the last hump and finished the last couple hundred feet of climb before reaching the summit lookout.
It doesn’t get any better than this, summiting on a gorgeous, sunny day with no one but the majestic peaks and lakes all around you. We had the mountain to ourselves the entire day. After spending an hour at the top taking pictures, eating, resting, and admiring the panoramic view, we finally bid farewell to the mountain and headed back down. I seemed to have forgotten the blistering pain in my feet until we got back to the car, ouch.