I’m not really sure now what it was that caused me to get geared up and head on up the mountain today, but I do remember looking at my journal and seeing that in I wrote about Hiking in the Debris on March the 12th of last year.
Looking a the journal and photos, I recalled that hike, and I also recalled that the last mile was brutal and I had a thought that perhaps I shouldn’t try this again. However, my memory of recent weeks of high temps made me think that perhaps the snow on that side of the mountain was melted and I just might not have too much trouble.
I think I should have thought better of it all, but then that’s with the perspective of hindsight. I decided however, that it would be best if I was prepared.
At the end of the season last year my boots failed. Even though it’s been months since I got new boots, I am sure that they are not broken in enough to enable me to use them for a 6 mile hike. So I decided that I would start out in tennis shoes, cover those with micro spikes until the snow got too deep, and then switch to boots. I also added to my backpack my Christmas present, a pair of climbing snowshoes (designed for travel uphill and downhill as opposed to flat surfaces). Fortunately for me, my snowshoes have built in crampons.
This sign marks the one mile mark on my 6.5 mile journey, and I should have been warned by the presence of snow so low in the valley. By this time of year, all the snow should have mostly been gone, and indeed it was, except for those places where it lay in the shade all day.
As you can see, it’s just a little snow and the majority of the path is still clear.
About 500 feet higher, and a little over 2.4 miles on the trail, it was time to bring out the spikes, for the what looked like snow, really was ice.
I wasn’t really that happy about using tennis shoes so low on the mountain, but if I was going to finish this hike without being turned back, I figured I’d just walk carefully and try to keep my shoes as dry as possible. If I had been smart, I would have brought along an extra pair of socks for the transition to boots.
When I do this hike I tend to think of the trail as being divided into four sections. The first is the frontage and access to the main trail that ends about here. Curiously enough, this is about half the total distance in miles, but only a little more than a third of the total altitude gain. On the left side of the image you can see a bit of the trail and it is as dry as a bone, but that is going to change as soon as it crosses over into the snow zone. Larger image here.
Although the post says 2.9 miles, that’s from the trail head parking lot, not from the tram parking lot where I came from. At this point I’ve come about three and a half miles, shortcuts and all. The snow is still not bad, and one hopes for sunny patches where the ice is melted.
Just a half a mile further, it all changes.
From where this image was taken, the winter trail descends a bit until you enter the grove of aspens that you can see in the lower left of the image. Larger picture here. Basically from this point, the trail remains for the next half a mile and snakes its way through the aspen grove up until the point where the evergreens start.
The aspen grove is probably one of the most peaceful places on the mountain, no matter what season.
In the larger image ( here) you can see how packed the snow is which allowed me to continue up to till I got to the 5 mile sign. At this point I decided that from here on out, I’d probably have to proceed on snowshoes.
Normally this sign is free standing, so that means the snow is over three feet in depth.
Earlier in my hike I ran into Dave the volunteer who warned me that after the sign he had been told that the trail veered off into the wrong direction to the north, rather than to the east. Fortunately I know the mountain well enough that when I started up the beaten path in the wrong direction I realized my mistake and turned around and headed back down the mountain. I descended about a hundred feet or so to a point where I figured I would have to break my own trail to the east.
And break it I did, thankful for my new snowshoes.
I’m not sure how long this part of the time took, but I can tell you that it was very slow and I was very exhausted, climbing one step at at time in the zone above 9,500 feet. Some of those who know the trail will recognize the barking dog that laughs at those who attempt such folly in deep snow.
At this point, as you can see from the shadows on the mountain, it is getting late in the afternoon and I still have a bit of mountain to climb. This image is shot from the highest boulder field which means I only have about three to four hundred feet of elevation to gain and then it’s a “easy” one mile walk over to the tram.
From the larger image you can look down into the sun drenched valley where the temperature was warm enough for me to start the hike in shorts and a t-shirt, high 70’s to low 80’s.
Finally I reached the saddle and thought about taking off my snowshoes. I was hoping that the week of warm weather would have melted the snow, but the reality is that many feet of snow takes many weeks of melting before it all disappears.
In the larger image you can see that the snow has started to receded from the edges of the trail, but there in the middle, at least in this part of the trail, was enough uneven snow and ice that I decided to leave on my snowshoes.
For the next mile the trail heads east, then south, then east again, then south again, then east again and then south again. Everywhere where the trail turned south, it also turned into hell. Then every time the trail turned east again into the full exposure of the sun, my hopes would rise, but the uneven nasty surface dashed them quickly.
It was as bad as I had expected, and now I can say with some degree of certainty, I’m hoping to not do this again, ever, unless it’s in fresh snow.
In the larger image, you can get a better sense of the slope and the nature of the snow and ice that I had to cross on each part of the trail with a western exposure. You can also see how dangerous this would be to attempt to cross without poles and snow shoes. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for whoever did the post hole walk across this slope.
All I can say is that hopefully, it won’t be me again.
The long shadow and the golden light also tells the story of the long hike, which ended up taking me six hours and 3 minutes.
For an old guy like me, having an aerobic work out of 6 hours with an average heart rate of 139 with a max rate of 157 was enough to send me to bed for an hour of rest, before I could even think of dropping into a hot bath.