The Honey Badgers celebrate Christmas Eve
December 24, 2011
Dicey & fwb
Weather: Cold and rainy, forecast expected drying by 11p
The past three weeks plus I was working 14 plus hour days. Weekends coaching and wishing I had more mountain tour and climb time. It’d been since just after Thanksgiving for the last snow so ski conditions, well, they sucked. Hard surface, ice crust, exposed rocks… And now, a week off work and time to get out. Go figure that the next 10 days are predicted warm and rainy wet. Dicey was up for about anything. Maybe after this trip she’ll rethink that. I’d eyed a gulley in photos from Heather Lake (just east of Pilchuck) that lead to an upper field. Weather forecast was for a wet morning with clearing by 11am. Wet approach then clearing sounded okay at the time.
Dark and wet
Wanting to get back into town early we headed up for an 0-dark start. Overcast and dark in town, merged to wet and dark by Granite Falls. A pit stop at Verlot Ranger Station was not encouraging –rain… A turn up the Pilchuck access road, still raining. Winding up the road to the Heather Lake Trailhead there was an SUV with a wet note on the rear window. We parked (c1430’), neither making a move for any hike prep. Talked a bit, listened to the rain on the roof and laughed - still no motivation to leave the dry and warm car. In the woods a flash of lights, then dark. Again more lights, three, four? Soon a group of four hikers appeared with full overnight backpacks. Story is they went up and spent the night at the lake. Now they were crazy. Maybe we were just being pansies.
45 minutes of delaying and we finally were heading up the trail in the dark. My jacket was great at holding out the weather. Dicey’s wasn’t so she used the umbrella. Now this was real hiking. Except all the excess tonnage of gear. Not knowing what to expect in the gulley we had a rope, cams, nuts, pitons, screws, tools, steel crampons, axes… What a change from the fall hikes. As the dry season got late the pack had gotten lighter and lighter. Now back to the winter pack. We decided, even if nothing else it would be a good day of exercise and heavy pack conditioning. And that it was.
The trail was like walking up a creek in the dark. Muddy, rocky and wet. A first was a culvert flowing with water and another water stream going over top. How often do you see an over-ramp for a stream in the mountains. The trail meanders up. In 0.2 miles (c1576’) a switchback with a waterfall above it. The trail flattened and merged with an old road (0.6m, c1750’, 18min). Soon up left again onto the usual wet, rocky stream/trail. One creek crossing, no big deal, wearing semi-plastic boots I wasn’t worried about getting wet. The trail started following a creek basin hitting frozen snow ice on the trail at c2200’. At 1.6 miles (c2456’, 60 minutes) a T in the trail and views of the lake. Both branches go around the lake. We went right to the west side of the lake, trail weaving through the trees. A stop in the rain to take in the views.
SW end of the lake we headed up the silt slope to the base of the gulley. The snow was water saturated and feet sinking in 9”. A little tricky negotiation off snow, up rocks and back to snow.
Under a lip from last year’s snow, protected from rock/ice fall we took a break and donned crampons. Up the gulley there was loose snow, blue ice, debris clumps and rain. 0.3 miles from the lake (2.1m, c3160’, 2h10m) we came to a stop at a pile of boulders, a waterfall on the right and a rock route on left.
The rock up this gulley looked very inviting for summer climbing. Now though it was partially covered with snow and ice. Looking up in the rain it looked like just maybe, or not. I started up a little of the rock, wet and iffy. The route looked possible, but with being wet and cold out we lacked motivation to push further. The idea of belaying and setting pro in the rain was not inviting.
It didn’t look like the rain was letting up, so we did. Down to the overhang spot.
Wondering what we were doing. Must be crazy. Down to the lake and continued counter clockwise around the lake taking off crampons and a short break at a giant boulder (2.5m, c2490’, 3hrs). In the rain. We followed mostly covered old snowshoe prints leading us to a boardwalk over a marshy area and back to snow and rock trail. Good views of the lake and slope behind south of the lake, still covered in clouds… and rain.
After some pause to take in the view and try taking some pictures, we rejoined the main train and headed back still walking with crampons. A good thing since parts of the trail were downright icy. We passed three groups heading up. We must have been a sight. Big boots, packs loaded with tools, axes and gear. People coming up were with shoes light boots and gear that looked to be wet. Not much for views heading out. We did notice the giant stumps seen in most trip reports of hikes to Heather Lake.
It was early, 11:45am, and finally the rain decided to stop. Perfect timing ;-). The parking lot was filling with cars, our packs steaming on the ground. The sheriff made a quick visit. Now what? We drove up the road 3.6 miles to the next gate, still no snow on the road. I was thinking it’d be nice to venture the upper slopes up here on skis. I heard since our trip, someone went up and damaged the gate. Now the road is blocked with a giant berm at the lower locked gate near the Heather Lake trailhead.
Both of us had never been to the lake, so it was nice to get out on a nice jaunt. We had hoped to explore more of the area. The weather didn’t cooperate but, “Honey Badgers don’t care”. Heading out it looked like further south the good weather came in earlier –oh, well. It was Christmas Eve. Nice getting exercise before heading to the family dinner.
Thanks for reading and Happy Trails!
Copyright 2011, FWB, all rights reserved