Saturday, December 1st proved to be a glorious day. With a threat of storms beginning in the evening and continuing on into Sunday we headed out midday for our weekly adventure in the Cascade Mountains. Bobby and I have been anxiously waiting to try out the new Tubbs Snowshoes we purchased in September from www.backcountry.com This is a great site for purchasing outdoor gear at a low cost. The snowshoes can also be found on Amazon.
We decided that it would be best to try an easy and shorter trail for this first outing considering I haven’t snowshoed since the winter of 2008 and Bobby has never snowshoed before. We found a great guidebook for finding snowshoeing trails at REI entitled Snowshoe Routes Washington, Second Edition, by Dan A. Nelson. However, I made the mistake of letting Bobby choose the route and didn’t learn until after that the trail originally chosen was actually rated as “Most Difficult” by the guidebook. The trail to Source Lake in Snoqualmie Pass is five miles long with a 1000 foot elevation gain with an estimated time duration of five hours.
Our day did not start off well as we began by accidentally following a group who we thought were on the trail and soon learned that they were actually Search and Rescue training groups who were on no trail at all. Using our maps app we trekked through the woods until finally making our way back to a trail.
It wasn’t the trail we had intended to take but was actually the Summer Trail to Snow Lake. We learned upon returning home that the trail we took was eight miles long with 1600 feet in elevation gain. Due to the extra length and elevation gain it was taking us longer than anticipated to complete the route. We had a late start and with dusk quickly approaching as well as the anticipated winter storm, not to mention the rather large blisters that had taken up residence upon my heels had us turning around a half mile short of the lake. We reached the apex of our hike on a shoulder of a ridge between Chair Peak and Snoqualmie Mountain where we were afforded a spectacular view of Snow Lake below.
Turning around proved wise as the precipitation began as we descended the mountain and returned to the car. All told we went seven miles and reached the highest point on the trail.
We were initially nervous about letting Latigo off-leash due to the steep slopes covered with snow but after Latigo managed to entangle himself twice around Bobby’s legs resulting in Bobby falling over multiple times we decided it would be safer if he went off-leash. He did well, sticking primarily to the trail, and it was clear that we were all better off with him running at his own pace.
A new and unanticipated difficulty in planning our winter outings is the threat of avalanches. Being originally from Minnesota when heading out for the day we never had to worry about them! As winter has begun to settle in above 3000 feet here in the Cascades we thought it was high time we learn a little something about how to identify and avoid problem areas. Living where we do, only two blocks from the REI Flagship store we have a myriad of classes offered with general regularity at our disposal. They were offering an hour and a half course on Avalanche Awareness and we thought it a good place to begin our education.
The speaker was from the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center (NWAC). The instructor quickly informed the group that the hour and a half was barely enough time to scratch the surface and that a beginners course in avalanche safety takes 24 hours. We learned some of the bare bones basics, hopefully enough to keep us safe from harms way.
We quickly learned that that short hour and a half course wasn’t even close to enough to teach us what we need to know to truly be educated and smart on the trail. We learned, after returning home, that we had taken the wrong trail. We used the summer trail rather than taking the long way around and the result was that we were trekking through numerous and dangerous avalanche chutes. Luckily, it was early in the season and there wasn’t much snow. We did check the avalanche threat level at the NWCA website before heading out for the day and learned that the avalanche warnings were “considerable” above 6000 feet and “low” to “moderate” below that. We did see obvious signs of small avalanches that had occurred and should’ve been smarter and turned around when we did but we pressed on. We were surprised to be joined by multiple groups on the same trail, many of whom weren’t wearing snowshoes or gators! We truly believe that it was too early in the year for any real threat or danger but next time, we will definitely be more cautious and aware of the dangers that surround us.
Our snowshoes performed remarkably well on the journey. We chose these particular snowshoes for several reasons. Bobby wanted to have snowshoes that would allow for use on steeper slopes and had crampons built-in. They also allow for use with snowboard boots and Bobby has grandiose ideas of snowshoeing up a mountain and snowboarding down. My favorite design feature is the 19-degree heel lift that came in very handy on steeper slopes and relieved the strain on my heels where those pesky blisters had developed. We were not disappointed in the least with our chosen purchase!