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Rockdale Ridge at night
posted by John : November 5, 2008

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Where are we?

While sifting through the six billion stories about elections and the economy and new hacks and the occasional cat who desires a cheeseburger I saw this.

NOAA has declared a Winter Weather Advisory for the Central Cascades...

A few minutes later I woke up on the floor still feeling the overwhelming joy that had... well... overwhelmed me. Finally, the transition month was over. October and its early evenings and bare grounds was past. It was time for the snow.

Usually, I'm a big fan of October. After all, that's why Amy and I chose it to host that special day 10 years ago. However, when it comes to the outdoors it's a pretty lame month. Unless you happen to hit the larches just right or stumble on an Indian Summer it's a lot of wistful remembrance of the summer and TNAB season and even more longing for the snows that will make nightshoeing a reality.

True, this October included a great family hike to Clara and Marion Lakes and a good workout on Chelan Butte, but most everyone I hike with was waiting for the freshiez to come.

And now they finally would. I cried out to my most probable faithful nightshoers who'd be willing to go out to find the snow with me. I made it really clear that it might be just sloppy, somewhat solid water rather than a true nightshoe requiring actual snowshoes.

Daryl dismissed it as a slushfest that he wasn't interested in.

Dan had a school event he couldn't get out of.

Jeremy was stuck at a lodge in Alaska where the snow was falling so heavily he couldn't fly home. (BTW: Jeremy wins the award for best reason not to go.)

I started fearing it would fall through, but Josie and Scott were willing even though they hadn't been on a nightshoe before. (Or perhaps because they hadn't been out nightshoeing...)

After a week on jury duty (new belief: people are inherently sucky to each other) I was desperate to get out so I was in a state of frenzied excitement as I ran around the empty house eating dinner and packing gear. Poor Tokul picked up on the action and was bouncing off the walls and whining when I was out of sight. I made it to Truck Town to meet Josie and Scott just a few minutes late, even though the 30 minute turnaround at home was a new personal best.

Like previous drives, Tokul disrupted the normal dynamic between Athena and Zeus. Poor Jo bore the brunt of it and had her ears cleaned, hair pulled, and was basically trampled by the three dogs who shared the back seat and trunk with her. (Before anyone tries to go all feminist on me please note that I did try to get her to sit up front.)

We saw snow along the side of the road starting just past Denny Creek, but it was light at best. When we pulled into the Hyak parking lot there was nothing on the ground. Stomping through the sloppy mud I wondered if this wasn't going to be a bust after all.

By the time we got to the big beer can in the sky (the creatively painted water tower) we at least had solid snow covering the ground even if it was only an inch in depth. Unfortunately, I steered us into the middle of a slide alder patch that is usually covered by snow and we had to fight our way out of it before picking up the road I was aiming for.

I've been up from Hyak a bunch in the past, but always with a heavy covering of snow. It was interesting to see that some of the roads had been recently driven and that other areas I'd assumed were roads clearly weren't. Even with a few inches of snow (it was getting deeper as we climbed higher) brush was still clearly evident, though there was a little trail to one side.

Above Hyak Lake the snow was too dry to make snowballs, but perfect for dusting the dogs and driving Tokul into a euphoric state. She ran up and back and played with the other dogs as we continued to follow old roads to the power lines. (I know, usually I have great disdain for following roads and walking under power lines, but nightshoeing is different.)

At a junction of roads I pointed, accurately, down the road to the right as the way to Rockdale Lake. We opted to skip it and head instead for the ridge of the same name.

The road got smaller and less brushed, but was still easy to follow. However, it seemed to be dropping. We saw a road to the right, but continued straight. Hmm... not quite a dead end, but it wasn't where we wanted to be going. Let's go back. We took another road and wound up... wait, are those our tracks? Oh, dang.

(I guess it's a good thing you can usually see your own footprints in the snow, right?)

Scott and I each pulled out a GPS. He got out his compass and I supplemented with maps. This way? That way? Hmph. Finally, we got it straightened out and headed back to the junction to the lake. Oh, yeah... let's go that way.

Looking over the lake we could see a red glow and the silhouettes of the mountains to the west. My mistake was realized when I saw there was a road to the south side of the lake I had forgotten about. Duh.

We dropped down about lake level and then started back up along an easy-to-follow trail. (It's groomed for cross-country skiers later in the season.) At a junction we opted to head up and saw a sign pointing to a viewpoint. Well, heck! Why couldn't they have put that a ways back?

The sign was a bit misleading. The last climb up switchbacking roads felt a bit long for such a simple sign. Maybe it meant the other road.

Coming over a final rise there was only black in front of us. No more trees, no more snow. Just a short drop down to a landing by a couple of radio towers with a killer view west. Had the moon been out or had the night skiing lights been on we'd have been able to see almost all the way to North Bend.

Standing in the dark with wind blowing a light snow around I was quite happy. Perhaps a bit too happy as I lay down in the snow. I was roused to take pictures and be in pictures and find another spot to make a snow angel for posterity.

The walk down was much more sensible. We stuck to roads a bit more and avoided some of the more difficult spots with rocks under the snow. It was a bit depressing to leave the snow for the mud of the parking lot, but the snow's still there or at least it will be back after the storm bearing down on us melts it all away. Maybe next time I'll actually get to wear snowshoes. How novel.

Totals: Seven miles and 1,882 feet of gain.

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