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Olallie Meadows at night
posted by John : February 11, 2009

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Check twice, climb once

First off let's be clear: It's not my fault. I don't get credit for breaking another hiker. She could have said, "Nope. I've got better (and safer) things to do than go hiking on a Wednesday night." But she didn't. Ain't my fault. (I still feel guilty, though.)

Ah, but that's still a few paragraphs into the story.

It all started normally and safely, as usual. I looked at the calendar and thought, "My... it's been a while. I wonder if anybody wants to head out into the cold night air to look for good snow..." Sure enough, like-minded folks joined up for a repeat attempt to get to Olallie Meadows near Snoqualmie Pass.

Last time we had gotten only to the Iron Horse and had to turn back when we decided trying to climb over a cliff would be a bad idea. This time we had better beta and started up further west, but still hit the same cliffs. So we traversed to the east (even though wiser minds said we should go to the west to get around the cliffs) and eventually found a spot where we could get on top of the cliff. (Don't freak out. It was only 10 feet high or so.)

Of course, the dogs couldn't make it up. Zeus and Athena actually made efforts and needed just a bit of help. I had to climb down, capture Tokul, and then help her, kicking and whining, up the gap. Once above the cliff the open forest climbed into the darkness.

The information we had was to stay pretty much right near the creek. Of course, that trip was before the big flood event so it's difficult to say if they encountered the fresh blowouts we did. Our only real option was to follow the fall line (you know, where you'd roll if you fell... straight down the hill until you bounced off a tree) up. At times this was quite steep and at other times pretty mellow. It averaged about 1,200 feet of gain per mile. Not bad on snowshoes especially considering there were parts that were REALLY steep.

As we neared our destination we had to push through some younger forest, but the promise of getting out into the open was enough to encourage us in spite of powder falling down our necks. At the base of the final hill I found a snowshoe in the snow. "Steve! Do you have both snowshoes?" "No!" "Ah!" (Although at this point there was perhaps 6-10 inches of powder there was a solid layer below that argued that snowshoes might not have been strictly necessary, though the traction was awfully handy on the icy crust under the trees.)

On top we would have had great views had it either been daytime or had the moon or stars been allowed to shine. As it was, it was night and the clouds, not seen since we left North Bend, weren't completely covering the sky. We had the usual drinks and snacks, watched the dogs run around in the snow (weren't they tired yet?) and then just as we started to get cold we headed down.

We'd dropped about half a mile and making pretty good time (I hadn't had dinner yet so I was looking forward to something to eat that wasn't pressed into a bar). I heard a strange noise behind me and counted two lights. It sounded a little like the kind of laughter of someone who'd just taken a tumble. It was that, "Oh, dang. Yeah. Now I've got snow all down my back," laugh. But not quite.

I turned back to find Jo sitting awkwardly below a log we had crossed with Steve and Scott looking on in concern. She'd taken a step off the log a little wrong and the snowshoe had twisted under her. The beauty about snowshoes is they can make your life a lot easier, but when they get turned the wrong way they are brutally unforgiving. (Astute readers might recall I broke my ankle while snowshoeing back in 2006.)

We pondered the situation and eventually took off the offending snowshoe (no more fun for you!), wrapped the ankle a bit, and started down again albeit a bit slower. (Jo's account is here. She claims she cried, but I never saw it.) The next 1.89 miles were a painful descent. For Jo it was for the obvious reason. (Plus the owl that was laughing.) For the rest of us it was watching her grimace and wondering how much of this was our fault.

On the way up we had talked about working to the west to avoid the cliffs, but we decided to stick with the evils we knew in light of Jo's ankle. This did mean we'd have to cross a creek washout and the cliff, but at least we weren't heading into the darkness and the unknown. It turned out that neither obstacle were particularly difficult. We "encouraged" the dogs through both spots and Jo did a bit more butt-scooching than would otherwise have done, but we were soon back at the car.

Jo reports that when she took off her boot it was wicked swollen. X-rays confirmed it wasn't broken, but she's pretty well stuck inside for the next month. She claims she doesn't regret the trip, but I still wish we'd at least had a clear sky at the top.

Totals: 4.9 miles, 2,021 feet of gain, one tweaked out ankle.

Sorry, Jo.

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