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Rockdale Lake from Asahel Curtis at night
posted by John : February 18, 2009


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Granite Alpenglow


With a planned weekend snow trip in which the pulks figured prominently scheduled for mid March it was time to get the sleds onto the snow for some serious tests. The trip has both treed terrain and open snow above the treeline so we chose a route to Rockdale Lake (yes, that Rockdale Lake and that one and that one) from the Annette Lake trailhead that included twisting trails, abandoned roads, and steep hills.

After a long, dark winter it was glorious to be able to see the mountains around us as we geared up at the trailhead. Granite Mountain turned red under the setting sun and we didn't even need headlamps for the first three quarters of a mile.

Although I'd been out a bunch with the Incredible Pulk I'd never taken it on trails and really hadn't been out very much since adding a bunch of enhancements like runners, quick-attachments for the poles, and a snow brake. Jeremy hadn't had the Hippy Pulk (yes, that's the official name for it now that it's been written here) on the snow since it's been built.

Jeremy's pulk differed from mine in some fundamental ways. Most notably were the poles attaching him to the sled. He used a rigid rectangular setup that made the pulk an eight foot extension from his back that couldn't twist. This meant as we had to twist and turn up the narrow trail below the power lines he had issues at switchbacks and working around trees. (My pulk is attached by flexible connections so I had an easy time in the trees.)

At the power lines we abandoned the trail to Annette Lake and headed almost due east. The power lines would lead us to the road system in the lower Olallie Meadows and we could follow those to Rockdale Lake. (Roads? Really? Darn, tooting. Roads up mean riding the pulk down. Woo hoo!)

There's a road that runs under the power lines for maintenance and it should have been easy sailing on the deep snow. Except this year there is very little snow. Maybe a foot at the base of the towers. There were big bare spots that we had to drop the pulks down in to and then pull them across the grass/rocks/swamps and then back out. Jeremy's pole connections were close to the nose so he didn't have too much trouble getting out of the holes, but my connections were further back making it a bit harder.

With a little practice we were able to read the dips in the snow and find the easy way through the undulating terrain... until we got to Olallie Creek. In the big floods the creek must have raged through its channel and wreaked havoc. It must have been something to see. The channel was at least 20 feet deep with jumbles of rocks and logs at the bottom, all frozen with the creek still running beneath the ice.

I put on snowshoes (we'd been ok just booting it until this point) and dropped into the channel. It was a bit freaky walking on the ice, but it held even with pokes from the axe and I got to the other side with just a little effort. Unfortunately, another 100 feet further there was another, deeper gully. I returned to tell Jeremy and found that he'd explored a bit and found that there was an easy crossing of at least the first channel just down the hill. Both that crossing and the second were no problem, though we did have to carry the pulks.

On the other side we followed a road back up to the power lines and eventually to the Iron Horse trail. (Right where another creek had blown out a culvert. What a storm!) There was no way we were taking the pulks up the slope above the Iron Horse and I wasn't actually too keen on that slope either. There were signs the slope wasn't terribly stable, but it was hard to tell if it was old or more recent. To be safe, we stashed the pulks and ran the ridge up through the trees on the edge to the top of the steep slope to a more sedate slope.

We wound through the trees and found a road heading where we wanted to go. It didn't feel too steep, but looking back down it was awfully steep. The snow was crusty, but the snowshoes were still useful. The steep side slope had sun wheels rolling down, but they were small and there was little danger of anything sliding.

At the top of the unplowed road we merged onto a groomed road. We did our best to stay off to the side of the groomed tracks and followed the roads almost directly to the lake. We did a bit of off-trail travel and found ourselves on the shore opposite where I have previously seen the lake. From the west side the lake looked bigger and more inviting than from the east. It was like a whole new lake.

On the way back we made great time down the roads that didn't seem that steep on the way up. We followed the road down a bit further than where we had come up. The road just petered out, but we were able to glissade a bit in the open snow below the power lines, but were soon back in the trees. At the top of the big slope we removed snowshoes and did a quick glissade down through the rocks that were surprisingly difficult to see from above.

At the Iron Horse I packed up my sled and prepared for a quick ride down toward the creeks. Except my pulk wanted to go to the right. Consistently. Annoyingly. It was so disappointing because it had been such an easy ride on previous trips. The runners must have a little extra drag on the right side causing the fade. Terrible, just terrible.

Worse, when strapped in and heading down hill the pulk wanted to pass me on the right. In previous years it had just pushed on my harness, but now it had a mind of its own. So the entire way back I was fighting the Incredible Pulk and you really wouldn't like it when it's angry. Or maybe when I'm angry.

I overcame my desire to throw it in the creek when we crossed and also didn't throw it at Jeremy who had a rock solid, non-passing, non-flipping-over, dependable companion in the Hippy Pulk. Blast. I took little consolation from the fact that Jeremy struggled in the woods because I was having even a worse time.

Back at the truck I considered tying the pulk to the back for the drive home, but relented and loaded it up. Now there's a trip to the hardware store in my future so I can rebuild the poles, but in such a way as to take advantage of the flexibility needed on trail and going uphill without the disaster of down hill. (Yeah, good luck with that.)

In total we did 7.3 miles and just over 1,900 feet of gain.

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