Did you ever think that if I wasn't out on the trails I'd be out on the streets? Imagine the trouble I'd get in. Thankfully, I've acquired a pretty decent bunch of fellow street-smart-challenged friends who are willing to accompany me into the wilderness even when even the least intelligent in our society are doing their best to stay inside.
The forecast was for single digits at the Pass. For those of you who are either scientifically-deficient or perhaps Canadian I'm talking Fahrenheit. You know, the temperature scale where water freezes at 32 degrees, boogers freeze at 12 degrees, and appendages start falling off around five degrees. Unfortunately, there hasn't been snow since Thanksgiving (or at least it seems that way) so what we expected was just a bit and maybe some nice icy crusts.
Seven of us started at the Granite Mountain trailhead at 6pm. The thermometer in the car indicated it was 17F, but even that felt cold. Josie tried to hide in the truck, but when the other car pulled up even she had to get out. We were strangely lacking dogs. Tokul doesn't get to go on these poorly-thought-out adventures any more and all the other dogs were wisely kept at home to protect them from the bitter cold.
We had just a dusting on the ground up tot he first switchback and not much more after that. The smaller creeks still had running water, but were festooned with crazy icicles of all sorts. As we climbed higher the bigger streams with pools below little waterfalls were frozen, but only just a bit. The ice was too thin to hold us, but slick enough to prevent us from just stomping across. We found alternate routes around the worst of the ice and a few of us resorted to crawling over sections of the trail that were too slick to risk walking. (That few didn't include me. I'm not smart enough for that.)
When we got to a particularly bad spot where I had to half skate (without skates) and then gingerly walk along a row of unstable rocks Josie and Scott put on their MicroSpikes. They're kind of like chains for your feet with little spikes (hence the name). They silently mocked my effort as they nonchalantly strode up the center of the ice without any worries. (I have updated my REI registry if anybody's interested...)
Eventually we got into more snow, but it wasn't exactly a good thing. The top inch or two was a really fine, dry powder courtesy of the cold. Below that was perhaps a foot or more of rock solid ice. Others had been through and made holes in the "snow" so we were faced with numerous ankle-busting opportunities as we continued up. We never did get to a point where snowshoes would have been handy. There just isn't enough to warrant the extra weight.
At the turnoff to Talapus Lake some of us shed layers and the rest put them back on. Winter (yeah, it's still technically Fall, I know) is a weird time. Go too hard and you sweat. That can be really bad so you need to pace yourself. Or use my trick and just don't wear enough so you can't sweat because it freezes in your pores. The only problem is it looks like you're melting when you get inside after the trip.
We opted to continue to Olallie (the higher lake) because to target Talapus would mean we'd go just as far, but lose elevation. Blech. Another half mile and we decided we'd have to cut down the slope. It was steep and the snow was hard. Too hard to glissade (not that I would have any personal knowledge of that), but not soft enough to confidently plunge-step down. Good times with lots of slips.
At the lake there was nothing to be seen except the vaguest of outlines of the mountains and a ton of stars. The moon wasn't out yet so night shots were almost not worth trying. Instead, we broke out the hot chocolate and other beverages. Amazingly, we started warming up really quickly.
Chris and Peggy opted to head back a little earlier due to a wet boot, but Steve, Tisha, Scott, Josie, and I hung out a while longer. The wind wasn't blowing (thankfully), but it was still a bit chilly. According to Scott's thermometer it got down to 4.5F. Easily the non-wind-chilled coldest I've ever been in. Down and Gore-Tex kept me warm, though. No worries there.
On the way back up out of the lake basin I had to slow down to not sweat in my down coat (I'd worn a fleece on the way in). Surely, my slow pace was due to concern for the coat and not just a lack of exercise lately. Surely.
Once we regained the trail it was quick work back. We stopped a few times at "Yukon Depots," where it was required the non-drivers had a nip of Yukon Jack from Yukon's bottle. You can imagine the discussions on the way down. However, nobody fell (woo hoo!) and we wound up at the car with the right number of people. I retreated to home to try to get in bed before midnight (I missed it by just a touch), but I hear the rest of the crew headed to the Pour House and continued the party.
Total distance was about eight miles and 1,900 feet of gain.