Our destination was Para Point just north of Easton. I'd never been in the area, but recent reports (and Scott and Josie's summertime report) had me sold. We met at the relatively early hour of 4pm and were soon all packed into Josie's truck. That might not sound like such a great feat, but in addition to the four of us and all our gear we had four dogs, though not Tokul, sadly. Thankfully, they had a huge gear carrier on top that we just about filled, too.
The roads were remarkably clear even though some of the trees were coated in ice from freezing rain earlier in the day. We even saw some blue sky on the west side, but as soon as we started climbing to the Pass itself we were in thick clouds that would stay with us the rest of the night. However, it wasn't raining or snowing when we got off the exit so we decided not to retreat. In fact, we danced with death by driving almost to the summer trailhead through crusty snow. Scott only backed off when the snowmobile tracks ended.
The dogs, Zeus, Athena, Kami, and Hoku (the last two belong to Rich), weren't 100% sure of the icy crust. The first quarter inch of the snow was frozen into a lovely sheet that shattered wen you stepped on it. Below that was an inch of two of loose powdery snow and then harder snow below. They ran around punching through the crust trying to get the hang of it while we geared up. It was still light enough to not need headlamps when we left the car, but in the five minutes it took to walk to the actual trailhead (and the fact we entered the trees) it became necessary to turn them on.
The trail splits almost immediately and we dropped down to the creek and then followed it upstream to a bridge by a nice little waterfall. I, of course, tried to get some pics, but in the trees it was awfully dark. And that put me behind the others by a minute or two. I hustled to keep up, but the flats we'd already walked had me lulled into a false sense of adequacy and I huffed up the steep switchbacks, eventually catching them only because they had stopped to adjust gear.
It was pretty much like that for the rest of the climb. I'd stop to take a picture, then chase to catch up. Athena would come back to check on me, I'd reassure her I was fine, then she'd tear up the trail to report to the others. It's nice to know she considers me part of the pack.
We joined the Easton Ridge trail, studied our maps, and continued on as planned. It wasn't until we crested a little ridge to a plateau that we got turned around. We weren't particularly keen on the idea of losing the elevation we'd just worked so hard to gain and missed the trail as it descended just a touch. Instead, we kept climbing and wound up on a point that jutted out on its own far below the summit.
The dogs were getting cold and we'd gained 2,000 feet of elevation. Even though it wasn't the top we'd found our summit for the night and broke out the puffy coats and hot chocolate. We honestly couldn't see anything higher than us so we must be at the top, right? Besides, stuck in the clouds and fog it's not like we'd have had marvelous views anyway. (Funny, that's the same rationale I used to accept the cancelation of the Mt. St. Helens trip.
The trip down wasn't notable except that Rich's poor dogs had snow ball up in their feet and he had to wax them a couple of times. We did find where we missed the trail as it descended just a tad before climbing again. At least we know for next time, right?
We were back at the car by 8:30, back in North Bend at the Pour house by 9:30, and I was home by 10:30. Amazingly early by typical nightshoeing standards even if we did start an hour earlier than usual.
Total distance was 4.25 miles and about 2,200 feet of gain.