While Martin's doing a rotation in Scotland his med school buddy Erich wound up at the UW. Good timing if you hate Cougars (wasn't that a spectacular end to the Apple Cup, eh?), but probably not quite as cool as exploring the Highlands. Still, with his duties and interviews all wrapped up Erich had a couple of days free before his flight back to Louisville. Since he's looking at the Northwest as a possible spot for his residency it was up to me to give him a glimpse at the more adventurous opportunities here.
Initially, we thought about tackling one of the peaks in the South Fork valley. Perhaps Granite Mountain or McClellan Butte, but a ton of snow rolled in so they were out since both are difficult and sometimes perilous when covered with snow. We settled on a lowland hike in the Taylor River valley, but as the last week progressed the snow in the mountains piled up it suddenly dawned on us that it was snowshoe season.
Armed with a pair of rented snowshoes, scrubs (he's a doctor, after all), and a heavy jacket Erich joined Dan at the moosefish estate to head out at 8am. We dug around to find him some additional cold weather gear to try to keep him a little drier and warmer and were soon headed east on I-90 to Snoqualmie Pass.
We had to do a u-turn at the Kachess Lake exit (30 miles east of home) so we could get to the Price Creek Sno-Park, but when we got to Price Creek we found it still closed. Sure, the state will sell you a Sno-Park permit, but will they actually allow you to do anything with it? Oh no. Worse still, we had to drive about five miles back to Snoqualmie Pass just to turn around to get back to the Kacheess Lake exit again. Argh.
After looking at the map we found an alternate route up Keechelus Ridge along road 4934. Unfortunately, this road was also a snowmobile route, but the snow seemed pretty thin at the bottom so maybe we'd be spared their exhaust as we climbed from the starting point at about 2,400 feet to the summit at 5,000.
No such luck.
The first to pass us was a guy taking his buddy to the top so he could snowboard down. Then a larger group speeding to the top leaving us with a chewed up trail, a cloud of exhaut, and a shattered quiet that makes snowshoers so dislike snowmobilers. As we continued to climb and the day got later we saw more of the folks to lazy to use their own legs to get up the mountain. (On the way down one of them said we were a lot healthier than they were so at least they realize it. Too bad the adults weren't setting a better example for their overweight kids sitting on the back.)
I had committed to being back by 4pm so we could leave by 4:30 for a night out so we had set a 1pm turnaround time regardless of how close we were to the summit. About noon we finally saw the radio tower that marked the top and it didn't look that far away. We had a quick lunch which turned out to be much more dangerous than we had first anticipated.
We heard a bear/cougar/elk/abominable snowman up the trail and soon Erich was bleeding after being viciously attacked... by his yogurt lid. Luckily, he's a med student in his last year of school so he was able to take care of the gusher and we were soon on our way again.
The road switchbacked up the hill and clearly it would take too long to get to the summit that way. At about 4,300 feet we left the road and headed straight up through the three-foot deep powder. This was really the first chance for Erich to see what snowshoeing was really like (walking on a road doesn't really count) and he got a great sample since the fresh snow (20 inches in the last three days) was bone dry and really fluffy.
Unfortunately, by the time we got to 4,700 feet and saw the tower again we realized it was unlikely we'd make the last quarter mile and 300 feet in the next three minutes. We spent the time looking over the ridge to the south. The clouds had rolled in since we started so the views weren't quite as good as we had expected, but it was still a good overlook.
The way down was quick and easy. It'd taken us about four hours to get up, but only an hour and three quarters to get down. The only problems were with Erich's loaned equipment which began rubbing on his feet badly generating a few blisters.
We arrived back at the car just before 3pm which was our target. The drive off the mountain was equally quick so we stopped to try to take pictures of the herd of elk that was crossing Edgewick as we were driving the last half mile home. I think they came out especially for Erich since I haven't seen the entire herd in one place in the two years I've lived there and I've never seen a buck with as large a rack as we saw in the woods to the east of the road. I'll have to leave a couple of our plants out for them to snack on next time they wander by the house.