Starting with the first rain of Fall I start looking to the mountaintops for the first dustings of snow. My drive home takes me into a valley surrounded by 5,000 foot peaks. I watch as the snow appears and is washed off only to reappear. Slowly it creeps down the sides of the mountains. All the while I bide my time until I can sneak away for a few hours to climb high enough to get into the fluffy white stuff.
After a week in Vegas and a very dry, warm hike through the Gateway Canyon I was ready to face the rain down low in order to find some snow up high. The easiest way to get quick elevation and stay in range for cell phones was to go above Snoqualmie Pass toward Lake Lillian. (Why do I care about cell coverage? I was on call so I couldn't just cut the tether.)
In good snow years I've found snow at Lake Lillian in early October. I'd already visited the lake later than that this year with no snow to be found, but I was hoping this would be the trip.
It was 40F at the trailhead so I was a little dubious to start. We'd just switched out of Daylight Savings Time so I was able to hike without a headlamp and I could see no snow on the trees visible below the low clouds. The trail was a blur in the low light as I was head down pushing hard up the hill. Little surprise given it was my seventh time up this season.
I was surprised as I crested the wall separating the lower valley from Lake Laura and found it coated in snow. Not a lot, but enough to completely change the feel of the forest. As I turned and climbed the ridge between the two basins with Winter on the left and Fall on the right the contrast was palpable. When the wind blew from the south it was warm and moist, but when it switched and came from the north it was crisp and cold.
By the time Treen and I arrived at Lake Lillian there was about a quarter inch of squeaky snow on the ground. It was just enough to make the rock crossing a little too dicey so we took the high bypass trail we used when we climbed Southeast Rampart in early September.
At the top of the hill it opened up and could see snow everywhere. At least where the clouds weren't blocking our view. They rolled through just like when we found Fall a few weeks ago.
We dropped back down to the lake and started up the Gully of Doom, but when I checked my phone I found no signal. Verizon had failed me! It's usually strong enough to last until I got higher and could pick up a better signal, but with no signal at Lake Lillian it meant I might have missed a call. Unfortunately, I'm too responsible to assume I wouldn't get a call (I can count on one hand the number of calls I've had in five years) and we turned around.
Treen made the most of her time in the snow by rolling in the snow-dusted heather before we dropped back into Fall. It was too brief a visit into my favorite season and with only a quarter inch of snow it almost didn't count. Had my cell coverage been more robust or had I been a little less conscientious (no, I didn't miss a call in the 20 minutes I was out of range) I could have gotten into the open meadows of Rampart Ridge where the snow would have been deeper and the winter feeling more complete.
Maybe I'll just have to go back next weekend. I won't be on call then.