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Finding Spring in the Commonwealth Basin
posted by John : March 22, 2015

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Let's not kid ourselves

Have you been adventuring in the Northwest in Spring? No? Here's what you can expect.


Ha! I'm just kidding. Kind of.

In the Northwest, especially in Spring, if you don't like the weather just wait a few minutes. Go into the mountains and it's even more so.

Saturday it was cloudy in the morning with a sucker hole with bright blue skies around 9am, then crazy wind and rain that even knocked out our power briefly. (Not that that's a big surprise.) We spent most of the day inside.

Sunday morning I left the house at 5:45am. It was 40F with clear skies and the smell of rain was still lingering. I swear the concrete of the driveway squished as I loaded the car.

In the 15 miles between home and the Pass I lost all visibility due to fog and it dumped rain, but when I pulled into the parking lot it was just misty. Although snow's been lacking everywhere else, I found enough in the trailhead to answer the question, "Can you get an Subaru Outback stuck in the snow?"

After finding a new use for my ice axe and moving the car to a location more conducive to departure Treen and I headed up the PCT and then pushed through the brush up the abandoned Commonwealth Basin trail. The snow petered out and we splashed through a creek running down the trail. I'm used to covering this section when it's covered in snow weighing the branches down and hiding the rocks.

For the next mile the brush tried to soak me from the waist up and my feet had to contend with mud holes and hard-packed ice on the trail. It wasn't until Commonwealth Creek that the snow was constant, but even then it wasn't solid. By not solid I mean that every fifth step I'd plunge knee-deep.

If you're not familiar with the joy that is a posthole you're missing out. It combines the shock of being hit from behind with the terrible uncertainty of Russian Roulette. All while sapping your energy and reducing your speed. And that's just postholing on solid ground. Do it across a hidden rock field and suddenly you're waist deep in the snow suspended over a void.

(And how do you combat postholing? Wear Tubbs Snowshoes, of course. But did I have any? Oh, no. Where would I get a pair of those? It's not like I have connections or anything. <sigh>)

Route finding in the Spring isn't usually that hard when there's snow. That's because by Spring the track is pretty well set and there's not a lot of new snow covering it up. Unless you're following a lesser-known track. Then it's all about how much you remember and which parts are melted out.

Yeah... that rock looks familiar. And through that gap in the snow I can see the trail! Well... I guess I'll just follow the dog.

Higher there was actual fresh snow. That was what got me out of bed early in the morning on a Sunday. The promise of freshiez. Just an inch or two, but it was enough.

By this time the darkness had fully given way to light. The clear sky had turned blue, then misty gray, and finally clouded up. I was nowhere near the summit I had hoped for, but getting to wander in the snowy backcountry was plenty good for me. I turned back just before my turnaround time to ensure I'd get home in time to be the hero with a dozen donuts.

Even though this Spring weather and the conditions were closer to April or even May, at least it was the right season. After such a disappointing Winter it was good to see that there's some normalcy left. Except, it didn't rain while I was on the trail so I guess it wasn't really a true Northwest Spring adventure after all.

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