What a difference a La Nina makes. Two years ago in October I hiked past Lake Lillian in short-sleeve weather to get the Rampart Lakes. Exactly one year ago I was on Granite Mountain for a night hike with no snow to be seen. This year, with big snow promised, I was worried about getting to the trailhead for a last trip up to Lake Lillian.
Happily, there was no snow on the road. It was partially washed out courtesy of last season's storms and the hills were distractingly brilliant with Autumn foliage, but otherwise it was a simple drive on an increasingly nasty road. Not good for low-clearance, but pretty much any SUV could make it.
At the trailhead there was a mix of snow and rain falling. Looking up the valley to my destination I could see snow in the trees so I donned all my foul weather gear and started up the trail with Tokul.
By the time we got to the first waterfall it was snowing hard. By the time we were at the second waterfall it was starting to stick. Above Lake Laura there was two inches on the ground. 35 minutes from the car (10 minutes off my best pace) Lake Lillian had about eight inches in the open, but where it was sheltered there was significantly less. I saw only one person on the trail and they were up above me on the official trail heading back toward Twin Lakes.
My original plan had been to check out Lake Lillian, of course, but also a rumored cave on the north shore and hope the ridge to the west and visit Gold Lake, which I've seen only from way above. I found what I think is the trail over the big rock to the east and shuffled through the snow back down to the lake. It's quite a detour and not worth it if the weather's good, but crossing the rock face in the snow wouldn't have been possible.
Tokul and I followed the eastern shore to about where the trail heads up the gully to access Rampart Ridge, but looking into the nondescript gray fog hiding the lake I decided the cave and Gold Lake would have to wait until next year. I'd be lucky to even find the cave and even though it was only about 3pm it seemed to be getting darker.
Back at the trail I decided to go along the south shore. The trail is a little bit sketchy along some rocks, but they looked pretty bare. Tokul has had issues on this side in the past, but I was able to boost her over the trickiest bits when needed. This time wasn't to be, though. After two boosts she steadfastly refused to continue. There was a ledge angling up that looked like it might go so we headed that way. She had no problems and with my ice axe being used mostly in the dirt beneath the shallow snow neither did I.
On top of the knoll we could see little more than from the lake's level. We dropped a bit and I climbed up to the next knoll where Jeremy and I had camped on my only other trip to Lillian this year. The ridge separating me from Gold Lake wasn't even visible so I didn't feel bad about giving up. Plus it meant I wouldn't have to push Tokul up yet another ledge... she was whining at the bottom of a three foot step.
On the way down we stopped at Lake Laura where I'd been only once before. I walked around the lake a bit more and found the outlet that continues down to become Rocky Run. The camera was pretty thoroughly soaked by this time (but still shooting, if with a built-in blur mode) so the photos were a bit tricky. We climbed out of the basin and made it back to the car about 5pm. I was home half an hour later.
Summer, if it ever came, is gone. It seems Winter has pushed Autumn aside in the mountains and a long, snowy season is ahead of us. I guess snowshoeing season will start a little early this year.
Total distance was about three miles with 1,500 feet of gain.