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Denny Mountain at night
posted by John : November 19, 2007

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Snoqualmie Mountain

Technically, it wasn't nightshoeing because the season doesn't begin until... well... until I say it does. (I make the rules on HA!)

Instead, this was a pre-season scouting trip to get a handle on the conditions at Snoqualmie Pass. I conned upstream neighbor Jeremy into leaving at 7pm to check out the new snow that had fallen a couple of days earlier.

Driving up to the Pass we didn't hit snow until we passed Denny Creek and even then it was just a bit falling and a tiny touch on the side of the road. Finally, right at the Pass there was snow on the road, but no more falling.

In the Alpental parking lot we geared up, but decided the lack of snow didn't justify the extra four or so pounds of our snowshoes. Instead, we started up the hill in just boots. (I cheated a bit and had crampons in my bag just in case.)

Alpental is a downhill ski area so it's not really a wilderness experience. Just after starting up a car pulled into the lot and a bunch of young punks jumped out to snowboard in the parking area. Freaks.

There wasn't a ton of snow so the small trees were still poking up forcing us to stick to the mostly cleared areas. We followed up under the short lift then crossed over toward the lift leading to the summit.

We were surprised to find a little pond and a creek blocking our route. There were a bunch of logs over the creek, but they weren't placed there to bridge without the benefit of a bunch of snow. Still, even without good snow coverage we managed to not fall in and started climbing up a steep hill. The moon popped out illuminating some old steps in the snow that we hadn't really seen before thanks to the four or so inches of fresh powder on top.

(Of course, the moon passed back behind the clouds before I could take a picture.)

At the top of the stretch we could clearly see the saddle at the top of the lift and it seemed really close. Turns out it was a fair ways more. We left the relatively open slopes and followed the tracks directly below the lift through shoulder-height trees.

At the saddle we contemplated continuing up toward the true summit, but it was another 1,000 feet to the scrambly summit so instead we tooled around in the saddle a bit. There appeared to be a track heading up the hill to the east so we crossed a meadow toward that and then the moon popped out again. I stopped to admire the mountains (Snoqualmie Mountain was across the valley) and that's when I heard the cracking.

Before I could say, "Oh, dang," I was knee deep in water and scrambling out of the really, really cold pond/swamp/puddle. Jeremy had been standing on the log I had just stepped off of so he gingerly followed me as I scampered off the snow-covered ice.

We discussed heading down immediately, but between gaiters, waterproof pants, and Gore-Tex boots I only really felt cold around my knees. I promised that if I felt the least bit chilly anywhere else we'd turn around, but since we'd already dismissed the idea of a true summit bid there was no big rush.

We did follow the track into the woods and found a shed near a big sign that said, in essence, "Get out of here before you explode." Apparently, they either store or prepare the explosives used for avalanche control. The best advice was, "Do not fight explosive fires." Well, duh.

So we turned around and headed down. Where we could we slid a bit, but the fresh snow on top and the hard snow below combined to make glissading a little less than efficient and enjoyable. And I don't even have to mention the occasional rock or tree that was just barely covered by a quarter inch of snow.

In total we managed only about two miles, but 1,250 feet of gain in about two and a half hours.

And the verdict? Is it time to start the nightshoe season? Yeah, probably. There's enough snow to brighten the night. In fact, we did almost the entire hike without headlamps. Next time we might even take our snowshoes.

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