Talapus Lake seemed like a great destination for a snowy, cloudy night. It's mostly in the woods, no exposed avalanche slopes, and a moderate amount of elevation. The elevation was a key determining factor since I'd already felt the burn pulking the girls around at the Pass earlier in the morning. So we headed out at the usual nightshoe time for about 7:30pm.
We drove up the road to about the end of the pavement (or where it ended under all the snow. We couldn't really go much farther since there was a truck stuck right ahead of us. Approximately 200 kids were hanging out so we parked behind it and off to the side while we geared up. They backed up and tried to turn around and got well and truly stuck. Sideways. Completely blocking the way home.
So now we had a vested interest in getting them unstuck. Not only would they undoubtedly do horrible things to the truck they would be there waiting for us when we got back. Crap. I asked if they had a plan and they said, half jokingly, "Yeah! New Year's! Right here!" Not good. I gave them my shovel and they dug for a while before finally freeing their car. We headed up the road while they popped a champagne cork. Maybe they'd be there when we got back after all...
During the summer you get to drive way up to the summer trailhead. Not so in the winter. However, had the kids and a couple of other trucks torn up the road down low we could probably have driven much of the way. It did, though, become a single track well before the trailhead itself. And there was no way we'd be turning around up high and backing down wouldn't be fun.
Since some others had already broken trail it was easy walking. We didn't even put snowshoes on until somewhere around 2,400 feet (we started at about 1,700 feet). 200 feet higher we were at the summer trailhead a total of an hour later.
The difference between walking a road and walking a trail was amazing. It wasn't a problem to find the trail because others had broken it for us, but it was smoothed over with a fresh layer of snow.
At the first set of switchbacks there was a little sign that said, "Don't cut the switchbacks." Normally I'm a fan of switchbacks. They're their for a reason and cutting them tears up the woods. But with a ton of snow on the ground it doesn't seem quite so bad. The downside of the sign was that it gave everybody the bright idea to cut the switchbacks. So there were loads of trails that headed straight up. We took advantage of some of them as long as the real trail continued off in a direction we knew we wouldn't wind up missing when it came back.
Unfortunately, I committed the cardinal sin and forgot a bundle of the 10 essentials. I usually carry a baggie with extra batteries, maps, and my compass. It remained on the shelf at home so when the batteries in my GPS went dead we were out of all navigational aids.
In the end we stopped just after crossing Talapus Creek at about 3,300 feet. My recollection from previous snow-free trips was wrong and it felt like we were past the lake and generally heading in the wrong direction. WRONG. We were less than a quarter mile from the lake. BLARG!
So we retreated to the creek and carved seats out of the snow. We had the usual refreshments like special cocoa and brownies (all edges!) and even an orange for good health. Tokul stole the last of my brownie (again: BLARG!), but she had been very patient as we labored up the slopes so I forgave her. After a few minutes of chilling (and getting chilled) we started down. It took only 20 minutes to get down to the summer trailhead (it was an hour up), but the road walk down didn't go as quickly.
My big fear was that we were going to get stuck trying to turn around just like the kids we had seen on the way in. Dan assured me that we wouldn't make the same mistakes (which sounds like we were going to make exactly the same mistakes) so I gave it a go and it turned out fine. I rolled into bed at about 1am.
Total distance was about 8.7 miles and 1,580 feet. (It should have been about nine miles and 1,600 feet, but that's what I get for heading out with only seven essentials. BLARG!)