Mileage: 14.6 miles RT (if you make it to the lake and depending on where you can park)
Elevation Gain/Highest: 2800/4485ft
Map: Green Trail Sloan Peak No 111
Favorite Eats After Hike: Mirkwoodshire Café
12/17/2016 It is the middle of December and I am still having a hard time adjusting my expectations for how much I can do on a day hike (snowshoe). I had wanted to do this hike back in October but ended up somewhere else instead so when I saw it in the snowshoe book I thought I would give it a go. It was less than 14 miles in the book…
We left the house at 7am and made it up the Mountain Loop in good time (after a stop at Starbucks). The road was relatively clear with a little ice on the sides but when we got to FR 23, it was snow covered.
We took the turn and decided to put chains on because although my bf has 4 wheel drive, he has city tires. No reason to get stuck if we don’t have to. A few minutes later were headed along the mostly flat river road but stopped again about 4 minutes up the road for a Mazda (with chains) coming back down. He said he had made it to the TH (barely) but was reluctant to leave his car because of the snow forecast (overnight) and had backed out one whole mile to turn around and come all the way back down to the Mountain Loop junction to leave his car and THEN WALK BACK UP! When we told him we were heading to the same trail, he asked if we would be willing to give him a ride. No problem, we said.
So driving back and letting him hop in, we continued down the FR 23 and over the bridge at 5 miles and the parking area and privy at the White Chuck River Trail. This was how far he had made it, not the TH for Crystal Lake as I had hoped. We were able to continue up the road to the junction with FR 27 but it was here with the hairpin turn that we knew we would be parking the car and starting our trek. Our fellow hiker, Josh (who was overnighting it), headed up to begin and we finished packing up for the walk.
We started up the road at a little after 10am with our snowshoes strapped to the packs as the snow was not too deep but slick and crunchy. We both had spikes, too, but never used them. This section of the route is still the road and would be for the 2.5 miles until the junction with the Meadow Mountain trail. There were plenty of elegantly adorned trees and near frozen waterfalls.
There was one section before the first hairpin turn that the slope was lined with rows and rows of icicles.
I had already put my snowshoes on by this point but my bf didn’t put his on until we made it the trail junction. Here you can continue on to Rat Pass or turn right to head to Crystal Lake or Meadow Lake.
The snow gets measurably deeper here and for the next 1.5 miles it was still old road but narrower and covered with many more downed trees making it prudent to watch our step to prevent postholing at a branch over the trail. I just love when the weight of the snow bends the boughs over the trail like a snare that drops that cold gift on you as you try to walk under.
We passed Josh (the only other person we saw today) as he stopped to decide if he had missed the trail junction to the lake. There is a section here on the trail where you go DOWN a bit which typically makes you wonder if you took a wrong turn. We thanked him for breaking trail thus far and told him we would take a turn. The snow today was so light and powdery, but I couldn’t decide if this was better than wet, sloppy snow that loaded itself on your snowshoes and adds weight to every step. The loose stuff means nothing tampers down and my bf joked it was worse than when we were walking on the Great Sand Dunes this summer! You felt like you were losing more ground than gaining at times.
It was already 1pm when we reached the sign for the Crystal Lake Trail. We stopped for a snack and debated how much further we wanted to go today. Josh caught up and chatted for a bit with the same question. I guessed about 2 more hours, reluctant to say that we wouldn’t make it to the lake. I knew the next mile or so up the trail would be on old road but from there it would be overgrown trail covered in snow. Navigation would be necessary. Josh continued on, hoping to make a good distance before setting up his camp. We decided to see how far we could get, already knowing we would be hiking out in the dark at this point.
The trail continued to narrow but the grade was easy. After being in the trees for most of this trek, you do break out and have views of the creek valley as you make your way along. The temperatures were in the teens today and the snow was making those delicate crystals on the mounds of snow we were drudging through and we couldn’t but stop and try and capture them on camera with varying success.
At 2:30pm and a little over 3500ft with no hairpin in the trail to tell us we had left the old road and were heading up on the unmaintained section of the trail we opted to make this our turn around point. Josh was a bit a head of us and said he would continue a little more and then make camp while he still had daylight.
We wished him luck on the rest of his trip. I sat for just a bit to eat warm food from my thermos and my bf heated water for his lunch. It was so cold I couldn’t sit long and stomped around while he got his meal ready to keep my toes from freezing further. It was 3pm when we began to walk back down the trail. We already had our headlamps on in anticipation.
We did make better time on the way down not only due to elevation loss but the snow was tampered slightly. We also knew were the postholing would happen and could avoid it a bit better on the way down. This time of the day is one of my favorites, the way the waning sunlight falls on the snow.
It was dark by the time we were back on FR 27 but this wasn’t our first time snowshoeing after the sun had gone down. Our first snowshoe together on Segelsen Ridge ended with headlamps, as well. Only this time, the snow as in mush better condition not having had snowmobiles on it to create big tripping hazards (ruts). By the time we reached the car it was 6pm and 16 degrees.
Everything we had was frozen: water bottles, the ice inside our gaiters and even some of the food in my pack. Needless to say, the first thing on our mind was finding some warm food to eat! Our trip came out to about 11 miles RT. I would say I wish we had gotten an earlier start but I can look back and say not making the lake was worth it (if we would have anyway) so that we were able to give a ride to someone who make have been able to make it with the help.
I wrote more about our decision to turn around on my latest blog post, Reaching Our Turn Around Point, because as always there is more to the story. :)The
Directions: From Darrington, drive south on the Mountain Loop Highway 9 miles to FR 23 (White Chuck River Rd.) and turn left. Continue for 5 .3 mile to the junction with FR 27 if possible. You cross a bridge over the river at 5 miles and there is a parking area and privy here. If you can continue, the junction with FR 27 is another 1/4 mile. There is a pullout at the junction or continue up FR 27 to the snow line or TH 2.5 miles up.