Lake Valhalla - Mt. McCausland

     This was a rare trip. I had never been on any of the route before. This is one of Gary's favorite winter ski trips. We brought snowshoes and skis this time. I was a little nervous about ice but with temperatures forecast for the mid 40's it would soften up in the afternoon. We were the third car at the Smithbrook Road "lot" and were on our way by 9:10. The road is at a very moderate grade. The snow was not as hard as I feared. Stevens Pass dropped to the mid 20's overnight but at the 3187' start it was warmer. The sky was clear and I was excited about getting up to a good view without clouds. The road skiing went fast. At the first big switchback we went off road cutting off much of the switchback. The road stopped climbing and we had a short descent to just before the next big switchback. Here, at about the 2 1/2 mile point, we left the road. At first we had a nice flat section through meadows. When the route began to climb the skis came off. I left mine here and Gary loaded his onto his pack. Now on snowshoes we headed higher. We followed ski tracks most of the way. Our route stayed mostly on the right side of the creek.

     The route steepened for awhile then flattened again in a broad meadow. Lichtenberg Mountain was above us on our left. Ahead was the pass between Lichtenberg and Mt. McCausland. McCausland is marked as Point 5747 on the map. The pass  is right above Lake Valhalla. The snow conditions were excellent for snowshoeing. It was firm but soft enough to get good traction. As we climbed up towards the pass Gary suggested heading up Mt. McCausland. I just wanted to get a great view so I readily agreed. We had a good view of the left (south) ridge of McCausland and it looked reasonable. By angling to our right we reached the ridge well above the pass. At this point we had two choices. One was to traverse from the south ridge over to the east side of the mountain where the slope looked easier. The other option was to go straight up a very steep section then have a gentler grade to the summit. I was all for trying the steeper but shorter route right in front of us.

     The terrain was treeless and almost flat at the bottom. It quickly steepened to a grade of nearly 40 degrees then eased. With crampons and ice axes it would be a breeze. Of course we had touring ski boots and ski poles. The good news is that with the nearly flat runout a slip was unlikely to be hazardous. Still, that thing was steep. I went first and had just enough snowshoe crampon to dig in. I slipped a few times but managed to keep going. Gary's Sherpa snowshoes had a little less grip than my MSRs and he took his off. Light touring ski boots are not designed to kick steps in icy snow but they worked. When I made it to where it eased I turned around to see Gary but he was hidden by the steepness of the slope. When he did come into view all I could see was the top of his hat. From this point on the ridge the view improved tremendously. Rock Mountain was to the east. Mt Daniel and Mt. Hinman dominated the south. Sloan Peak and the Monte Cristo Peaks seemed close by. Snow covered Lake Valhalla was just below us. The last couple hundred vertical feet was a very nice ridge walk. The actual summit has some trees but the view is nearly 360 degrees. By dropping down a little we could see most of Glacier Peak. It was nice to see it cloaked in white after seeing it so bare last summer. From the top Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, and Mt. Stuart were clearly visible. Views like that are why I enjoy snow scrambles so much.

     It was past noon on top and we were more than ready for lunch. It was a spectacular place for it. Gary has been on top in winter and summer. He mentioned that there was/is a summit register. There was no way we could ever find it under 8 feet of snow but it would be fun to come back in the summer and sign in. We debated whether to go back down that steep slope or try the east face. The east side won out. Gary put on his skinny touring skis and we were off. The snow was crusty, soft, and everything in between. After a short drop Gary switched over to snowshoes. After we dropped about 300' Gary pulled out his skis. He found that a part of the binding was gone. He then retraced his steps all the way back to the summit. I kicked out a flat spot on the slope and sat down to admire the view. Gary returned without the missing part. It was not critical to the functioning of the binding but still frustrating to lose it. He again put on skis and away we went. I had a great time running, slipping, and occasionally falling down the slope. Gary managed to telemark across open slopes and between trees as we descended.

     We managed to find our ascending tracks and followed them down. At one point I heard voices and there were fresh snowshoe tracks but we never saw those people. After dropping 1000' to the meadow Gary switched back to snowshoes for the final descent. The snow in the trees was icier and much poorer for skiing. Somewhere along our descent we lost our ascending tracks and ended up following those made by the other snowshoers. The route seemed a little different and it was confirmed when we reached the big switchback in the Smithbrook Road. Now we had to go cross country across the meadow to find our ski tracks and follow them back up valley to find my skis. After a bit of a detour we did find the skis. This is where the real benefit of a combo trip came into play. instead of a long 2 1/2 mile slog in snowshoes we had a quick ski descent. After seeing nobody all day we passed several groups ascending in the first mile. I was surprised to see people starting this trip at 3:00 or later. I was getting tired and the fact the snow was slow was a plus for me. High clouds had come in but it was still a beautiful day when we finished. The totals for the day were about 9 miles with 2800' gained. This was a great trip and one I will do again.

Smithbrook Road
Leaving The Road
Snowshoe Time
Rock Mountain
Knob On Lichtenberg
Mt. McCausland
Mt. Stuart
McCausland Summit
Lake Valhalla
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