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
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.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Leaving The Road
Knob On Lichtenberg
Photo Page 2