Lanham Lake And Ridge
Weeks of sunny days finally gave way to rain. It looked
like rain below 3500'. We thought about a destination that would start near
or above that level. Suzanne came up with Lanham Lake and Jim Hill Mountain.
Neither Suzanne, Bob, Kolleen, nor I had ever been there. It's only 1 3/4
miles to the lake. It's too short to be a destination by itself. By trying
for Jim Hill it added distance and a lot more elevation gain. We met near
Kirkland at 7:30 AM and all piled into Suzanne's Highlander. It was a tight
squeeze with four of us, our gear, and Suzanne's dog Sadie.
As we approached Stevens Pass there was fresh snow on the highway. Some
light snow was coming down. The Stevens Pass Nordic Center is the trailhead.
We dropped from 4000' at the pass to just over 3000' at the parking lot.
There were only four other cars in the first lot. As we got started it began
to snow very hard. Back to winter once again. The first order of business
was finding the trailhead. We went up to the groomed road and as we looked
around we finally saw a large sign pointing to the Lanham Lake Trail. We
were making it harder than it was.
The trail was packed down by the masses as I expected. It begins along Lanham
Creek and more or less follows it all the way to the lake. The snow soon began
to let up. About half way to the lake we met a group of Mountaineers. They
were in snowshoes and we were still just booting it. I passed several of
them outside the trench and found that I sank in nearly knee deep. We reached
the lake in under an hour.
The lake was snow covered as expected. Jim Hill Mountain is behind the lake
and unfortunately it was in the clouds. We were able to see the saddle in
the ridge east of the lake. We put on snowshoes here. Crossing the lake outlet
was easy on a very big snow bridge. The flat lake basin ended very quickly
as the steep slope was upon us. The surface was hard and icy under trees
and had three of four inches of fresh snow on top of the hard pack in the
We angled a little right of center as we aimed for where the saddle should
be. The whole way up was in forest and we could not see the saddle at all.
All seven or eight reports I read on Jim Hill said the climb to the ridge
is easy. Perhaps with better snow it is. We had ice in places and snow that
slid on the hard pack underneath it. Poor footing either way. We made steady
progress but it was not very fast. Continuing up was okay but we were all
concerned about getting back down again. We were able to drive our ice axes
deep so we had some comfort.
It is about 1300' to the saddle and it was taking forever. After an hour
we were still 500 feet short. While the slope is steep there were a number
of small benches that allowed us to rest. After 1:50 we finally reached the
ridge top. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we were very near the
middle of the saddle. Just north of us was a sharp rock outcropping. That
would have been a pain to contour around. The ridge above the saddle to the
south was quickly lost in the clouds. We could not see any of Jim Hill Mountain.
It was after noon and time for lunch. We managed to get mostly out of the
wind. It was calm on the climb but a cold wind blew on the ridge top. We brought
crampons along. We knew that there was no way to get down with snowshoes.
We would be skiing on the loose snow immediately. Crampons would ball up right
away. They might be useful lower where it was icier. We decided that it was
best to try plunge stepping down.
Kolleen was game to continue up the ridge. I was nervous about the descent
and with zero views I was not keen on continuing. Even if we could have made
it up the ridge there is an avalanche slope near the top and with the new
snow on the icy crust there was no way we would cross it. With no summit possible
and a dicey descent ahead we chose to head straight down.
As often happens our concern was over blown. For the most past the descent
was fine. We postholed deeply in places and slid in others but for the most
part it was good. Bob did fall once and it was so soft that his axe barely
bit in self arrest position. Thankfully the snow was soft enough that his
feet and the axe brought him to a halt before hitting any trees. The slope
was much steeper than our photos make it seem.
In only 30 minutes we were back at the lake. There were some ski tracks
there and a group of snowshoers. We had a little better view of Jim Hill
but the summit was still in the clouds. We were able to see much of the ridge
now. The final 1 3/4 miles down went quickly. We did pass the expected hoards
of snowshoers coming up. The trench was now very thoroughly packed down. We
did not use snowshoes for the descent. It was a little slick but okay with
poles for balance. We left the ridge top at 12:30 and by 2:00 we were back
at the trailhead.
Some small bits of blue sky shone through as we came down from the lake.
The weather turned out pretty good after all. As we drove back to the pass
we entered the clouds. Soon they led to rain. Much of the drive back was in
rain. I always enjoy a day of good weather when the mountains are mostly drenched
in rain. Although we only covered 5 miles the steep climb made for a strenuous
day. Now we will have to come back on a clear day and take a shot at the
summit of Jim Hill.