Mt. Margaret

Rain  on the east side of the mountains was forecast for the morning with more rain moving east in the afternoon. Where to go? Suzanne and I chose to return to Mt. Margaret. I hiked the trail in the summer a few decades back. Since then I had been back on snowshoes the two previous years. The first time we drove to the summer trailhead and hit snow when we left the road. Last year we started at the bottom and made it to the false summit. HIgh winds, sketchy snow and several folks with minimal scrambling experience stopped us there.

I met Suzanne at 7:00 AM as we hoped to get up and down before the afternoon rain came in. I quickly realized that I forgot my snowshoes. Not a good idea. We backtracked so I could pick them up and headed out. By 8:30 we went off the Hyak exit on I-90, parked,  geared up and were on our way. The high at Snoqualmie Pass the day before was 49 degrees. The overnight low was 37. I was afraid the road would be very soft. In fact, it was hard enough to allow us to just boot it. This road is groomed for snowmobiles and is well compacted.

The road is never steep as it slowly switchbacks up. We started at about 2600'. The summit is at 5520'. There were half a dozen snowmobile trailers in the lot but no other walkers. A few machines passed us but it was never a steady stream. I was not feeling all that great this day and I just tried to keep Suzanne in sight. We reached the summer parking lot in about 1:15. I estimate that is about 2 1/2 miles. Half the distance to the top but not half the elevation gain.

Just after the lot the roads split and we headed left and more steeply uphill. A few more switchbacks and the open clear cut below the ridge top came into view. For the most part we had blue sky with some clouds. It was getting pretty warm in the sun. I wished I had worn lighter pants as it felt like 50 degrees. We stopped where the summer trail begins to put on snowshoes. The snow was very well consolidated and they may not have been necessary but I hate to posthole.

Suzanne led a route that was a bit to the right of our route last year. It was a much more gentle slope with no ups and downs. My energy was rapidly running out and I appreciated the lack of steep slopes. We climbed most of the way up the clear cut before heading into the trees. Hard to believe I was relieved to be out of the sun in mid March. We continued up in the darker forest and finally reached the ridge top.

We were very close to where the summer trail splits and one route drops down to Margaret Lake. There were some machine and ski tracks on the ridge but no boot or snowshoe tracks. Looks like we were the first hikers up since the last snow. The ridge walk is easy as it climbs to the false summit with a few small ups and downs. We had one look out to the east with Mt. Stuart and Margaret Lake in view. We also had a narrow view at one point of the false summit and the real summit.

My first winter ascent had a little scrambling just below the false summit. The second one had very different conditions and a bit of a scramble at a slightly different place below the false summit. This time we had yet another problem just below the false summit. The ridge comes to a wide at the top and narrowing gully leading up to the false summit. There was a very slight cornice at the top and a steep slope leading down. A slip could be nasty. Just below the cornice was a narrow snow ledge. The dogs ran right across it. We stopped to ponder.

Suzanne went up first and headed across the ledge. She could duck down and get some extra room. A minute later she was on the false summit. I found I am too tall to duck and the small cornice stuck out just enough to make it hard to get across. I found the snow was hard but soft enough to chip it away. I took a few minutes to pare off enough snow so that I could walk across. Mission accomplished.

We chose to continue on to the real summit. It is only about 2/10s of a mile away. The ridge drops steeply for 90 feet to a col then climbs 180 feet to the summit. With good snow the descent was no problem. On my other winter visit the snow was not very deep and we ended up pulling ourselves up with tree branches in places on the forested summit ridge. This time it was a breeze. In no time we were on the summit.

Clouds had been coming in as we traversed the ridge. We could still see to the north, east, and south but the view to the west was increasingly covered by clouds. I  could see Hibox close by and Mt. Stuart to the east. Mt. Catherine was still in the clear as well. It was just before 12:00 when we arrived. It took 3 1/2 hours to hike the 5+ miles to the top. The wind was now blowing and we bundled up for lunch. In less than half an hour it was time to head down.

The drop and climb back to the false summit went quickly. Suzanne pointed out Mt. Rainier. I had not even noticed that it was out of the clouds. Once back on the forested ridge the wind was gone. We had to peel off a few layers. When we emerged back into the clear cut it was obvious how much the snow had softened. It was almost like skiing as I slid a foot with snowshoe step. Now I was very glad we went back to get them in the morning.

The descent to the road went fast. Now we just had about a 3 1/2 miles road slog. The road seemed much longer than it was on the way up. Part way down the sun began to be blocked by clouds. While the descent seemed to go on forever, in fact, we came all the way down in two hours. We saw some snowshoe tracks but never did see anyone not on a snowmobile. As we crested Snoqualmie Pass the rain began. It kept raining all the way back to Issaquah. I especially enjoy a sunny day in the mountains when it's pouring in the city.

This proved to be an excellent trip. We saw few people, traveled over 10 miles all on snow, and reached the summit. The sunny sky was an added bonus. This is one of those I-90 summits which does not get a lot of visits in the winter but makes for a very enjoyable day.

Suzanne has a trip report with photos here: Report

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Trips - 2007