Mt. McCausland

After 11 miles at Wallace Lake and beer and pizza at the first annual nwhikers calendar social it was hard to get up at 6:00 am for another trip. I pulled myself out of bed and got ready for our 7:00 meeting at the 65th St Park and Ride in North Seattle. Suzanne was running a little late after a service snafu at Starbucks. It was way below freezing over night as I unexpectedly had a lot of ice to scrape off my car. The roads were icy too for the drive out of town. With the recent temperature inversion we have had some strange readings. It was still at 29 degrees at Sultan but by the time we reached Skykomish it was 54 degrees. We cruised over Stevens Pass and reached the Smith Brook lot with 19 degrees showing. Only a 35 degree drop in less than 20 miles. It was definitely cold but it did not seen as bad as the day before at the Wallace Lake trailhead.

Someone spotted that Suzanne's right front tire was very low. Hmm... something else to deal with on the way home. Suzanne, David, and I met Bob and Kolleen and Nikolai at Smith Brook. There were already quite a few cars there. With our morning mix ups, slow traffic, and icy roads, it was 9:15 before we were on our way. The embankment was not much taller than me making it easy to climb up.

The road had a well packed down and frozen trench to walk in. There was also some softer snow on the sides to make skiing reasonable for those who had them. We kept our snowshoes stowed and walked up the road. We entered the fog after crossing the crest of the Cascades but it was not too thick at the start and soon we were above it. Nothing but blue sky. I soon pealed off a layer and was comfortable until the summit with just a wool shirt on. Either it warmed up fast of it was the most comfortable 19 degrees I have been in. We passed one group digging snow caves along the side of the road. Several of them had brush poking through the caves. Not really enough snow yet to build there.

At the first big switchback to the right we followed tracks leaving the road to avoid the switchback. The snow in the trees was hard enough to walk in without post holing. Once back on the road just had the last straight away to where we would head into the forest. As always, Gusto Suzanne's golden retriever, was along. For the first time Bob and Kolleen brought along Luis, their new chihuahua. Luis did a little walking and rode much of the way with Bob or Kolleen. Smallest dog I have yet seen on a snowshoe trip.

The first time I did McCausland Gary and I ditched skis in the valley below the road and headed up along the creek. The next time we followed a trail traversing uphill along the side of Union Peak. This time we followed as trail somewhere between the two earlier routes. First we dropped then began to climb to our right. We took a break where the grade moderated. This is also where the tracks ended. Suzanne saw a couple skiers coming down to our left. We headed over that way.

We found more tracks and followed them up the valley. This route seemed nothing like my two previous visits. We did reach the big meadow I did recall. From there it was steeply uphill then more moderate again. Nikolai, with his big 30" snowshoes, was doing a lot of the trail breaking. I was a bit tired from the trip the day before and was bringing up the rear most of the way. We worked our way up the east side of McCausland staying well right of the pass to Lake Valhalla.

Higher up the snow became much deeper and less consolidated. I was occasionally post holing to my knees in the packed trench and a few times it was waist deep. I really expected it to be more consolidated. It certainly was down lower. With less than 200 feet to go we began to feel the wind. The views were also getting pretty spectacular. Glacier Peak is well coated in winter white. We could see peaks Rock, Howard, Arrowhead, Stuart, Daniel, and Hinman to name a few. The last 75 feet were in the teeth of a gale. It was not only freezing but the wind was blowing ice pellets at us. I stayed on the 5747' summit long enough to put on my down jacket.

The summit did afford views out to Sloan and the Monte Cristo peaks too. Within about five minutes we were heading back down. After that 200 or so feet we still had good views and had lost most of the wind. A great place for lunch. It took us about three hours to ascend. The hard pack on the road saved us a lot of time. The descent was fun. we followed our tracks with a few improvisations in the soft snow. We lost the first thousand feet quickly. Coming down me met a couple skiers, and couple more skiers, and a snowshoe group. We chose to follow the obvious tracks rather than our route up from the road. It proved to be an easy route. In short order we were back at the road.

I had feared that while it was still cold the sun might have softened up the road and forced us to keep our snowshoes on. This did not prove to be the case. We packed them away for the road walk down. As always, the way down seemed longer than coming up. Still, the several miles did go by reasonably fast. Back at the car we had one more chore. Changing a tire on solid ice is a challenge. I couldn't even chip down to the pavement. Setting the jack on a towel provided some friction and we blocked the wheels with ice chunks. It worked just fine. Soon we were heading home.

The drive home was as interesting at the way up. It was down to the high 20s at Stevens Pass then up to 54 at Skykomish. By the time we reached Sultan it was 61 degrees. It will be months before I expect to see a day in the 60s again. This ended up being a great trip. It was not as crowded as I have seen Smith Brook Road. The hard snow allowed us to do well over half the trip without snowshoes. The snow was a little soft up high but overall it was fine. The only thing I would have had different was the blasting wind on the summit. All in all, a very nice day for a snowshoe summit.


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Trips - 2009