was free but the weather looked awful. Steady rain on the west side of
the mountains and very high winds on the east side. We came up with two
options. A loop on Mt. Si including one new trail neither of us had
hiked or Diamond Head near Blewett Pass. The wind there was expected to
have 34 mph gusts. Wind like that blowing across snow is brutal. The
chance of falling trees is another concern. Saturday morning the wind
forecast was down to gusts in the mid 20s. We chose the long drive
east. If the wind was too strong we might have to abort. A hike on the
west side meant warm and very wet. Back in 2011 Janet and I snowshoed
Head from Blewett Pass. A fun
trip on a clear day with great views. That was a low snow year and the
off road/trail section was pretty easy. With the strong winds Gary
suggested starting lower at the Pipe Creek sno-park.
We met at Eastgate at 7:30 am. A little later for a long drive in early
February. Days are still very short. The drive was mostly in rain until
over Snoqualmie Pass and down to Easton. In the distance we could see a
little clearing. Some strong winds out to Cle Elum where we headed
north on Highways 970 and 97. A few miles before Blewett Pass we turned
into the Pipe Creek parking lot. The lot was a skating rink. Smooth
solid ice from one end to the other. There were two other cars in the
lot. We were packed up and on our way at 9:08 am. It had been over 32
degrees the past few days and it was 41 degrees when we started. I
expected to see packed snow be very icy. It was not. Gary and I had
only skied here and to our surprise it was marginally skiable this day.
We made it .64 miles when we began to sink in and stopped to put on
snowshoes. We met a couple snowshoeing back after a night out camping.
We passed another group heading out. That accounted for both cars.
The road/trail heads for Swauk Meadow. Before the meadow we turned off
on another road. We followed it half a mile to a bridge over a creek.
Here we left the road. The snow was soft enough for us to sink in a
bit. Not hard but much more work than consolidated snow. Neither of us
had been on this leg of the route. It grew steeper higher up but went
just fine. After slow slogging we made it up to the main road out of
Blewett Pass. This road is groomed for snowmobiles and very busy on
weekends. Pipe Creek sno-park is non motorized. Only up on the main
road did we see snowmobiles. We only saw a few here. We headed up the
road a short .30 miles to a road on the left side. As we climbed up to
the main road we came into sunshine. Very warm sunshine. With a
temperature in the 40s and sunshine it felt like spring snowshoeing not
winter. We heard some wind but it was not a problem so far. A short way
up this road we stopped in the sunshine for a food break. It was
already 11:00 am. It took us 1:52 to cover 2.5 miles. snowshoeing in
soft snow is slow.
At 11:18 we were back on our way. I had a GPS track from the 2011 trip
it helped us find the best spot to leave this spur road and head
straight up to the upper road near Diamond Head. One could walk the
main road all the way up but this off track climb in forest is quite a
bit shorter. It might not have been faster under these conditions but
is shorter. Another spur road on the map does not appear to exist any
longer. We had to reconsider where to leave the road. We found a good
spot right after a left turn in the road where we entered the forest.
We stopped a number of times to check our route and we were
consistently right on the old GPS track. The first part was at a very
gentle grade then it began to steepen. At no time was it overly steep.
The snow was deeper here than on our earlier off road section and we
sank much farther. The trail breaker sank almost knee deep with most
steps. It was frustratingly slow. A larger party to switch the lead
would have been helpful. We just slogged our way uphill. We were happy
to reach the upper road.
The section from where we left the spur road up to the upper road was
.60 mile gaining 710'. It took us 51 minutes to climb. That is mighty
slow. It was also some great snowshoeing. No road or trail, no tracks,
and no signs of anyone else. Now on the upper road we could hear the
wind. It was getting very loud. We still did not feel it much. There is
a break in the trees along the road and we now had great views west to
the Teanaway Peaks and the Stuart Range. Resplendent with a fresh coat
of white snow. The road continued to climb but was much faster. We
reached a signed junction. Only 27 miles to Ellensburg. Not this day.
We followed a snowmobile track left as it headed towards the top of
Diamond Head. We were now only about 300' below the top.
We left the track and made our own. The wind was very loud to our left
so we stayed in trees and well right of the ridge top to minimize it.
It worked very well. At the end of the trees is an open slope leading
to the long summit ridge. We stopped to put on jackets and tighten the
hoods against the wind. On the open slope there were no trees to fall.
It was perfectly safe. The ridge of Diamond Head runs north - south.
The wind was out of the west south west. Once up the slope we entered
forest and were almost entirely out of the wind once again. The top is
pretty flat. We went to where the map showed the high point. Maybe it
is 5' higher. In 2011 we continued farther north to a viewpoint. Gary
and I did the same. The ridge drops a little to a point out of the
trees. Here we saw a skier. We never crossed his tracks so he had to
have come up the north side. Now it was time to finish our lunches. It
was also 1:32 pm. It took us 4:24 to snowshoe 4.6 miles gaining just
under 2400'. Our lunch break lasted 20 minutes.
We packed up at 1:52 and headed back. We had abut 3:25 before sunset.
Clearly we needed to pick up our pace. Back up to the summit, along the
ridge and down. I saw a good viewpoint to the west and we left our
track. Two snowmobiles arrived just as we did. We could now see clouds
starting to come in to the west. Overhead it was still blue sky. The
views were great. The wind was pretty strong too. Not hard enough to
knock us over but it made steady photos almost impossible as gusts
moved my arms back and forth. Before long we were heading down again.
The drop to the road went fast. The road walk went fast. Slogging down
from the upper road went a lot faster than the ascent. In just 1:19 we
were back at the lower main road. We did see some snowmobiles on our
short .30 walk. We also basked in bright warm sunshine. A complete
opposite of the conditions on Mt. Si this day. We left the road and did
not see anyone else the rest of the way back.
The last few miles on road were a slow slog. Once on the road from
Swauk Meadow I was thinking about the time we had skied down this last
section. Snowshoeing takes about five times longer than skiing it. We
finally reached the parking lot at 4:14 pm , a full hour before sunset.
We took 4:24 to go up and 2:22 to come down. That is a considerable
difference. All in all, it was a great trip. It would have been faster
and easier if John had been able to come along. Gary and I worked hard
breaking trail but it was good to be off of any route. The weather
conditions turned out better than our most optimistic hopes. Mostly
sunny turned out to be almost completely sunny and the wind, though
present, did not impact our route much at all. We saw two snowshoe
groups, one skier, and several groups of snowmobiles though on only a
small part of our route. A great time was had by both of us.
Icy Parking Lot
Cross Country Ascent
Compacted Spur Road
Gary Breaks Trail
Gary Sinks In
Onto Upper Road
Sun, Snow, & Burn
Windy Open Slope
Gary At Lunch
View To The North
Diamond Head Summit
Back On Road
Look Back To Summit
Sunny Middle Road
Last Summit View
Off Road Again
Last Road Section
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