Pratt Mountain

Bob and Kolleen, the Trail Pair, invited me to go snowshoeing. Suzanne and Rick were also interested. There was some avalanche danger so we chose a lower and close peak with forest all the way to the ridge. Significantly less snow fell Saturday night lessening the risk that much more. If the conditions proved unsafe we would at least get to Olallie Lake. We met at the Pratt Trailhead at 8:30. There was no snow there at all. There was a little light drizzle but no real rain. In fact we had only a little drizzle and snow all day. The trail started out on dirt and stayed that way much longer than I expected.

At the Granite Mountain turnoff there was still no snow. Lots of water in the creeks but no snow. There was a dusting of snow at the big creek crossing in the open but back in the trees it was gone again. We were nearly 3 miles along the route before seeing any real snow. By 3000' there was a little snow on the trail. We took a break at the Talapus-Olallie trail junction. By this point snow covered the ground and was still fairly hard making for easy hiking. Bernadette and Tom left just after us but Tom had foot problems and they turned around before reaching Olallie Lake. We hoped they would catch up by the junction but when they did not we started moving again.

The route was mostly obvious as it headed over towards the Olallie Lake outlet creek. In winter it is usually best to cross on the log jam at the lake outlet. I would have angled over that way but the trail was hard packed enough to make for much easier walking. At the creek we saw a group trying to cross to our side. There was not so much snow as to make dropping down to the creek difficult but the water was running high. Rather than chance soaked feet we chose to follow the creek up to the lake. Near the lake Bob and I started to posthole deeply. The outlet was easy to cross on the snow covered log jam.

The lake is snow covered except for a small area at the outlet. The clouds were low and visibility was poor up high but we could see across the lake. At this point snowshoes went on. The route up is simple enough. Head more or less straight up to the ridge top. Take a left there and follow the ridge to the 5099' summit of Pratt. I had done Pratt twice in the winter and been turned back once along the ridge. When there is enough snow the ridge is just a walk. When there is not enough there is one spot that can be dangerous to cross.

The steepest section of the climb was down low. There was still some underbrush not covered by snow and trees close together. Fortunately, the snow was hard enough to provide good traction for snowshoes. As we ascended the hard snow gave way to deeper fresh snow. It was deeper still where there were openings in the tree cover. We traded off the lead to keep everyone fresh. The small trees are so closely spaced that it seemed our progress would be halted a number of times. We zigged and zagged and managed to work our way up the slope.

After climbing about 500' from the lake we reached the ridge top. The lower ridge is mostly tree covered. The easiest route is to stay on or very near the top. This requires moving right and left to slip through small openings. The ridge is not overly steep and we made steady progress. Sadie, with four paw drive, had no trouble except when she wanted to get ahead. The snow was as deep as her legs. Back in the trench she had no problems. Near 4600' we reached the spot that turned back my first attempt on Pratt. There was a near vertical snow covered step in the ridge. I would guess there was more than 10' less snow than on my last time there. That time the spot was smooth snow with no step to be seen.

Rick went around on the left side to where he could climb straight back up to the ridge top. Kolleen went next, then Suzanne. By the third person much snow had been peeled off and bare rocks were showing. Our concern was getting back down after all five of us went up. It seems that there was another rock step above this one as well. We decided that getting down safely was more important that the last 500' to the cloud covered summit. We probably could have made the top but it just wasn't worth it. Now that we had stomped down a trench the descend was a breeze.

At one point we had a clear view down to Pratt Lake. We could also see the basin of Talapus Lake though not the lake itself. It did not take long to descend from the ridge to the lake. Near the lake we met two others who were heading up. The snow level was supposed to drop to 1500' but it seemed very warm all day. I wore a jacket as The trees were all snow flocked and there was no way not to rub on them while ascending. I had more than a few snow bombs down my neck as well. Once back at the lake we had the rest of our lunch along the lake shore.

We kept snowshoes on back to the Pratt-Talapus junction then it was back to boots again. The rest of the way down was quick. We did see a few late day hikers still coming up. This was my fourth winter try at Pratt Mountain and the second time I was denied by the conditions. Still, it was a fun day in the mountains with a good bunch of friends. We did not miss any views as the summit never did come out of the clouds. The lake along is a worthwhile destination and the ridge walk was well worth the effort.

After a December with little new snow it was nice to see winter return. Hopefully in a few weeks the route up Pratt Mountain will have enough snow to again be an easy ridge walk. Perhaps I'll have to return on a sunny day this winter to enjoy it.


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Trips - 2006