Weather predictions were promising for the weekend, though you’d never be able to guess by looking out of the rain spattered windshield as Nealbob and I drove by Skykomish.
In little time we were at the Surprise Creek trailhead, a few cars were parked near the kiosk. Wandering patches of rain and chilly spring temperatures persuaded me to throw on my rain gear.
Right off the bat I was wondering how long I’d be giving my snowshoes a piggyback ride up the hill, but before long the grade gave way to boot packed snow. I happily untethered the snowshoes from my bag and kept them on my feet the rest of the trip. They’d be totally indispensable later!
Avalanche heaps bedecked the open slopes of the lower Surprise Creek Valley and a particularly large one reached down the eastern slope far enough that the footpath was forced to cross it’s undulating surface.
Beyond the slide we passed two parts of a single party with about 15 mins in between them. Both had turned back at/or around the climb up the outlet stream. Another party we encountered along the way said they’d been to Surprise Lake and not much further beyond.
The climb up the hill was straightforward, but required crossing some decaying snow bridges and skirting a drop off or two which kept it fun.
At Surprise Lake (4508′) we consistently started hitting deeper snow that made travel without snowshoes very difficult, which limited the further travels of Nealbob on this outing.
SETTING UP CAMP
Adequately traveled for the day, we set up camp in a patch of trees near the outlet of the lake.
After boiling up a bit of hot tea and some post hike conversing, I donned my snowshoes again to see if I couldn’t catch a break in the clouds up at Glacier Lake (4806′). Nealbob’s canine companion Dora decided to join me on the relatively short journey.
In about a mile over crusty forest snow, the dog and I arrived at the north end of the lake. Conditions had improved to reveal views to Surprise Gap (5800′) but with a constant cloud cap right around the 6200′ level.
The night was cold, but after throwing on all my layers and wrapping tight in my 30°F bag, it wasn’t unpleasant.
Above me, transient morning clouds were glowing with the promise of a sunny day as I fired some water for coffee to get the day caffeinated.
Snores were coming from Nealbob’s tent as I ambled out of camp on my morning tour. Dora wasn’t far behind.
Glacier Lake was the first destination and made for some stunning scenery as the clouds had now broken and let the blue of the sky tantalize us earthbound mortals.
Dora and I trammeled the untouched snow along the east shore of the lake, snapping pics and plodding along in the general direction of Surprise Gap.
In a clearing we encountered a set of weathered ski tracks, the only tracks I’d seen since Surprise Lake, but opted not to follow.
Breaking out of the trees and into the vast avalanche bowl at the head of the valley, the change in contrast was blinding.
I plopped my butt down near some squat trees right at the base of Surprise Mountain and took in the views and some nourishing trail sustenance. Dora tried to eyeball me out of my mixed nuts and granola. “I already gave you my jerky!”
UP THE GAP
Refueled and rewatered, the two of us set off up the gap. The scenery grew wider with each crunchy step up the hard frozen snow.
Along the east side of the bowl I again noticed the set of ski tracks, a small avalanche had covered a portion of the otherwise unbroken line.
We headed for the shady side to make our ascent, crossing the ski tracks as they switchbacked to the top.
At the top of the gap a light wind was blowing from the south, it felt good after the trudge. The ski tracks curiously continued on down towards the Deception Lakes.
Wonder where they were headed…
THE VOYAGE HOME
By the time Dora and I returned to camp, Nealbob had already broken down his kit and was snapping pics of the much improved scenery.
I put on one last pot of coffee as I started packing my little home back into my bag. The light of the sun was now filling the entire Surprise Creek Valley, and turning the snow into mush. Glad I had my snowshoes!
Just after descending the steeper section of the route, we passed a determined fellow headed up the hill in a pair of shorts and high tops.
“How far is it to the lake?”, he asked.
“Oh, ya got maybe another mile or so and a bit of gain.” we answered “Good luck!”
With that, he postholed through the slush and off into the trees…
THE SHORT VERSION
- Trail is snow covered for most of its length.
- Snowshoes were helpful, and necessary for travel beyond Surprise Lake. (Unless you love to posthole)
- Beware decaying snow bridges.
- Be mindful of ever changing snow conditions.
- Avalanche is a very real danger in the mountains, educate yourself before traveling in avalanche terrain.
A camp site conversation touched on the possibility of adding instant apple cider mix to some oatmeal. Nealbob and I agreed it could be a winner.