Arrowhead Mtn (Jan 18, 2014)

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arrowhead_mtn_coverConditions: Day Hike
Gear: snowshoes, ice axe, microspikes
Map: USGS Mount Howard
Area: Stevens Pass
Stats: 6.5mi, 2201' gain (round trip)

Ugh...where is all the snow??? It's mid January and it looks like it's April out there...

There was a flurry of emails early in the weekend. The typical...anyone interested...ideas... Elle suggested Arrowhead. I jumped on it right away since it was on my list. The trip, at least for me, turned out to be a bit on the unpleasant side...but I'm getting ahead of myself...

Barry and Suzanne would be coming from the east side. Monty, Elle and I from the west. Us westies met in Monroe, piled into Elle's monster truck and headed east to the pass. About 30 minutes up the road it became apparent we'd need to modify plans. I TM's the easties to let them know we were headed back to Monroe to swap out vehicles. Back in Monroe we moved gear from Elle's truck to Monty's Forrester and then back up Hwy 2 we went. More TMs...Barry and Suzanne were going to head up...a Mounties group was there as well...directions on where to turn uphill from the RR tracks. We arrived at the TH, really just a wide spot along the road (right after the divided part of Hwy 2 ends, there is a big parking area on the left associated with the east end of the tunnel...DON'T PARK HERE...Go another 1 TO 1.5 miles east to a wide spot in the road on the left, just in front of some electrical poles with transformers). There was plenty of room because there was so little snow. We were the 5th car. Packed up, we crossed the highway, walked up to the RR tracks and walked east.

I'd plotted out on my GPS what looked like a reasonable route up (using other TR online as a guide). Suzanne indicated to look for a bunch of sticks along the side of the tracks just past marked 1698 (1.75mi). We found them and followed a faint set of tracks uphill. Found out later that the original route plotted (turning uphill after about 1.25mi) likely would have been nicer/less steep. Either way...seems like it would be hard to get lost on this trip. Veer too far to the right and you just hit the ridge down lower (and of course the uphill is a bit steeper).

It was immediately clear once we started uphill that the snow conditions were weird...really weird...meaning...where was all the snow. Down low there just wasn't any. It was bare dirt. We continued directly uphill hitting occasional thin patches of snow (maybe 4") and hit the ridge at about 3870' (about 2.5mi from the car). Still...not a lot of snow. This winter of carrying snowshoes for training weight is getting old really, really fast. I just wasn't "feeling" this trip. But I though that finally, since we were on the ridge and there was a bit more snow, that I'd finally get into the trip. A bit further uphill the snow finally got deep enough that we started to posthole to it was time to put snowshoes on. But still, I was struggling. Was it the late start (10:40am)? Was it the lack of snow? I don't know. Either way, I was done. Elle had gone ahead earlier trying to meet up with Barry and Suzanne. I told Monty I was done. I found a nice sunny spot at about 4600' with views over to Chiwaukum. I waved Monty off and I plopped myself down for lunch.

Hmm...we're right off the Hwy2 corridor...I should have cell coverage. I sent a quick TM to Barry and Suzanne letting them know where I was at and told them I'd meet up with them on their way down. I wasn't by myself all that long before a reply...we're headed down...dropping below 5400'. I finished off my hot drink and it wasn't long before I say Gus (the wonderdog). I had my pack on just as Suzanne and Barry arrived.

The plan was to head back to where our groups gained the ridge and follow our up route back down. It was tedious for me, bringing back painful memories of Evergreen Mtn and that last 1000' of steepness with thin snow. Microspikes were a godsend on the way down. No slips or falls though (thankfully) and thankfully Suzanne and Barry were patient with my slower descent. We got back to the RR tracks with plenty of daylight to spare. We only hiked a short bit and Elle popped out of the woods. They'd come close to meeting up with the original plan for the up route and mentioned it was a much more pleasant descent than we'd had. Oh well...the mountain isn't going anywhere.

I do plan to go back by no under these conditions. Arrowhead is best done as a snow trip and calling this a snow trip was a real stretch. The snow that did exist down lower had crusty and near icy in some places. Higher up it was rotten and sugary. The ridge, which at this time of year should had a healthy cornice on it, had no cornice and the snow was barely deep enough to cover the brush. This is not an ideal year for snow trips. I do worry about what the forecast holds for the rest of the season. We're significantly down on precip for going on 3 months. Is it possible to make this up in the couple of months of winter that are left? What about the lack of snow (snowmelt) filling our reservoirs with drinking water for this summer? I think it's pretty sad out there right now. This is the worst I've seen in the 17+ years I've lived here.
Arrowhead Mtn Slideshow

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