Winchester Mtn (Nov 21, 2014)

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winchester_mtn)coverConditions: day trip
Gear: microspikes
Map:  USGS Mt Larrabee
Area: Glacier, WA
Reference: Day Hiking North Cascades
Stats: 6.01mi, 2114' gain (round trip)

I really wanted to try to squeak in one more lookout trip this year. Yeah...I knew it was getting kinda late in the season. I didn't care. I just wanted to get outside.

I put the word out and was surprised the Joe and Dani both were interested. We knew the weather was going to be marginal...there was a Winter Weather Advisory in effect. A storm was moving in expecting to dump about 5" Thursday night, another 6" or so expected by 3pm on Friday. The bulk of the new snow was expected later afternoon on Friday and into the evening/overnight.

Joe was a real trooper...heading up from way on the south end to do what could be a short hike way up by Mt Baker. Even more so because he was willing to drive! The road seems to have deteriorated the last couple of years. Last time I drove the road I had a Subaru. Now I'm in a lower clearance Jetta. Let's just say I don't think I will be taking the Jetta up this road anytime soon and it has nothing to do with the weather. Lots of potholes on the road, some pretty big. Low clearance can make it just wouldn't be a fun drive.

The big question on the drive up was if we would be able to reach the "new" YAB trailhead. The good news was that we made it to the trailhead and higher. We were able to drive about another 1/2 mile. We could have gone higher but why risk it? We knew snow was on the way and just didn't want to get stuck. We found a nice wide spot in the road (3966') and turned around and parked. A nice drizzle greeted us as we got out of the car. It was coming down hard enough that it was best to just start hiking in Gore-Tex. I figured that higher up it would eventually turn to snow and I could take the jacket off. We started up the road which had a thin breakable layer of ice on it. We noticed what looked like fresh tire tracks on the road and wondered how far up the driver managed to go.

At about 4714' (1.14mi from the car) we found the car, parked off to the side of a switchback in the road. Just above the car...fresh ski tracks in the snowy but still rocky road. The higher up we went the more snow we found on the road. By the time we reached the trailhead sign at 5198' (1.76mi from the car) there looked to be about 8-10 inches of snow on the ground. The lakes were pretty socked in. We say the ski tracks we had followed up the road and the group of 3 skies up the hillside to our right. As we hiked further up the road to the summer "trailhead" the skiers took off downhill with a few "whoop-whoops".

Looks like there is a brand new outhouse near the summer trailhead. The place is new enough that we would still smell the scent of the fresh wood used to side the structure. It doesn't look like it will be long before the winter snows bury it. We headed uphill looking for the snow buried bench of the summer trail. More or less the trail was easy to follow. It nicely switches back and forth up the hillside. We lost if a few times under the increasing amount of snow but it was easy enough to pick it up again. Looks like there is about 10-12" of fresh snow (from overnight and earlier in the day) on top of a layer of ice down below. The higher up we went, the deeper the snow got (some drifts were looking to be 1.5-2' deep), and the winds started to pick up. The forecast was calling for 12-15mph winds. We could see bits of the trail higher up and where the trail does the traverse along the SE side of Winchester it looked to be blowing pretty good. Thin snow, ice below that, steep trail through rocks and cliff bands... We had each brought microspikes but we decided to call it a day (3.1mi from the car, 5792'). There wouldn't be any views today and the weather system looked like it was starting to set in strong. So we decided to head back down to the lake for lunch. Right below us a group of three hikers was heading up to the lookout to spend the night. The wood stove is gone from the lookout so hopefully they will have a warm enough night. Looks like with the rate the snow was falling, they could have a real interesting hike out tomorrow. they had parked their Honda Civic much lower down the road (the old Keep Kool trailhead).

We got back down to the lake, shoveled off a picnic table and ate a quick lunch. Then chilled we headed back down the road. The snow level was dropping and it was snowing almost all the way to the car (3966'). By the time our gear was stowed in the car, the rain had turned to snow.

On the drive out we saw two trucks hauling snowmobiles up the road. I can't imagine where they would go with the machines. Much of the area around the lakes is surrounded by Wilderness.

Short day out but also a nice day. Easy early season trip to get out snow legs.
Winchester Mtn Slideshow


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