Granite Mtn LO (Jan 30, 2015)

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granite_mtn_lo_coverConditions: day hike
Gear: microspike
Map: USGS Snoqualmie Pass
Area: Snoqualmie Pass
Reference: Day Hiking Snoqualmie Region (Nelson/Bauer)
Stats: 8.56mi, 3708' gain (round trip)

Absolutely icky snow conditions just about everywhere. I was trying to think of a place I could go to hit good snow. Last weekend I tried Stevens Pass. Not so good there. But then...it clicked...nice weather in the forecast. Clear skies and warm temperatures. I thought to myself why not embrace the lack of snow? I had seen a recent trip report of Granite Mtn LO going up the summer route. The report said very little snow. Hmm...what about an overnight? I checked around, one other person was interested. So I packed up my overnight gear and got a somewhat late start from the trailhead. No need to get a super early start if I was planning to head out until the next day...

I left the trailhead (1878') a bit earlier than planned, about 11:20am. The parking lot was more than half full...interesting for a Friday. The trail starts out dark and in dense trees. I followed the trail up to the first junction to where the trail to Granite Mtn LO peels off (to the right and steeply uphill). Interesting...I have been up to Granite Mtn LO several times but it has always been as a winter scramble with plenty of snow. I've never been up the summer trail in summer conditions...until today...at the end of January 2015. Those sections of trail down low that tend to be a ice dance reminiscent of the Ice Capades...you know those sections...sheets of ice covering the trail and the hillside...those were bone dry. Not only was there no snow, there was no ice. Not one bit.

After the junction (about 1.1mi, 2500') the trail heads steeply uphill. When there is snow on the mountain, the winter scramble route avoids the gully by heading directly uphill and heads for the saddle between the lookout and Pt 5566 and then follows the NW ridge to the lookout. But today...I just followed the summer trail. I reached the gully down low and found it completely clear of snow as far up as I could see...instead...just lots of brush. I was carrying an overnight pack and took several short rest breaks through this steeper section of trail.

Eventually I reached the top of the gully, the last crossing of the gully before the trail heads east in a long traverse. I stopped at the top of the gully and took a look up and was amazed that there was no snow in sight. Same looking down. Where the trail starts to round the ridge (marked "Pack" on the map) I saw the first decent amount of snow. There were some very small patches of compact snow on the east side of the gully just nothing hard to step over. But just before the trail does the short section of switchbacks to gain the ridge was the first real snow. It was thin, patchy, and melting. By now it was warm enough that I was hiking in shorts. Just weird I thought to myself.

I reached a lower basin area (3.6mi, 4842') that had running water. Might make a good campsite I thought. Instead I continued up the ridge pack and all. I had hopes to camp at the lookout. My phone pinged...my hiking partner...couldn't get out of a commitment...wouldn't be hiking in to join me. OK... I continued up the bump (thin covering of snow) with microspikes. Though the snow was soft in most places, it was compacted enough that the spikes came in handy.

I had enough time that I wanted to explore over to the north side of Granite. There was a good set of steps to follow. Someone had laid in a trail following the summer route. Once I dropped to the north side of the ridge (3.9mi, 5233') the snow changed. While not icy...it was hard and crusty. I continued along this route through the basin and approached the lookout from the NW ridge. I wouldn't recommend this route right now. There are a couple of steep sections, a bit of exposure high up (one short 40' traverse just below the lookout where you don't want to fall) and really hard/crunchy snow...almost icy. I had spikes on and only continued up this way because there was a good set of steps kicked in the whole route. Crampons would have been helpful. An ice axe...useless in these conditions. I reached the lookout site at (4.4mi, 5629') right at about 2:45pm (about 3hr, 20min from the car).

So now what...where to pitch my tent? There was so little snow...a tip was to pitch the tent under the lookout. Problem...there was no snow under the lookout. Just a jumble of big rocks. A bit further along the ridge someone had stomped in tent platform. It was really hard/icy. The wind was picking up as well. OK...so I stayed at the lookout a bit, took some photos and then thought I'd descend along the SE ridge to that lower basin and camp there. The decent along the ridge is a mix of easy snow and rock scrambling made little harder because I was carry my overnight pack. Much easier than the way I went up though. I reached the lower basin and then talked myself out of an overnight because I wasn't that far from the car (about 3 miles by trail). I lingered a bit, mostly thinking I was lame for planning an overnight and then changing my mind about it. In the end I decided to head down. If I kept a good pace, there was a chance I could reach the trailhead without pulling out my headlamp. It was sometime around 4pm when I started down from the basin. Darkness would come around 5pm. But I had close to a full moon on my side. Most of the decent was fine, plenty of light, it was only in the last 10 minutes to the trailhead that I used my headlamp. I did a fair amount of hiking just in the dark (no lamp). I find it amazing what your eyes can adjust to if there is a bit of moonlight out. The headlamp mostly came out because the last stretch of trail is pretty rocky. I was back to the car by 5:30pm.
 
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