Hidden Lake Lookout | Winter Route Attempt
Fees: Self-issue backcountry permit from Marblemount Ranger Station
View my Gaia GPS track here
I have some serious summit fever at this point in the winter and Aaron and I had been going back and forth all week on what sufferfest we wanted to do, weather and avalanche conditions permitting. The weather and avalanche conditions kept fluctuating all week so we committed to making a last minute decision on Friday...because Nature is just gonna do it's thing. By Friday morning, avalanche conditions in the Hidden Lake Lookout area had dropped to moderate, the skies looked clear and Aaron, Michael, Tate and I were packed up to head out to camp out at the trailhead that evening so we could have an early morning start Saturday morning.
After picking up the backcountry permit from the Marblemount Ranger Station, we were on our way down the Cascade River Road. We were able to make it about 6.4 miles down this road before the snow piled up and the Sequoia could make it no further. We slid around for a few seconds, got ourselves stuck, and decided to have Tate give us a tow with his Cherokee...except for the rookie mistake of not bringing a tow strap with us. Luckily we were able to find some climbing rope in one of the cars (because #dirtbaglife) and were able to MacGyver our way out of the snow and park enough of the way out of the road to set up camp for the night.
The next morning, we woke up bright and early at 4:00am (okay, maybe it was closer to 4:20am because the snooze button is sometimes just too nice), got some food in us, and piled ourselves and our gear into Tate's Cherokee (he had chains and good clearance) to try to get further down the road. We were able to power through until we were approximately 1.7 miles away from the turnoff to FS 1540 before we could plod on no more. So out the car we went, strapped on our gear and started skinning towards the road that would take us to the trailhead.
There was so much untouched, fresh powder on the road to the trailhead and it was relatively flat so we were able to make good time. We soon made it to the turnoff and trudged the few miles up the road before turning off the road to begin the steep and deep winter route up.
The winter route goes basically straight up towards the lookout to avoid the avalanche dangers that the summer route presents. However, we were still actively looking out to avoid gullies and other potential terrain traps. Most of the route up seems to go through the trees, and we never made it past the trees, so I'm unable to write about where it actually stops. But the route was so steep in some sections it was easier to boot up in knee-deep powder than it was to break a skin track and initiate kick turns.
We had planned to attempt reaching the lookout and skiing back down in the same day since the forecast for the weather on Sunday said it would be raining and, as much as staying in the lookout would have been awesome, we didn't want to ski down in the rain. But it wouldn't be a trip if there weren't some mishaps on the way. We trudged up the trail for an hour or so before we all came to the conclusion that a summit wouldn't be happening that day unless we had planned to stay overnight. Aaron and Mike were also struggling with their skins for quite a bit – Aaron opted to boot up part of the way while attempting to warm up his skins while Mike was able to zip tie his skins to his board the rest of the way up.
We kept going a bit further since it was sunny out and we wanted to find a place where the trees were less dense to break for lunch. Tate and Aaron charged on ahead while Mike and I dragged our feet and commiserated about being hangry and misunderstood (okay that was dramatized but I desperately needed lunch).
After lunch, we skied the untracked deep powder through the trees (unfortunately, tree runs are not my jam so I went very slowly) back to the road and at this point the boys decided to trek through the backcountry just above the road to get a little bit more downhill opportunity (this apparently turned out into some crazy situation - something about forging a river, I dunno) but we safely met up (thanks to being prepared and equipped with maps and radios) and finally made it back to the car.
We didn't get our summit this weekend, but that's really okay. Summits are one of my favorites, but having good people with good attitudes no matter the circumstances makes for an even better day.