Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Snowshoeing at Gold Creek Basin

A few weeks ago, I asked my wife if she'd like to go snowshoeing as a family and she said that she'd like to, as long as we went for under 3 hours. Anytime getting into the woods and snow is great by me, so I agreed to that constraint. I sought out some locations where the elevation gain was minimal and we went out Saturday afternoon.

The kids had swim practice that morning, so Kids 1 and 2 and I were all up just after 5am. After their practice, I rented snowshoes at the Issaquah REI and headed home for lunch and final preparations. I've taught the kids enough about layering, that they're pretty good at getting the right gear for a day outdoors in winter, but there is always something that is hard to find. This time it was sunglasses, though lucky for them, it was quite hazy in the mountains. With a warm lunch of Macaroni and Cheese in our stomachs, we headed up to Snoqualime Pass.

I had read about Gold Creek Basin, and with its total elevation gain of only 400 feet over the 4 mile trail, that was where we were headed. A Washington Sno-Park pass is required to park there (which I had to run in and buy online while everyone sat in the car ready to go) and the "trailhead" is pretty easy to find. As you drive along FS 4832, you'll come to FS 144 just after the valley opens up. You can walk up the FS road with some small lakes on your left.

The first 4 miles (though we didn't go that far) stay in relatively safe avalanche terrain, though our weekend it didn't matter. There had been freezing rain all morning and there was a significant crust. While it didn't bond much with the snow below, it did make the snowshoes almost unneccessary and provided continual enjoyment for the boys to break off large sheets of crust.

On the off-chance that we'd find some spots to sled, the boys dragged sleds behind them. They didn't lag too much, but I didn't mind either, as I was also doing a bit of a load test myself. Next week, a friend and I are going snow camping and I was seeing how much stuff I could get into my daypack. Its a larger daypack (45 L), but I was only able to get 3/4 of what I wanted to carry in there. I'd be okay if I wasn't interested in eating! I also was reminded to think of how I load gear in a pack - it turns out I loaded all of my liquids (2 L water and 1/2 L hot cocoa) all on one side of my pack. Our trip wasn't long enough nor my pack heavy enough for it to bother me, but its a good thing to remember. I'll use my larger pack next week and have plenty of space.

Scouts Honor, Kid 2, 3 and I stuck to the road, but Kid 1 snowshoed through the trees. Since he was in the trees, he could see the lakes better and when there was an iced over part of the lake, he asked if we could go down there. We went down a steeper portion (reminder of the lesson: when you have trekking poles, you don't need them, when you don't have them is when you really want them) which everyone slid on their butts down the hill and stopped for some pictures by the lake.

As boys will do, there was some more exploring of the ice along the edge of the lake, when Kid 1 realized that "the snow next to the ice is actually over ice over water." Unfortunately, he learned this lesson when one foot broke through over the top of his boot. Luckily, it was just above freezing, he was wearing no cotton, his boots (my old Intermediate Cold Weather boots) are prett good and we weren't too far from our car, we were able to continue on without having to stop and change a sock.
Post Card Views
We could see the road on the other side of the lake and decided that we would walk around the lake as our way back to our car. Others had snowshoed before us around the lake so we just followed their path on an easy jaunt around the lake. Kid 3 asked if we could stop for a break and we broke out the hot cocoa. As we sat there an enjoyed our still quite hot beverage, ScoutsHonor kept saying that we had postcard views. The view was beautiful and it turns out that at that spot, we only took pictures with her camera! We sat there on the side of the trail until the cold started to seep through ScoutHonor's pants and headed onward.
My favorite view of all
Because we were so close to the summit and the ski area, we still had cell phone coverage. Everyonce in a while, I could feel my phone in my pack vibrate, but Kid 2 was texting her friends and posting to facebook.

I used my Christmas present GPS to check the time and when sunset was and we had only about 45 minutes before sunset and the clouds were already low-hanging. We continued on around the lake, ScoutsHonor setting a little quicker pace, until we found a small knoll where some other people were sledding. The total height was maybe 10 feet at the highest, but it was steep enough that the sleds would go. The kids got several runs in and even made a little jump. I started to get cold there (I didn't layer up like I did when we stopped for cocoa) and we headed off.

The sun had set by the time we made it back to the car and there were still 1 snow shoer and 1 cross-country skiier who were heading out. Kid 2 had her headlamp, though it wasn't because she was bringing the 10 Essentials, she wanted to be able to read in the car as we drove home.
All in all, it was a fun afternoon. The snow conditions were terrible and at that elevation only about 3 feet deep which will make digging a snow cave a little challenging next week, but we still were outside. My GPS told me we went for just over 2 miles in 2-1/2 hours (70 minutes moving, 80 minutes stopped) which meet Scouts's time and distance criteria. Gold Creek Basin is a fun place to come for an easy cross-country ski, snowshoe, or if the conditions are "right" just a walk in the woods. There's not much opportunity for sledding, but the views are beautiful.
And yet another one of the views

Take Exit 54 off I-90. Go north. under overpass a few hundred yards. & turn right onto F.S. Rd. 4832 & head east approximately 1 mile. on this road that parallels the westbound lanes of I-90. Park along the shoulders of the road near the small bridge, by FS 144. There were porta-potties there when we went in early January.