24 Hours on the Mountain Loop Highway

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Harpo and her chromedome contemplate Lake 22. After a long wet ascent it was nice to get a bit of view at the top. The wet snow kept up as we descended, making out way back through a growing thunderstorm.

Mountain Loop Highway snow adventure and gear test
April 10-11, 2015
Trails: Goat Lake, Icicle Caves, Lake 22
Miles: 18 more or less
Hikers: Groucho and Harpo

Harpo Sez:

Recently, we ran up to the Mountain Loop Highway (MLH) for an overnight trip to check out our gear/systems for our upcoming Southbound PCT hike. We wanted to test: 1) our base weights; 2) the efficacy of our new 28-degree Mountain Laurel quilts; 3) one of our 2013 dehydrated dinners — to see if the 20 left-over meals we have are still usable; 4) our brand new Steri-Pen for water purification;

Our intended itinerary was to park about 30 miles into the MLH at the Goat Lake trail head… hike 5 miles into Goat Lake and camp overnight under a canopy of cedars. The next morning we would hike out 5 miles and drive 5 miles back down the MLH to the Monte Cristo trail head, hike up to Silver lake and then hike back and stealth camp close to the trail head by the river.

We rolled up to Goat Lake trailhead around 4:00 p.m. The trail was beautiful as always… we last did this overnight trip when we were prepping for the AT hike two years ago. It’s now becoming a tradition! The trail forks after the first 10 minutes – the trail to the right (along the river) is super scenic and peaceful. Although it was raining a bit, our Chrome Dome umbrellas and tree cover kept us relatively dry.

As the the two forks converge the elevation gain kicks in for the ascent to the lake. We arrived alone, with all the discrete stealth sites to pick from, at 6:00pm. We found a bed of needles, rolled out our Tyvek groundsheet and set up our tarp tent sans mosquito net – assuming it was too early in the season for skeets. We almost regretted this decision as a few HUGE mosquitos helicoptered down to greet us, but as temperatures dropped into the 30’s they disappeared.

We slipped something more comfortable – puffers and our new quilts worn as ponchos – our bedtime gear. Groucho rehydrated our 2013 couscous meal while I played on the new Garmin GPS and checked out our elevation, the temperature, and sunset times etc. We’re trying to learn how to navigate via GPS – one of our other PCT projects. We’ve been refreshing our map and compass skills, but GPS offers some new and interesting possibilities for data collection. There’s a lot of info on there if you know how to look for it, but the “instruction manual” Garmin provided for our 62SX is laughable. We’d loaded on some of the PCT waypoints so I was determined the PCT was only 10.4 miles due east, as the crow flies.

Dinner worked out pretty great. Some dried veggie soup mix from Winco’s bulk section took longer to hydrate than than expected, but the beans and couscous mix from 2013 held strong.

Harpo demonstrating a fundamental truth of backpacking -  the only way out of a weight problem is to eat your way out.

Harpo demonstrating a fundamental truth of backpacking – the only way out of a weight problem is to eat your way out.

After dinner we enjoyed half a Franz dark chocolate easter bunny that I smuggled into my gear list as the lights went out. Then, bed.

For the PCT hike this summer we have upgraded to 28 degree quilts from Mountain Laurel Designs. As a 5’4″ female, mine is “regular” size and Groucho at 6′ tall, uses a large. They worked GREAT. My review here.

Around 9:00 p.m. Grouchy felt the mouse run across his face. The exuberance of mice at somebody not hanging a bear bag is uncanny. It ended with one goosing Harpo between the legs. At this point, Groucho hung the food.

At 10:00pm we woke again – this time to the exuberance of youth. A boy scout troupe of 8 arrived in the rain, headlamps like spotlights roving across everywhere. They approched our tarp –
“What is it? A camouflaged dumpster?
No dude, there are people in there!”
They took an hour and a half to find their spots, deploy their own tarps, and settle down.

We awoke promptly at 6:00 a.m. when the scouts realized with the joy of hardy adventurers that they had camped in a rain run off and were soaked. It had rained hard during the night…

Looking around and realized there were 4 – 6 inches of powdery snow. We were super warm and cozy in our quilts, so we dawdled. Finally throwing off our quilts we packed up, put pop tarts in our pockets (we recently discovered the strawberry unfrosted are vegan. What!) and jogged past the scouts crouched around a smokey fire.

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A quick shot of the lake and mountains that surround the basin on this snowy morning. The spot was serene, and it was nice to see some snow in the hills after they were barren a couple weeks ago… Though the lake and mountain behind were invisible in the heavy falling snow.

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This is virtually the same vantage point taken 3 years ago in July on a day hike up to Goat Lake…even a couple of weeks ago the hills surrounding the lake were completely free of snow. 2012 was a more typical snow year in the Cascades…

In the heavily falling snow the trip back to the parking lot was rather magical – again we were happy about having our umbrellas. Then we started driving. The car started slipping on the way to Monte Cristo and the GEO doesn’t have the best record in the snow. Having been often abandoned, we worried it might give up the ghost if the snowfall continued all day and thru the night, so we decided to catch a couple other trails on the way down, and sleep in town.

We descended and the snow turned into freezing rain. We passed the trailhead for the Ice Caves and decided to check them out. Oh Boy! The trail is extremely accessible, only 2 miles roundtrip with virtually no elevation gain – an easy 20 minutes each way.

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Big 4 Ice Caves – practically a roadside attraction, at an easy 1 mile in. Groucho visited these as a child with school groups staying at the nearby Camp Silverton. Ah youth, when they let kids climb inside the caves, before the multiple signs warning of imminent death, the barrier and chain you hafta climb over to get here.

We returned quickly in the sleet and continued back down the MLH and passed my old favorite Lake 22. I hiked this a few weeks ago with dk and 3D, encountering conditions similar to July or August of other years, so we checked it out to see if any snow had stuck following last night’s storm. The 6 mile trail is always impeccably maintained. We passed a bunch of folks along the way, some over prepared for weather, some so totally underprepared it was ummmmm…. This isn’t usually a hike where this would be a problem, but as we ascended it began snowing again as the temperatures dropped and the sky was peppered with early evening lightning. The views at the top were outstanding as we walked the extra mile lake loop before heading back. We found a room at the Arlington motor inn and spent the night in style….

2 thoughts on “24 Hours on the Mountain Loop Highway

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