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Fourth of July Trail to 5700', Leavenworth, Wa. 3/30/2005

I have been planning this trip before the recent snows and knew I would be in for some deep snow beyond the 5000' level, which has been the case all year long, and originally planned to go for the 7028' point, site of an old lookout, that would be a toughy. After the snows and knowing today was suppose to have breaks in precip. I decided to go for it and if I made it to the Icicle Ridge Trail junction (6800') thought I would be doing well.
I had my daypack ready with winter gear and was ready to leave at 6am, guess what, my wife picked up my keys and took them to work with her ( I didn't know this initially as I frantically searched the house until I figured that is what happened and my suspicions were confirmed when she came home at 7:45a.m.).
I was on the trail at 9a.m., there was 2-3 inches of snow on Icicle Creek Rd. and several inches on the trail (TH = 2300')  from the get go with an overcast, light snow, and wind. At about 3000' the snow depth increased depending upon position to 4" evolving into 2' in short order. A dry powdery snow that you sank down in and the wind blew around making "snow devils" at times. The surrounding mountain and ridgelines were initially in the grayish clouds which occupied the skyline for 2-3 hours. The deep snow, trail condition / grade (trail discernible as a almost covered over corridor, otherwise undiscernible) was a slog and I finally gave in and decided to try the snowshoes. The wind had picked up and I was more exposed and the chain of clouds brought precip and increased wind and lowering the temps so I took off my BD Alpine shirt and put on the beefy Arcteryx Gamma (I haven't used that since single digits at Lake Stuart). I quickly found that the snowshoes were just sinking in the powder and I was hauling snow up a steep grade with them so I took them off in the middle of the avalanche gulch / talus field you repeatedly cross on this trail and left them for the return. I made much better time.
Eventually the snow became so deep it was up to my gaiter, knee, then thigh that will slow you down so after I passed the first volley of switchbacks I put my crampons on as I entered a forested section with varying amounts of snow, the going was slow, steep, with no trail at all just some sparsely thrown in GPS coordinates / altimeter and map to guide me, although it's no surprise your on the ridge and you have to go up if all else fails. Around 5700' it was 1:00 p.m., I was on this thing for 4 hours now and the snow was deeper, the slopes steeper so I decided to head back, sat down and had some trail mix.
The clouds had cleared and I had spectacular views to the mountains and plateaus to the N, NE, SE it was quiet, refreshing, beautiful and that was enough for me, especially with my late start. I kept the crampons on for quite a ways going down, any extra traction along the trail at the edge of the slope is a plus. It started to lightly hail and persisted most of the way down. At 3300' I was surprised to see that most of the snow had melted and back at the trailhead the snow was completely gone, also on the way down I noted the dry powdery snow was now after the heat of the day a wet slushy snow. So I almost hit Icicle Ridge, but another time, I got the views and some great pics. I think this was one of the more strenuous hikes I have been on this winter. I made it up 4 miles with approx. 3400' elevation gain / loss, roundtrip 8 miles. 4 hours up and 21/2 hours down. A very nice area though with great views, rock formations, woodsy feeling forget what the guidebook says, it's hard, but a trail worth hiking.

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