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Lake Ethel : Beside & Beyond 3/11/2005

Started out the day with some trips in mind, but nothing ready. Then decided I have to do something, picked a trail I frequently pass by on Rt. 2 and read a little about, looked long and strenuous, got you up a little ways. for a dayhike with easy access to the TH. Lake Ethel sounded about right. Put together the pack, copied the guidebook narrative and took The GMT map "Chiwaukum Mtns", made sure to take the crampons and snowshoes, above 5000' there is plenty of snow. On the way downed a gatorade, Clif Bar, and GU. The access is right off Rt. 2 at Merrit, a dirt road with lots of mud and ruts that goes back about 1 mile. Once there The Ethel Lake trail begins at 2200' gets to business gaining elevation, lenghtly switchbacks with a steep grade, first scattered  thin snow / ice found sparsely at 2900' with a few longer patches here and there in the trail, mainly on the eastward side, the grade is consistently steep until around 4000' when you take a more linear up the gut route on the W side of the basin which holds Lake Ethel. The majority of the hike is in forest and under tree canopy except at the higher ridge level  5500 - 5600' where the ridge and the basin have been clearcut in the past. Around 5700' the snow had become 2-4' deep, wet, grainy and compressible and I put on my snowshoes (atlas backcountry rated for up to 285 lb.) there was no real trail and I was going by my Suunto Vector watch altimeter which I set at the TH to help me with the trail turn. Well I kept going up and it kept getting deeper and steeper, it's always bad when your snowshoes are sinking down a foot at times, I seemed to be veering off away from the edge of the ridgeline, up to this point after the snowshoes the area was heavily forested around the ridgeline giving limited views along with trees on the basin slope, you could really see nothing. I kept going guided (I thought) by my altimeter until my altimeter read 5700' the level of the turn towards the trail, down into the basin, I made my way a little south and behold the headwall  on the W end of the basin was visible, I thought crap, I am beside and near the end of the lake, I missed my turn somehow. Well I checked the map and was around the 6000' level looking at things, my watch altimeter was off almost 300'. Tired I sat down and had some trail mix and a GU, put some fresh mountain snow in my hydration system to resupply, then started retracing my steps back down accounting for the deviation in my altimeter, quite a workout. As I got to the 5600 - 5700' level I noticed an area of dirt on the basin / ridgeline edge ( you can't see the lake even though you are beside it and above it due to all the trees on the ridge and in the basin around the lake). Looking down this steep slope you could make out a trail going down at quite the grade, I took off my snowshoes and followed it cautiously for about 50 yards, there was an old slide mark where you scooted down on the trail, then the trail went down steeply in an area of several feet of snow, I could not see beyond that because of trees, but looking down in the snow filled basin I saw what looked like a trail corridor and boot / snowshoe marks (it was to far away to see distinctly), It was 2:00 pm and looking at it I just didn't know about the slope or the snow filled basin, it could be time consuming with the decent, ascent, and at least a mile roundtrip. I though this was the trail, it was in the right area going right up the basin to The Lake, but I didn't know if it was a continuous or official trail and I didn't want to get bogged down in there with a 5 mile hike back late. So I shot a few pics of it , put on my snowshoes and headed back down, I arrived back at 4:15pm, started at 9:40 am, so 61/2 hours,  9.5 miles, 4541' elevation gain and loss roundtrip. Beautiful day out, I had thought of taking the ridge up and around for views of The Lake being I was near there, but the snow was deep, steep, and wet and I would have had alot of travel time for a dayhike. I think a winter approach to this trip could have been entering the basin back where the clear cut began it would have been an easy transition off the ridgeline, into the basin and strait up to Lake Ethel, that being of course hindsight coming back down. I can't say much about the Vector, sometimes it's dead on and sometimes it's off, I should have taken my GPS for elevation and entered a few waypoints near the turn at the basin and the basin route from my TOPO software, but OH, WELL !

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