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Rock Mountain Trail to 5500', Stevens Pass Area, Washington 3/05/2005

I had my Osprey Aether 45 packed and ready the night before, had my crampons, snowshoes, ice axe as well as a hefty supply of GU and Clif bars, with an energy bagel with peanut butter and a crisp red delicious apple packed. On the way to the TH I bought a Gatorade and downed that with a clif bar, and GU. Preemptive carbohydrate load, the trail was by reading rather challenging and my destination was Rock Mountain and Rock Lake. The TH there is right off Rt. 2 and marked well, the access road is short, less than 50 yds. probably, with a dwindling snow beam which can be driven over, but a large section of ice on the upslope to parking, I opted, even with 4wd to park just up and off rt.2. I was getting all my stuff together and for some unbelieveably stupid reason decided, well maybe I could do without my snowshoes shakehead.gif , so I took them off and forgot to snap the webbing holding my ice axe and after putting my pack on it fell out, so I left it, in a hurry to get going , with distance and elevation it would be a working all dayhike, the kind I like, though you need to be prepared for most anything and keep your pace. Anyhow, beyond the parking lot the snow / ice was gone, melted out from exposure to sun and rain, you travel an old dirt access road a ways, not far then hit the trail which quickly gets to the business of switchbacking up, and those are elevation gaining tight switchbacks, they follow right beside the very steep and often very exposed slope, the trail up to about 4800' (TH is 2600') was dry, so dry you could easily kick up the dirt, rocks, and dust. Only occasional several footstep patches of thin ice were encountered, I was making good time. The trail seems to meander slightly to both the west and east slopes as it gains elevation, and shortly after 4800' I began seeing patches then continuos snow 1-2' on the trail especially when I switchbacked to the eastern section of the slope vs. the west. Well I was finally above the harder switchback portion, but the trail started taking a slight east side of slope linear but gentler elevation gain and there it was the snow, first 1-2', then in places, I kid you not 8-10', the snow was still slightly cold and holding firm, despite the sun (and it was warm), you could see the path corridor way ahead, the trail was fairly straight, as you walked alot of what you were walking on was a snow ledge, narrow with an abrupt drop off towards the steep slope, and I kid you not, many of you have been there the slope must have a grade of up to 50,60, 75, so you wouldn't want to be slipping or breaking off a piece of the snow ledge / trail (I tried to keep tp the hill side as much as possible). This long stretch just kept getting deeper, now I was sinking down at times knee high, but still moving forward. The snow became a slushy, grainy consistency with continued exposure to the sun and more than a couple open slope areas, had you paying particulair attention to not slipping, very time consuming. I made it to 5500' with awesome views down Nason Ridge and across Rt. 2. I was in the middle of a steep snowfield, when all tracks stopped,  they appeared several days or more old and they headed up the ridge, not through the trail corridor, I had marked GPS waypoints. About this time I put my strapon crampons on, any additional  traction on these grades I'll take. First I tried to walk the regular trail corridor route which was basically part of the slope, totally filled in with many feet of snow, I sank to my crotch, and thought, no way especially looking at the slope grade, and boy was I pissed rant.gif , that I was stupid enough to have left my snowshoes, the snow shoes alone would have given me the ability to travel safely the trail route probably with some sinking though, so I headed straight up the ridge which is what whoever came before me tried, very steep grade, both my feet sank in and I went to my waist, my left crampon pierced my right pantleg and cut my right leg, the other individuals tracks stopped so he and others must have turned around here, I carefully walked / slid down aligning myself with what few trees there were in case I started sliding and got back to the snowbound trail, I thought this is stupid, inefficient, and unsafe. I was so upset I decided to put myself at risk by leaving winter gear like snowshoes and ice axe behind, this whole year I have consistently encountered deep snow and ice, so I got spanked on this one and learned a lesson. I had to turn around 700' below the jct. with The Nason Ridge Trail, the ridgeline not far in front of me. I did get some great pics which I will post a link to later and headed back down after nearly getting ther and traveling around 3 miles and 2800'. It was a beautiful day and experience. I met some backpackers below the snow level, told them about the snow above and some dayhikers in shorts and tennis shoes who thought they were on there way to Rock Lake, when I mentioned snow, they seemed puzzled and went on. All I can say is that when your alone, it's different, not room for errors, and if I would have taken my snowshoes as planned, I would have been on the summit, which was the goal. I have no problem with turning around when I feel I could be hurt, or not make my destination in a timely manner. I'll be back !

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