RT Length: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1500’
Note: My successful summit of Rinker Peak can be found here.
winter. That time of year when I should stick to the peaks below treeline but find myself tempted by good weather and attempting higher summits anyway. Each time I go out I’m reminded there’s a lot I still don’t know. Today was such an event.
The weather was cold but the wind was forecasted to be nonexistent so I decided to attempt a ridge route. I picked the ridge with the best weather and made it to the trailhead while it was still dark. Well, in actuality the Willis Gulch Trailhead was under several feet of snow so instead I parked along Highway 82. It took me about half an hour of driving my truck back and forth along the side of the road, packing down the snow to make a parking space I felt comfortable getting out of on my return. I felt the time was well spent.
I put on my snowshoes and travelled a quarter mile down Highway 82 towards the trailhead. It was 9 degrees outside and I had on my new balaclava. Brrrr!
From the road I was pleased to find there were tracks indicating the trail. I followed them south
Crossed a bridge
And followed Trail 1471.
The trail was well trenched and I was getting excited for today’s climb. There were two ways to climb this peak: One is to take the ridge, and the other is to take the gulch. My preference was to take the ridge but when I got to the place where I was supposed to begin ascending there was too much snow to make it possible.
There wasn’t a trench indicating anyone else had attempted this route since the last snow, and when I attempted it myself I sank up to my waist. Oh well, I guess I’d just continue following the trenched route and try the gulch instead. I continued on towards my second option
Passed a snow covered bridge
And continued following the well defined trail
I came to a junction for Little Willis Gulch and Big Willis Gulch, where I turned right (west) aiming for Big Willis Gulch.
Here the well defined trench stopped, but luckily there was still an older, snow filled trench I could follow. I was postholing but at least I had a trail to follow. The trail had tons of rodent footprints scurrying back and forth on the new snow. I was able to follow this trail as it crossed the creek again. This log bridge was ‘fun’ to traverse while wearing snowshoes
I crossed the logs and followed the trail for about 10 more yards before it abruptly stopped. Hmmm…. Maybe this was the wrong way? I retraced my steps, crossed the stream again and went a little more south, following tracks again. These tracks ended sooner than the last; it looked like they’d stopped because the trees were too dense and turned around. Whoever had trenched this trail hadn’t gotten further than here and decided to turn around. Twice. Once again I backtracked and crossed the stream a third time (in snowshoes) intent on trenching my own trail if there wasn’t one established. I reached the area I’d previously stopped and took one step forward
And sank up to my chest in snow. The only thing that kept me from sinking further was my backpack. It took me about 10 minutes to backwards-wriggle out of the snow, and when I was safe decided to call it a day and head back to my truck. I wasn’t thrilled with this decision, but I also knew it was the right one. There was no way I was going to be able to continue here without skis.
As I was trudging back the thought occurred to me if I’d have taken the ridge up and headed back down the gulch in a loop as I’d originally planned I could have ended up in a very dangerous situation: If I wasn’t able to go any further from this angle, just imagine the predicament I’d be in if I’d successfully summited via the ridge and went back down to the gulch, only to discover the snow was too deep to traverse? I’d have been stuck in the gulch, or I’d need to re-ascend thousands of feet in elevation to gain the peak to exit, making for a very, very long day. Instantly my mood improved: Today was worth it after all, as I’d learned an important lesson: in the winter, if doing a ridge route, always return the way you summit. I re-crossed the bridge
And followed the side of the mountain back towards the trailhead
In the daylight, Lake Creek was beautiful!
I made it back to the road and back to my truck, where the temperature read 12 degrees and I had frost in my hair.
So in the end I didn’t get in a full hike today: Only about 6 miles with 1500’ of elevation gain. I was bummed because I had so many options for hikes today and chose one I wasn’t able to complete, but I was glad I’d at least learned a valuable lesson (or two: I should have picked an easier peak, but didn’t want to re-summit something I’d already done. Next time I’ll take the safer option).