4 years ago, on New Year’s Eve, my cousin Andrea and sister Julie and I decided to go for a snowshoe. At the top of skyline lake, we talked about what we were proud to have accomplished in the past year and what our goals for the following year would be. It was wonderful to sit and take the time to reflect on the previous year somewhere so beautiful. And from there, a tradition was born. The location switched to Source Lake, and I have managed to complete a new years snowshoe every year since then. I love to extend the option to anyone who is interested, and we make sure people know that it is more than just a “put one foot in front of the other” type of snowshoe–this one comes with sharing, dreaming, and introspection.
This year, we had our biggest group yet, with our original group of three, plus my boyfriend Michael and sister’s boyfriend Keith. Despite being stuck in a cloud for the entirety of the snowshoe, it was lovely to get out on the first day of 2018 and spend the day outside. We talked about goals and wishes for the following year, and when all was said and done, it felt like we accomplished more than a simple snowshoe.
As we have returned to the same place for several years, I thought I would share a few pictures from years past. Keep your eyes peeled for pictures that match previous years shots in the sliders. This also should let you see what the Source Lake Trail looks like when it isn’t completely clouded in.
We arrived at the farthest parking lot around 9:30 to a mostly empty lot. Wandering over to the start of the trail, we chose to follow the groomed path in our boots until there was some fresh snow. With the packed trail, it was easy to float even with hiking boots on. We dodged enthusiastic children heading down the hill on their sleds and as soon as there was a snowshoe path deviating from the main trail, we took it! We strapped on our snowshoes and headed up the path, paralleling the main route. We round through stands of trees, reached the groomed path only to duck back into the forest.
The plan was to cross the creek, wander through the meadow and then climb to the Snow Lake Approach. Then we would continue to Source Lake and wander down the valley to return to our cars. I love making loops out of snowshoe routes, and this is one of my favorites! The first half is usually pretty secluded and the second half filled with skiers and fun. Unfortunately, when we reached the creek crossing, I began to doubt that we would be able to cross on the log bridge. Much like our crossings earlier in the week, the log crossing was probably doable but looked sketchy. Once again, it was completely optional, and as a few people in our group were either less experienced with creek crossings or possessing giant snowshoes, we decided to reverse the loop, climb up the valley and return on the Snow Lake Trail.
We did have a chance to see some fish in the deep pools surrounding the log crossing, which made the detour worth it! We continued following a path along the creek until it began to climb west. Our forecast was for blue skies and sun, but unfortunately, there was a large inversion and we were stuck in a chilly cloud. The primary trail loomed above us to the west but we opted for the large meadow below, which was quite fun to saunter across.
We reached a bottleneck where new backcountry skiers navigate a steep, narrow hill with their skins. Hoping to avoid the backup, and knowing that there was a waterfall about a third of the mile from the lake, we decided to venture to the east and search for the waterfall.
It was even larger than I remembered from two years prior. We had low enough snow that the rock underneath was still visible, providing a gorgeous contrast.
We backtracked a bit and then followed a route that climbed up and over the waterfall, rather than retracing back to the bottleneck. This spot was much steeper, essentially a giant staircase, but little by little we all made it to the the top. We pushed past a few ice covered trees and emerged at the banks of Source Lake.
This was the first time I have visited Source Lake when the lake is actually visible; usually, it is covered in layers of snow and ice, but the water peeked through. This year, it sat at the base of a giant avalanche debris field. When the guidebook cautions that this is a high avalanche area, this is what they mean, as this might have been the largest debris field I have walked through. Luckily, conditions were stable on the day we visited, so it was simply awe-inspiring to see what nature is capable of.
After discussing our options, we decided to try and complete the loop rather than returning down the valley. I was also excited to retrace our steps from last years snowshoe, including the large rock we sat next to for lunch.
Our lunch spot gave us an interesting view of the avalanche debris field that we walked through earlier. Everything between the two sections of trees in the middle was chopped up snow from a large avalanche that happened previously.
We sat down for some lunch and tea, and were only sitting for about 30 seconds before the gray jays–also known as camp robbers–swooped down for some snacks. These birds are highly habituated to humans and opportunistically feed on any food they can find. We held out our empty palms for a visit.
It was all good fun until one of them grabbed a bite of Andrea’s broccoli as it was going into her mouth then pooped on her pole.
I snapped a few shots of myself at the top to mark that it was our first hike of the year. I am participating in the 52 hikes challenge for 2018 (tons more info on this next week in my 2018 goals post). We then resumed hiking up the trail to meet the loop.
We started hiking back on the busy trail stopping about every 30 feet to let someone pass on the way up. We crossed a significant avalanche debris field that was too difficult to cut across, so we dipped below it then resumed the main trail. Then we reached a water crossing that was a little exposed but not terribly so. Then we reached another water crossing that was significantly exposed, deep enough so we couldn’t wade across, and would result in falling down a waterfall if we slipped. But with poles and Keith playing catcher on the other side, we all made it across safely. In previous years the snowpacks were high enough that this was all frozen and snowed over, so these crossings were quite a surprise for me.
Just in case anyone was still wondering if this trail was a good idea when avalanche danger is anything higher than low, here is another huge avalanche debris field that we crossed through.
Glancing up the trail we saw another waterfall! I was outvoted this time for waterfall exploration–perhaps fair after I made everyone climb above the last one…
The steep rocks and icy conditions led to many awesome icicles. As we looked to our right, we started to see the chairlifts of Alpental. We realized that we missed our creek crossing and overshot the trailhead. I was overjoyed, as I needed to use the bathroom and the Snow Lake trail ended across from the Alpental Lodge. I think everyone else would have preferred to end at the place our cars were parked but such is the life of making up loops. We were too cold after lunch to take very many pictures at the top (except for of birds), so we grabbed a few selfies while it still looked like we were in the wilderness instead of the parking lot.
Ending at Alpental also meant that I was able to take the picture I have managed to snap for the past two years on (almost) the same day of the huge icicles.
All in all, it was a lovely way to start 2018! Happy New Year!