Home Trip ReportsSnowshoe Surprise Lake & Cabin Time

Surprise Lake & Cabin Time

by Amanda Phillips

On most summer weekends, you can find me in the backcountry. It usually starts with a busy Friday as we pull together everything we need then fit as many things in until work starts again on Monday. In the winter, however, most outdoor activities we participate in are daylight only, we make it back our apartment in time for a leisurely dinner and still have an entire day devoted to chores and hibernating. For the last two weeks, I have been living like it is summer, leaving for the weekend and getting back on Sunday, and I have to admit, it has been rather marvelous. Sure, the days are shorter, everything is a little bit colder and wetter, but there is no reason not to weekend warrior in the winter. 

Last weekend I went to Paradise with PNWOW, and this weekend I went to stay at a cabin on Highway 2 that my delightful sister rented for me. We attempted a snowshoe on Saturday to Surprise Lake, but unfortunately only made it about halfway there. We also spent lots of time in front of roaring fires, in a hot tub listening to the river and enjoying cabin life. Somehow, the answer to my cabin fever turned out to be spending a weekend at a cabin. Weekend warrioring looks a little different in the winter, but I am all for a 2018 where we use each weekend to the fullest. 

Surprise Lake

Surprise Lake Trail

We arrived at the cabin in Baring, Washington at 7:00 pm on Friday. We unpacked our gear, made a few mulling spice & bourbon cocktails and jumped in the hot tub to plan our snowshoe for the next day. It was so lovely to sit listening to the river, with a fire in the fireplace behind us that we decided to do a short snowshoe on Saturday, so that we could spend the maximum amount of time in at the cabin. Content with our choice of Skyline Lake, after it matched with weather and avalanche conditions, we fell asleep at a reasonable hour and looked forward to the luxury of a trailhead that was only half an hour away. 

We woke at the cabin at a 8:30 am, a time that would usually be considered far too late to consider snowshoeing or hiking that day, but not when sleeping at a cabin on highway 2! Around 11, we finished eating breakfast in front of a roaring fire, packed up our gear and headed for the pass. Unfortunately the rest of Seattle seemed to have the same idea and by the time we arrived at the pass around 11:30 all of the lots were full. I was unwilling to take the ski shuttle from the Nordic Center, given that we were not actually skiing, so we made a quick u-turn and headed back down the mountain. 

We passed the Surprise Lake trailhead on the way to Skyline Lake and could see the parking lot was readily accessible. The parking lot was filled with slush, but with only three other cars in the lot, there was plenty of room. It was a trail we had tried in 2015, but when we were about half a mile from the lake I became miserably cold and we had to turn back. I vowed not to repeat the hike unless we were sure we could make it to the top. However, it was the only trail in the area that we were familiar enough with to make avalanche and navigation decisions on the fly. Even though the route was 8 miles instead of 3, we rallied and decided to try for the lake.

The snow level was much lower than our previous trip in 2015, with the road mostly bare for the start of the hike. We walked to the summer trailhead, past the powerline service road and to the main trail. Our hiking shoes were plenty given the low snow coverage, but we brought spikes and snowshoes strapped to our packs. 

The trail was filled with slick stairs and other planking, made slightly more tricky by compacted ice. Still, it was warm enough that spikes were not warranted and we made quick time for snow conditions. As we had a late start, given that we were only expecting to do a 3 mile hike and now found ourselves on an 8 mile hike, we were moving pretty quickly trying to minimize the amount of time we would spend snowshoeing in the dark. We need not have worried, as more issues lay in store for us further up the trail. 

Our first issue came with a narrow log crossing that we managed to maneuver after taking a deep breath and moving quickly. On the way back we decided to drop in the creek and just rock-hop. We passed a pair of snowshoers, whose tracks we had been following, who said they had turned around about 10 minutes up the trail when they lost the route. But I remained optimistic. The snow was falling gently on old trees that towered above us. A sliver of blue sky pushed through, it was comfortably warm and mostly it felt good to get out and move. 

At 1.8 miles, the path widened and the creek came into view. Once again, we came across a sketchy creek crossing and got stuck. High snow melt after warm days meant the creek was running fast and high and the crossing was questionable at best. It was pretty narrow, but likely possible if we took off our snowshoes, put on spikes and prayed. There was new, fresh snow on top of the old compacted snow, that had me even more worried.

After looking at the log crossing from all angles, we decided that route was not going to happen. The creek underneath was simply too wet and we really did not want a soggy 2 mile hike back to the car. We walked up the trail about a quarter mile, but when it started climbing steeply away from the creek we turned around. It was 1:00 pm at this point, with 3 hours to complete 6 miles in the snow, if we wanted to be back to the car before dark. There was no way we could route-find, break-trail, make it to the lake and back to the car safely. 

So we were back to trying to find another route across the creek. Despite the fact that there was a fallen log every 10 feet or so, none of the crossings seemed large enough to make work. Our best contender from the top seemed to be heavily corniced when we looked at another angle. After postholing up to my hips several times in places where logs crossed each other, we decided to call the creek our turn-around point. 

I was slightly cranky in the moment when we unable to make it to the lake for the second time, and we had our 3rd snowshoe of the season complicated by snow bridges (1 and 2 here). After a little lunch I had an attitude readjustment and remembered that we were initially planning an easy 3 mile snowshoe so we could spend a lot of time relaxing at the cabin. An epic trip to a lake that we struggled with in the past was never really realistic given the snow conditions and late start. We decided to meander slowly back to the trailhead, take many pictures and generally enjoy being out in the snow. 

We  arrived back at the trailhead right as a train was taking off. Watching the train cars pass in the snow was a bit of an unusual end to a snowshoeing trip. As we have now failed twice to make it to the lake, Surprise Lake is my new official challenge route, and it was so lovely in the forest I don’t mind repeating the first two miles. 

Skykomish & The Cabin

With plenty of time left in the day, we decided to stop at Skykomish, an area I had always driven past but never actually stopped at. Unfortunately, it seems that most of the activities were primarily reserved for the summer, but we did have a pleasant time walking around. We looked at old, derelict hotels, poked our head in the bar and tiny library and I admired a goat statue.

We headed back to the cabin and got our third fire going in the fireplace. A toasty hot tub soak with a view of the river was much appreciated after our snowshoe. The evening was spent reading books, playing card games and lots of cheese and wine. 

The next morning, we gathered our things and went down the street to a neat bridge we spied over the river. It was neat to see the cabin from the big bridge, but I was grateful to walk on it rather than drive…

Lastly, we grabbed a delicious breakfast at the Sultan Bakery. When we ordered, the plan was to get breakfast then go back and get donuts. Suffice to say, after these plates arrived at our table the donut plan quickly flew out the window. All in all, a great winter weekend getaway. 

What do you do to get out and about in the winter? I am also open to any cabin recommendations–a post on my favorite places to stay coming soon! This cabin was booked through AirBnB, drop me a message if you are interested in the details. 

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