Snow. It’s a big weakness for me. Whether I’m up in the mountains and it’s coating every tree like frosting or I’m in the city and we get a dusting overnight, snow makes me giddy like a little kid. Maybe it’s because growing up in Seattle, with its notoriously difficult to predict weather, we would hear about the possibility of snow for 6 months out of the year but the forecast would be right only a tiny percentage of the time. When it would finally fall the entire area would be so unprepared for the icy mess on the roads that everything would shut down and we would get the day off of school, even if it was only half an inch. I can remember sitting up most of the night hoping that the news would be correct and I’d wake up to a yard blanketed in white, checking out my window every 15 minutes to see if it had started, and inevitably being disappointed most of the time. Let’s be honest, I still do that sometimes. But lucky for me, now I’m an adult with an AWD car and I can have a snow day any day I feel like making the drive!
I have a friend who understands my ridiculous love of snow, and she has been promising for a while to take me snowshoeing at Skyline Lake. She said it was unlike anywhere else – a quick trip up would lead us into a whole other world of snow, so magical it doesn’t even seem real. How could I say no to that?! We decided the conditions were right to make it the perfect end-of-the-year hike and set off into the mountains on New Year’s Eve day.
This trip also marks my first time using snowshoes. We’ve always brought them and never needed them, but I finally got to try them out. I have to say, they were much more natural feeling than I expected, and I loved being able to tromp through deep fluffy snow without a care. I’ll definitely be looking for my own pair pretty soon!
Our hike started out at the ski resort, and with 6 feet of snow on the ground it was already feeling pretty magical. And cold. At 20°F at the base of the trail I knew we were going to have to keep moving to stay warm, but I quickly found out that wasn’t going to be a problem. This hike is short, but steep! The gain is about 1,100 feet over a mile and a half and in the snow it certainly was a workout. We would be puffing up the hill, shedding layers and panting and then would come around a corner to an exposed section and quickly bundle up again against the stinging gusts of wind. The biting, icy wind is part of what makes this place so beautiful, however, and once we reached the lake I could see the effect it has on the winter landscape. Snow drifts looked like rolling sand dunes and strange shapes were created by the trees and boulders that had become completely buried. The whole world up there looked straight out of Dr. Seuss.
We had expected a bluebird day, but the ridge here funnels clouds right into the bowl of the lake, and we found ourselves pretty socked in. We decided to flop in the snow by the “shore” for a picnic to see if we could wait out the clouds. The weather never fully cleared up, but the view was still magnificent. As the wind blew through it picked up snow and all of the shapes around us disappeared into a white-out. The trees and snowy dunes would reappear in shifting pockets. I know the views from the top are supposed to be spectacular, but I don’t regret at all coming on a beautifully misty day.
When we tired of making snow angels we heading up the ridge to see if there was much visible up there at all. The extra 100 feet up to the unprotected ridgeline made for a huge change in the weather. We looked straight down the other side into a swirling abyss of grey and got blasted by the intense wind from a system that was trying to push itself up over the cliff. We were admiring the thick hoar frost on the trees there, when we looked at each other and noticed that both of our hair had frozen as well! Each strand was coated in thick white frost, just from those few gusts of wind. I’m sure if we had stayed there for an hour we could have each grown beards as well!
We traversed the ridge until we were overlooking the lake again and came upon the boulders dubbed “the rock garden”. They towered over us, some as big as houses, and all of them coated in drifts of deep snow. From up there, in an absolutely alien landscape, with occasional sun breaks revealing snippets of the Cascade range I completely understood why my friend pushed to get me here. This was probably the best snow I’ve ever seen!
Finally we were fully chilled to the bone and frolicked the our way down hill. I regretted not bringing something to use as a sled, but some spots were steep enough to just sit down and slide! As we headed back into the forest we yelled, “Goodbye magical snowy wonderland, see you soon”! And I’m sure I will!
Snowshoe: Skyline Lake | 3 miles | 1100ft Elev. gain
If you go: Dress for the North Pole – apparently it is always exceedingly cold on this trail and a quick system moving in can drop the air temperature rapidly. Be aware of the avalance risks if going off trail. And I definitely recommend bringing some kind of sled for the way down!