Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Big Four Mountain in the snow

Last October we took a hike in the Big Four Mountain area near Granite Falls, Washington on the Mountain Loop Highway to see the ice caves.  We went again last week as part of the requirements to complete the cross-country skiing course. In the winter the road from the nearest community, Silverton, is only plowed a short distance past the town limit with the rest of the road open for snowshoes, skis, hiking in the snow, dog walking, and snowmobiles—watch out, they go fast.  We came upon five older women who were celebrating a birthday by taking a day trip on snowshoes. They looked like they were having a wonderful time.

In the fall I took a few pictures (see previous posts:  Big Four Mountain & Ice Caves, 18 Oct 2013 [http://bewareoftherug.blogspot.com/2013/10/big-four-mountain-ice-caves.html] and the Thursday postcard #113, 24 Oct 2013 [http://bewareoftherug.blogspot.com/2013/10/if-this-is-thursday-it-must-be_24.html]) so it is possible to compare the way it looked in October with how it looks now in the winter.  What a difference.  The mountain was entirely clouded in by falling snow and the snow on the ground was almost up to the top of the sign.

February 2014

The Mountain Inn chimney remains, no view of the mountain

October 2013

Inn chimney remains from a slightly different angle with a view of the mountain

Part of the requirement for the cross-country skiing class that I took through the Mountaineers was an additional trip beyond the lectures and practice sessions.  We had been watching the posting of proposed trips looking for an N1 classification, the easiest possible trip.  Even so I was not entirely sure I would be able to go the distance of 8K or 5 miles and might have to turn back before reaching the end.  Finally an N1 trip was posted and we signed up right away—Big Four Mountain here we come again this time on skis.  My instructor, G, and her husband were leading this trip and M, one of the class members that I knew, was also going.  Altogether there were 8 of us—two leaders and 6 followers. 

It was just at freezing with falling snow all day.  With little or no wind the snow was fun and pretty instead of wet, stinging and super cold.  This was another ungroomed trail and although there were lots of people using the roadway there were not many clear tracks for skiing.  In some places there were deep holes where a boot had gone through the upper layer of crusty snow and created a possible hazard for skis.  A couple of snowmobiles came along managing to do an unplanned mini grooming that aided the skiing very much as they evened the holes out and made the snow softer hence the tracks by the lead skier were nice and defined like the snow cats produce. 

Big Four picnic area

The plan was to proceed from the gate at the end of the plowed road to the Big Four picnic area approximately 2.5 miles down the road for a 5 mile or 8K round trip. There is a gradual incline that rises about 250 feet from the starting point to the destination.  We would eat lunch at the covered picnic area and those who wanted to ski a little farther after lunch would go on with one of the leaders.  At 1,800 feet elevation it was snowing hard by the time we got under the shelter.  I made it all the way, no falls, had lunch and was ready to start back to the parking area because I knew even though it was downhill on the return trip I was pretty tired and needed to quit before I got over tired.  G said she would go with Bob and I then the others could catch up when they were ready to turn around. 

Most of our group decided to ski a little farther before returning to the parking area.  The picnic shelter is just on the other side of the big fir tree.  The tree was covered with moss that was dusted with snow and had lots of lower branches.  Those lower branches are somewhat unusual for a fir tree but since no other trees were growing near it the tree was able to spread out lower down the trunk as seen in the photo above. 

In addition to the snowshoes and snowmobiles we saw families with little children.  One couple had put skis on a bike trailer and the mom and dad, wearing snowshoes, were taking turns pulling it up the road.   I asked if I could take their picture and they said yes.

Bike trailer converted with skis

Baby is inside, nice and cozy

Another couple was carrying a baby.  They stopped and built a tiny snowman with sticks for hair.

Tiny snowman about 1 foot tall

A couple with a little corgi dog wearing boots on his feet passed us at one point.  His legs were so short that he was nearly up to his tummy and his “pantaloons” had a dusting of snow.  The picture below shows that he was long past us before I could get my camera out of the inside pocket to take a picture so his little boots do not show up.  It became apparent early on that the camera had to be kept warm inside my vest because it was too cold for it to work otherwise.  It was snowing hard and I did not take as many pictures because it required removing gloves, holding poles, balancing on skis and unsnapping part of the pack to get at the camera. 

The scenery was beautiful.  Here are a few photos from the day some taken by Bob, G & me.

Not cold enough for the pond to freeze over

South fork of the Stillaguamish River with one of our group, S, & G, our leader. on skis

Streams that feed into the river

"Wait, wait, till I take off my dark glasses . . ."

Speed limit 45 mph . . .  

Some skiers do go that fast but not I at least not until I learn how to slow down and stop better! The Mountaineers do such a good job explaining with lectures about safety and equipment then following that up with practical field trips.  I am still a beginner but the course made me feel confident that with more practice I will be a skier for a long time to come.  I cannot say thank you enough to all the volunteers who help with this program especially to my all personal instructors,  they were and are terrific.

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