Friday, June 8, 2018

Windy Pass Trail

The mountains call after the long winter layoff. Invariably, restless hikers will attempt a hike in the Cascades when the clime is hot and summery in the Umpqua Valley, only to find out the mountains are still undergoing some version of winter weather. I thought I'd be smart and hold out for another month but then Edwin called and I said, almost reflexively, "Ok sure, I'll go with you!" And that is the story of how I came to hike the Windy Pass Trail on an early June day.

Nothing but blue skies...for now

The basic plan was to hike from Timpanogas Lake to Cowhorn Mountain. However, a winter storm was blowing in with snowfall predicted so we had a most-of-the-day window of opportunity. But just in case, winter gear was stowed into daypacks before Edwin, John, and I set out from the lake. Although a chill breeze was moving cool air around as we set out, the day was initially sunny and totally at odds with the predicted forecast.

Rodent house, also known as Timpanogas Snow Shelter
A quarter of a mile along Timpanogas Lake's shoreline, lies the Timpanogas Snow Shelter and we stopped by to check it out. You never know when you might want to snowshoe to the lake and spend the night! During the summer, the resident rodentia are only too happy to scurry across sleeping camper's faces and raid their packs. At any rate, after our cursory visit to the shelter, we scurried ousrselves onto the Windy Pass Trail heading up to the Pacific Crest Trail.

One of several small ponds along the trail
Ah, uphill hiking is so much fun and soon our leg muscles were burning in unhappy companionship to that activity. We passed by a number of small ponds and lakelets, all coated with a film of tree pollen. Mosquitoes came by to visit, probably freshly hatched from the aforementioned ponds and lakelets. However, their numbers were not yet up to the usual summery multitudes, thankfully.

Orange peel fungus
We continued to angle upward through a forest of homogeneous trees, all covered with fuzzy moss like so many giant unshaven legs. There wasn't much vegetation underneath the trees but there were plenty of orange peel fungi sprouting alongside the trail like brightly colored doll cups. Periodically, there'd be a break in the trees and we enjoyed views of Sawtooth Mountain when that happened. Hidden by the forest, Amos and Andy Lakes lay below us somewhere, but we did get a glimpse of a lake which may have been one of the watery siblings. And then snow became an issue.

Edwin ponders the mystery of the disappearing trail
We had started hiking at 5,200 feet of altitude, at Timpanogas Lake, and had worked our way up to about 6,200 feet when the trail ran under a small snow drift. It wasn't too daunting, for we could see the trail continuing on the other side of the drift. But as we continued to hike, the drifts became more frequent and larger, really putting our route-finding skills to the test. Between my GPS and John and Edwin's stubbornness, we would find a piece of the trail and thus, were always able to continue.

Yup, this is the trail
I wasn't feeling all that walky on this day and found the hiking in soft snow to be quite tedious and before long, my quads were burning in quiet agony. At the point where my GPS said we were at the intersection with the Windy Pass Trail and the tie-in trail to the Pacific Crest Trail (and Windy Pass itself), I called it, or "wussed out" as John and Edwin termed my departure. They wanted to reach the PCT at least so we parted ways and I headed back down to snow-free environs.

At the wrong pond
On the way down, I hit a walking rhythm, which is easy to do when walking downhill. I stopped at a small pond that for some reason did not look familiar. After taking some pictures, I continued on the trail, which looked faint, sketchy, and even less familiar than the unfamiliar pond. Out came the GPS and I ascertained I had walked past the intersection with the trail leading to Timpanogas Lake. A slight backtrack was executed and I  soon found myself on familiar trail again.

Incoming bad weather
By now, clouds had scudded over and blotted out the sun. A breeze picked up and the temperature began dropping faster than a roller coaster in free fall. The predicted snowstorm was arriving, although any precipitation at this point was just raindrops here and there. After I consumed lunch and a small bottle of wine at the trailhead while slapping at mosquitoes, Edwin and John showed up and we quickly hightailed it out of there. They had made it to Cowhorn Mountain but then decided to turn back without summitting the craggy peak because the wind had picked up and it was uncomfortably cold. Despite the not so-summery hiking conditions, it felt good to be back in the Cascades after the long winter layoff.

Timpanogas Lake, as the storm rolled in
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

No comments :

Post a Comment