With spring almost upon us and the deep winter snow starting to melt, maybe it is time to venture into our local mountains. The blanket of snow packed on the north side of these mountains may take some time to melt but the remainder of hiking trails should be passable.
A few years ago during May I attempted to hike to Little Shuteye Peak and had to turn back because of the heavy snowpack. Skirting around Chilkoot Lake was the wrong choice of hiking route. Ice and snow drifts were still surrounding the lake. Not only were the marches on its back side difficult, but there were also questionable snow bridges that required extreme caution.
The following June, Clem Bingham and I decided to depart from the main road and hike cross-country to avoid the marshy area behind the lake. The first stream crossing was the run-off from the lake. Luck was with us this morning and we kept our boots dry. Nature had taken one of its huge pine trees and laid it across to the opposite side. After hiking through the forest we were faced with three separate canyons and four ridges. The second ridge, which was a huge slab of granite, offered us a panoramic view looking down on Chilkoot Lake. The remaining small canyons created marshy areas from the melting snow. This forced us to hike on the western end of these canyons crossing on the high ground. Finally we arrived at the western face which is our final climb to Little Shuteye Peak.
I feel obligated to tell you that the time of year doesn’t make any difference – this is a strenuous hike, rated as class 1 and 2 until reaching the summit. The final 30 feet is class 3 if you feel obligated to sign the register. Its location is at the highest point snuggled within a crack under a rock. Clem and I have bragging rights of being first to sign this register starting a new season two years in a row.
From this vantage point Chilkoot Lake looked much smaller than our first view from the second ridge. Looking north from the lake is Fresno Dome with its smooth granite surface protruding through the green forest. To the east we could see a storm closing in surrounding the Minaret Mountains. We opted to depart early from this summit when we could see lightning and hear thunder from over those mountains moving in our direction.
During our descent this storm was moving closer and determined to catch up with us. As we hiked our way through the canyons and over the open ridges, the thunder and lightning kept reminding us to keep moving. We made good time back to our trailhead and the safety of our vehicle before the rain started. The hike lasted more than four hours and we traveled over six miles.
If cross-country hiking is unfamiliar to you, wait until the snow has melted and follow the road toward Chilkoot Lake. After skirting around the lake you’ll arrive at the marshy area which should be dry. Then follow the slot toward the summit. This route is much easier and you’ll still be rewarded with great views.