Failed attempt to reach the Winchester Mountain Lookout, January 2015

One of the dumbest things I’ve done in a long time, but at least I survived to tell about it. Only time will tell if I’ve learned from my mistakes πŸ˜‰

Mistake number one: Not telling anyone where I was going… (This is such a basic rule and I’m a dumbarse for breaking it…)

Been working mad hours and needed to escape to the mountains. Worked 6-11am on Saturday and headed east towards Mt Baker. My planned destination, the lookout hut on Winchester Mountain:

Winchester Mountain Lookout

Winchester Mountain Lookout

Stopped in Deming to buy some food, then made good time up the Mount Baker Highway, exiting at the DOT depot where the 4wd Twin Lakes Road climbs up and up towards the Tomyhoi / Yellow Aster Trailhead.

Toyhoi / Yellow Aster Trailhead

Tomyhoi / Yellow Aster Trailhead

In the summer I guess one can drive all the way to the Twin Lakes, but in the winter the road becomes impassable. It’s very slow going up the roughΒ road and I didn’t reach the trailhead until around 2pm.

Mistake #2: hitting the trail without giving myself enough time to reach my destination…

Mistake(s) #3: In my rush to hit the trail I forgot my thermarest at home and forgot my goggles in the car…

Finally under way! Had to hike about a mile with skis on my shoulder-

Heading up the trail to Twin Lakes β€” at Winchester Mountain, Washington.

Heading up the trail to Twin Lakes β€” at Winchester Mountain, Washington.

A steady slog up the mountain road to Twin Lakes. I guess you can drive up here in the summer, but at this time of year the road is washed out and covered by avalanches and mud slides making it completely impassable.

The mountain road to Twin Lakes, Winchester Mountain, WA

The mountain road to Twin Lakes, Winchester Mountain, WA

Unseasonably warm, I skinned up the trail wearing only jeans, a long sleeve undershirt and vest. Lots of water flowing-

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Climbing higher and higher the views become more impressive. Looking back towards the Twin Lakes road-

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A few more switchbacks and you can see magnificent Mount Baker off in the distance-

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Welcome to Twin Lakes! ^_^

Twin Lakes at the base of Mount Winchester!

Twin Lakes at the base of Mount Winchester!

Mistake #4: What time is it?!? I didn’t check, but see now that I took this picture at quarter to 4… The sun goes down around ~4:30-5 this time of year. I should have realized that and set up camp here. But no, I pressed on… :/

The Twin Lakes are beautiful! Here is the southern-most of the two. The trail to Winchester Mountain passes between the lakes.

The southern Twin Lake, summit trail passes between the two lakes. β€” at Winchester Mountain, Washington.

The southern Twin Lake, summit trail passes between the two lakes. β€” at Winchester Mountain, Washington.

A quick photo stop at the little creek that connects the Twin Lakes-

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Woohoo- I’ve reached the Winchester Mountain Trailhead!

Winchester Mountain and High Pass trailheads! β€” at Winchester Mountain, Washington.

Winchester Mountain and High Pass trailheads! β€” at Winchester Mountain, Washington.

Winchester Mountain Trail Info

Winchester Mountain Trail Info

Again, looking back, I see I took this pic at 4pm. A smart person would have called it a day and set up camp here πŸ™‚

A steep ascent up the south face of Winchester Mountain-

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Pretty amazing views, but I’m running out of light and the mountain keeps getting steeper and steeper…

5:05pm, The sun is going down and I’m in a bad spot… Steep, icy and very exposed, a fall here would be ugly. An injury here could well be fatal, after all, tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday so it could be a good long while before anyone ventures up here…

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A quick check of the GPS and I see that I’m off trail and still have a ways to go to reach the hut. No way I can proceed in the dark, looks like I’ll have to hunker down and spend the night right here…

Off trail and have run out of light and stamina. Damn, less than a mile from my destination, but no way I can get there in the dark β€” at Winchester Mountain, Washington.

Off trail and have run out of light and stamina. Damn, less than a mile from my destination, but no way I can get there in the dark β€” at Winchester Mountain, Washington.

I spent an absolutely miserable night propped up above some scraggly pine trees that kept me from sliding down the mountain. I was worried about losing my gearΒ so I punched my skiis through the icy hardpack and used them to anchor my backpack, boots and two corners of the ground sheet of my tent. I put on all my layers of clothing and wrapped my sleeping bag as best I could in the floor sheet. I don’t know if I would have been able to use my thermarest in such a spot… As it was, sleeping on the snow without a mattress was pretty cold… It snowed on and off through the night and my sleeping bag got soaked, but I had enough layers on that I stayed relatively dry, and while I certainly shivered a fair bit, I never felt like I was getting dangerously cold… No way to take a picture of my bivouac, but it would be fun to revisit the spot in better weather. Here’s what I saw at first light on the morning of February 1st:

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It was snowing pretty hard and getting windy. Stupid me for leaving my goggles in the car… Oh well, the sooner I get going the better! Lordy my backpack was heavy now on account of my water logged sleeping bag. No sleep or food probably didn’t help either… On the plus side there was a good ~5-6 inches of fresh powder which make the descent a lot easier. Fresh powder turn down Winchester Mountain:

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The light was so flat that I struggled to see the terrain. Wiped out and discovered that my pack was so heavy I couldn’t get back up without taking it off, standing up, then putting the pack back on… Clearly I need to work on my fitness!

There are the Twin Lakes! What a site for sore eyes (literally) πŸ˜‰

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Finally out of danger I stopped at the Twin Lakes sign for a selfie πŸ™‚

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From there it’s an easy ski down the mountain road to the Tomyhoi / Yellow Aster trailhead parking area, home in time for the Super Bowl, but my “nap” turned into an all day snooze so I missed it! Sorry Seahawks fans, gonna be a glum day at work tomorrow, but I will still feel the weekend’s adventure in my sore muscles!

Happy Trails!

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Categories: backcountry, camping, Environment, Hiking, Inspiration, Laos, mountaineering, mountains, randonee, ski, travelog, winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Failed attempt to reach the Winchester Mountain Lookout, January 2015

  1. Oh my, that was crazy! I am glad you survived and hope you don’t do something that risky again! πŸ™‚

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