Snow Camping on frozen Colchuck Lake

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Distance: 16 miles roundtrip
Elevation: 3600 feet
Activity: Snowshoeing and Snow camping

During the Lake Ingalls outing, a fellow hiker had described the perks of camping in Washington and I was waiting for an opportunity ever since. I had bought a tent too and hadn’t used it yet. The meetup event for Colchuk lake and Sunny weather forecast coincided and I signed up for it. Also, I loved the view of Dragontail peak and the name Asgard pass which adorns the lake. I followed the checklist for snow camping and had the most of the gear except an extra pair of woolen socks. The gear including sleeping bag, mattress, tent, stove, layers, extra clothes, etc weighed around 30 pounds and I thought I would be okay with the weight. My main source of food was a rice dish which my flatmate and I had prepared the previous day and I complimented it with Phulkas, Oats, Eggs, Energy bars, Bananas, Dry fruits and Cocoa powder. Along the trip, I would mainly learn about the sacrifices one has to make for the snow camping.

3 of us showed up at the Eastgate Park and Ride and we drove to the start of forest road near Leavenworth which was 4 miles away from the actual trailhead. We had to hike extra 8 miles in total due to the road closure. I left my ice axe to be frugal on weight, wore a beacon which the organizer gave and started with the microspikes at around 10:20 AM. I felt the weight pretty soon and within no time, I felt tightness on my chest due to the upper belt. I struggled but kept pushing myself. I had to frequently dust off snow sticking on my spikes, we hadn’t realized that it was snowshoe area until we saw other hikers marching fast with them. To distract myself from the agony, I kept counting 1-500 steps and repeated it multiple times and figured that 4-5 sets of 1-500 would make a mile. After taking many breaks initially, I actually did 1 mile without stopping following that method of distraction. Crossing on a narrow bridge later was quite interesting where we crossed it over even narrower snow deposits balancing with the help of poles on the railings. I had my lunch there and that would be the last big meal of my day. Even after 5.5 miles of hiking, we had only gained little over half the elevation of 3600 feet. So the rest came in final 2.5 miles and 1000 feet came in the last 1 mile which basically drained most of my energy. I was following a fellow hiker and he took frequent steep shortcuts which added to the struggle. Finally, we reached the frozen lake at around 4:30 PM. The blue sky, white blanket of snow with Dragon tail Peak, Asgard pass and Colchuk glacier on the other end of the lake looked soothingly beautiful and enjoying it, I kind of forgot the tiredness. But we had to set up camp soon. The snow on the lake was tested by early hikers as we saw them camped right in the middle of the lake. We chose a spot bit closer to the shore and started setting up the camp. I got the tips for camping and did my best to follow. First, I had to flatten/harden the floor by walking/stomping on a wide area where I would pitch my tent and cook. I pitched the tent, set the air mattress and sleeping bag quite efficiently while watching the Sun’s golden rays on the surroundings. Except my feet, I wasn’t that cold and didn’t even wear an extra layer of gloves. While digging, we hit the slush and wondered a bit if we should camp a bit higher. But since the water level was around 2 feet down, we stayed put. After setting up the camp, I melted the snow for hot water and made myself a cocoa drink. I didn’t feel like eating much for the night and I lay down in the tent for rest of the night. I had carried a 2 person tent and it was spacious. So I dumped most of the things I would need for the night in the tent. I was foolish not to wear down booties in the sleeping bag. Even though, my feet felt little better, they were no close to being warm and cozy. I was also foolish to leave my backpack totally outside which looked like it had weathered a snowstorm in the morning. I didn’t come out of the tent till morning except to pee once in the night and stars looked okay in the night sky. I knew I slept because of the dreams I remembered. Even though I was not that cold, I didn’t sleep quite well. I am not sure which reason contributed more to not enjoying the experience thoroughly – tiredness, thoughts or the cold. I just let it pass and spent the night alternating between sleeping on my back and side.

There was hardly any wind throughout the night but there were was a light snowfall in the morning. I was hoping for a colorful Sunrise, but clouds had other plans. So I came out of the tent much later (around 9 AM) and made myself a hot cocoa drink again. I couldn’t see the flames on the stove and I assumed something had gone wrong. After wasting 3 matchsticks, I realized that it was just that I couldn’t see it. My feet was very cold and they had lost hopes on me that I would take care. I wore a liner and hoped to feel better. I repeatedly kept moving my toes to ensure they hadn’t frozen completely. The gaiters had turned into a papad and also the shoes had stiffened since I had left them out too. I packed everything soon and I was ready with my backpack. Sun was out and I went to explore to be in motion and enjoy the surroundings. Dragontail peak looked like a towering Gopura in-front and the jagged peaks around looked stunning in the bright light. The organizer asked me to remove the liner for better circulation and the other hiker offered me a fresh pair of socks. Even though they felt similar to the one I was wearing, I took it mainly because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and I didn’t want to look foolish if something went wrong. I actually felt better with my bare feet. We left the place around 12 PM and started our descent. The far surrounding mountains looked amazing and I felt the views were comparable to the ones I saw during Rupin pass. Again, I acknowledged and appreciated the fact that I am in Washington where the mountains are so close to the place where I live, that I was just hours away from the comfort of my bed. I hadn’t used around 40% of my gear and I didn’t feel that backpack’s weight had reduced. I was quite slow in the initial steep descent but after that I just stormed through the rest of the way. From 2.5 mile mark to the end(8 miles), I counted 14 sets of 1-500 steps which helped me keep my mind away from the tiredness. I thought I did fairly well for the first snow camping but I realized that my toes had sort of numbed and tingling sensation had developed by the time I reached home. Though it has reduced, I still have it even after 2 days at the time of writing. We stopped for food at Leavenworth and drove to Seattle to reach around 8:15 PM. I had realized about the daylight saving’s time late and was quite happy that I had to spend 1 less hour in the cold. It was a great experience with good learnings.

Tips:

  • Be very serious about the gear. Snow camping can be dangerous if un-prepared.
  • Rice worked well for 1 day camping. Carry some cocoa powder, etc for tasty hot drink.
  • I had this stove and it was very easy to manage.
  • Shoes and socks are super important and make sure you have extra sock and comfortable shoes.
  • Dumping all the heavy stuff in the bottom of the backpack might help shift the load from shoulders to hips.

Activity Overview

GPS video

Photos and Videos

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Categories: Adventure, Outdoors, Seattle, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Snow Camping on frozen Colchuck Lake

  1. Pingback: Seattle Outdoors | Life is an Adventure

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