I was ecstatic when a notification from WSDOT on Twitter read that the SR-20 highway would be opening on 04/18. The highway is closed every winter due to the snow and opens in Apr/May after the plough. I had taken an excursion to Winthrop with my mom soon after last year’s opening in May and we had loved the drive. It was a month early this year and I was excited to repeat the journey with my wife this time. I was also excited about the booking I had made at an amazing lodge in Winthrop. The forecast was favorable for the weekend, we packed and left Seattle around 9:30 AM on Saturday.
It was cloudy when we started and the skies turned bluer by the time we reached Darrington. We were treated with the views already by the surrounding mountains. We stopped for a Hot Chocolate and continued with our drive to reach Highway 20. Our first major stop was at NewHalem where we spent ample of time exploring the bridge on Cedar’s trail, cherry blossoms, an old locomotive and the nature around. While on the highway, we could see numerous tiny waterfalls due to the snow melt which was a pleasant treat.
We passed through colorful waters, creeks and stopped at Diablo lake overlook which provided a beautiful vista of snow capped mountains and turquoise waters of the North Cascades.
We continued our drive through the heart of the mountains and it was nice to see many others had taken the road including numerous bikers. This is the part where the road is closed for the winters and opens usually in Spring. There is an interesting story about a lady who used to visit the opening day every time with Cinnamon rolls which can be read here. We had lunch near the PCT junction and reached my favorite part of the drive, Washington Pass. We reached the viewpoint after a short walk and the view from there was exquisite as usual.
I surveyed the surrounding mountains and passes for possible trails. The snow, jagged peaks, bright daylight and the road amidst the tall trees was a treat for the eyes. Co incidentally Sai was there too and we drove together to Winthrop.
We stayed at Sun mountain lodge which was an amazing place. Living room, bedroom, 2 balconies, views of Mt Robinson and surrounding Methow valley were few of the perks.
We also had our own hot bath tub. With all these unique features, they didn’t have the basic microwave oven which was a bummer since we had carried food. It was a full moon night and it was interesting to see the hills and our shadows in the moon light. The next morning we filled our stomachs with the Easter breakfast and I fulfilled my cravings of Waffles. We played a bit of TT and left for Seattle by noon. En-route, we also had an opportunity to cross the dam and it was super cool to see the gates up close. Journeying SR 20 in the late winter is one of the best things I think to do in Washington. It exposes the beauty of the state in an amazing way that could be experienced with just a drive.
It had been a while since I last hiked and I wanted to do one even though there was widespread smoke from Canadian fires. The destination being Hidden Lake Lookout was one other reason. We started at 6:05 AM from Park and Ride and reached trailhead around 8:30 AM. Last few miles trailhead was not paved had many potholes. The organizer didn’t make it to trailhead even after 30 mins, so we left a note and started with the hike. After a mile of shade, the trail is exposed the entire way. Snow made a lot of difference wrt views and we couldn’t see the surrounding mountains much. Bugs troubled us a lot for the first couple of miles. I kept a good pace and hiked conversing with a fellow hiker. We made it the base of the lookout and then something unexpected happened.
A fellow hiker had made it to the lookout and we saw him from the base. We thought he said come straight up scrambling and we started with the scramble. I had heard that there was another route around but I chose scrambling. After few distance everyone except a girl and I chose to take the trail around. I still chose to scramble as I was already half way up. The last 100 feet of the scramble looked doable and I started with it. I got to know the difficulty only when I got close to it. I was climbing on near vertical sections. I was not wearing my usual hiking pants, so that too troubled me a bit. Also, the rocks didn’t look that stable, so I was constantly worried. The girl chose to follow me and I ensured I didn’t launch any rocks over her. I dislodged one huge rock but fortunately, it didn’t start rolling down. I was so glad I made it to the top in one piece. It was extremely scary and stupid of me.
The views from the top was much better than expected with Hidden lake, rocky and snow covered mountains around. The lookout was interesting too. It had a nice bed, books, cards, games and many other stuff. It’s first come first serve and a couple had already claimed it. We spent ample time at the summit and started the descent. I took off and ran most of the switchbacks since I was getting uncomfortable from the heat. Due to a variety of exercises over last few weeks I didn’t get knee pain this time. We then drove to Cascadian farm for ice cream. I chose to Espresso flavor hoping that it would keep me awake for the rest of the drive. But fellow passengers and I had healthy conversations throughout which made it a lot easier to stay awake.
This was a hardcore adventurous 18 hours, 6700 ft, 10 mile roundtrip hike which also included walking over something called knife edge. I was waitlisted for the event and Michael – meetup organizer – messaged me saying that he would move me to confirmed list since he believed that I could make this hike. Almost the entire team got together for training at Silver Bowl and I eventually got ready with all the required gear before the hike. 2 others and I started from Seattle the Friday evening and reached a campground near to trailhead by 8 PM. Most had set up their tent and I slept in the car. I think I slept only for 2 hours and by 2 AM we were awake and getting ready.
It was around 30 people group and we were broken into 3 teams and then again into rope teams. I had named by rope team Chaku (Knife in kannada) due to the knife edge. We started hiking at 3 AM and after initial creek crossing over logs it was a steep traverse till Boulder field. It was daylight by then and snow started appearing soon after. The view towards Cascade pass was amazing. I took the responsibility to carry the rope which was very heavy and I struggled a lot for that hour before I handed to other person. We wore crampons after the boulder field and then roped up soon after with me being in the 3rd position in a 4 member team. We were getting into the clouds and within no time we were in whiteout conditions. I met Gaurav and asked him ‘Yeh sab kyun kar rahe hai hum’ (Why are we doing all this?), I was unhappy that I couldn’t see any views. We reached high camp and by then I could see patches of sky which gave me some hope. Soon clouds started clearing slowly and I could see more and more views which encouraged me a lot. From there on, we went to the base of most-awaited knife edge.
Knife edge is an extremely narrow path with sheer drop on either sides. Actually, the narrowness depends on the snow levels and season. For us, it was pretty narrow with only enough space to keep both the feet beside each other. The summit block is located right above the knife edge. It looked pretty scary to me and I was not wrong. We waited for an hour till the knife edge was clear and started our adventure. I was confident about my balance but not my ability to manage so many gears and ropes attached to me. For safety, there were pickets placed in between and we had to clip/unclip from them. I kept looking at either side since I wanted the adrenaline rush looking at the deadly cliffs below. It was scary, but a lifetime experience walking on the edge. We spent sometime on the summit and got down with utmost care.
The sky started getting clearer and I was treated with more magnificent views. The partly frozen lake below, passes, valleys, mountains, everything looked majestic and I was so glad to be witnessing that. I volunteered to carry the ropes again and coming down the boulder field was pretty hard. Also the increased weight got hard on my knees and I was damn slow while coming down the last steep section. It was around 8 PM by the time we reached trailhead. I had spent 18 hours on the trail. I slept in the car waiting for another hiker to finish. Then drove to Seattle to reach home around 2 AM.
It was a fantastic team effort with various people helping each other. SOA meetup group is simply awesome and I love hiking with them. Its been 4 years since I did my first snow trek in Himalayas and I am glad I have continued hiking since which has been one of my biggest passions in life.
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