Tea, Earl Grey, Hot
Joined: 29 Jan 2007
Posts: 4177 | TRs
|Date: December 23, 2017
Destination: Stewart Peak & Groat Mountain (USGS Groat Mtn)
Party: Matt, Yana, Carla
We had a clear but cold day, and snow that was fresh and deep but fairly stable, so we decided to make the most of it.
Our plan: Snowshoe up Groat Mtn, stay on top to watch the sunset, even bring along a stove to make warm snacks while we waited, and then descend by headlamps.
The reality: Each piece of the trip went a bit different than the plan.
We came prepared to hike straight up from the FS Road 38 if necessary, figuring that the side road up toward Steward Peak would have too much snow. However, the Steward road was drivable all the way up to 3000 feet, so we parked there. With the higher start, we decided to visit Stewart as well, before heading for the main event on Groat.
My new Forester at its first trailhead
Stewart Peak (9:00 11:15am)
We thought the road walk would be boring, but it was actually pretty with the fresh snow. It was fairly easy snowshoeing up to the crest east of Steward at 4000 feet. The day was cold, but not too bad when we were in the sun.
A view of Baker and the Black Buttes along the way
Snowshoeing along the road
Groat Mtn in view on the far side of creek divide
Farther up the road
The Twin Sisters behind us on the road
We'd heard that views were limited from Steward, but it had a nice open area for a break, with a pretty good view out toward Groat, and Baker peaking around its shoulder.
Just below the summit of Stewart
Me near Stewart's summit
Taking a break in the sun
Stewart Peak to Groat False Summit (11:30am 4:20pm)
Next we headed for Groat, just 1.5 miles away as the crow flies, but many more steps away as the snowshoer wallows. We hiked west back to the road junction, then followed another road to its end where we dropped to the saddle at 3830 feet.
Now the travel got much harder. In open areas, the snow was too loose, and kept kicking out underfoot. In the woods, it was dense brushy post-clearcut growth that we could barely wedge ourselves through. Either way, it was slow hard work up till about 4250 feet, where we reached more mature forest and less steep ground, so we could make a slightly rising traverse over to Groat's south ridge at 4500 feet.
I didn't take any photos along the way, because it was taking all my effort just to keep progress going before daylight ran out.
Looking from Stewart to Groat
Okay, now we were on the ridge two hours before sunset, and all we had to do was go 1000 feet uphill. Easier said than done. Every step had to be kicked multiple times to pack down. Even with three of us taking turns and working as hard as we could, it was exhaustingly slow. And the temperatures were getting colder as well.
Now it was a race to ascend the mountain faster than the sun descended to the horizon. I really wanted to see the sunset light up the west side of Baker, which would be right across from us. A few hundred feet below the top, the light through the trees turned bright gold. I pulled off my gloves just long enough to get a few photos with the icy cold camera.
Light changing colors, 24 minutes before sunset
Golden light in the trees, 20 minutes before sunset
Sun just above the horizon clouds
The summit was only a couple hundred feet above. But, as I continued to struggle upward, the gold light faded to pale yellow and then to a dim pink. Nooo, the sun was dropping into clouds on the horizon. At the top of a snowy rise, Yana called out that she was on top clear of the trees, but my feet kept slipping on the steeper grade. I ended up literally yelling for someone to help pull me up before the light was gone. Alas, by the time I got there, the sun was nestling into the blanket of western clouds, and the light quickly faded to gray.
Last bit of pink light on Baker
Sun reflecting on Puget Sound
Carla taking a photo toward the Sisters Range
Groat's true summit gone gray and cold
Groat False Summit to Car (4:30-8:40pm)
We agreed that it was too cold and late to go for Groat's true summit, and fled back down the ridge. Going down was so much easier than going up.
And along the way, the evening was beautiful, with the clear skies overhead shading to deep indigo.
Moon over The Twin Sisters
Hiking down the ridge
Icicles catching the last light
Once we were partway down the ridge and out of the cold breeze, we stopped to fire up the stove and get warm. The reactor stove did its usual fast job heating water, as we huddled over cups of tea and ramens.
Warm food on a cold mountainside
Back on the snow-covered roads, the sickle moon lit up the snow surprisingly well, and black sky was a glory of bright stars.
Gloriously starry sky above moonlit Groat Mtn
Diamonds in the snow and in the sky
For the last mile, I was able to turn off my headlamp and just admire the calm peaceful beautiful night as I walked along. It actually had me humming the Christmas hymn, "oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining... a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices." Our times could use some hope. Anyway, this weary hiker rejoiced to walk along the easy road under the starry skies.
When I came around the last bend, my car greeted me by joyously honking its horn and flashing its lights. Well actually, I'd forgotten to tell Yana & Carla that the valet key would set off the alarm if they didn't stick it in the ignition soon after opening the door.
Back at the car
Stats: 9.9 miles, 3300 gain, 11:40 hours
Driving info: From the town of Welcome (3 miles east of Deming), take the Mosquito Lake Road about 5 miles, then drive FS38 (Middle Fork Nooksack Road) about 6.5 miles to 1537 feet, where a side road turns uphill toward Stewart. In summer conditions, you can drive another mile farther up to about 3400 feet, where there's a parking area. (Note that the snow is probably much lower on the road now.)
Every trip is a success in its own way.
According to my original goal getting to Groat's true summit and watching the alpenglow at sunset it could have been a failure. But it was a success at my more fundamental goal making a bigger effort to try for something special. And it was special in more than a few ways enjoying the sunshine on Stewart's summit, persisting up Groat despite the difficulty, the brief moment of golden light in the trees, the beautiful evening and night, and the companionship of friends who were willing to persevere in making the most of a cold, short, beautiful winter day.
As beacons mountains burned at evening. J.R.R. Tolkien