Snowshoes, Sunrises, Views!
We were due for a little type two fun so Jessie and I had this idea it would a nice "easy" overnighter if we did the High Divide Trail on snowshoes from the Excelsior Peak trailhead on Mt. Baker Hwy. to the Welcome Pass trailhead. Awesome? Yes! Easy? No!
Thinking we would have a lot of extra time (haha) we got a pretty lazy start on Saturday morning. We dropped my vehicle off at the Welcome Pass trialhead then parked his truck at the Excelsior Pass trailhead on Mt. Baker Hwy and hit the trail around 10am or so. Which direction to do this trail kinda depends on personal preference. Welcome Pass is shorter, but far steeper. I know from past experience that in snowshoes this would be miserable. The upside to going westbound though is that you ultimately gain a lot less altitude since the Welcome Pass trailhead starts at a higher elevation. We opted to go eastbound since the grade is a "bit" more gradual up to Excelsior Peak. I say gradual, but it's still steep as shit. There's just no way around it.
We made fairly good time hitting snow about 1/2 way up the Excelsior trail. Only one set of tracks were visible and they stopped dead just before the peak due to small avalanche runout. We did a quick assessment, and kept the right of the peak and traversed a much milder slope up to the east side of the peak. Once gaining the ridge we had originally thought it would be a nice moderate ridge walk all along the High Divide Trail. Wow, were we wrong! You see the High Divide Trail stays on the southern side of the ridge traversing a somewhat moderate up-and-down lazy traverse along the ridge. This was not an option for us due to avalanche danger. We were forced to stay along the spine of the ridge the entire way. This made for a LOT more up-and-down than was anticipated.
After a long day of breaking trail we found a nice spot at almost the highest spot on the ridge to call it a day. We finished setting up camp just in time to watch the sun set. With no wind, and perfect weather the feeling of accomplishment and prime conditions made for a surreal experience. By the time I scarfed down my beef stroganof, had a shot of hot apple pie, and a nice hot cup of hot cider I was doing everything I could to stay awake. So here lies a bit of a problem. Falling asleep after a long day of physical output is easy for me. I can sleep quite well just about anywhere. That's not the problem. My body has an internal clock that refuses to sleep much more than about 8hrs. Well, falling asleep at 5pm (when it's dark mind you) poses a bit of a problem at 1am when your body no longer wants to sleep and is ready to go. It took quite a bit of coaxing, but finally I was back asleep until about 7am when we stirred.
Sunrise was nothing short of breathtaking, and after no breakfast (ran out of fuel melting snow... oops) we were back on the trial. The rest of the ridge was pretty much the same with only a couple marginal sketchy spots where we got our ice axes out just to be safe. For anyone reading this I can't advise enough a set of aggressive snow shoes. The snowpack was soft one second, then rock hard ice the next. The MSR Lightening Ascents bit hard, and gave a lot of confidence where I know a less aggressive shoe would not have.
Another really cool thing was we seemed to be following about 2 days behind a bear, and possibly a cub. The tracks were very prominent all across the ridge, and it was just so cool to see the tracks of the wandering pair. That's one thing that I think is so cool about snow travel, you can see the tracks of virtually EVERYTHING that's traveling along in the same area. I guess this would make some people nervous, but for me it's really exciting.
After finally reaching the Welcome Pass high point we headed down the knee pounding descent to the car. Ughh... I forgot how much I hated that trail. Nothing, but brutally steep switchbacks. But hey, we made it! 11mi, and close to 5,000ft of elevation gain in snow shoes. Definitely a lot harder than I had expected, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat!