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Coney Lake

Started: 2008-06-18 21:52:20

Submitted: 2008-06-18 22:21:56

Visibility: World-readable

Last Wednesday (11 July 2008), I took the day off work for a fact-finding mission to see how much snow was on the ground at 10,000 feet. My mission took me to Beaver Reservoir, which I visited recently for geohashing. The day was cool and overcast; it was flurrying as I parked at the still-closed gate at the Coney Flats four-wheel-drive road.

I set out on foot along the Coney Flats road, which had dried out significantly in the two and a half weeks since my last visit. I didn't see any snow at all until after I rejoined the four-wheel-drive road after the hiker-only shortcut. I had to navigate some significant ponds on the road, which made me glad I was wearing my waterproof boots. By the time I reached the wilderness trailhead and the wilderness boundary, the I had only traversed snow to avoid wading through water.

Inside Indian Peaks Wilderness, the situation changed. Within a few hundred meters, there was enough snow on the trail to warrant wearing the snowshoes strapped to my pack. This soon proved to be a bad idea; the snow was spotty enough that I spent much of my time walking over dirt in snowshoes, and where there was snow it was packed well enough that I didn't need much flotation. (It didn't help that the snow was drifted up and down to the point where I was having trouble getting a foot hold in snowshoes.) After a few hundred meters, I gave up on snowshoes and relied on my gaiters to keep the snow out of my boots. As I climbed through 10,000 feet, the snow firmed up to the point where I could walk on top of it without sinking. At that point, my primary difficulty became finding the trail. I think I followed it half-way up the valley from the trail junction to Coney Lake. After that, I knew I was nowhere near the trail but I didn't have a good idea where the trail really was. I used my GPS and a custom-printed 24,000:1 topographic map to figure out where I was, then extrapolated that point onto the Trails Illustrated map that actually had the trail I was trying to follow, which gave me a vague idea where I was supposed to be. I generally headed up the valley in the direction of the lake and managed to find the trail in a few places, only to promptly lose it again.

Coney Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Coney Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness

I hit timberline just below Coney Lake. I ate lunch overlooking the lake, trying to withstand the frigid wind blowing down the valley. I left after one bagel and headed back down the mountain. I started out trying to follow the trail back down but soon gave up and simply followed my tracks, which at least took me back to known good trails. I was pleased with the ability of my gaiters to keep snow out of my boots, and pleased that they didn't soak water up my legs. I retraced my steps out of the wilderness, across the lake spanning the wilderness trailhead, and ultimately back to my car parked at Beaver Reservoir. I saw the only two people I had seen on the trip as I hiked back on the hiker-only shortcut on the four-wheel-drive road.

I returned to civilization refreshed from my mid-week wilderness adventure as I tried to figure out how my on-the-ground information about snow conditions would affect my backpacking plans for the weekend.

Sawtooth Mountain in spring snow
Sawtooth Mountain in spring snow
Modern mobile phones make my head hurt, and I speak as the owner of a
sheepskin that proclaims me to hold a degree in computer science.
- Charles Stross, What I want for Christmas