31 December 2015
Lower Gold Creek Basin Snowshoe, Gold Creek Trail (#1314), Snoqualmie Pass – Central Cascades, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
3 miles, 80 ft. climb to 2575 ft. maximum elevation
It’s the last day of 2015!!! What better way to commemorate an amazing year of adventure than to spend it out on the trail with my three favorite people. After a fun day snowshoeing at Keechelus Lake yesterday, my hiking buddies wanted to do it all over again and show their dad how adept they’ve become with their outdoor Christmas toys. Today, we decided to cross to the other side of Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass and explore Lower Gold Creek Basin on this beautiful day.
Just like yesterday, we were on the road by 9:30 am. With my husband behind the wheel, we made it to the Pass just a little after 10:15 am. A few other folks also planned to enjoy the great outdoors on this last day of the year, as demonstrated by the long line of parked cars clear down to the highway underpass from the lower Gold Creek Pond Sno-Park. We continued our drive up FS Road 4832 towards Gold Creek Road itself, which is now the primary snowshoe trailhead. With a line of cars parked on the roadside, we found a nice little spot about a quarter-mile from the access-road-turned-trailhead. Since the wind through the Pass was incredible this morning, I quickly set up our snowshoes outside the car while my husband helped the girls put on their outlayers inside. It was nice to have an extra set of hands today! Within minutes, we four trekked up the road out of the icy bluster and into the magical stillness of a forested winter wonderland.
What is typically an access road to the Gold Creek Pond Trailhead during warmer months is now the perfect gateway for winter adventurers. The trail was crowded with families towing sleds as well as snowshoe groups and individual skiers making their way to the Pond for the day. It didn’t take long for my junior hiking buddies to start a snowball fight with the sole man of our family on the trail. BHB used her snow flurry tosser to initiate a guerilla attack from behind while my unassuming husband had stopped to admire the placid view of the trail. As a former military officer hailing from Alaska, he did not leave this challenge unanswered as both girls were dusted with the dry powder before too long.
When a truce was finally called, we continued down the road only to come across a freshly felled tree that had been hand-sawed to clear the way. We explored the trunk and branches, allowing my husband the opportunity to further explain the seriousness of winter safety in the backcountry to our little hikers. Sometimes it takes two voices to clearly get a message across. I’m glad not being the only one to harp about falling trees, deep wells, and avalanche dangers from something as small and pristine as a simple snow flake.
After a little more than a quarter-mile on the access road, we turned left to the true trailhead to Gold Creek Pond. This snowshoe path led us out of the congested trail to an open clearing of winter white highlighted by the azure sky. We were awestruck by the postcard setting of this easy, short trail to the Basin. I had never bothered to explore the area with LHB on our adventures this year because it didn’t warrant much of a challenge for her level of energy or the number of people on the popular trail. Today, however, required more stamina to reach our destination through the deep snow. Just like yesterday, both hiking buddies wanted to make their own trails in the untouched snow…and of course, we let them “run” free in the glade until they were ready to explore the pond.
As BHB led the way, LHB exhausted herself just enough to receive a free lift from our hero as we crossed the eponymous creek to the perfect picnic site. The vista today from Gold Creek Basin was breathtaking. The Pond itself was completely frozen, sparkling with snow atop its smooth surface. Instead of looking down from a mountain top into the valleys below and across endless peaks, like many of my solo hikes, we were granted with illuminating views characterized by individual summits just above us. Having hiked up Rampart Ridge, Alta Mountain and Kendall Peak solo this year, it was definitely a proud moment for me to stand below these alpine guardians of the Basin and realize the breadth of my travels throughout the region.
After enjoying our picnic lunch of sandwiches, made-to-order to suit each individual’s taste, the girls explored a snow-covered bunker just off the trail. This fort was perfect for another snowball fight, which ensued once everyone’s energy recharged from the final bits of cheese, crackers, oranges and Pocky(TM) sticks. With my husband leading the attack this second time, the girls had no choice but to take cover behind the bunker. Thinking they would surrender, LHB came out from behind, with a huge chunk of crusted snow in hand, to finally end the war.
Once my husband conceded defeat, we strapped on our snowshoes to make our way across the frozen pond. After watching numerous folks venture onto the ice, it seemed safe enough for us to traverse across to the center islet in the pond. We three ladies had never been on anything like this before – what an awesome midpoint to our journey! The island had its own points of interest, with pillows of snow-covered boulders and frost-tipped conifers dotting the way. Someone had even built a snowman, which my hiking buddies thoroughly enjoyed!
We were sad to leave this winter paradise, but the afternoon sun was making its way behind the mountains and the wind had returned. Jack Frost wanted us home in front of the fire with our mugs of hot cocoa. Our journey back was quick, filled with more snowballs, free rides and the lure of sledding at the end of our snowshoe trek. It was such a wonderful walk through the Cascadian backcountry. Even with the number of people out on the trail today, there was still so much space for everyone to enjoy the brilliant day outside with the tranquility and freedom the wilderness offers us all.
Jack Frost’s kiss
Our day wasn’t yet over once we ended our time in snowshoes. After unpacking our hiking gear and loading ourselves into the car, we drove down the road just another quarter-mile until we found a snowy slope just off the highway. We enjoyed another afternoon snack and some hot coffee before climbing over the snow wall to the sledding hill across the FS road. This time we had three different sleds with us: our original boat, an inner-tube, and my new Eurosled Snow Spider Sled! BHB was partial to her boat, while LHB and my husband liked the float of the tube. I enjoyed the simplicity of the Eurosled’s design, as the light disk was easy to carry uphill and quick to pick up speed downhill. We enjoyed quite a few rides before finally heading home to celebrate a quiet New Year’s Eve with sparkling cider and champagne. A perfect ending to an impressive year, wouldn’t you say?
Since beginning my outdoor adventures in March of this year, I have explored over 480 miles of trail on foot, 277 miles solo and 185 miles with LHB, throughout western Washington. I’ve also introduced a new-found love of the great outdoors to BHB. I cannot wait to cover more miles in 2016, while learning about the history of hiking, challenging myself to greater depths and heights in the backcountry, and, most importantly, teaching my hiking buddies that nothing is impossible.
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” – Theodore Roosevelt