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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Some Thoughts on Winter Visits ...

Winter is certainly the best time to visit and soak in a natural hot springs but there are some considerations you should examine before you make a request to come on up.  Please think these over in deciding whether you want to make an attempt to hike up in winter snow conditions.  Remember that you accept responsibility for conditions, expected or unexpected.  We do not control the weather.
  • Check the weather forecasts in advance.  We attempt to cull some weather info and place it in the calendar to help you make a decision about whether to go or not.  If the weather does turn real ugly that you must turn back we will certainly try our best to accommodate you on another day.
  • Weather in the Cascades can get bad real fast.  The record snowpack at Stevens Pass was over 600 inches in 1968.  Snowpacks at Scenic have been recorded at over twenty feet.  That amount of snow means that some serious snowfalls have taken place on the mountainside . . . sometimes as much as two to three feet at a time.
  • Take Winter Storm Advisories seriously.  Stevens Pass channels winds and the snow that generates some fierce blizzards and whiteouts.  Don't get yourself caught up in the wilderness when a rogue winter storm rolls in.
  • Temperatures in the area hover in the teens and twenties during winter.  Add in the frequent winds churning over nearby Stevens Pass, and you have serious windchill temperatures with the accompanying danger of frostbite.
That said, if you dress appropriately you can stay warm and dry on your way to Scenic.  Dressing appropriately means winter clothing (thermal, wicking underlayers, and water/wind-resistant outer shell (parka)).  It means good boots designed for snow; gloves and warm hat.

Don't overestimate your abilities!  The hike up to Scenic is rigorous even in summer without any snow on the ground.  If you can't make it then admit it and we'll reschedule.  The hike is a little over two miles with 1,300 feet of elevation gain . . . most of that in the last third of a mile.  The snow could be a foot or two compacted down to Cascade Concrete at the gate but may very well be three or four feet of fresh powder overlaying the compacted layers higher up.  Without snowshoes you will be postholing through that powder and quickly exhausting yourself.
  • Carry snowshoes unless you absolutely know the snow conditions higher on the slopes.  If possible, choose Alpine snowshoes designed for steep slopes.  These types of snowshoes have an adjustable wedge that raises your heel on the snowshoe for snow-climbing conditions (the Denali Ascent snowshoes are a good example).
  • The last segment of the trail up is very steep.  In winter, the snow gets compacted with foot traffic.  Any hint of a brief melt and refreeze quickly turns this short segment of the trail into a treacherous ice chute.  Anyone who has skied off of the Barrier lift at Stevens and gone down the ridge of the bowl instead on into the bowl, knows what I mean.  Hard, slippery ice on a very steep and narrow trail . . . and a scary dropoff.  Carry a pair of crampons or strap-on ice cleats to deal with the ice.  They are cheap and well worth packing a pair into your backpack.
Children:   We love to see families enjoy Scenic and although kids may seem to be indefatigable and so energetic, consider their shorter legs trying to deal with the deep snow.

  
During and After the Soak . . .

Carry a couple of large trash bags to keep your clothes and pack dry while you soak.  Be very careful about exposing yourself to freezing weather when you get out of the hot pools.  Dry yourself and dress in stages as you progressively get out of the pool (i.e., stand up, dry your upper torso and put on a dry top . . . then step higher out of the pool and dry lower.  Carry an extra pair of socks as those you wear up are likely to be damp and ice cold.  Cover and protect your head, hands and feet as soon as possible after getting out of the hot springs.

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