Well, this was supposed to have been a 5 day trip, 42 mile loop, but was cut into a 3 day trip, 30 mile out and back by a pretty significant snowstorm.
Day one, we headed out of the Quartz Mountain trailhead for a leisure stroll up to middle chain lake. We set up camp, and hiked up to the upper lake. Was really nice having this area all to ourselves. I was up here two weeks before with my 8 year old son, and we too had the place to ourselves.. Gotta love the long service road access point to the trail head! Sure keeps the crowds down.. Oh, and being late season helps also :)
On Saturday morning, we woke up to again beautiful, clear blue skies.. Our plan this day was to head up to Lower Ottowa Lake, another pretty mellow day of hiking and a distance of around 10 miles. Soon after we set off, the weather began to change rapidly. By the time we hit camp at Lower Ottowa, a light snow had begun. It was 3:00. We set up camp along the northwest corner of the lake, and continued to watch the snow fall... After a few hours, we were getting a few inches accumulation... I wont lie, I was starting to get a bit worried. Not only was I worried this was going to impact the rest of our trip, but was getting concerned that the trail was going to soon be buried under snow and we were not carrying a GPS.
At about 6:30, we were tent bound. The snow was not letting up. I had to keep bumping my fly on my Nemo obi1 through the evening/late night to keep the snow load off. At some point during the night, the storm cleared and the moonlight flooded through the walls of my tent... I felt a sense of relief that the storm had finally passed. When morning came, I awoke to an amazing site that I have not yet experienced during a lightweight back pack trip... 6 inches of fresh snow 15 miles deep in the back country.
Our plans were very much up in the air that morning... We decided we would wait to see how quickly the sun would begin to melt the snow, which proved to be very slow. The trail was covered, so the idea of heading over Red Peak Pass was not really an option today. We decided the best option was to head back the way we came. Fortunately, there was another party at the lake that had left early in the morning, and it was pretty apparent they had a GPS, as they were able to navigate the trail down out of Lower Ottowa. We followed their tracks, hoping that when the hit the trail junction 3 miles below, that they would have taken our route, to the south towards Chiquito Pass. No such luck, they had headed down to Glacier Point. At this time, we had to make a decision. Should we continue to follow their tracks, and make it out to glacier point and somehow find a way back to our car, a few hours away, or do we chance it and try to find our way back through the snow covered trail?
We decided that we would push on in our direction and see how it went. We navigated up to Merced Pass, and started finding that the route finding was becoming somewhat easier.... We really made use of the old trail markings carved into the trees! Using those, as well as looking for cut logs across the trail was invaluable. As the afternoon went on, the snow began to melt a bit, and sunk into the trail, making it a bit easier to find. Also, it started to become a slushy, watery mess! I was in non goretex trail runners, and my feet were drenched for the entire 15 mile hike out.
We finally made it back to our car, after 15 miles of hiking in 6 hrs. We managed a very quick pace, and it was nice to be back at our car, despite the fact that our trip was cut short. It was a very adventurous trip to say the least. I began to rethink my gear set up for the late season hikes, and two things I came way with was a different set of footwear and possibly a GPS....
I hope to return next year to finish this loop. We had just gotten to the "epic" part of the trip, and were cut short by the storm.