Sourdough Gap and Crystal Lake, Winter Trail

This follows on the heels of my last post; the Sourdough Gap trail is just as beautiful and looks more rugged during a winter storm.

Last year, my friend Mary wanted to go hiking, and had never been to Mount Rainier, so we chose the Sourdough Gap section of the Pacific Crest Trail. I’d done this earlier with mutual friends ours and been impressed, and we both knew the road to Chinook Pass would close any day, so we wanted to get while the getting was good.

Sheep Lake

Sheep Lake

There was no swimming to be had this day. But it was still early in the season (*) and there were inches of snow, not feet. More snow fell all around us as we hiked, landing silently in the water and melting as it joined Sheep Lake. Above is a photo of the outflow, where hikers and backpackers collect water to purify.

Sheep Lake, winter storm

Sheep Lake from Sourdough Gap

We headed upward, to the Sourdough Gap – a small notch in the ridge – and enjoyed the winter wonderland view as a cloud blew in and enveloped us. When we reached the pass we wanted photos, but decided not to linger after taking them. The wind was just too cold. But the view!

Beyond the pass the wind calmed down a bit, and we found ourselves in a wide glacier-carved valley. The storm hadn’t quite reached its northern side yet.

Looking north from Sourdough Gap

Panorama looking north from Sourdough Gap

Looking north from Sourdough Gap

The storm moving north

Winter is a black-and-white time in the PNW. Colorful things are hidden beneath the snow, and the cloud cover is so thick the meager daylight that makes it to the ground has no hue or direction. Our view from the pass was a slight exception, with a patch of blue struggling for a foothold in the sky. It didn’t last long.

The meadows on the other side were covered in snow, but it was shallow enough for some plants to press through. Trails stood out visibly from their surroundings. We followed the PCT down, into Mount Rainier National Park, to Crystal Lake. We noticed camps along its shores and wondered what they must be like in the summer.

Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake from above

Eventually we decided to turn back. Daylight is in short supply in the winter, and the road was precarious enough to begin with.

Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake

* NOTE: I usually think of seasons according to the weather, not the calendar. This hike was October 20th, 2012, Halloween was approaching, and by all rights it was autumn and not winter. Trudging through the snow and not lingering at the pass because of the bitterly cold wind made it winter in my book.

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