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Trip Report    

Pinnacle Peak & The Castle (winter)

As a big change from the past several weeks, Paradise saw several inches of new snow fall in the past two days. This meant fresh snow. This also meant, in combination of 15-20 mph winds, considerable avalanche danger.

At the comfort station, we discussed that we would need to assess the route continually during the day and should be mentally prepared not to make the saddle which is in avalanche terrain. Our decision-making plan was to assess conditions continually, take the ridge line to the bowl, and at that point, we would dig a snow pit, test snow stability, and proceed based on the comfort level of the person with the lowest level of risk tolerance.

The sunny skies were completely clear and blue. In wind-protected areas, the temperature felt warm and pleasant. In exposed areas, the morning winds at about 15-20 mph were brisk.

Narada Falls trail was mostly covered with snow with a few exposed patches. The 1/2 hike on the trail to the road was best done in boots; there was no need for traction. Once at the road, we were surprised to find that it was completely plowed. Except for some icy patches in the shade, the road was dry. We took off our snowshoes and walked a mile on pavement to Reflection Lakes. (The road was plowed further on, but this is where we started our ascent.)

At Reflection Lakes, we began our ascent through the trees towards the ridge line. A fairly good trail was started by two young men ahead of us followed by a group of about 10-12 snowshoers. The snow was powdery and fresh. We could see evidence of wind loading on our ascent, including that our tracks were being covered by new snow carried over by the wind.

At some point, we leapfrogged ahead of the large group and followed the guys' trail until we found their steps were skirting (but rather low on) a small chute. We stayed a little higher along the slope and came around a bend to another point where the guys had gone up a steep slope about 80-100 feet in elevation to gain the ridge. From that point, we could not see what was over the ridge but noted that if the slope released, we would taken with it. At the same time, the winds were actively carrying snow over the ridge and onto the slope we were under.

At this point, we stopped to evaluate. While we were discussing what to do, the large group passed us and started ascending the slope, even as the winds were whipping new snow on them.

After a few minutes of discussion, I recommended that we turn around based on a few factors: 1) we could not see what was past the slope, 2) we would be in trouble if the slope released, 3) we could see the strong winds carrying new snow onto the slope at a fairly fast rate, 4) the avy report was considerable, 5) we could feel several inches of powdery new snow on top of a icy layer under our snowshoes, and 6) we were now below a large group of snowshoers who did not appear to stop for avalanche evaluation as they charged forth to ascend the slope. As soon our group agreed to turn around, the group above us started sending "death donuts" our way. We left quickly.

We had a lovely warm sunny lunch back at Reflection Lakes where we encountered a group of friends who were dispatched by a hopeful boyfriend to prepare a nice spot for a proposal. We used our snowshoes to stomp out a nice platform so that the boyfriend wouldn't be sinking into several inches of fresh snow when he knelt. Unfortunately the couple did not make it to the proposal point before we left so we missed out on the action. (Later in the parking lot, we ran back into the group and the girlfriend showed off her ring: "I'm engaged!")

To add mileage to our trip (and avoid the pavement), we took the Lakes Trail back to the Narada Falls trail.

It was a gorgeous day with the best snow I've encountered all season. We logged a little over 5 miles and 1,270 feet total elevation gain - not much less than what we would have done if we made the saddle. Everyone contributed to safe and thoughtful decision-making. While we did not make it to the saddle, we still got some amazing views and photos while gaining the ridge and at the lake. It was a successful trip - not in spite of but BECAUSE we turned around and put safety first.

We stopped at Copper Creek Inn for grub and libations on the way home. Wonderful group of two Backcountry Snowshoe Skills students, two scramble grads, and a great co-leader!