This was a great hike! Lots of varied terrain, and lots of breathtaking views and interesting plants and rocks. Reasonably strenuous, and the way we went, there were hardly any people at all. I suspect that most people go over on the Milk Ranch route, not over where we went, because the trail was not traveled very much, and in some places, was only discernable because of thoughtfully placed rock ducks. I thought I saw stuff which could have been bear sign, but we didn't see anything at all. Not even deer, who, according to their tracks, should have been ALL over.
The first time we went up there, we had a great time. We drove up to some campground which I cannot remember the name of at a quite late hour, and then found that we had forgotten our tent. Whoops. We resolved to go home and make a checklist which we can use in future trips, but it was so nice out that we just slept under the stars on top of a poncho and our thermarests and did just fine. We were awakened by loud motorcycling noises, and found that the entire area is apparently normally a HUGE off road vehicle area, but we had arrived in the off season, and thus only had perhaps 5-10 people zipping around in plastic armor instead of hundreds. We drove back to the ranger station and got a stove permit which we didn't know we needed (you do, and they were very nice there too!), and some weather info, and then we drove for a few hours up to the trailhead, which is beyond the reach of the motorcyclers (thankfully), and right on the edge of the Snow Mountain Wilderness Area, which _nobody_ I know of even knew existed.
We hiked up to the East peak of the mountain, and then down into a beautiful meadow with a burbling stream running through it, where we decided to stay for the night. There was a trail register on the peak, and there were some very entertaining stories in there. Fun. :-) There was even some snow left in places, true to the mountain's name.
The night was slightly cool, but we had brought a 0 degree sleeping bag and a 30 degree sleeping bag, and we zipped them together, with my half being the 30 degree one, and her half being the 0 degree one. We both were warm, though it took us a while to figure out how to use the mummy hoods together to keep our faces warm. Steph was so warm in that bag that I dubbed it "The Oven", because I would start to sweat every time I reached over to hold her.
I kept worrying about bears because of the (possibly rather old, admittedly) bear sign that I'd seen, and we'd also forgotten my twine, so I was unable to make a first class bear hang either, so I was a bit worried. But nothing turned up, and we slept well.
There were so many neat things to look at! The rocks were all very interesting. There were huge quartz crystals and mica things, and interesting volcanic looking stuff, and so on. The plants were really lush and beautiful because of the snow runoff, and there were some areas which had been burned by a forest fire, and the stuff growing back was interesting.
We basically didn't encounter anybody except at the top of the mountain and perhaps one on the trail. It felt very secluded and unknown and perhaps even wild. We made a small fire and had a great time reveling in the silence. The trail was not too long or too hard for either of us, especially since we didn't have our tent to weight us down. :-)
The next weekend, intrigued by our rave reviews of the area, Marya and Bernd came with us, and we did the exact same trip, except in reverse. We walked in to the meadow, and then out the next day up to the top of the mountain and then down to the car. This time, we purposely didn't bring our tent, and we made a much bigger fire, and we had a GREAT time! It's always fun to hang around with Marya and Bernd, and they brought hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps, so we sat around the fire and had a super fun time.
However, this time, the gurgling stream had almost entirely dried up, and the snow was almost all gone! We were amazed at how quickly the place was drying out. I suspect that if we'd come a few weeks later, we would only have been able to find water in two places, none of them near that beautiful spot! So this place is probably only a good early season hike.
So it was super fun! We highly recommend this place. It looks like there's lots of other places that you can hike to off trail. It's a huge area with trails only running through about a quarter of it. It looks like it would be a nice area to just wander through for a while if you have a map and compass and maybe GPS unit.
So here's the map of the route which we took. I got a GPS unit last year, but we recently got the serial cable to hook it into the computer, and now I can download all of the trails and waypoints into the Topo! program, which then can draw out the trail elevation profile and where we went, etc, and it's just SO cool!
And here are the pictures we took the first time up. Due to a corrupted memory card, our other pictures from the hike with Marya & Bernd were lost, I believe. :-(
Back up to backpacking...