Navigation challenge: late June snow

Finn and I head up to Brundage again. This time I want to explore the north side trail - Hidden Valley - even though I'm certain we'll encounter some snow that hasn't yet melted out. What I don't know is whether there's too much snow to get through to the top.

Last October, they were logging near lower portions of Hidden Valley trail, so we were unable to use that route. This trip, I wanted to see if they'd restored the trail. Even if encountering too much snow higher up meant turning back. I'm always okay with turning back.

Finn enjoying snow in late June.
After negotiating one bit of trail mid-mountain that was still littered with logging debris, we found the old trail in fine shape and continued upward. Eventually - where I expected it - we found snow. Finn was ecstatic. Dogs and snow - always a happy combination.

First Finn eats some snow.

Then he slides through it, rubbing his face to cool off.

Finally he returns to me and the trail.

 After stopping to watch Finn frolic in the snow, I turn to scan the path ahead. 

We need to follow the path on the right, up through the snow.

This is decision time. No one knows we're here. Because of the snow - even though this is opening day of lift-assisted mountain biking at the mountain - no one will be coming this way. If I slip on the snow and hurt myself, I'm screwed, unless my phone works and I can call for help.

Keep going? Or turn back? Finn's happy either way.

I decide to keep going up the first stretch of snow, to get a view of what I know will be the dicier stretch just before the summit. Up ahead, there's a cliff, and the trail cuts across the slide area just below it - a sort of cat walk. It's always the last place to melt out, and also the most exposed stretch should I slip on the snow. 

Here's what the same area looked like on July 29, 2011, when there was no snow in the initial boulder field, and the only snow found on the entire Hidden Valley trail was on the cat walk below the cliff:

Cliff and cat walk stretch toward top of Hidden Valley trail, July 2011.

Moving across the first patch of snow, I'm thankful that it's soft enough that I have good traction. Finn of course has no traction worries. The boulders on both sides of the path mean that even if I slip, I won't go far.

Successfully getting up through that stretch, the trail is dry again for several yards. Then...a big patch of snow, mounded over the trail after having sloughed off the cliff above, makes me stop to decide again whether to keep going or turn back. Finn plays on the snow to show me how easy it is - for him. Not so easy for me. There's a short stretch of about 30 feet where the slope is bare of trees and filled with snow down a long chute. If I slip, I could slide a long way, and if I did, I'd eventually hit boulders below.

I look for a stick to use for added stability. Finding one, I decide to keep going. I carefully create a notch in the snow with the edge of my trail running shoe each new step, then using the stick for balance on the downhill side, carefully shift my weight fully onto the notch in the snow. A bit like a mountain climber kicking steps in the snow, except I'm going more sideways across a sloping mound of snow than up a snow field. It's slow going, but after about fifteen such steps I'm up and over the mound of snow and back onto terra firma.

Look back after safely negotiating the still-melting snow slide.

Finn seems puzzled that I don't enjoy crossing the remains of the snow slide.

Finn waiting impatiently for me to follow him past the last of the snow and on to the summit.

We reach the summit in time to see the first of the lift-assisted mountain bikers arriving.

I start heading down Elk, figuring Finn and I will jump off trail to let mountain bikers pass. In years past, there have been so few of them on any given weekend day that it has never been an issue. This year, however, I got a later start than usual. And, it turns out, to celebrate the opening of mountain biking season, the resort is offering free rides today.

Also coming off the summit the same time as me are three runners. They're running just above me, on the service road. They spot me, and I can hear them saying, "Look! Another trail runner!" Elk briefly rejoins the road at this spot, so I stop to chat with them. They convince me to run down the road with them to avoid being yelled at by resort staff, who want all runners off Elk trail by 10:00 am Friday-Sunday when the lifts operate.

Having never run down the service road (which is wide and one of the mountain's easy ski routes in the winter), and in the mood for company, I tag along. They're amazed I came up Hidden Valley, thinking it was still too full of snow. We chat amiably about our mutual love of trail running and ultra distance racing. They're all 30-somethings - a guy and two women - so at 55, I feel like the old timer, talking about races I did twenty years ago, what I learned about nutrition and hydration during races, etc. The guy will be running a 100-miler in Washington in August, a race I regularly volunteer at by sweeping the last twenty miles (with Finn's assistance). I tease him, saying he doesn't want to bump into me there, because that would mean he's having an awful day and struggling to reach the finish line before the final cut-off.

The road we follow down is a more direct route to the bottom - shorter than Elk, and steeper. By the time we reach the base of the chairlift, my quads are talking to me. It is a fun stretch because of their company; otherwise, I'd never take that route. These three runners are enthusiastic about the sport of trail running, involved in putting on some new races of varying distances here in Idaho. While I wish I had known such runners when I lived here full time, at least it appears the sport is growing in this area, giving me options to run or volunteer at races in this area in coming years. That's a good thing.