After seven days of cold, wet, snowy fury, the Great Storm of 2017 (or at least the first round of it) finally passed into history. This first day post-storm was predicted to begin grim but end clear and sunny, so I planned to hike up Baldy Peak on the Mule Mountain Trail (USFS #919), figuring my arrival on the summit would coincide with the dissipation of the clouds and the emergence of big views. Great plan, had it not been for the fact that the Great Storm had left a surprising amount of low-altitude snow in its wake – more than enough to smother the small road shoulder that functions as the “parking lot” for the #919 trailhead. So, now parkingless, I pushed on to Applegate Lake where I was able to find, with some difficulty, a little snow-free parking near the Dagelma Trailhead. From there, an out-and-back hike to the west end of Squaw Arm seemed like it might offer some sun-dappled views over the water should the clouds lift as promised.
From the trailhead, I went south on the Osprey Trail (USFS #973), down toward the lake. Much of this trail was covered with 6 to 8 inches of soft snow under a breakable crust, so, while it wasn’t quite postholing, it was more work than just walking. The clouds were still in place, so it looked (and felt) like the depths of winter (which, of course, it is).
After a short hike, I reached the head of the Squaw Arm of Applegate Lake, which looked definitely “wintery,”
then continued on to connect with the Payette Trail (USFS #970), following that over the robust bridge at the head on the Arm,
and then west along the south side of the Arm. As was the case with the Osprey trail, the Payette was also mostly covered with 6 to 8 inches of soft snow under a breakable crust, so more work for the weary hiker. After crossing Spring Gulch, whose intermittent stream was in almost full flood,
I soon reached Harr Point Camp, a nice place for lunch in the summer, but now sporting an impressive (for 2,000 feet elevation) layer of snow.
A little further along, I came to Tipsu Tyee Camp – another summer favorite – now also mostly snow-bound.
By the time I’d plodded on to the west end of the Arm, the clouds had, in fact, started to dissipate and the sun had risen high enough to start shining down into the canyons that form the lake.
This was my turn-around point. So after a quick snack, I retraced my steps. By now, the sun, snow, and remaining clouds were interacting to paint mixes of light and dark and subtle reflections.
After seven mostly sedentary days spent weathering the Great Storm, the welcome exercise (thanks breakable crust!) and the sun coming through the clouds at just the right time made this a pretty good hike (6.8 miles; 300 feet of elevation gain). Not the hike I’d planned for, but nice for a Plan B.
Appelgate Lake captures runoff from a 220 square mile watershed primarily for flood control purposes, so it’s drawn down in the winter months in anticipation of the Spring rush. It’s only at its maximum (when it looks most like a “lake”) for a couple of months in the early summer before the next season’s drawdown begins in early July.