A little after 8AM on a sunny Saturday, we departed. A gang of strangers in a cozy van set off from the Alderwood Mall REI towards Stevens Pass, with a van full of gear and guides experienced at driving in the snow. It was the beginning of a great day!
If you’re fairly new to snowshoeing, don’t own any equipment, or don’t have any friends who are outdoorsy, this expedition is perfect. It was more challenging than my previous guided snowshoe with the National Forest Service, and would be great for those who haven’t been snowshoeing much. To me the largest benefit was not having to drive or deal with parking at the trailhead–especially when the expedition included a trip to Icicle Brewing afterwards (post to come soon!). I also felt very comfortable knowing our guides were both trained in wilderness first aid in case anything went wrong.
The gear provided was all great–MSR snowshoes, REI poles and gaiters, and sit pads (although I brought my own, along with my other Winter Hiking Essentials) but I was really impressed when they let us know they had extra sunglasses if anyone needed them! We got a brief demo and the guides, Mark and Zoey, let us know that avalanche conditions were less than ideal, so we would not be making it all the way to the lake. While I am maybe 20% disappointed to not see the lake, I am 100% glad our guides were doing what was best for the conditions and had our safety in mind.
The trail to Lanham Lake is well-marked (make sure to stay off the rails for cross-country skiers!) and with the sun coming out, I was in my ultimate happy place. We stopped at one overlook with a stunning view despite the powerlines crackling overhead. After that the trail narrowed. Luckily it was well-trod and we had no need to break trail. We moved along for a bit before taking our first break. I had forgotten that in winter you need more food for hiking than summer, and I quickly wolfed down my jerky and Clif bar and restrained myself from more. It was nice chatting with the other people on the expedition about outdoor interests and hiking as we took a break, but I am glad our guides had informed us to layer up when sitting.
Back on our feet we went, heading more and more towards the sun. I stayed near the front of the pack, where the pace was brisk enough to be warm but not breaking a sweat. These snowshoes has the ‘heel lift’ feature (found on MSR ‘Ascent’ styles and other brands) that was a godsend on uphills (especially for those dealing with plantar fasciitis pain), even if I was terrible at knocking them back down when the trail leavened out. The trail was a bit more ‘up and down’ than more traditional trails, which made using the lifts a bit of a hassle. I purchased myself a pair of snowshoes that don’t have this feature, which I hope I don’t end up regretting!
We got to our final stop, a flat area close to the lake. I wolfed down my last snack and was thrilled to learn our guides didn’t just have first aid-gear in their packs–they had a stove and hot chocolate! A total treat that was wonderful at keeping my hands warm and a little caffeine kick to help me down the mountain. As I didn’t see the lake itself, I can’t speak to its beauty, but I can only assume it was gorgeous. It’s only 2 miles to the lake (4 miles round-trip), so if avalanche conditions are right, this is a wonderful, easy hike for newbies and novices.
Like a horse turning back to the ranch, I motored down the mountain, knowing beer in Leavenworth was awaiting us. I’ll save that for Part Two, coming out in early 2019 as I want to take a holiday break the rest of the year. For now, I’d eagerly recommend to readers to look into an REI guided snowshoe expedition near you. Prices vary by hike, but they offer trips along Highway 2, I-90, and even Mt. Rainier National Park! MRNP requires chains for all vehicles entering the park, so for people who don’t own chains or feel they can’t put them on or drive in those conditions, this is a perfect way to get out and explore without the stress of mountain pass conditions.
I was not paid or asked to write this post and am not affiliated with REI in any way. I just had a really good time and think you might too!