Due to the late start we set a turnaround time of 3pm. There were a large group of day hikers with jeans on that left the parking lot before us, and we let them get a bit ahead of us before we started off. The trail was wet and free of snow. The temps down in the valley below the highway were chilly as we headed off. We hiked a while before stripping down to our base layers. I was surprised to see how many large western red cedars there were in the forest as well. Some were easily 5-6' in diameter at the base and even more surprising was that they all appeared full height (>100') sheltered from high winds low in the valley.
As we hiked, snow patches appeared, icy and dirty with an apparent fresh layer of snow on top. Right before we got to Denny Creek where the bridge is out, the snow was almost continuous. After crossing the creek, we headed up a fully snowed slope to regain the trail on the other side. Above this point, we would only have brief moments of bare ground in the trees and the rest of the trail was under a fair amount of snow. To my surprise, there were no avalanche warnings at the trail head. This section of trail is on/below avalanche slope and the exposure is not trivial. A person could easily be swept off the cliffs into the creek below by a fast moving slide. There was plenty of evidence of recent wet slides, but none had actually reached the trail. Fortunately the snow was soft and we didn't have any issues with footing. We stopped briefly to look at the falls, and then continued into the woods.
From there, the snow was more firm, and above 3000' in elevation it was clear there was some (~4") newer snow on top. The temps were above freezing and we got wet as snow melted from the tree tops as we navigated the many switchbacks up. After the switchbacks, the trail leveled out and we hiked some more. I thought we may have already hit the saddle that would drop us down to Malakwa Lake, but as we proceeded this hope proved untrue. A short distance from our high point was where the previous high point of the day had been set. We trudged another 300m or so breaking trail until we opted to respect our turn around time. We sat on our packs and ate and turned around to head back.
In the woods, we heard some avalanches. I ran to see if I could see where they came from but I could not. When we got back to the open slopes, it did not appear that any of the debris was fresh and we sort of assumed that perhaps the slides happened from our high point and echoed in a fashion to make them sound like they were in front of us. The rest of the hike out was uneventful. Although amazing to see the lack of preparation in some hikers that are going to a snowy area. (Running shorts/shoes, Chacos...)
Pics are here.