We met at the ranger station to pick up a permit Wednesday at 11:30am. We learned there that you can get a parking permit free with the pass. After eating lunch in town, we dropped Sammy's car at The Sleeping Lady and continued to the trail head. My car had a bit of an overheating issue when we parked, but we figured not to worry about it until our trip was done. Around this point Sammy realized that he had left the permit in his car. We decided that we would continue without it. If we would run into a ranger we could give him Sammy's name and explain the situation. We finished packing, and were on our way.
The trail up to Little Eight Mile Lake was easy and offered some views of the Enchantments. Before arriving at the lake, I realized I forgot to put the parking permit in the car window. We once again continued on hoping for no ticket. We took a brief break at the lake for Sammy to tape his feet before we headed up the steeper trail to Lake Caroline. At this point the trail left the forest and headed out into a burned area while it switched back up the hill. It was here too, that the rock changed from being granitic, to peridotite, like the Ingalls formation on the other side of the Stuart Range. We hiked through the burn area higher with increasing views of the Enchantements.
Arriving at a saddle, we hiked down to Lake Caroline and our first encounters with snow. It was patchy, but soft enough that we just hiked through, hoping not to get any in our boots. The guide book claimed views of Mount Stuart from Little Caroline Lake, so we continued on. We got views of our objective on the way over. A few hundred feet more of gain and we were at the outlet of Little Caroline Lake. We located a horse camp, but searched around for a suitable campsite for us. It was around this time that we realized there were no views of Mount Stuart, or anything but the terrain surrounding the lake. We settled on a location near the lake under a stand of trees and set up our camp.
Then we settled down to eat. This is when we came to the conclusion we had made yet another omission. At the car we debated about taking one or two fuel canisters for the stove, but apparently opted to take none because we did not pack either. There was a long moment of disbelief. Then we yardsaled our packs to "just make sure." We didn't have fuel and we resigned ourselves to eating freeze dried meals with cold water. It was after 6pm, and getting cooler and we missed the ability to heat water for warm drinks before retiring to the tent. Partially due to this we got into the tent early to stay warm. Although, it was surprisingly warm in the tent. We hung out in the tent until dark and then watched the stars a bit before finally going to sleep.
I awoke after sunrise and thought it might be raining. I looked out the tent and I thought I saw a snowflake. I laid around a while before eventually getting out of the tent. Sammy said he would follow shortly. When I got out of the tent, I walked about warming up. There were snow flurries in the air and I knew it was unlikely we would summit this day. After a while Sammy was up and we were eating breakfast. He told me to turn around and look at the lake. We were protected under the trees, but the lake had rain falling into it. We got ready to hike in the wet weather with a plan of "let's go this high, and if we are feeling good, let's go higher."
We hiked out of camp and shortly came to the upper meadows with views in all directions. The cloud deck was low (around 9000') and the top of Mount Stuart was obscured. As we proceeded upward, the clouds got lower and we experienced on and off precipitation in various forms; rain, snow, wintry mix. We reached the point where we could turn off the trail with a more direct route, but we decided that with the patchy snow and off trail terrain that it would actually be slower. So we continued to Windy Pass encountering almost continuous snow just below the ridge. We enjoyed the cloud obscured views to the west and north and then started walking the ridge.
There was mostly a path on the ridge and we headed toward Cashmere now very much obscured by clouds. It was windy on the ridge and we felt colder. After a period, we paused for snacks, and Sammy added a layer. We did one last scramble around a rock outcropping and decided to call it our high point. We knew we would not summit, and the terrain was starting to get more difficult. It had also started snowing again. The clouds were now down to 8000' obscuring all summits of the Stuart Range as well as a good portion of the top of Cashmere.
We decided rather than retrace our steps, we would explore the meadows a bit trying to find the direct route. We wandered around and got on a track, but there was nothing that was quite a path in the meadows that would have made travel easier. If I return, it is likely that I will again head to Windy Pass and follow the ridge.
We returned to camp under a light rain and packed up quickly. The hike out was wet and warmer as we descended. We got back to the car to discover I had not been ticketed and that both fuel canisters were in the trunk.
This was a great outing. Going to a place I had never been before with a chance to visually connect geography of places I have been. Sammy was great company as always and we had a great time despite the weather. It was my first backcountry overnight of the year, which was nice too. I'd like to go back and have another go at Cashmere, but I was very intrigued by the south gully which looked like an interesting snow climb if you hit it at the right time.
My pics are here.