Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Big Four Ice Caves: Avalanches & Sunshine 04-25-10

While the rest of the family was playing with dogs at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, WA, my plan for the day was to visit Big 4 Ice Caves after making a visit to Barlow Point for the first time. Solo.

This was predicted to be an easy day after the training hike to Mailbox Peak on Saturday.

Well, much to my surprise, about 1 mile before the Big 4 Picnic area, the Mtn. Loop Highway was suddenly covered in about 3 inches of snow. Since the Camry isn't snow friendly without its studded tires, proceeding beyond Big 4 left me uneasy.

So... Barlow Point dropped off the to-do list and Big 4 became the prime destination.

The sun was out... it was stunning. It was picture perfect - prime conditions for an avalanche show with an unobstructed view from a safe distance.

There were only three other cars in the parking lot.

Grabbed my gear, including my hat to ward off snow bombs and the stabilicers for traction.

I've been to Big 4 ice caves a number of times over the years. Heck, even Tanya and the girls have been to the Ice Caves. Usually our visits occur in the summer when the caves are visible, but in springtime, like today, the caves are buried deep under a winter of avalanche debris.

The trail is about 1.5 miles, one way, but it is mostly flat and very easy to walk on. Not quite wheelchair accessible, but pretty darn close. This is a destination for the whole family.

Not much else to tell that will be new, so here are the pics and even a long video compilation of the scenery, with an avalanche or two to keep it somewhat interesting.

Here is a 'zoom' view from the parking lot:

The start of the trail over wetlands near the location of the now long gone Big 4 Hotel from days of yore:

Vegatation from last fall trying to hold on for the winter:

Skunk Cabbage galore! There were more than 1,000 skunk cabbage flowers along the trail!

Avalanche Cone at the bottom center, with an avalanche in progress coming down the middle of the picture. Looks like a waterfall, but it's an avalanche!

Zoom of the avalanche... this is how the avalanche cone gets built throughout the winter:

Super Zoom:

When you get bored (or too nervous) looking at all the avy activity on Big Four, just turn around and dream of climbing Mount Dickerman.

Here is a hiker (aka "stupid guy") walking in front of the avalanche cone to help convey a sense of scale for those of you from states without mountains:

Another Avalanche:

View of Big Four from the trail. This part of the trail was wiped out a couple years ago when a never ending string of winter storms resulted in avalanches that were large enough to travel this far and still demolish mature forest land:

More tree skeletons and an avalanche. It's further away than it appears. Really. It is. I'm totally safe (and sane).

Finally, if you are still scrolling through this trip report, here is a real video of the scenery and some avalanches. My favorite part of the video is the first 15 seconds when you can hear the bird sing. There are some neat avalanche scenes in it also, but you'll have to watch the whole thing to see them.

The Big Four Ice Caves are located east of Granite Falls, along the Mountain Loop Highway. A NW Forest Pass is required for parking, but you can buy a day pass at the trailhead for about $5.

Warning signs are usually posted that urge people to stay out of the ice caves because they can, and do, collapse with little warning. A collapsing cave, even an ice cave, can be deadly. Please use your noggin and stay out of the caves. It's just not worth it.

Happy Trails!

No comments:

Post a Comment