By Chester Marler
What does a 64-year-old hardcore outdoor enthusiast do for a birthday celebration? Canoeing on the Wenatchee or Columbia might do. So might a foothills hike just above town. But if you love backcountry skiing, it would be hard to forego an overnight ski tour into the Mountaineer Creek drainage, with sights set on skiing from the ridge above Horseshoe Lake. With a fairly decent weather forecast to bolster us, Robbie Scott—the b’day honoree—plus Peter Valaas and Chester Marler, left the Icicle Road and began hiking the gated and partly snow-covered Eightmile Road.
The road climbs about 1300 feet over four miles to reach the Stuart Lake Trailhead, and for our April 10-11 trip, the first mile was mostly bare. By the two-mile mark we had skinned-up and were traveling on skis. Even with a late morning start, we had enough time for a relaxing tour to a choice camp spot (about a mile above the Colchuck-Stuart trail fork) at the Big Meadow with its panoramic view of the Stuart Range. Water was only about 200 feet away, so there was no need to melt snow for cooking—one of the benefits of April ski touring. By evening, the afternoon clouds had dissipated. The clear night brought much cooler temperatures and gave us firm snow for easy traveling the next morning as we skied to Lake Stuart and beyond.
Photo: In the meadows west of Lake Stuart — travel through here is easy on skis.
We skied right across Lake Stuart in the morning, a quick and direct route with one-third the distance of the summer-time trail. By now a minor storm front was hitting Mt. Stuart and Jack Ridge, although we still had intermittent sun, with a nice blue patch over the eastern shoulder of Stuart. The large wetland below Mt. Stuart—such a chore to travel around in summer—is so easy to ski across. We passed the outlet to Horseshoe—the summer hiking route—and skied up the large talus slope that separates Mt. Stuart’s northern flank from the high bench holding Horseshoe Lake. The boulder field was well covered, so even though some snow flurries created flat light for our descent, the smooth surface gave us a predictable ski surface. The 1800 vertical ski run from just above Horseshoe to the wetland was great fun, especially the bottom half—the flurries stopped and sunshine returned.
Photo: Taking in the venue for a 64th B-day celebration.
This tour has the advantage of fine scenery, very good skiing terrain below Horseshoe Lake, and relatively avoidable avalanche terrain (the route does travel near some major run-out zones below Mt. Stuart, but risk can be minimized by ascending skier’s left of the boulder field). The tour can be done as a long day trip or a more leisurely overnight trip…either way, it’s a four-star birthday celebration.
Details, Details : Horseshoe Lake Tour
Attraction. This ski or snowshoe outing of moderate difficulty leads to a beautiful alpine lake basin with an awesome view of the rugged north face of Mt. Stuart.
Activities. Ski tour or snowshoe.
Length: In winter it’s 20.5 miles (roundtrip) from the Icicle River Road. Once the Eightmile Road opens, the round trip distance from the trailhead is 12.5 miles.
Elevation Gain: 4,200 feet from the Icicle River Rd; 2,900 feet from the trailhead.
Skill Level: 2+ (advanced-intermediate)
Access. From Leavenworth, follow the Icicle River Road about 6 miles beyond the Sleeping Lady Resort to the Eightmile Road (FS Road 7601). In winter, the end of plowing on the Icicle River Road is just past the turnoff for the Eightmile Road and you can park without a permit. Once the Eightmile Road opens, turn left on the road and follow it another 4 miles up to the Mountaineer Creek Trailhead (a Northwest Forest Pass is required to park here).
- Walk/ski the Eightmile Road (FS Road 7601), which intersects the Icicle River Road at Bridge Creek. Follow the road uphill for nearly four miles to the Mountaineer Creek Trailhead (el. 3,400’).
- Follow the trail toward Lake Stuart for about 3.25 miles (or 1 mile beyond the Colchuck Lake cutoff) to the end of the Big Meadow (el: 4,600’).Overnight travelers will find this a good place to camp. You’ll find sites with wind shelter, good access to water, and nice views.
- Follow the trail another 1 mile uphill to Stuart Lake. In winter, you can often ski straight across the lake as you head toward Horseshoe Lake. If the ice is gone or unsafe, work around the lake in a counterclockwise direction.
- The route from Stuart Lake to Horseshoe Lake requires more skill to find and follow. The bearings on our topo map show one possible route.
Maps. Print our topo map on 8.5”x11” paper in landscape mode. Note: Use ‘Print Preview’ to orient/scale this map before printing.
Hazards. In winter, this route is exposed to avalanche hazard — some of these slopes can slide or be overrun by slides.
Fees/Permits. None required in winter. Once the Eightmile Road opens, a Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the trailhead. More info here (select ‘Passes and Permits’).
Additional Information: See our information and topographic map for skiing to Big Meadow.
Reporter: Chester Marler, April 2009
Leave It Better Than You Found It: This should be every outdoor user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull some noxious weeds along your route, throw branches over unwanted spur trails, don’t ride or walk wet trails when you’re leaving ruts/footprints deeper than ¼ inch…
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a route. You are responsible for yourself, your actions, and your safety. If you won’t accept that responsibility, you are prohibited from using our information.