11.5 miles of hiking • 2250' elevation gain •
It's still 2-4' of snow on far side of the loop (mixed with slide alder laying at different angles), and worst 3 miles took about 4 hours of deep postholing. Lower trail along the lake was nice. Returned to car shortly before midnight due to snow and getting a bit lost (planned 8:30pm), in the last 2 winters I think I forgot how bad the snow can be. Also, it gets amazingly dark in those parts - if I just followed the trail with flashlight it would be easy (done that), but trying to follow the terrain I could barely see snow-covered ridge ahead of me, and didn't see anything beyond 30-40 yards once snow ended. A tiny light of Coldwater Visitor center was visible on the other side of the lake, that was a nice beacon: if I wasn't seeing it anymore, this meant I dropped off ridgeline onto E side. Following the top of the ridge was much quicker, almost no snow - only by the end I messed up and descended on the E side a couple hundred feet; followed an old road grade back to the trail. Saw elk at least 3 times, pretty cool. Some ski tracks followed the ridge, but they turned back just before real snow.