11.5 miles of hiking • 2250' elevation gain •
Lower trail along the lake was good, but about 300-500' up on far side of the loop there's still 2-4 feet of snow (mixed with slide alder laying at different angles). Worst 3 miles took about 4 hours of deep postholing. Returned to car shortly before midnight.
It gets amazingly dark in those parts - if I just followed the trail with flashlight it would be easy (done it there), 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. Top of the ridge was easy going, almost no snow - only by the end I finally got lost and descended on the E side a couple hundred feet; followed 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.