My original plan for the day was to take a second shot at climbing Eldorado peak. I was in hope that more snow would make the climb a little easier since I had the right gear this time. Alas, the snow on Cascade River Road was too much even for 4-wheel drive. So, I stopped in to attempt Hidden Lake Lookout instead. I had done zero research on the route but by looking at my Gaia map it appeared simple enough. All the gear I needed was already in the car.
The road to Hidden Lake Peak and lookout is rough. All vehicles should be able to make it with careful driving. But, use a lot of caution. The first two miles are snow-free right now until you reach a 90-degree corner. From there I chose to set off on snowshoes and not test the 4WD any further for the day. If you can make it past this corner right now the road is clear for another half-mile on and off.
The snowshoe up to the Hidden Lake Peak trailhead is easy enough. The snow was very soft today which is the only thing that made it tough. Even with snowshoes on my feet, I found myself sinking up to a foot sometimes.
The trail becomes difficult to decipher not for technical difficulty, but for the number of trails. There are ski trails, snowshoe trails, and post hole trails. They all seemed to lead in separate directions. It is like a manic hiker brought every piece of gear they had and stamped out every trail they could. None of these trails were in agreement. I pulled out my map and used that to pick a direction that felt best for me.
The first mile of the hike is easy to follow right now. Once it crosses a clearing and heads into a thick wood though, things change.
If you do go in the snow, make sure you have some form of navigation. The basic idea is to head uphill and to the climbers right. Work your way around the hill and you will get forced up into the basin that is below Eldorado and Hidden Lake Peaks.
The avalanche danger in this basin area is very high. I could see runout patterns in every direction. If the avy forecast is bad I would avoid this hike for that reason. On this occasion there is a lot of wet loose debris littering the basin and covering the tracks others left. There is plenty more that looks ready to fall.
Once into the basin, you will need to make a choice. Following my route, a couple of hundred feet into the basin, veer to the right and head straight up the hill. This will be much clearer from the GPX file at the link. From this point its a trudge through deep snow and up onto the Northwest slope of Hidden Lake peaks. As an alternative if you head up to the very end of the basin you can also go right and up. I used this path on the way down. While it had less tree cover there was far more exposure on this snow slope.
Since I was heading for Hidden lake lookout, I traversed under the middle peak and toward the south peak. The path is easy to follow and for the first time in the day has an excellent view west.
In summer, the trail to hidden lookout comes to a saddle and traverses under the peak that holds the lookout. It then climbs up the other side to the top. After reaching this point the cornices below the lookout looked treacherous. I debated for a few moments and again changed my plan again for the day and headed to the middle and tallest of the peaks.
The middle peak stands at around 7000 feet and from the saddle in the snow was easy to access. After traversing across the ridge for a half hour and heading up I reached the top. Of all the people at the top for the day I was the only one in snowshoes. All others were in skis and said this peak is an excellent backcountry destination.
I enjoyed the views for a half-hour before heading Back down. The views from up here of Eldorado and others in the cascade river basin in astounding. Snowking to the south and Baker to the east were as clear as day. Per the usual always the seemingly endless array of mountain tops in North Cascades is jaw-dropping.
Despite changing my plans time and again throughout the day, it was a fantastic outing. I am not sure how this area escaped my vision for so long but it will be on my winter list going forward. If you are curious about the summer route (class 3 scramble) then check out this page on the summit post.