Saturday, January 21, 2023
Start/End: Upper Works
Elevation gain/loss: 4160’/4262′
I woke up around 4:45am, dressed for the day, and headed out the door to drive an hour over to the Upper Works area. I met up with Katie at the parking lot a little after 6am; there had been ~6″ of snowfall a few days prior and the parking lot for Allen wasn’t plowed so we parked on the side of the plowed road. I was very surprised to find that we were not alone – a solo hiker was there as well as two cars with a group of 6 hikers gearing up. The solo hiker asked to join Katie and I and so we headed out as a trio in our snowshoes at 6:15am. Allen had not been completed to anyone’s knowledge yet this winter season; we were hopeful that we’d be able to make it across the Opalescent River – people had tried a few times and turned back at the river when they found it uncrossable.
We broke trail for a while, being whacked in the face with snow-covered branches. After a mile, we were overtaken by the group of hikers who were running; they appeared to be a group of 20-something guys from Quebec. They scurried off and we let them go ahead, happy to let their enthusiasm absorb the brunt of trail breaking. After 4 miles, we came to the first possible location for crossing the river (the widest and most shallow crossing); we checked it out and it looked very promising. We carefully crossed the river on the ice, only needing to step over a 5′ section of shallow open water. We then had to cross a creek that emptied into the river; we were able to find solid ice to cross, with only a small 2′ jump needed to clear deep running water. With our ease of crossing, we continued past the 2nd and 3rd crossings, and found no footsteps on our side of the river. The group had pushed up to the 3rd crossing and the footprints we could see on the other side of the river indicated that they were wandering upstream trying to find a reasonable crossing.
We continued forward, and perhaps a mile later, the group of 6 came up behind us, looking the worse for wear. Some of them had damp feet; they were surprised to see us and asked us where we crossed. We told them, and asked how their crossing was; they darkly said, not good. We recommended they consider following our footsteps on their way back. They pushed forward and we followed along behind them; a few minuts later, we almost caught up to them because they’d finally stopped to all put on snowshoes. As we neared the slide, we stopped following their tracks because they were frequently off-route and did a bit of wayfinding on our own to find the best way upward.
The climb was challenging, as there was both running water and open rock as well as deep, sliding powder. Our snowshoes became heavy with wet snow and ice on the decks and we were constantly knocking them with our poles, trying to shed the weight. The final push up the slide was incredibly steep and the power was loose, sending us sliding back down with every step. Ascending was a hands-and-feet affair, but we made slow and steady progress. The group headed back down as we made the top of the slide – they didn’t slide down but ran with arms flailing; I worried that they’d wipe out and get hurt but thankfully, they made it to the bottom in one piece. We summited, and then had some lovely buttslides on our descent. As usual, the way back out felt much longer than our hike in. Nonetheless, we were back at our cars by 4:30!