Associated trip report: I turned off Hwy 2 at the 2600' hairpin, expecting, from a call to the Skykomish R.S., to be able to drive nearly to the trailhead for Tunnel Creek trail, which doesn't go up Tunnel Creek at all, but rather an unnamed branch. Ha! Less than 200 yards off the highway, at the top of the first little rise, was solid snowpack of 1-2'. Not knowing otherwise, this being my first trip, I pursuaded myself that this was good - longer road approach to the forest, but better coverage under the old-growth which beckoned. Skiing was decent up the road, not too much soft on top, fresh canine tracks, no human tracks. I took a left fork as indicated in the 100 Hikes book, but found myself climbing more rapidly than seemed right, and pretty soon I was sure I had the wrong road. I should have turned around and hiked back down to the correct fork (skis were now on my pack because of bare sections), but stubbornly insisted on continuing. I got to a power line clearing at about 3500', good coverage, and could see that a traverse could lead me right into my valley and intended route. I traversed through some trees with very sparse snow, then came to the edge of a clearcut with passable coverage, which led down to the road right at the trailhead, about 500' below. The snow was deeply airy and large grained, and the skiing was careful because of the often undermined snow.
Ê Once back to the valley floor and the road, I skied to the road end and into the trees, where the coverage was just enough to get through. I knew I didn't want to end up in the bottom of the "vee" stream gully, but I did anyway, and in scanning for a way to climb up onto the left shelf, I saw that someone had kicked a nice set of steps right up a good exit route. Someone with long claws on all four paws. Once on the shelf, I was mostly over the trail as it ascended the valley through the forest, and the hiking was good on firm snow until a glade at ~3600', which had knee deep rotten mush. What a joy to put on the skis and travel right over that stuff! The snowpack became better above 4000', with full coverage and softer snow right under the big trees. For the last 200' to the Crest, a well-filled draw led through steeper slopes to Hope Lake, sunshine, and lunch.
Ê Clouds drifted slowly by, but my little bit of paradise was getting sunnier and sunnier - I even got hot for a while as I relaxed on my snowbench. Rejuvenated, I decided to tour around the rolling open forest. There was 8-10' of snow at 4500', good traveling on gentle terrain, very mushy on sunny slopes, and breakable crust on shady slopes. I headed south climbing on the PCT until crust made things unpleasant, did a 500' run east through the trees toward Basin Creek, then climbed northward to a Crest saddle and found Mig Lake. The clouds had come back and let loose a 10 minute blizzard. I crossed Mig Lake and found the correct slope leading to Hope Lake, where my tracks led me back to the draw which started the 1200' descent back to the trailhead. Very few turns going down the valley since it was a descending traverse all the way, but it was steep enough to be exciting, and I got to practice my right turn garland a lot. The shelf led into a clearcut about 300' above the road, and there I found the best turning of the day, in snow shaded by the edge of the big forest. No road problems on the way out since I was now on the correct road, and continuous snow except for one short patch of all-terrain skiing. As it turned out, this was a good time to do this trip; if the road had been clear to the trailhead, then there would have been little skiing possible below Hope Lake.