Our objective was to hike in to the Navaho Pass zone, camp out and ski. Based on trip reports at WTA.org and at the Turns All Year website we surmised that there would be enough snow to ski and that we could reach the trailhead for Stafford Creek.
The unpaved roads were dry and in pretty good shape - some rocks and dips but most cars could handle these roads with some slow careful driving.
There is an outhouse that seems to be in service at the Stafford Creek trailhead but it was out of toilet paper. There was a sign about the Northwest Forest Pass/fees not being required but I wasn’t sure that was accurate.
The Stanford Creek trail is snow-free and pleasant with lovely delicate little yellow wildflowers blooming for about 2.2 miles- then you will start encountering snow patches and debris. From there on the amount of snow increases and the trail becomes increasingly difficult to follow. There is a lot of avalanche debris, obviously the toe of a large avalanche (snow, branches, pine needles and WHOLE TREES SNAPPED in pieces and tossed around including one tree that ended up in the top branches of another tree!) that obliterated the trail for I would estimate 200 meters or so between the 2nd and 3rd miles. An amazing amount of destructive force unleashed by Mother Nature! Although scrambling over the avalanche debris and route finding here was a chore it does smell in a wonderfully fragrant way of pine! (We also spotted some other massive avalanche run outs which all seemed older, not fresh fortunately, that make venturing here in deep winter seem like a very bad idea.)
From the 3rd mile to the junction with the Standup Creek trail the snow is not continuous but the patches do nearly connect. Lots of running water from snow melt. We postholed a lot and broke through rotten snow regularly, sometimes sinking ankle- to hip-deep. Watch out for rotten snow over the running water and near rocks and logs!!
The junction was easy to spot since the signage is visible. From there it was hard to follow the Stafford Creek trail and the snow was still not continuous until about 5,000’ elevation. More postholing and struggling with the snow await you...
We could have gotten on our skis and started skinning up around 5k elevation since the snow, although sprinkled with pine needles, branches etc., was now pretty much continuous. However we were stubborn and we figured that we were close enough to the area where we wished to camp that transitioning would just consume more time than it would be worth. So we trudged on and found a nice campsite off the trail and a little below the meadow where folks generally camp in summertime. That meadow was totally under water by the way! Plenty of melt water flowing so no need to melt snow for water.
We set up camp on the snow and had a pleasant evening. It was so great to take off our heavy packs! Temperature fell sharply at dusk/sunset and we estimated that it got to the high 20s Fahrenheit overnight. The snow was rock hard at 7am and 8am. We noticed some softening around 9am. We enjoyed a nice ski tour to Navaho Pass and the surrounding area - dodging some bare spots and rocks. We stopped skiing around 12:30pm since the snow was getting really wet and slushy.
The ridge with Navaho Pass is bare but there’s plenty of snow around- including huge cornices to be wary of to the west!
We ended up skiing part of the way out and then hiking in our ski boots since they worked better in the snow and running melt water than sneakers.
We saw maybe 8 hikers on Saturday, 5/15/21 and 0 people overnight. We saw 0 people on Sunday, 5/16/21, except for a couple with their dog in the parking lot! It’s a beautiful area and the weather was sunny and pleasant so we were surprised that so few people were there. Then again the snow situation makes this a challenging/annoying hike right now!