A hiking buddy and I arrived at the lower cable station at around 8am, and the lady at the ticket counter assured me that conditions were not very good for snowshoeing as there was little snow, but perfect for crampons, as it was icy. We decided to leave our snowshoes, gaiters and poles behind, and since I didn't have crampons with me, rode up essentially in hiking gear.
We set off on the trail from the upper cable station at 9am--it was a little icy, but nothing that was a problem for a boot with a good tread. A few hundred yards in from the Ranger Station at Long Valley, however, there was snow galore. There had obviously been a fresh fall the night before as there were no tracks at all, and the trail was covered. After cursing the mis-information we pressed on, breaking trail.
As long as we stuck to the trail, the going was not too bad without snow-shoes, but as soon as we veered off the trail, it was easy to post-hole up to your knees or higher. Despite that, the going was relatively easy to Wellman Divide, and higher.
The trickiest portion of the trail was in the saddle before you ascend the switchbacks up to the summit. There the recent snowfall had obliterated the trail and covered the ground to a depth of a few feet. It was the only time that it was necessary to pull out the topo map, but with Cornell Peak clearly visible, and Miller Peak directly overhead, re-orienting ourselves was quite easy. Once we picked up the trail again, it was a straight shot to the summit.
We did come across only one hiker who was on snowshoes, everyone else (six others, including ourselves) was not. The weather was perfect, sunny and still, and the view from the peak spectacular.
The return trip was not a navigational problem because of all the foot traffic, though it had turned crunchy snow to slippery mush in places. We arrived back at the upper station at 4:30pm, tired but exhilerated.
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