I should have turned back on the drive up to the hike along very steep, very narrow, very rutted and potholed gravel roads. I was driving a small rental sedan with low clearance, and went very slowly. When I finally got there and an SUV pulled in next to me, the driver said "I didn't think if was possible to get such a low clearance vehicle up here. You must be a very skilled driver." I think that was a nice way of him saying "you must be out of your blooming mind!"
But I was there, the trail conditions looked great, and I started hiking. Two miles ahead, and 1,100 feet up lay the summit of Mount Beljica. If I were lucky, I would have great views of Mount Rainier at the top. The trail climbed steadily through the woods.
I came on a pretty trillium...
And a while after that, something not as pretty but very interesting: mountain lion scat!
I came on a really pretty view at a switchback, back to the west. It was a little reward for all the climbing, and so far, there was no snow to be seen. I was feeling hopeful about doing this hike. I bet I was right about the south facing slopes clearing off.
But when I caught up and passed a party ahead, I began to get nervous. They were crossing a very steep and deep patch of snow. "Well," thought I, "I can get across this OK."
I continued hiking up the path, running into more and more snow patches to cross. Then, as if a switch had been thrown, I walked into a winter wonderland. Back in Ole Virginny, it was 100 degrees F. and here I was next to a partially frozen lake. My destination, Mount Beljica, loomed high above the lake in the distance:
The woods all around were covered in deep snow. It looked like Maine in February, and the evergreen trees were so pretty against the snow.
I trudged through the snow for about 5 minutes, trying to figure out which way the trail went. It wasn't clear to me. I knew that I still had to climb 600 feet, part of it a scramble up and over a very rough and steep mountain according to the guidebook. The snow would only likely get deeper as I climbed. I was by myself, and totally dependent on myself alone in a very rugged near-wilderness. I had run a half marathon just the day before, at a personal best pace, and my legs were feeling the effects of that. After thinking about it, common sense - not always a trait I am accused of having - won out over the desire to press on. I reluctantly decided to head back and find another hike.
As I mulled this over, the party that I passed caught up to me. I asked them about a route to the top, and they told me that they didn't know, and were turning back as well. They had not expected the deep snow either. They kindly snapped a shot of me with Lake Christine and Mount Beljica in the background, then I turned around and headed back the way that I came.
Here is a topo map with my out and back route, represented in 3-D, as captured by my PN series DeLorme GPS and mapped by DeLorme Topo USA. My route was about 1.6 miles and I climbed just about 500 feet. The blue pushpin represents the approximate location of Lake Christine as I mapped it back home before going to Washington. I think I was pretty close.