One of the biggest determining factors for hiking this weekend was the weather. Last weekend the mountains all had single-digit or negative temperature forecasts (not including the windchill) so we decided to stay inside. This weekend, however, all our typical hiking destinations had 40-degree weather. Considering this is typically the coldest month of the year, we're starting off February quite warm. No complaints about this other than the fact that we were drastically overdressed for the weather. But I would rather be overdressed than underdressed for any winter hiking.
We haven't been on a hike in a few weeks, and even then, the last hike we went on was in Arizona which barely counted because it wasn't that difficult of a hike. So this week we decided to challenge ourselves by picking a moderately difficult hike. The hike to the lower Crater Lakes was not too difficult, but the hike from the lower to the upper Crater Lakes was treacherous. Not only was it challenging because we were breaking trail in our snowshoes, but the risk of causing an Avalanche was probably a little higher than what we should have been hiking on. The avalanche danger was only a level 2 - Moderate (out of a scale of 1-5), but there were several features where the angle of ascent was much greater than the 30 degrees where an avalanche could occur on an East-facing slope. By taking it slowly and planning our route to stay close to the trees and avoid open areas where large avalanches could occur, we made it safely to the Upper Crater Lake and back down. We don't normally put ourselves in these types of situations, but it's already happened twice this year that we were breaking trail with our snowshoes, so maybe it's time for us to start taking avalanches a little more seriously since I'm positive we'll be snowshoeing in similar situations in the future.
Despite the difficulty getting to the top of Upper Crater Lake, the views were absolutely stunning. The Upper Crater Lake has mountains surrounding it that are mostly West to North facing, which with the sun low in the SouthWest made the whole mountain range lit up for me to photograph. I took more panoramas than I've ever taken in a single trip - 26. That took an immense amount of time to post-process, but it was worth it considering how the photos turned out. The last thing I'll mention that made this hike spectacular is that since we were breaking trail, we got to experience these mountains that no one else had seen in at least a week. This alpine lake was all ours and I doubt anyone else will be hiking up there anytime soon.