November 15, 2019
I have been eyeballing South Lawson for years, but never knew the name of the mountain. Every time I came down off the Smith Dorian highway, I get this absolutely perfect view of a ridge. I finally figured out it’s name, and made plans to hike it.
I am not a winter hiker / snowshoer. I am a back-country skier, and as soon as the snow flies I much prefer to be on my boards. I’m not a total snob though, and since some friends wanted an adventure in the mountains, I was gung-ho to lead this trip.
The hardest part was figuring out the proper gear. It was -6 C at the parking lot, but the ridge was shrouded in cloud. I didn’t have high hopes for solar heating. I have already frozen my toes twice this winter, so wanted to ensure my feet were well protected. Also, I didn’t know how much snow was going to be up there. I was post-holing up Mist Mountain in October and really didn’t want a repeat of that. In the end, I brought it all.
For shoes, I wore my regular Solomon hiking boots. They are lightweight hikers with vents on the top of the toes, so not ideal in the winter. I covered these with my Boot Gloves that I normally wear over my ski boots. Fantastic idea, if I do say so myself.
I was very worried about frostbite, so I purchased a pair of Lenz heated socks the night before. They are expensive, but they work. I kept them at the lowest setting, just enough to keep the chill out.
Micro-spikes was a given. I have the gnarliest pair MEC sells, and they worked great.
Since I was unsure of the snow depth, I borrowed a pair of snowshoes. We strapped our snowshoes to our packs, where they stayed secured all day. I’d rather take snowshoes for a walk, than to turn around because of an unexpectedly deep snow pack.
The trail starts at a pullout off the Smith Dorian trail. From here, walk beside the spillway until you reach the end. Turn right, and start gaining elevation up the ridge. Continue straight up the ridge, past the col, and the false summit, until you reach the true summit. Return is the same route.
Access the Smith Dorian highway from the south end, across from the Pocaterra Ski Area. Stay on the Smith Dorian for 2.9 KM. Look for a cross-roads, and turn right here. Park off the highway in the little clearing.
Go around the Closed Gate, and start down the road next to the spillway.
Soon you will have the flume on your left for company.
Stay on this track until the very end. It’s obvious because of the giant water displacement equipment. This flat trail is about 1.4 km long.
Turn right (east), cross the small creek, and immediately begin ascending the ridge.
The trail up from the spillway goes from zero to as much as a 40% grade, but the average is about 20%. It is an uninspiring slog up through a closely treed forest with zero views. Thankfully I was with excellent company who chatted the whole way, regardless of the steepness.
The lower section of the trail had some light snow. We wore spikes because of the frozen ground and some decidedly slippery spots.
We only came across one bare section, but that didn’t last long. We kept our spikes on and tread lightly.
After about 1 hour and 15 minutes, we got our first views over the ridge to the mountains on the east side.
From here, the snow really started to accumulate. There was a storm system the previous Sunday, when I was backcountry skiing at Arethusa. There was some traffic on the lower slopes, but it petered out once the snow got deep. I was in for some quality trail breaking.
We entered a bit of a Winter Wonderland. Hoar frost dusted the trees, and the cloud cover preserved it beautifully. The trail was sometimes hard to pick out, but since it’s a ridge…
Higher up, the trail took us directly beside the ridge. Here the trail started to undulate a bit, with nice previews of the following steep sections.
Just before the col, we were finally high enough to get into larch territory. It was a funny fall, and many of these trees still had their needles.
The col was in great shape, despite the snow getting deeper.
After the col, I stayed as close to the ridge as I could because the snow was decidedly less deep here. This is a north-south ridge, so it does get cornice build-up on the east side due to the westerly winds. I was careful to check for cornices, but none had formed so early in the year. Later on, be sure to stay well back from the edge.
Once past the col, we were now above tree line. Thankfully the clouds had cleared, and we had some amazing views.
We continued on the steep ridge to the false summit.
Past this, we descended a short bit and crossed a narrow section. When I tried to step across it, the snow had already started to soften and was slippery. I decided to avoid it altogether by going down a bit to the west.
The final push to the summit was through virgin snow. I did break trail to about mid-calf deep, but it wasn’t too bad nor too long.
The summit of the Sound end of Lawson does not disappoint. It is a magnificent 360 degree view.
Total time to the summit was 3 hours. We left at 9:30 am and arrived at 12:35 pm. There was a bit of mucking around with layers and taking photos. Elevation gain is 808 m (2,666′).
South end of Lawson Return
We returned the way we came.
In the half hour we spent on the summit enjoying the views and eating lunch, the solar radiation had already started to modify the snow. The snow was down-right sloppy, and I was grateful for the early start and the dry snow on the way up. Coming down, the snow balled up under our spikes, creating a kind of reverse high heel. A high toe? I kept the spikes on, because the grip was still better than no spikes.
I am so glad I finally did the South end of Lawson after seeing it so many times. It’s one of those iconic views that I will never get bored of looking at.
Totals – Tracked on Strava
Date: November 15th, 2019
Group: Three (Alisen, Sonya and Rosalie)
Distance: 8.87 km
Elevation: 808 m (2,666′)
Time: 5 hours 30 minutes (1/2 hour lunch)