It was nearly 2pm (well into afternoon territory) by the time we started north from the summit of Lincoln. To reach the summit of Lafayette, we had another minor bump and then a low point of about 4900 feet, which meant we'd have to then climb back up 350 feet to the summit of Lafayette.
Projecting forward mentally with the remaining distance back to the trailhead, it looked like we were on track to complete the hike before sunset, but just... there wasn't a lot of time for slowness or dallying if we wanted to make it back before dark (which we generally did; Chris and Gillian had to get back to town to pick up their kids, who were spending the day with their grandmother).
Western Shoulder of Lafayette
Pausing before the final push
The wind had been fairly constant during our hike north along the exposed ridgeline. Not especially strong, but enough to see us seeking out pockets of shelter for our breaks. As we began our final climb up to the summit of Lafayette, however, the wind increased quite noticeably, and by the time we were near the summit, sprindrift (blowing snow) was streaming past us from west to east. It was good that the temperature had continued to moderate, for the wind chill was going up (I mean, down) significantly.
You're nearly there, Chris!
We arrived at the summit at a quarter before 3pm. With a strong wind (I estimate about 40 knots?) we quickly took a few summit shots, snarfed down a few bits of food in the meager shelter offered by a few boulders, and then made ready to head down. This was the point where we left the ridgeline and its trail, and we started down west, down the Greenleaf trail, in the direction of the Greenleaf hut. We could see the hut, over a thousand feet below us, and still quite far away. That was our next destination.
Given that the snowshoes grip least well when going downhill, and given the possibilty of thin, windblown surfaces, we had thought to switch from snowshoes to microspikes for the descent from the summit to treeline. We conversed with another hiker, though, who had thought the same thing and who had asked an ascending party what the conditions had been. Apparently the snow (for the most part) wasn't too thin or icy, and the general recommendation had been that snowshoes would work fine. So, we kept them on.
Pointing out descent ridge
Observing our accomplishment
Notch and resort far below
Even though we were still well up into the open alpine, it was amazing to observe and feel how the strong summit wind diminished and then nearly vanished after descending only a couple of hundred feet. It was a clear demonstration of how the microclimates on a mountain hike can vary dramatically from one point to another. We were now hiking downhill in direct sun and very little wind. It felt almost balmy.
We were trying to make best possible time on the descent; it took us about thirty minutes to get down to treeline, and then another twenty or so minutes to get to the hut. All throughout this descent were increasingly beautiful views across to dramatic ridgeline we had just hiked. Above, the skies continued to haze over, and as the sun lowered itself westward into the approaching high haze, the color of the landscape tinted ever so slightly towards pink.