Super summit of Preacher Mountain with Erik Schulz who I met on the PNW Peakbaggers group on Facebook. Conditions were perfect for an alpine summit. The trail off the Pratt River trail was steep, rooty, and muddy. Snow was persistent from 2000 feet on. The trail up through the forest was marked with a boot path from ascents on previous days and meanders in and out of tree and rock wells, brushy sections, trees, etc. so have a good route to follow up via your GPS of choice and good route finding skills. At about 3500 feet, the trail/path cuts to the left up a steep ridge up to lower Rainy Lake, which was mostly frozen over. There was a section close to the trail with a couple of logs where one could refill water bottles. This was the last available water on the trail ~3800ft. The trail then continues left, directly up the steep ridge. There were sections that were fairly steep, but good steps which were still frozen made the ascent manageable. I wore crampons from 2000 feet to the summit and back. One could wear microspikes or snowshoes, but the snow was very firm today and snowshoes would be overkill. Also, poles were sufficient, but an axe could come in handy. Once at upper Rainy Lake, the trail routes right up the ridge. We followed a path straight to the ridge and walked the length of the highly corniced summit ridge to the summit at the far southern end of the ridgeline. We took a more direct path back down to upper Rainy Lake. Be careful not to descend too far from the summit via glissade so that you overshoot the ridge and route to the upper lake.
On the way down, I was late and ended up navigating from about 2500 feet and 3 miles back in the dark. Even using Gaia and my track up, finding the way down was not trivial as it’s easy to lose the trail and follow one of the many boot paths to dead ends or brushy terrain. I found looking for blowdowns which were cut to be good indicators I was on the right track and further towards the end of the trail I scouted 5 reflectors on trees which were useful and provided a sense of comfort descending in the dark (yes I had a headlamp). Needless to day the way down was rooty, muddy, and sometimes steep in the dark. I suggest avoiding staying out too late if possible, as I personally do not adhere to a turnaround time. Alpine start, alpine finish.
Stats: ~6000 feet of gain (GPS multipath issues), 16 miles, 14 hours C2C.