I drove up to Road's End yesterday for a very quick hike up to Island Lake. One of the things I love about these mountains - if you're training for a big climb somewhere they provide lots of options for training terrain. Right now I'm teetering around in mountaineering boots carrying a 50-lb pack, getting ready for a trip to Alaska this summer. I look funny, of course, but then I always do...
Anyway - the snow line on east aspects right now is at about 9600', which on the Island Lake trail means that it's clear all the way to the lip right below the lake. That trail is pretty much dry, with a few spots where melt water is running down the trail. The Ruby Crest Trail on the way to Lamoille Lake is snow covered starting at about 9200', with a lot of mud and running water right now. That route is, by far, much easier to hike at about 6AM before the snow softens up and it becomes an adventure in postholing. The Stock Trail will be clear much earlier than the regular trail will be, although there is a lot of running water crossing that trail right now.
The Secret-Lamoille Trail is, of course, open as far as they have it constructed. The gate at the bottom of Soldier Canyon is open... I haven't been up there yet but there's no question that it's open to the end and that the trail is likely open for much of its length, too. I'll do a real report in a few days. If you're heading up to Ruby Dome on the Hennen Canyon Trail, you'll hit snow below Griswold Lake.
The lakes are thawing but they are not clear yet.
This provides a great opportunity to talk about how NOT to cause damage while you're up there hiking in the spring. It's our responsibility to take care of these mountains. They are beautiful, and they are fragile. Watch your feet!
If the trail is blocked by snow or gushing water, you're going to be very tempted to leave the trail and walk around. Think very, very hard before you do. You're likely to be walking on mud and tearing up plants - the beautiful stuff we go up there to see. Just say no to walking in mud! Stay on the trail if there's any way you can do it. It's there for a reason - to protect the mountains from resource damage done by people up there to enjoy them.
You CAN get around up there without doing resource damage if you're careful. Don't be afraid to get your feet wet by walking on snow. Snow is the best stuff up there to walk on if you're not going to be on-trail, because you can't hurt it. If you think you're likely to be walking on snow, start very early in the morning - at dawn or before - to get up there before it thaws. It's an excellent walking surface when it's frozen.
Your next best option is rock - there are lots of very conveniently placed rocks up there that provide good, safe footing wherever you want to go. Make a game of it - pretend you're a kid crossing a creek. You probably won't have to pretend much with that one because you WILL be crossing creeks and looking for rocks! Rocks are your friends, and what's more, they're the mountain's friends.
If you can't find snow or rocks to walk on, go for gravel. Gravel isn't as durable a surface as the previous two, but in all likelihood nothing's growing in it and it will prevent you from sinking in and tearing things up.
AVOID AT ALL COSTS mud off-trail and walking on plants, whether they're growing or dormant. They have a hard enough time trying to get by up there. We don't need to make it worse. One muddy footprint multiplied by hundreds of people means damaged streamsides, damaged trails, dead plants and erosion. Don't do it. If you can't get around an obstacle without walking on mud or plants, call it a day and come back later. The mountains will still be there next time.