I wake around 5:30am as Jared wakes and packs for his crack-of-dawn departure. I go back to sleep and wake again at 8:30am and eventually get out of my tent. We all rise, enjoy our coffee and mostly-oatmeal-dominated-breakfasts, slowly pack up, and leave camp at 11:50am, just in time for our noon departure. Group selfie. The 6 of us hike to the Dutch Miller Gap/Middle Fork Snoqualmie trail junction and part ways after a small discussion about getting B.O. out of hiking shirts (try Oxyclean and/or Techwash from REI?).
Mark and actually hike back past our campsite, and after only mild confusion, find the old busted up footbridge across which we hobble/scramble with our enormous packs to cross the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River. Somehow we manage to not fall in or get swept away. Success.
The next 3.5 miles is along the somewhat overgrown flat section of the Middle Fork Trail. Over a handful of blowdowns. Up, up, up 3,000 feet and many switchbacks on the Rock Creek Trail. Over 4 miles. After the forest we are met with sunshine and heat. A few snack breaks. We see one woman on the trail. “Good luck at the Zoo” that is Snow Lake, she says. Eventually, through the overgrown brush and blowdowns, we reach the Gem Lake Trail junction and immediately see a half-dozen hikers – several of which are blasting music from their bluetooth speakers. Entering the Zoo. Snow Lake may be crowded, but it is beautiful. Our first of the alpine lakes. We fill our water at a stream where two women take pics and selfies with their dogs. Up to the overlook. Down, down, down the 3+ miles to the Alpental Parking lot. Small trail traffic jam.
Thumbs out. We catch a ride with a nice family – mom, pop, kid, dog – in their truck. They deliver us to the Chevron where we promptly buy gatorade and V8. We eat a burger-filled dinner at the Aardvark Express food truck in front of the Chevron, momentarily overtaken by our fleeting cellphone reception. The friendly assistant manager of the Summit Inn inspires us to get back on the trail to escape his chatter.
A short road walk brings us to the spur to the PCT. We’re on the PCT for a few hundred feet before taking an immediate left – a shortcut down the abandoned-but-well-maintained Commonwealth Basin Trail – to cut off a few switchbacks. Shorter = steeper 😦 We pass a few people including a family set up camp by the river. Back on the PCT. It’s approaching dark and we snag a spot just in time to set up our tents and for me to dig a cathole for my first woods poo. We’re tired and we crash at 9:30pm, just past “hiker midnight”.
It was a beautiful winter day and Jared and I wanted to get our hike on. We tossed around the idea of hiking Mt Defiance, but when our friend Megan and her friend Katrina told us they were planning to hike Snow Lake, we tagged along! A bit shorter meant we had time for adult obligations like chores and laundry. Yay! The hike was a good time. Icy, snowy, windy, full of other day hikers. WTA says the hike is 10 miles, but Jared’s watch said 7.
Sunday. November 22, 2015. Hike: Snow Lake, 7.0 miles. Elevation gain: 2000 feet. High point: 5100 feet.
We meet Megan at her house, pick up Katrina along the way, and drive out to Alpental. The parking area is full! Well almost full. We find a spot, park, don our boots, gaiters, and microspikes and head on out.
We hike up the trail. It’s sunny and nice. We immediately shed a layer. Microspikes were a good idea – lots of ice and a solid little base layer of snow. Just like I remembered it from hiking it last winter.
About a mile in we hit the junction for Source Lake – none of us have ever been there but apparently it’s just a short hike in. Maybe next time. From there the trail switchbacks up a steep slope. Lots of people out today. And lots of dogs.
At the top we stop for a wee snack break – along with everyone else but the crowds felt more festive than overrun. It’s here that we realize I packed my snacks. Only. I thought Jared packed some for himself. He thought I packed them for both of us. Oopsie. Well it’s a short hike. We’ll share. Jared and I share an apple at the overlook. And a dog steals the apple core! Ha! His owner tells us about his thieving nature and how he once stole hamburger from a woman on a beach. Amazing. Many people habituate the gray jays to a life of stealing food from humans by feeding them snacks.
We head down toward the lake and take the shady switchbacks down. The lake is clear and unfrozen. We talk about food and diet and eating or not eating things. Jared and I are vegan except for the 50 lbs of beef in our freezer and the turkey we’re about to pick up for Thanksgiving!
We wind around the lake to another lil’ view spot. Damn it’s windy! Snacks in the wind. Brr. Let’s get out of the wind! Back ’round the lake and up the shady switchbacks. Then to the saddle and back down the sunny switchbacks toward the trailhead. Back past the Source Lake turnoff and to Megan’s car. Yay hiking!
A great hike in a winter Wonderland…Snow Lake is the place to go! A busy trail in the summer, this hike is the place to be on a late fall/early winter weekday. A great way hike to kick off December with: tromping through the woods wearing microspikes, hiking on snow and ice, perfect weather, excellent views, amazingly beautiful lake… The hike was sullied by an unfortunate snowshoe-theft-ish incident, BUT all snowshoe related matters have been resolved and all is right again. Read on for more details…
Monday, December 1, 2014. Hike: Snow Lake, 10.0 miles. Elevation gain: 2000 feet. High point: 5100 feet.
Eve and I both had the day off from REI so we decided to put our snowshoes (we were hoping there would be enough snow) and microspikes, to the test. Eve had run the Seattle Marathon the day prior. Yes, you read that correctly. She ran an entire marathon. Yesterday. Therefore, we got on the trail late, around 11 am instead of 8.
Traffic leaving the city was manageable. The mountains surrounding I-90 were covered with a perfect pristine amount of snow. A handful of cars sat in the parking lot. We (hopefully) donned our snowshoes immediately. We’ll need them, right? Totally. And walked along the packed snow trail for about a half mile when we ran into our first fellow hiker. He wore microspikes. And told us snowshoes were unnecessary. Ok, time to trade the shoes for spikes. Check. Shoes stashed off trail, check. We propped them against a fallen tree root and buried them in snow to hide them. They were only slightly visible from the trail, so if you squinted you could see them. But having stashed gear dozens of times, we were trusting and we decided this was our best option. After all, this was a weekday, which meant fewer people on trail, and little hiker traffic past our precious snowshoes.
We passed a pleasant looking family – two men with their two kids – as they skirted patches of ice. They turned around at a treacherous stretch just after we passed them. Our microspikes were perfect for the trail. We crossed ice and snow like it was our job. And we ran into some fellow REI peeps who recognized us by our REI packs! One of them worked at headquarters. Sweet! We chatted a bit and continued on our way. At the junction to Source Lake, we ran into another pair of guys coming from that direction. Quick chat. Continue up.
Then we hit the switchbacks that lead the ridge. So awesome! Super warm. Such great views. Icicles clinging to the rocks above. Sun drenching the slope. Drips of water falling. And the sound of ice falling on soft snow. Amazing views of the valley from the top.
Once at the top of the ridge, we bore left. We stopped to take in views of Snow Lake from the Overlook. We were already in shadow so we put on our puffies to eat cliff bars and cheese-its. Two gray jays joined us and hopped in circles around us. Sorry guys, no food today.
With enough sunlight left that the lake was still basking in sun, we hiked out of the ridge’s shadow. Passing through a patch of alpenglow we returned to the warmth of the sun. I quickly realized that I’d dropped my phone at the overlook, so went back for it and was happy/super relieved to find it laying face down in the snow, not gone after careening off a cliff. Whew. We continued right, over the frozen stream, hopped across frozen rocks, and reached the huge boulder at the end of the trail. The entire lake was frozen and criss-crossed with cracks. The lake overlook was gorgeous. We marveled at the fact that such a beautiful spot existed a mere hour from Seattle. After obligatory REI pack shots were snapped in front of the frozen lake, the return trip began.
Back in shadow quickly, a couple and their dog passed us on their way down to Snow Lake. We were impressed/shocked that the chick was wearing casual boots. Total gear judgy time. We passed another couple at the top of the ridge. By now the once sunny switchback-covered slope was covered in shadow. Sun sets at 4:30! Bounding down the trail, we talked about past hiking adventures and continued to remind ourselves to retrieve the snowshoes. Down, down, down. Over snow. Across ice.
We reached the stash spot at last. And discovered to our horror – no snowshoes. Only a void where our snowshoes had once been. Someone had taken our gear. Bastards! Lame. Bogus. Ridiculous. I was too disappointed in my faith in humanity to be angry. I was just annoyed and confused. Had someone really taken stashed gear? Who would do that? Seriously? I tried to maintain hope…maybe some naive hiker had brought them to the trailhead thinking we had dropped them in a very strategic place by accident? Hmm…
Eve and I picked up the pace. We were at the bottom in no time. And no snowshoes in sight. Not in the parking lot, not propped against the trail sign. Nowhere. Argh. We crossed the parking lot and asked the dude in the rental shop if someone had turned them in? No dice. Harumph. A guy was getting in his car just as we were getting back to Eve’s car, so we asked him. And of course he hadn’t seen them. Lame. The couple with the dog and the casual boots appeared, and we asked them. No sign. Everyone seemed nice and sympathetic and as equally perplexed as us that someone would take stashed gear. Sigh.
So we drove back to the city with two fewer pairs of snowshoes than we’d set out with. But it was a beautiful, beautiful hike. A winter wonderland. Overall the hike deserves a 9/10. It would have been worthy of a 10 if it weren’t for the unfortunate snowshoe incident. But the sunset on the return drive was epic. Pink and orange shades dominated the clouds.
Saturday, December 6. UPDATE:
Snowshoes found! Gear retrieved! Yay snowshoes!
So, it turns out someone took the hidden/buried/carefully stashed snowshoes out of their hiding place so that nobody would take them. Yes, you heard that right. Someone stole the snowshoes so that they wouldn’t get stolen. Weird but true. Anyhow, Eve and I drove to pick them up today. And we are very glad to have them.
Remember folks: if someone stashes gear, don’t take it. Leave it where you found it. Don’t try to be a hero. Seriously. Just leave it.