Monday, August 10, 2015

Wanderings: Snow Lake

Snow Lake - Lainey Piland photo

Every once in awhile, it's good to push yourself outside your comfort zone, just to prove that, in fact, you can do the very things you tend to dissuade yourself from even attempting. This was exactly what I did over the weekend, as I loaded my backpack into my car and drove east along I-90. Alone. It was still fairly early in the morning when I reached Snoqualmie Pass. The morning sun was just starting to warm the forested slopes, and fluffy clouds were sailing upward, lifting from their night's slumber clinging to the Cascade mountain peaks. My objective for the day: hiking to Snow Lake, one of 700 lakes found in the aptly-named Alpine Lakes Wilderness within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

I glanced at the clock on the dashboard and was pleased to see that I was just about on time. I took exit 52... and then drove five miles down the wrong road and ended up being half an hour late by the time I finally arrived at the parking lot for the Snow Lake trailhead, where I was meeting up with fellow bloggers for the hike. I was a little nervous about this hike. I'm more of a lowland hiker who likes to wander through the forest and look at the pretty trees, maybe take a few photos and listen to the birds singing. Peaks and alpine lakes generally seem beyond my abilities, and I hoped I wouldn't embarrass myself in front of my fellow bloggers whom I was meeting in person for the first time! But I decided to go for it, out-of-shape knees be darned. And thanks to a fun and supportive group (and a few timely rest stops), I successfully hiked to my first alpine lake!

It was still chilly enough to require a sweatshirt as we set out on the trail, which starts out as a staircase, then gently ascends through a forest, and then continues in gradual switchbacks to the top of a ridge. Although the grade was manageable, the footing of loose stones and large rocks was a little challenging, and forces you to keep your eyes focused on the trail in front of you, carefully planning each step.

The trail footing was a bit rugged!

At the top of the ridge, we took a detour from the trail to climb atop a large boulder, which afforded the first glimpse of Snow Lake. It was just as gorgeous as I'd hoped; its clear deep-blue water gleaming in the sunlight, beckoning us to hike down for a closer look.

Oh, that water!

Our small group returned to the trail and continued down toward the lake on yet more gradual switchbacks. I tried to ignore the fact that I'd have to hike back up them again on the way out. This part of the trail was especially beautiful - fragrant fresh air, shaded green slopes, and plenty of robust, healthy looking conifers strengthened by the heavy loads of winter snow they must bear. We heard pikas chirping and squeaking at one another, and even got a fairly close-up view when one perched on a nearby rock to say hello. I'd never heard or seen one in person before! We also had to pause and marvel at the dew-laden leaves along the trail, their droplets clear and shining. I was so glad to be in the company of others who appreciate the simple beauty of dewy leaves!

Love those colors. Lovely dewy leaves.


Passing by the remains of an old stone cabin (imagine living up here!), we made our way to the shore of Snow Lake, which was just as beautiful close-up as it was from our vantage point a few hundred feet above. Rugged-looking peaks preside over the lake, their rocky, lightly-treed slopes completely bare of snow in this scorcher of a summer we're having. A few people were scattered along the shoreline, but it was largely empty. And quiet! I was astonished at how quiet and still it was; no sighing wind or chirping birds, and completely bereft of any traffic noises. Until an airplane flew overhead. Its familiar rumbling reminded me how difficult it is to escape the sounds of civilization.

Snow Lake

After spending some time chatting, snacking, and resting on the rocky shores of Snow Lake, we packed up and headed back to the trail, where we'd follow the switchbacks back up to the ridge, and then down the switchbacks on the other side. As we made our way back down the trail, I was so grateful that we'd set out early! By this time, it was late morning and the trail was positively crowded with people making their way up as we came down, and the temperatures had heated up significantly as the sun blazed down on the trail's exposed switchbacks. But there was still much to enjoy. We passed through fields of nearly-spent fireweed that were busy sending their seeds aloft on silky threads; the downy clusters ascending straight into that blue sky as though they were stars racing to claim their place in the heavens. Just another of the many beautiful sights on this lovely hike.

My knees were already starting to ache as our group returned to the now-overflowing parking lot. We bade one another farewell and scattered to our vehicles. I couldn't help but tilt my head back and look up toward the ridge which we'd hiked up and over. I had done that. My feet had carried me all the way up there and back, and I'd seen some of my home state's incomparable beauty which no longer felt inaccessible to me. Tired, sweaty, and a little sore already, I drove away feeling a little bit proud of myself for broaching the boundary of my comfort zone; thinking that perhaps once the soreness faded from my muscles, I'd want to do it again.

Thanks again to my fellow bloggers for a wonderful hike and great company! Please check out their fantastic blogs:

Alpine Lily

Pacific Northwest Seasons

Tiny Pines


  1. Love this post! So glad you pushed it, isn't it a wonderful thing to gaze at an alpine lake up close? And love your shot of the pika, I missed it. You do craft some lovely descriptions, especially the fireweed image. Here's to another alpine hike!

    1. Thank you, Jill! Seeing the lake up close was a wonderful experience, for sure. I think you & Laura were a little ahead of the rest of us on the trail when the pika appeared. I was just able to snap a photo before he darted away. They're so cute!

  2. Fabulous description of the beauty you encountered on Saturday. Looks like my household will have to add this hike to our To Do list!

    1. I meant Sunday ... where's my head? I know, it's thinking about hiking Snow Lake.

    2. Thank you, Irene! :) This is a great hike for sure! Gorgeous scenery. I'd definitely recommend going on a weekday or early (before 8am) on a weekend. The trail is very popular and gets super crowded.