Okay, pictures of this lake have been all over the internet the past few weeks, and of course when I choose to hike it, the “partly sunny” forecast turns into “heavy, intensely thick fog.” Still beautiful, but I’m definitely going back on a sunny day.
- Distance: 7.5 miles round trip (but took us about 5 hours between lots of breaks and a shoe casualty)
- Elevation: 3300ft gain
- Weather: FOG
- Commute from Seattle: 2 hours
- Did I Trip: My hiking buddy did! Ha! (hi Pattra)
Steep, but not too steep. I hiked this one with my roommate Pattra, promising a beautiful turquoise lake after a sunny, moderate hike that wouldn’t be as hard as what we did on our road trip this past summer. Okay, so that was partially a lie. I expected sun and turquoise lake, but the hike was just as steep as the toughest one we did back in July. Which I didn’t mention until the way back down. Despite the latest trip report saying it was snowy, we just took our running shoes (I brought my trusty goretex wildhorses again) since we knew snow along i90 had melted, and the elevation of Blanca was lower than most of those peaks. What we failed to consider was that melting snow and rain means water, and water means mud!
Starting out, it was mostly dry. Steep right from the beginning, but there were lots of neat mushrooms to distract us from the incline. Seriously, I must have like 20 pictures of mushrooms from this hike. I’m one of those obnoxious(?) hikers who just goes fast and doesn’t pay much attention to anything besides views, so it was refreshing having a day to slow down a bit and someone to point out all of the cool things that I usually go right past.
We got some brief glances of the sun straining to come through the fog, and I had faith that it would clear up by the time we reached the top. There were a few points where it looked like there could be good views, but you couldn’t even see as far as the ridge next to you, just a wall of white. But the combo of sun and fog made for some cool forest pictures along the way since you could see all of the rays streaming through the trees. Here’s my roommate testing out my new Black Diamond poles that I got after Silver Peak. Yes, they’re skiing poles, but you can use ski poles for trekking (just not the other way around) and they’re obviously better for snowshoeing and the like, which I’m definitely planning on trying.
Once you get up to the ridge, it briefly flattens out just before dropping another 600ft in .6 miles down to the lake. We ran into a hiker who turned around because she didn’t get to the lake soon enough and was worried that she was on the wrong trail since it was going downhill. Anyway, this flat part is were is where it starts getting muddy. Unbelievably muddy. Nothing unreasonable at first, just your average oversaturated marshy sections of trail.
Virgin lake is the first lake you see, and thank god we knew it wasn’t Blanca lake! We were warned by a few hikers on their way down to keep going past it. Virgin lake is more of a puddle than a lake, but it was so still that the reflections were very crisp. In fact, partly due to the fog, I didn’t even know it was there until I noticed that I was looking at upside-down trees (not pictured) and realized it had to be a reflection.
Skirting to the right of Virgin Lake, the mud continues, so be careful and hopefully you brought waterproof shoes. Just past it, there was a huge mud pit that I got through okay, but I heard a gasp and turned around to see Pattra balancing elegantly on a wet log shouting “MY SHOE!” with her sock-clad foot in the air. I asked if she accidentally kicked it off the trail, and she said no, it was stuck in the mud. But it had disappeared. Nowhere to be seen. Devoured by the muddy abyss. She started poking around with the trekking poles, I threw on my snow gloves and grabbed a stick and started digging.
How deep could it sink? This was the quicksand of mud. What if it was already like three feet down there and we’d never reach it? There were three options. Best case scenario a) we find the shoe. If not, I had extra socks, so she could either b) wear three socks and the spare ace bandage on her foot on the way down, or c) hang out there while I ran back to the car, grabbed the hiking boots, and came back up, which would be a long wait. Luckily, after 15 minutes of digging around, I found the shoe about 8 inches deep, full of mud. Yuck. We poured it out, took out the sock liner, and wiped off as much as we could with the ace bandage. Plus, at this point we were so close to the lake we figured it would be silly to turn around. So we continued! Pattra’s a trooper. Who needs dry feet anyway when you have good synthetic socks and shoes.?
Luckily the rest of the hike went pretty smoothly, besides a few minor slips. When we came around the corner to the lake (which was like 10 minutes post-mud-pit), the turquoise color was astounding. Due to the clouds we couldn’t see ridges, peaks, or the Columbia Glacier, which I had been desperately hoping to see. That’s the glacier that gives Blanca Lake its unworldly color that makes it so popular. But we still dropped down to the shore line to see what it was like, take a break, and have a beef jerky snack.
After about ten minutes, the clouds dropped even lower, to about maybe ten feet above the lake. We couldn’t see the other side any more, and it was a little chilly, so we decided it was time to get moving. When we were back at the spot that the above picture was taken, all we could see was white! On the way back down, we had a few glimpses of blue sky and sun, but none that looked big enough to mean the lake was sunny.
Reading other trip reports, I realized that the lake is usually not this full, and most of the driftwood is usually dry. There are campgrounds across a log jam that was completely flooded by a running stream, and I suppose you could get there if you’re tough enough to lose the shoes and pants and wade through some frigid waters (aka not me on that day). Even more of a reason to come back on a sunny day!