Snow Lake

DSC00876A casual, 24-hour-post-marathon hike. This was the first hike I did in Washington ever (back in August) and it was shocking back then. The fact that within an hour of Seattle, I could be on a hike to a beautiful alpine lake was incredible. And look at me now – I’ve been on hikes far more remote and beautiful and strenuous. But the day after a marathon, I figured I should stay close and keep it simple. Jean came along with me, and was beyond patient when I stumbled and whined and couldn’t bend over to pick up my hiking poles when I dropped them. Hiked 12/1/2014.

  • Distance: 7.2 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 1800ft gain (4400 highest point)
  • Weather: 30’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 50 minutes
  • Did I Trip: No, and thank god, because I don’t know if I’d have gotten up if I did

We got to the Alpental parking lot a little late. It took me a while to get up, hobble around my apartment making tea and whatnot, and realize that I’d definitely regret sitting around the house all day on one of the few crisp sunny days Seattle gets this time of the year. So I texted Jean. Hey, you know what, I’m down to go for a hike. Let’s check out Snow Lake. I had rented snowshoes hoping to test them out for the first time in my life, so she tossed hers in the car and we headed out.

For starters, my hiking boots were heaven for my feet. I think it was the utter lack of flexility after running the race in a low profile shoe (Saucony Kinvaras, what up) but my feet have never been so happy. It was short lived, though. Unsuprisingly. Can’t have happy feet during a hike the day after a race. That’s too much to ask. But I could drive, and we made it to the parking lot despite trip reports warning of a slick, frozen road. Yes, there were two inches of ice on the road, but they had tossed sand all over it and there were tracks all over it, and we had no issues.

DSC00863We got out of the car, and checked out the trail. Not too much snow, but we thought we’d throw on the snowshoes and just go for it. After all, the most recent trip report had said no snowshoes necessary for the first half mile, but that they were great after that. So we did. Jean had to help me get mine on (yeah I know I’m like a five year old) because I wasn’t flexible enough to stay bent over for more than a few seconds without every muscle in my legs screaming in agony. Freakin marathon tightness.

We got on our way, and I was surprised to learn that snowshoes aren’t exactly connected to the heel of your shoe. They just flop around a bit. Weird. And I felt a bit like I was waddling to prevent them from clacking against each other. But I got used to them quickly. Until we ran into a hiker on his way down (already! it was like 11am) who told us we definitely wouldn’t need them for the whole trail. Cool. I’m just not meant to snowshoe, I guess, considering this was the second failed attempt. So we took them off and stashed them behind a fallen tree. And half buried them in snow so no one would find them. And put on microspikes and continued on our way.

DSC00873There were plenty of ice patches, plenty of rocky patches, and plenty of deeper snow patches. I’d say microspikes were the right choice. And gaiters! Oh god, was I happy with my gaiters. It’s great being able to blast through snow without getting any in your boots. A freedom I didn’t know I had. There were a few areas where you could see icicles hanging off of rocks. No part where they’d fall directly on the trail, though.

This trail does turn into a very avalanche-prone trek in the winter months, and I could absolutely see why. That’s why I figured I should go back when there’s just a little bit of snow, pre-avy danger but post summer crowds. Seriously, last time I was there, everyone and their mother and kids was there. It was amazing having it mostly to ourselves. I also can’t put into words how much I love fresh snow. When it just dusts the tops of the trees. There’s nothing better. This was probably the first time I had seen that since Silver Peak a month ago, and I was glad to get it again.

DSC00867The great thing about Snow Lake is that views just keep getting better. I don’t think I realized it in the summer, maybe because of the crowds or maybe it was just “an average valley” without the snow. But on Monday, I kept turning around to take pictures as we gradually climbed. The snow muffled the sound of i90, and it was easy to forget that we were right off a highway. Perpendicular to it, at least, unlike Granite Mountain where you parallel it for the first three miles of your hike.

We had prepared for a mid-teens hike, but it ended up being around freezing (maybe mid 30’s towards the end) for most of the hike. Not warm enough for a ton of melt, but enough that I didn’t need half of the 800 layers I had brought. Definitely didn’t need the two pairs of pants I was wearing. Being in the sun made a huge difference – we did take a break in the shade for a bit, and I threw on some extra layers. DSC00874

Turning around just before we reached the ridge line, we saw the entire valley laid out in front of us. Damn, that dusting of snow. It was beautiful. The Alpental parking lot and resort are down in the valley if you look closely.

DSC00879After crossing the ridge, there was a small side path to a rock overlooking Snow Lake. That was the shady spot we decided to take a break, and have some snacks. I had eaten cheez-its throughout the marathon the day before, and brought the rest on the hike. By some miracle, Jean had cheez its too, though she brought the white cheddar ones. So we had some good variety. We snacked, took some pics (gray jays were harassing us, but they’re so round and cute) and eventually decided to head down to the lake. I stood up, and nearly fell over. My feet were not happy campers. The first few steps were agony, but once moving, everything loosened up.

Five minutes later, Jean realized she was missing her iPhone. Which was white. You know what else is white? Snow. Good. We turned around to retrace our steps, hoping it fell out at the rock we say on and not in the fresh puffy snow where it would probably just disappear into the fluff and never be found. And that’s where it ended up being. I didn’t go up to the rock. Getting down with my pathetic legs was enough of a struggle the first time (I almost went face-first), I wasn’t doing it again. But I heard a celebratory hoot from Jean, and assumed she had success. Woo!

DSC00883We finally made it down to the lake. Okay, it was probably like another half mile, but for me it felt like it took forever. We found another rock that stuck out over the lake – I think in August, people were jumping off it into the water. We sat down to have cheez-it snack, part II. Took an obligatory REI pack pic, too. DSC00894

The middle of the lake was frozen over, but it was too fresh to have accumulated snow. The neat part about that is that you could see all of the cracks crossing the ice where it had split while melting and re-freezing. We spent a while just looking out over the lake enjoying the sun. I will admit I think I singlehandedly ate at least half a box of cheez its while Jean munched on a cliff bar.

DSC00884Eventually, I knew I had to fight the sore legs and get up, because technically we were only halfway there. You still have to hike all the way back down. It’s like mountain climbing. Don’t get complacent when you reach the summit. Going up is optional, going down is mandatory. Suck it up Eve, you have to walk out of here, Jean’s not gonna give you a piggyback and you can’t crawl. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point. It was slow going. We did run into a girl wearing casual boots. As in one in heels, no waterproofing, open ankles, no traction, yeah. She made it to the lake which was impressive. If that had been me, I’d have called a helicopter to get me out a mile into the hike. “Nothing like Snow Lake to bring out the casually unprepared,” as one commenter on my trip report wrote.

DSC00895There were a few creek crossings that got a little icy. The first was only a mile or so into the trail, where we ran into some dads with their young kids who decided to turn around since the kids were already tired and crossing 15 feet of ice didn’t seem ideal with a bunch of 2-5 year olds. The other memorable one was the one to the right, where you had to hop across some rocks since the ice wasn’t thick enough to stand on. Stop it, I know what you’re thinking. “Oh that looks easy.” Okay, you run 26 miles and then try jumping from one leg 3 feet to the other leg and landing steadily. This was my Everest. I pawed around like a cat does before attempting a jump it knows it probably won’t make. But I made it. And with that, I knew it would be smooth (ish) sailing to the bottom.

The end of the hike went by surprisingly quickly, or maybe I blocked it from memory. Or maybe it was overshadowed by the last obstacle we had to conquer. Oh yeah, we had stashed snowshoes! Wouldn’t it be funny if they were gone? Ha, ha, right. We got to the stash site and Jean looks up at me after I joked and says “…they aren’t here.” No way, maybe they’re just more buried than before. We poked around the snow, dug a little, nope. Nothing. Nada. They were gone. Seriously?! The world is just telling me that I should give up trying to snowshoe. We got back to the car hoping someone just brought them down to the trailhead, but no luck. We asked other hikers if they had seen anyone with snowshoes, nope. We filed a police report and posted all over the wta trail reports, but nothing turned up. I called REI that night, embarrassed and ashamed that I had made such a stupid decision and asked how much I’d have to pay. $140, which was half of what I expected, but not ideal.

DSC00901Now since I’m writing this blog post six days later, you get a conclusion: we found the snowshoes! Someone picked them up thinking he was doing us a favor, assuming we had lost them, or forgotten them. Ugh. No. Sir, stashing is a way of life. But at least they’re back, and I dodged a $140 bullet. You’d think my lesson would be “don’t stash things!” but it’s more like “stash them better” or “leave a note.”

Anyway, back to Snow Lake. Great hike, even more amazing in snow if you can find a time during the shoulder season to do it! There is a snowshoe route you can take in heavier snow that’s a little longer, but there’s still significant avalanche danger until you’re at the ridge, so make sure you’re familiar with the terrain and avy danger evaluation. There’s also Avalanche Mountain nearby and Chair Peak which are both great in winter (again, with experience). Nothing like a crisp, sunny day in the Cascades in winter!

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