Snow Lake, Gem Lake, Upper Wildcat Lake

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Fall foliage by Snow Lake

Occasionally, I go to bed on Friday night in my apartment. This is weird, because I usually do my best to not be in the city on Friday, but sometimes the weather is lousy and you’re lazy and everyone else is also lazy. So, just like last winter, I woke up at like 6:30ish, was bored by 7, and messaged Surafel. Are you going hiking today? I’m bored. Are you awake? Wake up I wanna go hiking. Let’s do a lazy rainy day hike. Like last year when we’d do short rainy lake hikes. He replied at 8. Yes let’s go hiking! Gem Lake? I laughed. I was going to propose the exact same idea. If Surafel wasn’t free I was going to just do Gem Lake as a lazy trail run.

  • Distance: 16 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4,000ft (~4,920 highest point, Gem Lake)
  • Weather: 40’s and rainy
  • Commute from Seattle: 1 hour!
  • Did I Trip: Probably but I don’t remember
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I’ve been here so many times and the blue color still surprises me

We met at the Eastgate Park n Ride at 9:30, sans the usual teas since I had already had my earl grey. Surafel agreed to drive since I was hoping there’d be a SAR mission I could jump into while we were there, in which case he could drive himself home and I’d just hitch a ride back to my car (spoiler alert: nothing happened. The more available I am, the fewer SAR missions there are). We were at Alpental around 10, where I immediately put on my second layer of pants because it was cold and it was wet and I forgot that summer was over. Leggings weren’t going to cut it anymore.

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Surafel on a trail bridge

We reached Snow Lake quickly, passing a few parties already on their way down. It wasn’t too crowded, probably because of the weather. We never quite got sun breaks, just “brighter clouds.” Neither of us had been past Snow Lake. Reminiscent of Lake Dorothy a few weeks ago, it took forever to wrap around Snow Lake. The fall foliage was gorgeous, though my camera has a hard time with cloudy photos. You basically follow social trails to the right of Snow Lake, which are occasionally well maintained and occasionally a bit brushy.

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More touches of fall foliage

Finally you start gaining a bit of elevation to Gem Lake, which is aptly named. It’s quite the cute gem of a lake. There were two large groups camping there that we passed on our way out, but on the way up it was silent. The trail wraps around the right of the lake, and you have the chance to bag Wright Peak (a walk up) if you so desire. We didn’t, because there’d be no views. But the trail continued on, so we continued as well. I didn’t actually know where it went but we had time and we saw a lake down below us so we figured we’d go ahead and drop down to it. It didn’t look that far.

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Almost a view!

Well that lake is Lower Wildcat Lake, and it turned out it was about a 1,000ft loss in elevation to get there. With a short bushwhack you can hit Upper Wildcat Lake as well. I was pretty pooped though, my legs had felt like lead all day, and as soon as we came upon a clearing on the trail with a nice log and a view of Lower Wildcat Lake I decided great, we’re having snacks here, and then heading back. I was soaked from all of the brush (did not bring rain pants… yes, shut up, I know) and getting cold and once you’re wet and cold… ugh.

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Tarn by Lower Wildcat Lake

I chugged the tea I had brought in a thermos (sometimes I have smart ideas) and devoured some salami and cheese. I felt better within minutes of starting back towards the trailhead, in hindsight I probably just needed snacks. We gained the elevation back to Gem Lake quicker than expected, and admired the fall foliage around the lake for a few minutes before carrying back on to Snow Lake. Gem Lake definitely had the best foliage in the area, I bet it would have been phenomenal with some sunshine.

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Almost a glimpse of blue sky by Snow Lake!

By the time we got back to the trail from Snow Lake to Alpental, most of the hikers were gone. We passed a few lingering parties and a few on their way up, but weather was deteriorating and I was surprised anyone was still out. I was happy to be headed back to the car. The parking lot had emptied, and we jumped in the car and blasted the heat and tried to dry off as best we could. All in all, not too bad for a “lazy” day hike – 16 miles, and home early for a cozy warm dinner!

Lakes Dorothy, Bear, Deer, and Snoqualmie

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The far end of Lake Dorothy, neat channels underwater

Catching up on old posts, and since this is a rainy day one it’ll be a quickie. I had donated blood the previous afternoon, so I ignored all hiking/climbing requests to do my own thing in case it was similar to the last time I donated blood. Last time I thought it would be smart to hike to Lake Serene, and I was pouring sweat with a heart rate of like 180 and miserable the entire time and I did not want a repeat of that. So I surveyed the population for “boring lake hikes.” The lakes can be nice, but I don’t want any tempting peaks behind them, no scrambling, no elevation gain, a well maintained obvious trail, relatively short drive, you get the idea. Hiked 9/9/2017.

  • Distance: 14 miles
  • Elevation: 1600ft gain, 3600ft highest point (warning: you lose 500ft elevation to Snoqualmie Lake)
  • Weather: 50’s and rainy
  • Commute from Seattle: 2 hours
  • Did I Trip: No. Who’s well grounded!?
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Your first glimpse of Lake Dorothy

And I settled on lakes Dorothy, Bear, and Deer. I figured if I felt crappy I could turn around at any of those lakes. I got to the trailhead around 10am and started off, immediately being passed by two trail runners. I was jealous. Then I cruised past some park rangers, one of whom dated my friend last year (I’m awkward and announced him as such) and prayed they didn’t give me a ticket for my expired America the Beautiful pass. Lake Dorothy is about 1.5 miles down the trail, but the lake is HUGE. Tons of campsites, great for families with kids and inflatable boats and towels and big stoves.

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Closest thing I had to a view all day

It took what felt like forever to get to the other end of the lake. You finally hit some elevation gain on the far side, and switch back up a short ridge that eventually drops you to Bear and Deer lakes, which are twin lakes! There are more campsites at each lake (immediately off the trail), and you can either stop here or continue to Snoqualmie Lake.

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Beautifully maintained trail

I had all day and was moving faster than I thought, so I figured I’d carry on. I also expected there to be a turnaround destination here, which there wasn’t, and continuing trail is just so tempting. I lost what felt like a ton of elevation dropping to Snoqualmie Lake, which interestingly had some sandy shores. There are campsites here, my personal favorite (which I deemed my turnaround spot) was actually just off the main trail to the right towards a beautiful surprise tarn. So that’s where you should camp if you don’t mind a 7 mile hike.

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Local riff raff

Figuring it wasn’t going to get any more interesting from there and looking forward to a warm cozy dinner, I turned around and high tailed it back to the parking lot. I did not get a ticket from a lack of pass, thank you rangers! I had actually called their building on the way hoping to get a pass but it was close, so I swear I had tried. And I finally got the new pass a week, don’t worry. I know, I know, I live on the edge.

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Favorite tarn by Snoqualmie Lake

Overall, pleasant hike, good destination for anyone who wants lake camping with kids or a long trail run. The trail continues beyond Snoqualmie Lake all the way to Middle Fork Snoqualmie River (I’m pretty sure those two trail runners started at Middle Fork, ran to the Dorothy trailhead, and then ran back to Middle Fork), so you could have a fantastic out and back or even car to car trail run on a mellow, well maintained trail if you so desired. Just don’t donate blood the day before. Good for hot summer days (lakes!) or gross rainy days (…lakes!) or lazy days (flat trails, and… lakes!) since you can turn around at any number of destinations.

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Luxurious campsite near the tarn