Three Fingers via Bushwack & Meadow Mountain

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Three Fingers from Tin Can Gap

Well you know Murphy’s law. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. We came out of it alive, but this was certainly a casual-hike-with-a-bonus-rock-climb-turned-epic-mountaineering-objective due to our unfamiliarity with the route. We improvised where it might have been faster to be normal, and we tried for normal when it might have been faster to improvise. Whoops! I swear not all trips are like that. And it wasn’t a shitshow, just longer than we expected. Hiked 7/15-7/16, here is the Three Fingers Lookout!

  • Distance: Roughly 18 miles. 7 up, 11 down.
  • Elevation: ~4800ft gain, 6,854ft highest point
  • Weather: 50’s and sunny, 40’s and misty
  • Commute from Seattle: 2 hours without traffic (but there was traffic)
  • Did I trip: Yes, mostly I fell uphill on the damn bushwack in the night
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I’m a spooky ghost (selfie credit: Haley)

We started up around 8:30pm on Friday, which was 11:30pm for the visiting Floridian (Haley). She was tan at least, so she had that going for her. Convinced I’d be last to the party, I went straight to the trailhead, where I met Calvin, Tricia, and Florida after getting myself lost on a gated forest road. Nailed it. The road to Three Fingers is truly blocked now, with enormous boulders buried in dirt so no one can tow them off like last summer. They really don’t want people driving down that road. There’s also an enormous cedar tree down across the road maybe a mile past the boulders, and I have no idea what’s past that besides an enormous washout ~2mi from the true trailhead. Probably more terrible things waiting to destroy your car.

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Bivvy morning (photo credit: Haley)

We took what we thought would be a shortcut up a ridge pretty much straight from the road closure to Goat Flats. Unfortunately, in the dark, that “shortcut” was more like “a five hour long epic” that didn’t quite get us to the flats because around 2am we decided we were just going to camp at the next flat spot we saw. The shortcut was steep, brushy, had some nice 3rd class scramble moves through the forest, a bleached goat skull (“a human skull?! I’m fucking bailing if it’s a human skull that’s just too creepy I hate the forest”) placed a little too perfectly on a rock, sticky green seeds from bushes that clung to my leggings like velcro, a plethora of spiderwebs, probably bears, and the echoing of gunshots from the rednecks on the forest road below (no offense guys, but between the guns and the thumping base at 1am you aren’t exactly making a great first impression). Haley and I apparently don’t like the dark or bumps in the night, Calvin and Tricia were way behind, and I can’t see shit in the dark, so that left Haley to be the brave one and scout out the flagging tape. We started classifying spiderwebs. Class 1 was a strand of cobweb. Class 2 was a legit cluster. Class 3 was a full formed web. Class 4 was a huge fucking fully formed web with the spider inside of it and I don’t want to know what class 5 would be and 5.12a would probably be enough to send me into cardiac arrest and flee this world for a better one. I had my usual “what are we doing here” moment around 12:30am when Haley took a bathroom break and I stood in the dark waiting for Calvin and Tricia. Why do we do this? Haley had hers an hour later when she bitched out a pinecone. You show that pinecone who’s boss, Florida.

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Cal enjoying the views from Goat Flats

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Goat Flats Throne

I was happy to snuggle down into my bivvy when we decided to call it before Goat Flats. I brought twice as much food as Calvin, Haley, and Tricia combined, which ended up being a good thing a day and a half later. They let me stuff it in their bear bags, which they hung off a tree. We slept for 5 hours and then had a lazy wakeup with breakfast, coffee, the works. And we started up to Goat Flats, which we reached after an hour of mellow hiking, barely even bushwacking.

I was told there was a toilet, and given my self admitted obsession with alpine toilets I decided I’d find it. I jogged in circles around the goat paths until I saw a sign. “TOILET” with an arrow. Ooh! It’s like a scavenger hunt. I jogged in that direction, looking for the throne. Another sign. “TOILET” with another arrow. Bust through those trees, jog in that direction, check every cluster of trees for a hidden shitter. Finally found it, surrounded by trees, maximum alpine privacy. That’s bullshit. I want views. I have no idea why they didn’t perch it on the slope 50ft away so you could enjoy looking at the lookout, which was way too far away for us to get excited. I’m not sure this one will make it to the 50 Classic Craps of Washington. Maybe because of the location and not the views.
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Summer trail with patchy snow

We packed up our snacks and started down the summer trail to the lookout. Through the forest it was melted out, but when we popped out on the south side of the ridge it was snow covered. We kicked steps across mellow slopes up to Tin Can Gap, which was partially melted out, enough for wildflowers! At Tin Can Gap we got our first real look at the lookout, perched atop the south summit. Sweet! We weren’t making great time, so we ditched our original plan of traversing the three summits. Oh well. The ropes and cams were relegated to training weight. God dammit.

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Tricia pulling some nifty moves in the moat

Rather than drop onto the glacier, we stuck with the summer trail. That was our mistake. We expected it to be more melted out, or more snow covered, not the awkward in between we ran into. Decent moats to negotiate, one of which involved a rock that slashed my thumb. It probably needed stitches, it still hasn’t healed, and I’m not sure my thumb will ever be the same shape again. Some steep snow to traverse. Some downclimbing third class scrambles, occasionally with crampons (the worst). Some goats, completely uninterested in us but making us look like slow bumbling fools while they dashed down the fields. And finally, a somewhat melted out trail, surrounded by wildflowers, switchbacking on top of the world. Yes. This is why I was here. I hadn’t been expecting wildflowers! We finally hit a snowfield that took us to the final scramble to the lookout. We had no idea where the ladders were, so we each scrambled a separate path to the top.

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Calvin, Tricia, and Haley on moderate snow

I heard Calvin drop one of his classic F bombs. Shit, this wasn’t the top. There was a huge gulley. The good news was he could see the ladders, and we’re idiots, they were right around the corner. I was stuck on a downclimb, I went a little too far with an overnight pack and realized I was not going to be able to scramble down that I just did. Cal tossed me a rope (“what do you need?” “a #1 cam please!” “no, but here’s a few feet of rope”) which I looped around a small horn to fake-rap myself back to safety. Damn downclimbs.

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Florida downclimbing in crampons…yay!

We scurried around the corner and bam, there were the ladders. Woo! But don’t be deceived, they’re crooked and squeaky with one or two rungs that feel like they’re toast any day now. And the airy step to the third ladder makes you pause for a split second. But once you’re up the third ladder, you’re at the lookout, and it’s time to relax.

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Summer trail!!

The clouds moved in quickly, and we were soon socked in by fog. Total bummer, but hey it makes the lookout more cozy. We hoped it’d clear up in the morning, but until then it was dinner, hot chocolate, alpine cider, mountain trivia (there’s a mountain trivia book up there!) and Haley (still on east coast time) was snoring soundly within 30 minutes.

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“do any of these go” (photo credit: Haley)

The recommended waste disposal at the lookout is literally chuck-a-dook. I explained this in a blog post years ago. It’s the most hilarious method, and more convenient for everyone (besides the environment) than blue bagging. Elegantly explained by a piece of paper pinned to the wall of the lookout, you find a nice flat rock, shit on it, and toss it off into the distance, out yonder over the cliffs where the Glacier Waste Treatment Plant takes care of it (aka the Queest Alb Glacier will hide it until it melts out in 100 years, and then there will be slabby boulders scattered with turds).

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Ladders! Yay!

The lookout had some old fire-spotting tools, emergency water in the “attic,” a bottle of bottom shelf tequila, some old first aid supplies, and summit registers/log books going back to the 70’s. The approach to this peak used to be via the Boulder River Trail, which I think is so freaking cool. It took you to Tupso Pass, then followed the “current” trail to the lookout. Then FR 41 to Tupso Pass was built, and suddenly the hike was only 16 miles round trip, and it became swamped with traffic. Even last year when someone towed the boulders off the road (hence the newly piled dirt on top of the boulders this year) the lookout saw a huge spike in hikers, which was painfully obvious on the WHC Facebook group and quite evident in the summit register when we flipped through it. The huge washout is only 2 miles from the trailhead, but the boulders and dirt block the road 8 or 9 miles back, effectively doubling the distance of the hike A few guys tried the old Boulder River approach, which I’d love to attempt someday when I have a week to dedicate to brutal North Cascades bushwacking. Yuck. There used to be cabins where Gerkman Creek joins Boulder River, so you could hike a ways in and stay in a shelter before continuing on to Tupso Pass and the eventual lookout. The trail was ravaged by logging and now has several decades of Devil’s Club and brush growth, and it sounds like there isn’t much left. I have to wonder if it would be a more interesting hike than walking/biking FR41 if someone were to blaze it and get some foot traffic started up again. Here is a map that shows the old trail to Tupso Pass (where FR41 currently ends).

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Coming up the last stretch to the lookout (photo credit: Haley)

We enjoyed out night of sleep in the lookout, and didn’t even get to meet Alpine Andy, the resident rat. He might be dead, cause I think his legacy started in the 70’s (he was there first!) and I doubt rats live for 40+ years. But we left some crumbs as a sacrifice to Alpine Andy and the mountain gods to forgive us for chucking our dookies onto the glacier.

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View of the North peak in the clouds

In the morning we had another lazy start. I had coffee and felt absolutely amazing 30 minutes later. Is this what I’ve been missing my whole life?! Maybe I should start drinking it. We lit the sparklers Tricia brought that we had forgotten to use the previous night, and started down the ladders in the fog. They’re worse when they’re soaking wet, and the scrambley moves are that much more awkward. Haley wore all gray, which sucked for photos. Come on Haley. Florida is no excuse for all gray.

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Ladders aren’t always easy

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Ask her why she wore gray

We dropped down the snowfield quickly, and found the huge boulder we had scouted out the day before. We figured we could rap down to the glacier and walk across that instead of following the summer trail, which had been a pain in the ass. Cal and I set up a nice double rope rappel, Haley and I went down first to counter balance each other (one on each strand), and Cal and Tricia came next. We pulled the ropes, set up two teams of two, and started across the glacier. Honestly we probably could have downclimbed the talus field, but it was loose and crappy and we had 7 ACLs for 4 people so rapping was easier.

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Wildflowers in the mist

That’s what we should have done on the way up. Take the glacier, not the freaking summer trail. It was an easy walk with some stretches of steep snow, but we kicked a sidewalk for everyone and even found a rogue water bottle from a previous party (which, in hindsight, I think we forgot to pick up. Shit). We were back at Tin Can Gap within a few hours, and carried on to Goat Flats. From there, instead of taking our shortcut back down, we took the Meadow Mountain trail. Tricia is just a few months off ACL surgery, and going down that steep ass shortcut probably would have sent her back to the table. The Meadow Mountain trail wasn’t bad to Saddle Lake, where it got a bit brushy for about an hour. The trail appears to bypass the true summit of Meadow Mountain, but it’s honestly not in terrible shape. I started fighting foot fatigue, and finally Haley and I ditched Calvin and Tricia and said we’d meet them back at the car. 20 minutes after we split up I realized I had just told Tricia to eat her last Gu because I had a bunch she could have (I knew Cal was out), and then I took off leaving them with nothing. So I found a nice log that had fallen across the trail, and left several Gus, some shot blocks, and a packet of advil for whatever pains I imagined they were enduring. “It’ll be like a mile to the road” Calvin had said, which had made me laugh. “A mile and 2500ft of elevation loss, right.”

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Florida remembering how to walk on snow (taking the glacier back to Tin Can Gap)

It was several hours, with a gnarly blowdown that threw all of us off the trail. Haley and I found the shortcut relatively quickly since there’s a strip through the brush leading down to the next switchback (“nothing leaves traces that obvious except for people… it must be to the trail”) but Calvin and Tricia weren’t so lucky. It had occurred to me to maybe leave a rock arrow on the trail or some sign to turn off there to avoid the blowdown, but I’m a lazy asshole.

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Calvin jogging across Goat Flats to get water

“I see the road!!” Haley sounded excited. Meadow Mountain would drop us off on the old road about two miles from our cars, so we wanted to reach the road by dark. But the “road” she saw was a log. Come on, Florida, you’re the one with the good eyesight. Finally she saw the road for real (“shut up I’m not listening until OH MY GOD IT IS THE ROAD!!!”) and we hustled down to it, only to begin the real slog. My feet were killing me in my damn mountaineering boots, and we had a forest road to walk. The cedar tree was the real relief, because it was so freaking cool. I started counting the rings but lost interest at ring #150, which was like 1/3-1/4 of the way across the log, so we lowballed the age at 550 years.  EDIT: Another guy counted the rings and got 745!! A tree that was 745 years old! Hoooooolyyyy Shiiiit. Insane seeing something that massive. I want to cut a slice and make a table out of it.

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Holy shit!! It IS the road!

We got back to the car just before dark, where I pulled out my car camping stuff and we sat down and destroyed a box of cheez its. We placed bets on when Tricia and Calvin would be back. I nailed it with a guess of 10:45. They got back to us and it turned out they had tried to radio and text and everything telling us to just go home, but we hadn’t gotten any of the communication. Oh well, it’s 11pm on a Sunday and I’m lying on a forest road looking at the stars, it could be worse.

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745 years old!! Me for scale (photo credit: Haley)

I bailed pretty quickly. The drive out felt like it took forever. I passed a guy in a flannel on the side of the road just staring off into the dark. People are fucking terrifying. But hey, the trip was awesome, despite the surprisingly long days and abject lack of views at the lookout. There’s a fair bit of history up there, and now that I know the route (aka drop to the glacier if it’s early season or very snowy, it’ll save you SO much time) it’ll be faster next time. I’d love to see how much Goat Flats has been restored since the road closure. I am under the impression it used to be insanely popular, and the goat herds had actually migrated and are just recently returning to the area. It’s amazing that the lookout is kept in such good shape by volunteers, and I love that that’s the case. It’s too bad more lookouts like that one weren’t preserved.

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Tough to be unhappy in such a spectacular place!

So if you have a two day weekend, it’s definitely worth checking out, especially as the trail melts out. The glacier would be a great ski too if it’s early season, and snow might make the approach through the woods easier (if it’s consolidated – powder would be a bitch). There is a limited supply of flat rocks up there for chuckadook though, so get up there while supplies last!

Round Lake

Round Lake

Round Lake

Thoughts on keeping hikes secret? I had a big debate over it on the way back from this hike, which far surpassed my expectations. Yes, I like to share what I love, and I want to inspire everyone else out there to get out of the city and explore a bit. But at the same time, sometimes I come across a pristine, beautiful trail like this, and I’m not sure I want everyone to know. If everyone knows, that means more traffic, more trash, more dogs, more poop, more tents, and less of that remote, in-the-middle-of-nowhere feeling. But you know what? It was damn spectacular, so here it is. If you leave litter or poop or destroy the trail, I swear to god I will haunt your ass (after I passive-aggressively pack out everything you left and complain about it on my WTA trip report). But if you’re up for a challenging hike and are a professional leave-no-trace ninja hiker, put this one on your list. Hiked 5/28/2015.

  • Distance: 11 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 4300ft gain (5600ft highest point)
  • Weather: 60’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30
  • Did I Trip: Yes, on the way down, on the soft trail. Complacency is my fatal flaw
Starting off through green forest

Starting off through green forest

First, I just want to say that I didn’t touch-up any of these photos. None. This is just how it looked. I usually don’t work with any photos I take unless there’s a glaring error. Maybe when I’m bored I’ll play around and see if I can make them look better. But for now, just think how amazing the scenery and colors were.

A few people had bailed on our hike, but we decided screw it, we’re going. I picked up Vernon and we made out way out to the Mountain Loop Highway, where we were either going to hike Vesper Peak (if weather was clear) or Round Lake (if weather wasn’t in our favor). Clouds were still low when we got to the turn-off for Vesper, so we kept right on driving. Little did I know I had forgotten directions to the Round Lake trailhead and had no GPS or phone service to load them, so I whipped out the huge National Geographic map and did some old-school navigation to FR-41, which took us to the trailhead (which we passed several times before finally finding it). So, secret trailhead for a secret trail. Perfect.

Patches of wildflowers

Patches of wildflowers

The drive to the trailhead had already been gorgeous, and the sun was peeking out. It looked like it might clear up after all! We started out, and quickly reached a registration box. With fresh papers. We were the first ones to sign it. First official hikers of the summer season, baby. Beyond the registration stand, the trail was narrow and overgrown with gorgeous, bright green undergrowth and wildflowers and moss. And spiderwebs. I made Vernon go first. He’s not afraid of them. He picked up an entire damn web with a spider in it and said “oh sorry buddy here you go” and placed the web on some leaves off the trail. I’m the opposite. I swing a stick in front of me destroying each and every web in my path because eff that. Spiders, whatever. But build a web in my space and it’s all over.

Entering a Disney movie

Entering a Disney movie

Guys, the hike was already breathtaking. I don’t think I’ve seen so much green in my life. After about half a mile, the trail starts switchbacking uphill through a more open forest (open is debatable – the canopy was still pretty thick). The trail, allegedly unmaintained, is flat and soft and the switchbacks are long and gradual for the most part. You can just barely make out some snowy peaks through the trees, which is just kindling for your appetite for views. I wasn’t sure how long the sun would last, so I was eager to get up onto the ridge.

First glimpse of Sloan and Bedal from an avy chute

First glimpse of Sloan and Bedal from an avy chute

You cross a few avalanche chutes, full of overgrown bushes nearly hiding the trail and previews of the views to come. Some of the bushes are thorny, so be ready for some scrapes (I promise they’re well worth it) and fighting off branches. Entering the avalanche chutes is like walking into a Disney movie: from shady forest to glorious saturated green meadows. It’s like the Wizard of Oz, when everything is suddenly in color. That’s how it felt.

Bingley Gap comes up after about three miles. Supposedly there are views, but we didn’t see many. Clouds were still in and out, and the ridge is fairly forested. We followed the trail to the right, knowing the Lost Creek Ridge trail would take us to Round Lake.

I love ridges. The more exposed, the better, but even forested ones are pretty cool. Trails looks amazing with sheer drops on either side. We were in the trees for a bit, until suddenly we came over a hump and I ran to the left since there was a clearing and I figured we could get views – surprise! Round freakin Lake!

Aptly named, it is quite round

Aptly named, it is quite round

The basin was still covered in snow, and you’ll probably want an ice axe if you’re heading to the lake. I’ve heard good things about Breccia Peak (keep that one secret too guys) and wanted to do some recon in the area to see how feasible it would be. Breccia is the peak on the right behind Round Lake in the picture above. With clouds parting and views opening up, I was eager to continue along the ridge, so that’s what we did. Bailed on the trail and stayed high.

Sloan and Bedal beyond the off-trail slopes

Sloan and Bedal beyond the off-trail slopes

We traversed a few very steep heather slopes, thankful for the ample veggie-belays that held us in place while we were drunk on the views. Sloan and Bedal are right in your face, with Glacier Peak ahead of you on a clear day (we could only see the base unfortunately) and Vesper, Sperry, Twin Peaks, and Big Four off in the distance behind you. Wildflowers were blooming, and I couldn’t believe how good rolling slopes with glacier lilies look with huge white snowy peaks in the backdrop.

Sperry and Vesper in the center (with a glacier!), Twin Peaks right in front of Big Four on the right

Sperry and Vesper in the center (with a glacier!), Twin Peaks right in front of Big Four on the right

Off trail navigation skills are essential for this one. There were a few very old tracks, but with snow conditions so different from when the last people were there, we blazed out own trail. We crossed a few snowy slopes to get to Sunup Lake, and scrambled down to the shore to trek over to the base of Breccia and the unnamed peak next to it. The maps we had recommended heading up to a saddle slightly to the right of Sunup Lake and then wrapping around the back of the ridge to the true summit, but with so little snow on the peak, it looked faster and easier to go straight up the southwest ridge. Still steep, but the path up to the saddle on the map didn’t exactly look like a walk in the park either.

Coming down to Sunup Lake

Coming down to Sunup Lake

Sunup Lake

Sunup Lake

Unfortunately, Vernon was silently suffering some leg cramps at this point, and we ended up turning around just past Sunup Lake. I wasn’t too keen on piggy-backing someone across all the steep slopes we had scaled to get here, and we weren’t about to practice our first aid skills. We scrambled back up to a small knoll along the ridge where we stopped for snacks. Vernon whipped out a foot-long sandwich and was about to take a huge bite when we heard the rumble of thunder across the lake, and I watched the hope and joy and excitement for his sandwich turn to a look of “oh, shit” as I threw my pack back on and said “Yeah that sounds like we should keep moving.” We dropped a little lower, and took a real break halfway across the veggie-belay slopes, where we could snack and look at clouds writhe over Sloan and Bedal. I have no idea how to make the movie a smaller size within WordPress, it always seems to blow them up and ruin the quality. Here’s a link to the youtube video. But check out the time lapse. I know, I know, I need a tripod. God dammit.

Brilliantly colored slopes

Brilliantly colored slopes

After an hour of relaxing on the sunny slope watching the clouds and peaks, we decided it was time to head back down. We couldn’t see the clouds behind Breccia, but they weren’t looking too fluffy or light. Going down always goes faster, and we marveled at how gorgeous the wildflower slopes were in the afternoon sunlight and how we couldn’t wait to be back, even though we were still there. We refilled water at a small stream along the trail, and like I said, it could have been a Disney movie. Or maybe I had died along the trail and this was heaven, I don’t know. Heaven wouldn’t have had thunder or clouds over Glacier Peak, though, and there would have been a five-star steak dinner at the top. With an ocean beach worked in there somehow.

One more pic of the trail

One more pic of the trail

Back in the forest, wait for it – the trail was still amazing. This trail had everything. Small waterfalls, views, old forest, green underbrush, a lake, ridges, slopes covered in wildflowers, slopes covered in snow, ridiculous mountain views. How does no one go here?!

Trail to Sauk Falls

Trail to Sauk Falls

Before I forget, Strava map of our ridge explorations can be found here. Allegedly there’s a path up to Spring Mountain (west along the ridge) as well, but we looked for it on the way up and down and never found it. Maybe the map I had just shows where to navigate off trail. Since it was still light out (sunset at 8:55? The PNW is nuts) when we got back to the car, we made two quick stops at North Fork Sauk Falls and at Whitechuck Overlook. Yes, that’s right, we decided to just drive the entire Mountain Loop Highway. We had come in through Verlot, and left through Darrington. And it was totally worth it. And that extra bit meant we got to skip Seattle traffic. Hell. Yes.

Sauk Falls

Sauk Falls

The falls were spectacular. Seriously, for a hike that’s less than half a mile, you might as well stop. The falls were not very tall, but had an unbelievable volume of water crashing over them. We bummed around the falls for a bit and tried to rescue an abandoned Pepsi can, but the wet mossy rocks proved too tricky for us. White Chuck overlook was neat as well, the mountain was mostly snow free and Vernon picked up some toilet paper and wrappers that someone had left on the ground. Those people are why I want Round Lake to stay secret.

Mt. Pugh from the ridge above Round Lake

Mt. Pugh from the ridge above Round Lake

Here’s the other secret: the Lost Creek Ridge trail goes all the way to Lake Byrne, which is supposed to be one of the most gorgeous areas in Washington. It’s 24 miles round trip, I believe, with around 7000ft of elevation gain. It’s tough to find specific summaries and reports for it. So let’s keep traffic to a minimum, but if you need a short backpacking trip, Byrne is a great candidate. I know I’ll be back. Ideally twice: I want to run that ridge, and I want to spend a few days backpacking in the area. The best thing about living here is how easy it has been to discover new places. I was getting overconfident in my Cascades knowledge, and then this came along. A region I hadn’t touched, mountains I had never seen (Painted Peak, Black Peak, hell there’s a whole Painted Traverse) and that’s just barely scraping the edge of it. There are some pretty big chunks of untouched wilderness out there if you have the time to get there. I always need to remind myself that it’ll still be there in a month, or a year, or a decade. As eager and impatient as I am, I have a whole lifetime to get out there.

One more of green forest

Admiring the green colors

Goat Lake

Foggy peak behind Goat Lake

Foggy peak behind Goat Lake

This one’s a shortie. I had the day off, felt like a trail run, and Goat Lake had been on my list since moving here. It’s funny, a lot of the hikes on my original list now pale in comparison to the things I’ve been discovering, but I still feel a need to at least check them out. Whether it’s for an “easy” day, or so I am more capable of answering customers’ questions, or so  I can say I did it, it doesn’t matter. And this was finally the day to go to Goat Lake. 5/12/2015, and just sayin, it didn’t live up to its name: no goats to be found.

  • Distance: 10.4 miles round trip (to the lake’s outlet)
  • Elevation: 1400ft gain
  • Weather: 40’s and cloudy
  • Commute from Seattle: 2 hours without traffic
  • Did I Trip: Nope (but shout out to my hardship of the day: spiderwebs for lunch)
Upper trail, wide, flat, and green!

Upper trail, wide, flat, and green!

The road was completely clear, and actually didn’t even have many potholes. I followed a jeep most of the way there, until they pulled off by the Gothic Basin trailhead. Last time I tried to do Goat Lake, the gravel part of the Mountain Loop Highway had been unpassable in my Honda Accord due to several inches of snow. As much as I miss that car, I’d have made it to Goat Lake easily that morning in what I have now. I pulled up to the trailhead, only car in the lot as usual, and hopped out with my trail running pack. Soon enough, the jeep pulled up – a couple who wasn’t entirely sure where they were going. I remember when I was like that. I’d be lurking along the highway trying to figure out where the hell to go, and now here I am probably capable of drawing a map of the southern half of the loop from scratch. Who’s a dork?

Okay, now that I had the pressure of other people behind me, time to start running. I usually like to walk the first half mile or so (especially after driving for two hours), but it was straight down to business this time. At least until I was solidly ahead of them. So they wouldn’t see me walk/running. Yeah, I know. Back when I had calf issues, I’d plan my sad recovery runs along main roads that had lots of intersecting dead end streets so no one would see me walking if I had to.

Bleeding hearts!

Bleeding hearts!

I did stop to look at wildflowers and waterfalls, of which there were plenty. Bleeding hearts! They were one of my favorite flowers as a child, and here I was jogging through patches of purple bleeding hearts covering the ground left and right. I took the upper trail on the way to the lake, figuring I’d take the lower one on the way back. The upper trail is much more gradual and well-groomed. It’s an old road, apparently. Think wide, flat, not too rocky or rooty. Until it rejoins the lower trail. Then it gets a little steeper, and a little more rooted. And of course, spiderwebs here and there for your enjoyment. Not.

Small waterfall

Small waterfall

About a half mile from the lake (slightly longer if you follow all of the switchbacks) you can go off-trail to a huge waterfall. I actually missed where the trail turned (I’m far more oblivious on my trail runs than on hikes) and was staring at the waterfall trying to figure out how to get across when I realized the trail probably just goes up to the lake. You can see on the Strava map where I farted around on the way up by the waterfall (I took the switchbacks on the way down).

Getting up to the lake is incredible. The first view you get comes if you sneak through some bushes to the huge log jam, which you can basically hop across right up to the edge of the lake. 10/10 would recommend. You can already see the snowy peaks from there, but I suggest going further along the left side of the lake, where the views are even better. It was mostly cloudy when I was there, but the sun snuck through the clouds for a hot second, and I sprinted to the shore to take a picture.

Foggy peak behind Goat Lake

Foggy peak behind Goat Lake

On the way back, I took the lower trail. I passed the couple in the jeep (“Wait, you already got to the lake?! Wait, you’re RUNNING?? Oh man I’ll never be in shape enough to do that!”) just before where the lower trail and upper trail joined. Ugh, the lower trail had spiderwebs. A plethora of spiderwebs. My caloric intake for the day was probably 15% spiderwebs. You’re welcome, hiker couple, I ate all of them before you got there.

Narrow, windy lower trail

Narrow, windy lower trail

The lower trail is more narrow and windy with much more vegetation, and dips next to the river occasionally. If you like footwork on your runs, take this one instead of the upper trail. It was nice to mix it up, though, and it almost felt like a loop instead of an out-and-back. I was back at the car pretty quickly, and while my splits weren’t amazing, I felt pretty good (maybe the slower pace is why – shh!).

Strava screenshot

Strava screenshot

I can see why this trail gets so much traffic. The water would have been gorgeously clear and blue in the sun, and even in the clouds and wind, it was still spectacular. Something about the wind whipping across the water made me miss the ocean, and I was glad to have the lake all to myself. If you look real hard at Strava, maybe you can see how many time I ran in circles trying to get 10-second-timer selfies on the logjam. Perhaps you’ll have better luck.

10-second-timer log jam selfie

10-second-timer log jam selfie

Boulder River

What to do on a guaranteed rainy day? Where to go? You could say I’m a pessimist. If you set low expectations, you’ll never be disappointed, right? I had no expectations for Boulder River. Boulder River had been on my simple hike list for a few months ever since a buddy recommended it back in December. We had to be back in Seattle by early evening, and it turned out Boulder River was relatively close. And okay, I won’t lie, I might have been sore from Defiance the day before, and the 10 mile runs the two days before that. It was adding up. Zero to sixty, that’s how I do it. So, I present to you, Boulder River. Hiked 3/24/2015, Boulder River is much more than just a stroll along a creek.

Jonathan on a huge old tree stump

Jonathan on a huge old tree stump

  • Distance: 8.6 miles round trip (slightly longer if you take some of the offshoots)
  • Elevation: 700ft gain (1500 highest point)
  • Weather: 40’s-50’s and rainy, cloudy, and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 1:15, until i5 turned into a parking lot, and then the rest of Seattle followed suit
  • Did I Trip: I did not. But Jonathan wiped out trying too hard to be cool crossing a log.
Steep offshoot through green canopy. 10/10 would bivvy at the top

Steep offshoot through green canopy. 10/10 would bivvy at the top

So the road wasn’t quite as exciting as the road to Mason Lake. At least until the way home, but we’ll discuss that later. Accessible to all vehicles, no big potholes, easy road to follow. Trail starts out on an old logging road. Very flat and very wide, and I can see why people trail run it. It’d be a great easy run. It was pouring, so we threw on rain pants and our shells and got started.

Ribbon falls

Ribbon falls

Within a mile I was already impressed. The trail curves to the left, and there’s a steep offshoot to the right that just goes straight up into a green canopy of trees. Of course, we followed. At this point, my camera died, so you’re stuck with phone photos from here on out. I know. Oops. (Side note – gonna plug in my camera for tomorrow’s hike!) Shortly after that offshoot, we found a few campsites near the trail, and just beyond those, a waterfall!

A tall, thin ribbon of water cascading down the opposing cliff, with moss on either side. You hear it before you see it. We ooh-ed and ahh-ed and stared, and finally kept moving. Again, we heard rushing water. Louder than the river. Wait. No way. Glimpses through the trees.

Double waterfall. Jonathan for scale.

Double waterfall. Jonathan for scale.

Another waterfall!! A double waterfall! Are you kidding me, I thought we’d just be walking next to a calm flat river, not trekking through rainforest with 80 foot tall waterfalls. Damn, Washington. You never cease to amaze me.

We stopped to take a bunch of pictures and just sit in awe. Waterfalls… are totally cool. I haven’t seen one this big since my road trip out here this summer. We finally dragged ourselves away.

Salmonberry, I believe!

Salmonberry, I believe!

Flowers were starting to bloom along the trail – salmonberry, huckleberry, skunk cabbage. Two of those will be great to eat later this year. The moss was unbelievable, and if it’s this green in March, I have to wonder how it is later in the summer. It’s accessible year-round, though my friend who recommended it said it was actually icy when he was there. Snow and icicles. I can’t imagine.

There were a couple blow-downs to get over, and some tree caves to explore. And plenty of small babbling creeks crossing the trail. Wear waterproof boots, folks. Jonathan almost lost one of his mid height boots in a mud puddle, it was that deep.

Glimpse of sun!

Glimpse of sun!

I had no issues in my new La Sportiva Synthesis – shameless plug because they won the Editor’s choice award in Backpacker Magazine, and I was fortunate to receive a pair for testing thanks to Goretex. I don’t have a big sample size, but they’re the most breathable waterproof boots I’ve ever tried. No sweaty feet, and the water that did spill over the edges occasionally actually dried up. Which is insane. Usually I just keep hiking with water in my boots. It’s going to be tough going back to my usual pair, but when it comes to steep, icy, snowy terrain, I stick with my stiffer boots. The Synthesis is very flexible, which is great for lighter hikes (I was carrying around 20 lbs in my pack) but I don’t know if I’d push it on more technical trails. Though I will say (from Defiance a day earlier) the soles grip snow surprisingly well. I was having a much easier time without microspikes than Lee in her Oboz when we were on fresh snow. So we’ll see just how much of a beating these guys can take.

Trail winding through mossy trees

Trail winding through mossy trees

Anyway, back to the awesome trail. Flat, well groomed, besides the mud patches that almost stole Jonathan’s boot. We were curious how the trail would end. Would it just peter out? Did it turn into the river and just stop? Or did it keep going? We eventually reached an area with a campsite next to the river (prime time real estate), and the trail ended just beyond it. Just turned into overgrown brush. It used to carry on to Three Fingers long ago.

Jonathan disappearing into green

Jonathan disappearing into green

Most of you know I turned into a trail history nerd. I know none of it, but want to learn all of it. I posed my question in my trip report, and got two fantastic responses. The trail was the main trail to the Three Fingers lookout until they put in Forest Road 41 back in the 1960’s. From there on out, the Boulder River trail was unmaintained beyond where you ford the river itself. Obi Tony Kenobi actually tried to bushwack up to the bottom of a waterfall from the Queest-Alb Glacier, and has a pretty cool trip report about the stretch between where the Boulder River Trail ended and where he had to turn around. There even used to be a cabin near Gerkman Creek, which joins Boulder River a few miles upstream of the current trail. It’s eerie to think how popular it must have been, while it’s completely abandoned and wild now.

Blow down on the trail

Blow down on the trail

So that’s Boulder River for you. Some neat history, second growth forests, logging roads, abandoned trails, awesome waterfalls, soon-to-be-berries, a flat green hike. Absolutely would repeat. We got a few glimpses of sun, and it turns out it’s a gorgeous hike in any weather. Strava map here, you can see the few offshoots we took that added a bit to the mileage.

Oh, and on the way out, we got this great picture of my new car. I was taking pictures through the windshield until Jonathan just said “wait, you’ll love this” (I had been snapping pictures of my car at the trailhead) and hopped out to snag this pic. Photo credit to Jonathan Lee, with Subtledream Photography.

Bring on the mountains!

Bring on the mountains!

Heather Lake

Back to the very first hike I did in Washington! I did it with Pattra and our mothers back in August (pre-blog era) and today had the chance to repeat it on a sunny day. Given how close it is to Seattle and how short it is, I’m surprised it isn’t more popular. But let’s keep it a secret, because I like solitude at the lake. Hiked 3/10/2015 – maybe I found solitude because it’s a Tuesday.

Heather Lake

Heather Lake

  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation: 1024ft gain, 2400 highest point
  • Weather: 30’s and sunny to high 50’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: just over an hour, like 1:15
  • Did I Trip: I nearly ate it like 20ft from the parking lot on the way back (so technically no)

Jonathan didn’t want to do anything too ambitious, so I let go of my dream of hiking Green Mountain or Goat Lake and suggested Heather Lake, a much closer, short hike that I’ve been meaning to revisit for a while now. And I’m glad that’s what we ended up doing.

Enormous tree stump! Over 6ft tall

Enormous tree stump! Over 6ft tall

The road has a few potholes, which are even more noticeable in his 1989 honda civic than in my old Accord. But the Heather Lake trailhead is close to the highway, and shortly we were hopping out of the car getting out stuff together. I forgot to start the Strava app, so this will have to go without a map.

The trail is straightforward. There were a few fallen trees and some slick rocks, but nothing unmanageable. What struck me was how much less green it was compared to August! “Duh,” you might be saying, but I had started to assume that Washington just never had winter. It was still damn green, don’t get me wrong. But in August, it was mind blowingly green and alive. Or maybe I was just more impressed back then because I was new, and now my standards have risen.

I did learn that there’s a name for things like the stump to the left that has trees growing out of it. “Nurse logs!” Any sort of log that’s giving life to new trees, and there were plenty of those on this hike. Most of which were huge, like over 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide huge.

Snack rock of choice

Snack rock of choice

We were at the lake surprisingly soon, and decided to stop for a snack. Last time I was here, I went left to hte closest “beach” and stopped there. So this time, we went right. Turns out, the trail goes all the way around the lake! With plenty of offshoots to explore, rocks to climb, and views of the lake. We set up on a rock next to the water first, took a few pictures, and had snacks. When the sun slipped behind one of the peaks, the temperature dropped a good ten degrees and we had to get moving again.

Sliding on the ice

Sliding on the ice

We walked around to the back of the lake. The shady side. The winter side! This half was frozen, enough that we could walk on it. I’ll never suggest that you try it, but I’m allowed to be young and reckless on occasion. We slid around, taking pictures and skating on our shoes and marveling at the air bubbles trapped in the ice. My inner 5 year old was having a freaking blast. Winter!! Or as close as you can get here. Should have brought my skates!

The cracks I made...

The cracks I made…

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end: half an hour later, with the sun coming out from behind the peak again, we were 20 feet from shore and heard that odd ringing noise that ice makes when a crack shoots through it. And again. And I looked down, and the crack was between my boots. Wait. Shit. GREAT. I froze. And then shuffled backwards. We figured that was a good sign to get back to land.

Another frozen area with rocks strewn everywhere

Another frozen area with rocks strewn everywhere

If you look closely at the picture of Jonathan sliding, you can see that the lower foot of the rocks is brown. I’m guessing this is the water line. As in, the water is usually a foot higher. Here’s a slightly better picture to show it.

Water level lower than usual, according to the rocks

Water level lower than usual, according to the rocks

All speculation, but it would explain all the still pools and lack of streams cascading down the mountain. It was far more wet in August, which I didn’t expect. To be fair, it was raining when we went back then, but that shouldn’t make that much of a difference with stream depth since it was a single rainy day, not a week of rain.

Fish!! In the center, just above the bigger rock in the foreground. Tough to see, but I tried.

Fish!! In the center, just above the bigger rock in the foreground. Tough to see, but I tried.

There are a few campsites around the lake, and like I said, keep it a secret because it’s got to be an amazing place to camp. Just over an hour from Seattle, and two miles to be in the middle of the mountains near a gorgeous blue lake? Jeez. We had round 2 of snacks and sandwiches and headed back down the trail. We stopped to grab some water from a stream, but returned to the parking lot faster than we were on the way up. We spent probably two hours at the lake, making the round trip something like 4-5 hours.

Could be a summer pic but nope - March!

Could be a summer pic but nope – March!

But I mean we had a winter lake and a summer lake both in one, so of course it took us a while. I could have freaking swam in the summer half, it was that warm.

Frost flowers!

Frost flowers!

Oh! Frost flowers!! I forgot about the frost flowers! Ahh! I’ve never seen anything like them in my life. I’ll try not to bombard you with pictures, but they were these unbelievably delicate ice formations that were maybe the size of a quarter at most. Somehow, petals and everything had formed. Incredible. I got a few pictures of some individuals, but they were everywhere in this one shady area. Very cool.

Guys, this is a great hike. Seriously, I’m amazed at how much I like it, because it’s short, simple, and close to Seattle, and that’s not usually my style. But if you need a quick excursion, or the knees are hurting, or you have kids to take along, you’ve got to check this one out. It’s like lake-22-lite, and more secret, especially this time of year.

However, hikers beware! Mosquito season has begun, apparently. I’ve been told that compared to summers in Maine, bugs out here aren’t a problem at all. But I’ll be the judge of that. Mosquitoes don’t really show any interest in me, but Jonathan dealt with a few on the hike down. And if they’re starting this early… ugh. The water levels in the lake were very low and the streams we passed were barely flowing, meaning lots of stagnant pools. Aka mosquito heaven. Have fun, folks. Get that cancer-causing 100% deet and go to town.

Sun hitting part of the lake

Sun hitting part of the lake

Bonus picture below: view from where I stood in August, except sunnier with more color. I was told there would be tons of snow melting around the lake in the spring (even the wta page has snow in the background) but not this year! Hopefully in a bit I’ll be able to scrounge a picture up from August so you can all see how different it is. I forget how amazing lakes are in the sunlight.

Unreal color, same place where I stood back in August

Unreal color, same place where I stood back in August