trip reports

September 20, 2012

Snow Lake

Location: Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Snoqualmie Pass, Washington
Distance: 8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,500 ft

Snow Lake is located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness northwest of Seattle. The trailhead is not far off I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass in a snow resort area. (This would prove to be useful at the end of the hike later in the day.)

I was attending a design conference in Cle Elum with two others from Portland and we decided to head out a day early to take advantage of being in the Washington Cascades. We had planned to hike at Mount Rainier, but a road closure on the eastern side of the mountain made for a change in plans. I’d never been in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, but had seen hike descriptions and photos of the area, so I spent a bit of time researching the options. Snow Lake is the first of many lakes in the area, and it is a hike that can be done as a day hike rather than needing to backpack in, so I chose this hike.

As soon as we arrived in the parking lot at the trailhead, we were surrounded by ridges of mountains all around us. The hike starts out fairly easy with steps built into the hillside, then begins to cross several rock slide areas and small creeks. When we stopped for a water break, I discovered that I had left my water bottle in the car. Fortunately, I had just started keeping a water filtration system that we had purchased several years ago in my backpack just in case I should ever need it, so it came in handy and I filled it with water from one of the creeks. I’ve never had to use a filter on a hike before, so this was a good chance to learn how to use it.

There were several large wildfires to the east and north of this location, and the s

moke was in the air all the way to the top, then cleared out when we reached the lake side.

After 1-1/2 to 2 miles, the trail switchbacks up the rest of the way to the top of the mountain. Most of the trail was very rocky, so it’s slow going. Instead of staying in the forest the entire way like most hikes that I go on, this one is in the open with views to the surrounding mountains and valley below.

At the top, a small area of rocks leads around to a view down to Snow Lake. There are many places to stop and rest, which we did for a bit before heading down another 1/2 mile to the lake. The old crumbling remains of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) shelter are close to the edge of the lake. During the 1930s, after the Great Depression, the CCC built shelters throughout the Pacific Northwest in the mountains.

Once at the lake, we could see that in spite of the 80+ degree heat of the day, there is indeed snow at Snow Lake. The area is quite beautiful with tall evergreens and views of craggy mountains in the distance. We didn’t see many wildflowers or huckleberries, and the fall color was just beginning, but the views were breathtaking anyway.

On the way back, we stopped at a rock slide where someone pointed out to us that there were pikas in the rocks. We all stood for a few minutes until one came out and posed for us. They kind of look like a rabbit-hamster.

We took longer than we anticipated to complete the hike, and on the way out, it was getting dark so we had to use our headlamps to hike out. The smoke affected the colors in the sky and a crescent moon had a reddish hue as we were leaving. We we returned to the car, the battery was dead, so being in a resort area came in very handy. We were able to get the battery jumped by someone working at one of the lodges near the parking lot.