A Weekend of Frozen Lakes

A Weekend of Frozen Lakes

By: Shelby January 12, 2017 10:00 am 112 comments

In our resolution to make it outside more frequently, we decided to spend the first full weekend of the year doing just that. It’s been exceptionally cold recently in the Puget Sound region, so getting out has been interesting. We had painfully beautiful weather all week, which led to a lot of pining for the freshly snow-covered mountains that stood up razor-sharp against the clear sky. Though of course, as Friday gave way to the weekend, the clouds rolled in, and everything became grey again. That’s January in Seattle.

With the extended cold, Greenlake has frozen over almost completely. This is apparently extremely rare, having happened only a handful of times over the past century. Of course we had to see this, and we’ve been neglecting our training for our upcoming runDisney 10k (next weekend!! Aaah!), so we headed over to run a lap around the lake.

It was certainly a sight to see. There were plenty of people out throwing ice out onto the lake to see it break, taking pictures, and laughing at the geese who were supremely confused. My phone died basically immediately from the cold temperatures when I took it out of my pocket after my run, so I didn’t get any really great photos of the day. Womp womp.

very confused geese

my phone died right after this

It wasn’t really much of an adventure, but it was still fun to get out and see the rare occurrence on a nice day in the rest of Seattle!

On Sunday, we wanted to take it kind of easy, while still getting some miles in the snow, so I chose Heather Lake. It’s only an hour from home, a thousand foot climb, and 4 miles long, so it seemed like a good candidate. It’s also a safe hike when the avalanche danger in the mountains is high, which it was. Rain was threatening to roll into the area and winds would pick up sometime during the day. This is an incredibly popular hike in the summer, so we would normally avoid it, but it seemed safe to do under the less-than-pristine conditions we were experiencing.

We hit the road an hour later than anticipated, so I was a little worried what the parking situation would be like when we got there. It wasn’t a big deal though, thankfully. There were maybe 10 cars in the parking lot, so we easily found a spot. As we were getting our boots and backpacks on, a pair of men had just come back to the parking lot. We asked them if we needed snowshoes up at the top, and they said no, so we left them in the car rather than carry them on yet another trail we wouldn’t need them on. We put on our microspikes and hit the trail.

Second-growth forest

It was so nice getting back out and doing actual hiking. We hadn’t done any notable hiking since October, and it was odd being on such a familiar-feeling trail while it was covered in snow and ice. In previous seasons, we’ve tended to avoid the snow and ice because we lacked the proper gear. Those days are over now! We own layers upon layers of wool clothes, microspikes, snowshoes, gloves galore… now there’s no excuse not to get out there before late spring!

We quickly blasted up the trail, passing hikers here and there. Though the trail was solid ice in some parts, our microspikes made hiking as easy as walking on a sidewalk. Except for the time when I said “wow microspikes make ice so easy” and then I fell as I finished the sentence.

So much of the trail was solid ice

We climbed and climbed, and right as I was about ready to start stripping off some layers beyond my hat and gloves, we had reached the top and the trail had mostly flattened out. The snow was piled high but the trail was packed down and easy to follow. It was now clear that we were nearing the lake basin.

our first peek of the lake

The first view of the lake actually took my breath away. It was way more spectacular than I was expecting! The monochrome of the day still managed to highlight every detail of the lake and mountain wall behind it. The ridge cut away sharply against the sky, despite blending in with it in the incoming clouds. The wind and rain were starting as we got down to the frozen shore.

We found a solid and flat spot at the edge of the lake and threw down our waterproof blanket to drink our hot tea that we hiked up with us. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but our Contigo travel mugs are simply amazing. We made tea at 8am and at noon it was still too hot to drink. We had to take the lids off to let the icy blast of wind cool it down for a second. The hot tea was amazing to have up at the top. We were able to sit and enjoy the peaceful views for a long time before the rain finally forced us to get up. Unfortunately, because of the rain, I had to put my camera in my backpack to protect it.

Obligatory pano

Mountain pose in the mountains

our one blurry selfie

We made it back down in about 45 minutes, almost running down the ice-laden trail in our microspikes. Spenser listened to The Hobbit audiobook and I pondered the future of our public lands that I have fallen so deeply in love with and that we were enjoying so much right at that moment. In the midst of those thoughts, I was happy to run into each and every hiker coming up to enjoy the trail as I was. The fate or our public lands hangs in limbo right now, but I’ll leave that another post on another day.

Microspikes are amazing!

After the hike, we ate at Playa Bonita, our favorite restaurant in Granite Falls. You might not think that there’s great Mexican food out there, but this place is legit, especially after a hike!

Northwest Forest Pass required.

Total distance: 4.15 miles
Total elevation gain: 1034 feet
Total hiking time: 2 hours

Directions: from Granite Falls, follow the Mountain Loop Highway to the Verlot Ranger Station, and turn right up the Pilchuck Access Road to the Heather Lake trailhead.

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