Backpacking the Foss River Valley

Backpacking the Foss River Valley

By: Shelby December 29, 2013 3:12 pm 1 comment

This August, after trying for weeks and weeks to plan a trip with our friend and coworker, Roman, we finally nailed down a weekend. We set off after work on Friday for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, just outside of Skykomish, WA and when we arrived at the trailhead at about 8:45, it was already dark in the forest. It took us a long time to find the trailhead from the road. The mountain road forked numerous times, and the map was hard to read, and Roman may or may not have led us astray once or twice. But, we all made it in one piece, donned our headlamps, and hiked off into the darkness.


We found the campsites a mile and a half in and fumbled around in the darkness to try to find a couple of good spots, and by 11:30, our camps were set up and we were passing around a flask of whiskey. After a long day of working and hiking, I slept pretty great that night in the warm weather. Also, on this trip, I was trying out my new backpack for the first time. I recently upgraded to the Osprey Aura 65 pack from the 50, and was amazed at the improvement. I loved the bottom zipper sleeping bag compartment, which the 50 didn’t offer. Plus, I carried about 30lbs and it felt like half that on my back and hips. I love this pack.

We started the morning at about 7:30, with some Trader Joe’s instant coffee and (rather unsuccessful) fishing, followed by the most championy breakfast of champions a champion ever championed: eggs, bacon, bread, and sausage. It was all quite heavenly and fun until we started our hike uphill and realized how densely it was sitting in our bellies. Note to self: lighter breakfast next time. The hike up to Copper Lake was an arduous 2.5 mile uphill battle on a very rocky trail. Spenser and I felt a bit like Frodo and Sam trying to find their way through Emyn Muil. Luckily, as you climb through the valley, it turns more into Rivendell. At one point we stopped to admire a waterfall that was far across the valley. Oh, how pretty, we said. Then, as we kept hiking, we realized we’d be hiking to the top of that far-off waterfall. Mild panic attacks ensue. The worst part wasn’t the climb itself, but the fact that most of the trail was exposed to the sun. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it got a little uncomfortable. It was nice being able to see the whole surrounding valley and each tree that was starting to turn colors for the coming fall.

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And right as we felt like we were really starting to drag our feet, something magical happened: wild blueberries were suddenly everywhere along the trail. I ate so many of them on the way up that my hands and lips turned purple, but they were the perfect pick-me-up! We made it to Copper Lake shortly after that, and I unloaded my camp chair and parked myself by a blueberry bush while we waited for Roman and his friends to arrive.

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Roman’s friends continued on up the trail towards Big Heart Lake, another couple of miles in, but we decided to go back about a half mile and take the trail to Lake Malachite.


Lake Malachite was a crazy slog up 120 feet in about that many feet. The trail up to it from the main trail is only a tenth of a mile, but it feels like the climb is all at once. It was worth it, though. The lake is gorgeous, with really clear blue water and dramatically backed by the sheer mountain wall. We crossed the logjam at its mouth and found a good spot to relax. I hung up the hammock while Roman and Spenser fished. I fell asleep reading some Game of Thrones, and after a while, it got pretty frigid from the wind funneling in over the lake and off the icy wall back to us, so we hiked back down.

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Malachite Peak

Malachite Peak

Copper Lake Logjam

Lake Malachite Logjam

Lake Malachite

Lake Malachite

I worked up such a sweat on the hike down that jumping into Trout Lake seemed like a great idea. I mean, it’s still summer, so why not? Sure, I jumped into the lake, and about 3 seconds later jumped out. It perked me up right quick. A nap may have taken place before dinner too.

Dinner was what we were most excited about, I think. But really, I suppose that’s usual for camping trips. Roman had been planning a grand feast, and hiked in foods one wouldn’t have normally backpacked with. It was basically the best post-hike meal ever conceived, with pasta, pesto sausage, basil, tomatoes, pesto, garlic, parmesan – YUM.

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The next morning the hike out was quick and easy. A mile and a half always seems shorter in the day than at night. I also love hiking out during the day after I’ve hiked in at night. It’s always amazing to me how different the world seems then. There’s always something new to discover. The Foss River Valley is incredibly beautiful, and was actually pretty busy that weekend, which surprised me. As we hiked out on Sunday morning, the parking lot was buzzing with people about to begin their hikes in.
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leaving the campsite

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Dry Creek bed

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Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Difficulty: Moderate
Northwest Forest Pass required
Directions: Drive US 2 east to the small town of Skykomish. Continue east for 1.9 miles (passing the Forest Service ranger station), and turn right onto Foss River Road (Forest Road 68). Continue for 4.7 miles (the pavement ends at 1.1 miles), turning left onto FR 6835. Follow this road for 1.9 miles to its end and the trailhead (elev. 1550 ft).
Google Directions

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