Searching for Solitude at Snow Lake

Searching for Solitude at Snow Lake

By: Shelby November 29, 2014 10:00 am 0 comments

Snow Lake is one of the most popular hikes in all of Washington, and definitely the most popular to visit in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. It’s been on my list for a while now, but the reports of thick crowds always kept me away. However, on the slow, quiet first of November, we decided it would be a good idea to hike this one, while everybody else nursed their Halloween hangovers. Our idea was actually pretty good, because we were granted with a good amount of solitude. There were maybe 20 cars in the vast upper parking lot when we arrived, which still felt like a lot to me, and more cars were parking as we put on our boots and slung our backpacks over our shoulders.

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The trail starts from the Alpental Ski Area parking lot and climbs fairly quickly from the trailhead, like all trails seem to do, but soon levels out and follows along the ridge through boulder fields and stays level (or just climbs less noticeably) until almost 2 miles in. when the trail passes by the Source Lake overlook turnoff. It’s there that the switchbacks begin, and a real thigh-burner they are, especially on the slippery, uneven, rocky trail. Waterfalls torrented down the mountainside above us and the flaming oranges and yellows still clung to the foliage we passed by.

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I quickly stripped off my layers (duh, because you get hot when you hike and are wearing layers meant for snow…) and we powered up the hill to the saddle of Snoqualmie mountain and crossed over into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I always get a little giddy seeing those signs; passing those signs and into the designated wilderness feels almost like passing into Narnia.

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We passed over the ridge and descended down into the lake basin. The temperature dropped maybe 10 degrees instantly and it was clear the ridge was protecting us from the wind before. I was surprised to catch the first glimpse of the lake immediately as we began our descent, through the trees and far below us. We wound back down along the ridge towards the lake shore. This part of the trail was better because it didn’t wind through a boulder field. It’s sadly been a few months since we last went for a serious hike, so my feet were quickly growing weary of the uneven trail surface. We made it down to the swampy meadows and crossed over bubbling streams that were rushing down to the lake. There were voices chattering all around us, belonging to the water, the birds, and all the other hikers that were joining us for the day.

We made our way past the ruins of an old stone cabin, complete with a nice fireplace. How long had it been there? Who put it there? There was no sign, so we were left to wonder. We trekked our way to what was almost an island in the lake, put our camp chairs together, and settled in to watch the fog roll in over the lake. Snow Lake has plenty of beautiful overlooks along its shore, and as our eyes dragged through the trees, we saw people perched every few dozen feet, all there for the same show.

There was no snow even though the forecast called for snow. Waah.

A gray jay bounced around us, strongly hinting that we should throw a few bits of trail mix its way as it picked up rocks and threw them around. If any bird has mastered the art of puppy dog eyes, it’s the gray jay. But, we relented, much to its chagrin, and it bounced along the shore to the other groups of hikers that may be more into sharing snacks.

After sitting in the constant barrage of wind and fog for a few minutes, it got cold. We wanted to explore the Source Lake overlook that we passed by on our way up. We quickly climbed back up to the saddle, where now crowds of people were gathering. We noticed a small trail going up on higher up the ridge to what looked like an overlook. There were tons of people sitting up on a boulder up there, so we decided to continue on down to our next destination.

We hiked to Snow Lake and to the Source Lake overlook. We were dumb and didn’t realize that the Source Lake overlook trail is actually the original Snow Lake trail… I was expecting just a sort of out-and-back hike.. because we hiked without a map! Don’t do that.

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As we were making our way back down the ridge towards the Source Lake Overlook junction, I was happy that we didn’t come on a more popular hiking day. The crowds were slowly trudging up as we were darting down the rocky trail, and even with relatively few people for such a popular trail, we had to wait quite a while at some of the many choke points. I can’t even imagine what it would be like on a nice summer day.

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The first glimpse of the lake coming over the ridge

The first glimpse of the lake coming over the ridge

We started hiking up to Source Lake, and here is where I wish we had a map. We weren’t sure how far the trail went, or even where Source Lake was. We passed by a small pond and I thought “that can’t be it.” We kept hiking up through a boulder field, and the trail became less of a trail and more of an unmaintained bootpath. Soon we were climbing under and over overgrown bushes, until the trail eventually fizzled out, or so it seemed. We were left high up on the boulders, looking back down over that small pond. “Oh, that must actually be it,” we thought. A tiny old woman came charging up the trail, and she obviously knew where she was going. She said, yes, the unmaintained trail continues on up, and it sure is pretty up there. “Next time,” we thought… and decided we really didn’t want to scramble up. Basically, that small trail we saw up at the saddle was the trail we were currently on. So maybe it would have been smart to avoid the crowds and take that way. But, again, we didn’t have a map, so we didn’t know. And that’s the story of the last time we’ll go off on a random trail without a map!

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When we finished the hike, the gigantic parking lot was maybe a quarter of the way full. I read trip reports describing people having to park down the road because the lot was so full. I can’t even imagine doing this hike with that many people. Already having 4 or 5 loud, massive groups was too much for me. I guess I’m just not a people person? I guess if I want to see the most popular hikes, I’ll have to stick with doing them on the unpopular days.

Also, I feel like I’ve complained about other people too much in this post. I also feel like the photos are really unorganized. I had a hard time narrowing down the photos… there were a ton more I didn’t post. I just felt like a lot of them were majestic. Oh well. I hope you enjoyed this post anyway.

Northwest Forest Pass required.

Directions to Snow Lake: From Seattle, take exit 52 off I-90. Cross under the freeway and continue to Alpental Ski Area. There is a huge parking lot past the cabins.

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Grey Jays possess the puppy dog eyes of the bird world

Grey Jays possess the puppy dog eyes of the bird world

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Source Lake

Source Lake

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One of the many waterfalls coming down the mountain

One of the many waterfalls coming down the mountain

Now I can't wait for winter

Now I can't wait for winter

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