Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hiking to Snoqualmie Lake

LkSnoqCamp.jpgCampsite at Snoqualmie Lake by Kathryn Ponio

We've already shared the first half of this hike with you when we posted about our trek to Otter Falls. That hike got us curious about what lay beyond. What would it be like to keep going? Keep walking past Otter Falls, past Big Creek Falls. Keep walking until you nearly reach the end of the Taylor River Valley and then climb the 1400 feet up to Snoqualmie Lake. Seems easy enough. On a map the lake looks to be only a few miles further up the trail from Otter Falls. What would that be? Seven or eight miles, tops? That's no big thing. Easy.

For us, it wasn't so easy. We set off from the trailhead a little later than we'd planned last Friday--about two hours later actually. Though, we didn't think much of it. We were excited. For the rest of the weekend we'd be relaxing in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. We'd go fishing. We'd sit around the campfire laughing with friends. Maybe we'd go for a swim, if the lake wasn't too cold.

As mentioned, the majority of this trail is fairly broad with little elevation gain. It's a leisurely stroll through a densely wooded valley. Occasionally, the trees move aside, allowing views of the Taylor River and the surrounding mountains. There are streams, waterfalls, and plenty of spots for dogs to cool themselves off and grab a drink.

About halfway down the main trail, it started raining. Softly at first, but as we got closer to the side trail to Otter Falls, it became a full-on downpour, the kind of rain we almost never see in Seattle. It wasn't long before we were soaked to the bone and we still had about four miles of hiking ahead of us.

At roughly five and a half miles, our party came to a sign pointing uphill. Snoqualmie Lake, two miles. That's it? Only two more miles and we'd be setting up camp and gathering wood for a fire. We knew the sun was supposed to set at 7:50 p.m. We knew we only had about an hour before then. But it's only two miles.

As the trail crisscrossed its way up the mountain, we felt we'd definitely make it. It wasn't long, however, before it got steep and our leisurely stroll became an exercise in not slipping on the wet rocks and muddy slopes. Our friend called out that we had twenty minutes before sunset and that we'd better hoof it. We hoofed it as best as we could, but we were sopping wet and getting more exhausted as the sky became darker by degrees.

Still thinking we had to be near the top, but not really knowing, we donned our headlamps, for it would soon be completely dark. We trudged along, putting one foot in front of the other, headlamps beaming a few feet in front of us at the rocks, the mud, the streams of water running across the trail from the heavy rain. Before long, it became impossibly dark as the clouds overhead horded for themselves any amount of moonlight that might be up there.

We lost the trail. After helping each other down a large boulder, we looked around with our lamps and all we could see were rocks. All we could hear was water as the source of the Taylor River rolled down the mountain ahead of us. We climbed back up the boulder, back to the trail and looked the other direction. More rocks. More water. We were wet, cold, tired, and frankly, a little pissed off. We turned back the way we'd come to find a place for our tents.

We didn't have to backtrack too far before we found a spot that would work. Our friends set up their tent on one side of the trail, a spot between two trees, just flat enough that they wouldn't slide down the mountain. We set up on the other side of the trail, mere inches from a small stream running downhill. There wouldn't be a fire this night, or dinner for that matter. After some cereal bars and a bit of whiskey, we climbed into our sleeping bags to warm up. Didn't sleep much that night.

In the morning, we packed up and finished the hike. When we got to the place where we'd lost the trail the night before, we could see why. The trail itself runs atop a rocky stream, and is marked only by a few small cairns and a bit of pink ribbon. In about half an hour, we made it to the top and to Snoqualmie Lake.

Once we made camp, the rest of our Labor Day Weekend was a blast. A little wet at times, sure, but we had occasional sun breaks and it never rained for very long. If you plan to build a fire up here (it's allowed, as Snoqualmie Lake is below 4000 feet), come prepared with fire starters and a willingness to scramble under rocks and downed trees looking for the dry stuff.

Getting there: Take I-90 to Exit 34, just east of North Bend. At the exit, turn left onto 468th Ave SE. Turn right at SE Middle Fork Rd (NF-56) and follow it about 12 miles. You'll come to a bridge crossing the Taylor River, and following that, a junction where NF-56 veers right. Continue straight another half mile to a small parking lot where you'll find the gate, the foot bridge, and the trailhead. Northwest Forest Pass required. Fill out a permit slip at the trailhead.

Annabelle at Snoqualmie Lake by Kathryn PonioLkSnoqAnnabelle.jpg

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