Talapus - Mason Lakes Loop

     This is a close to Seattle loop I have been meaning to do for years. I have done all the trails but never in one day. I was accompanied by Suzanne, Joe, and John. We decided to do the loop counter clockwise, starting at the higher Talapus Lake trailhead. We left one car at the Mason Lake trailhead and drove up to the other. There were only half a dozen cars at the Talapus lot which is very low for a Sunday morning. There are usually a lot of overnighters at the lakes since they are close to town and the trail is so easy. After our car jockeying we were on our way at about 8:40. The morning was cloudy and cool. That is the perfect weather for some fast hiking. This group was in no mood to dawdle. The trail begins on an old road and it soon turns to trail. This trail was rebuilt years back at a very gentle grade. I expected to be a little worn out after my hike to Summerland the day before but the cool temperature had me feeling great. Part way up we met a trail maintenance group filling in a muddy stretch. It was about the only muddy section left after years of improvements. We crossed the creek and soon were at Talapus Lake.

     At this elevation we were moving into the clouds. A few sun breaks shone down but it was mostly gray. The trail climbed above the lake and we soon reached the junction at the creek. Right crossed the creek and went up to the Pratt Lake Trail. Left headed up the valley to Olallie Lake. Right would work but I chose to go left. We reached the lake and continued along the side. At the end of the lake we headed up the slope to the Pratt Lake Trail. Once on the trail we turned to the left. The trail soon reached the open spot with views down to Olallie Lake and south to Mt. Rainier. Only the cap of the mountain was visible through the clouds. A short break here was well worthwhile as magically the clouds disappeared. A few moments later Mt. Rainier was crystal clear.

     We continued nearly level and the ridge above came down to us. Where the two met was the intersection with the Defiance Trail. The Pratt Lake Trail headed down the back of the ridge and our trail continued along the top. Pratt Mountain was soon visible with no clouds near its top. The trail contours around Pratt Mountain high above Olallie Lake and then Talapus Lake. The main focus of this trip was berries and the first berry bushes we passed were disappointingly bare. The trail swung around to the west and climbed higher. At the peak we could just see Island Lake across the valley. From here the way was downhill. We dropped into what I call "Rainbow Meadows". The area around Rainbow Lake turns all shades of orange when the leaves change color. This day they were still green. As we neared the lake berries appeared. It was not as good as some years but I was able to eat my fill.

     Once at the lake I had lunch and laid back for a rest on my favorite rock which juts out into the lake. The dogs were anxious to go swimming and spent lots of time in the water. The sky was now clear and it was probably in the mid 60s. Perfect weather to lounge around the lake. I could have spent the rest of the day there but my compatriots had other things to do this day so we headed on. While I hike to Rainbow Lake at least once a year I have only hiked the trail between Rainbow and Mason a few times. It climbs up in meadows, passes an unnamed lake and then drops steeply down. We next reached the junction with the Mason Lake Trail and turned left. The lake is close by. At the lake we met the first hikers since the trail maintenance crew in the first mile. It was unusual to only see one party at the lake. From the lake we had one last short climb then it was all down hill.

     The new trail is much longer than the old but follows a much gentler grade. From high on Bandera Mountain we had a clear view of Mt. Rainier in the distance and McClellan Butte just across the valley. We finally started to run into the groups that now hike this trail every weekend. In fact when we made it down the parking lot was full. The rest of the way down was fast but still took longer than it seemed it should, as it usually does. By 1:30 we were back at the car. For the day we passed four named lakes and one unnamed one. We had ripe berries and miles of easy hiking. It turned out to be a very nice day to be in the mountains. The totals for the day were about 10 miles with 2500' of gain.

Trips - 2004