Snow Lake is one of the most heavily
used trails in the state. For that reason I seldom visit it. If fact, my
last visit was just after the new shorter trail was opened. That hike was
after the first snow in November of 1989. In the intervening 15 years I had
not been back. While I have been up this trail 3 or 4 times it was just an
old memory. I wanted a short drive and a bit of a scramble. My objective was
to return to Snow Lake, go on to Gem Lake and scramble up Wright Mountain.
What little info I could find made it sound like an easy scramble and on
a hot day that sounded just fine to me. I arrived at the Alpental trailhead
at about 8:30 to find several dozen cars already there. I would have liked
to be earlier but after consecutive mid 90s days in Seattle I had not had
much recent sleep. Getting out of the house by 7:30 was a minor victory.
I ran to the trail when I saw a group of 10 just ahead of me. Nothing like
trying to pass a group that size. The trail now begins with about 100 wooden
steps. This was a pain to begin with and a much bigger pain to finish, having
to pound down them with sore knees. A few steps are bad, 100 steps are ridiculous.
Other than that, the trail is in great shape.
The day was already warming but still comfortable.
It was "only" forecast to reach 80 in Seattle and about the same temperature
at Snoqualmie Pass. The trail goes from forest to open talus and back several
times. Views soon open to peaks up the valley. I passed several groups before
reaching the old Snow Lake Trail intersection. There I passed a group of
4 who were resting. The trail climbs at a gentle grade only broken by more
wooden steps higher up. I reached the ridge top in 53 minutes and at one hour
I was down at Snow Lake. The trail continues around the right side of the
lake. Sometimes the lake is hidden and sometimes the trail is very near. The
trail heads away from the lake and meets the Rock Creek Trail. This
was once a route of the Cascade Crest Trail. It is now seldom hiked. I have
not yet been on it. Views opened up to the peaks north of the Middle Fork
of the Snoqualmie River. I could see Big Snow Mountain. Some peaks along the
Cascade crest also came into view. Mt. Thomson was most prominent.
The trail dropped down to cross a large log over Rock
Creek, the outlet of Snow Lake. From there it was more up and down until
the climb to Gem Lake began. My one previous hike to Gem Lake was back in
my first year of hiking. I remember the temperature rose to over 90 degrees
and the cold water of the lake felt great. Back then I did not yet own a pair
of boots. I rented a pair and had what is still by far the worst case of
blisters I have endured. I limped out with mangled feet in 90 degree heat.
It's a wonder I didn't give up hiking. This day would be my first return
to Gem since that day in 1982. Most of the flowers are gone. I saw a few paintbrush
near the beginning, a tiger lily, and a few others. The best color was from
beargrass beyond Snow Lake and heather. The upside was the limited number
of bugs. They were never much of a problem.
The trail gets a little less defined above Snow Lake
and that was fine with me. I'm getting a little tired of wide gently graded
road/trails. This trail was easy to follow but felt like a trail. The terrain
was largely meadows with heather, grass, and a few tarns. At long last I
crested the final ridge and went over to Gem Lake. There were a few others
there already. The day was warming up fast and I needed some food, water,
and shade. Wright Mountain rose directly behind Gem Lake. It is only about
500' from Gem to the top of Wright. The left ridge looked OK and the right
hand ridge looked even better. I returned to the trail and continued around
the right side of the lake. I soon came to a definite way trail and took it.
It climbed up to a ridge a short way above. I met several other substantial
trails coming up from the main trail so it appears there are several places
one can head up. At the ridge top I had great views towards Chair, Kaleetan,
Snoqualmie Mt., and peaks near the crest. I could also see down towards the
Middle Fork. The way trail continued higher through heather. One patch of
snow had survived. The route would climb steeply then moderate. It crossed
a few talus fields. When I reached larger talus slopes there were even a few
cairns. If you lose the trail just continue straight up.
The route reached one final long talus and boulder
field which led to the top. The view was much better than I expected from
only 5430'. Gem Lake was just below and Snow Lake was visible below that.
I could see Melakwa Pass and Chair Peak Lake. The lake is ringed with
snow but it has thawed. Mt. Roosevelt is a scramble but it looked tough from
this angle. Speaking of angle, Kaleetan looked longer and sharper than from
any angle I have seen before. Even Glacier Peak stuck out to the north. I
could see Upper Wildcat Lake across the valley. I scrambled down the far
ridge and had a clear view of Lower Wildcat as well. A steady gentle breeze
kept the temperature comfortable. After a fast hike to Snow Lake I slowed
down to take pictures and enjoy the views. I reached the summit of Wright
at 11:40. It took me exactly 3 hours coming up. Since it was so early I spent
over an hour on top. I finally packed up and headed down.
The descent seemed long as the heat built up. After reaching Snow Lake
the crowds began as I knew they would. Still, it was less of a zoo than I
expected. Near the top of the climb to the ridge above Snow Lake I stopped.
It was shady and I had a great view of Snow Lake and Wright Mountain. I really
didn't want to head down from there. All too soon I crested the ridge into
the sun and began the final downhill leg of the trip. This turned out to be
a nicer hike than I was expecting. The bugs were much less of a problem than
I thought they would be. Wright Mountain was a fun scramble to outstanding
views. Even the crowds were not so bad. I expect I won't wait 15 years
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
View Up The Valley
North Over The MF
Tarn And Lake
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2004