Fisher Lake - Mt. Sawyer
One of my long standing goals is to do at least 10
new hikes each year. Over time it gets harder and harder to find close in
new trips. This one had been on the back burner for many years. Suzanne has
been out Tonga Ridge several times and had found the way trail over to Fisher
Lake once. Suzanne's daughter was back in town from college in Austin, Texas
and her friend Tony was visiting as well. As we hoped, most holiday weekend
travelers left on Friday and traffic on Highway 2 was not bad. We reached
the Tonga Ridge trailhead at about 9:00 am. There were only 4 other vehicles
there. I expected more weekend backpackers.
There was a little snow just up the trail then it was bare nearly all the
way to Sawyer Pass. The trail stays right on the top of the ridge in forest
for the first few miles. At one point a short spur led to open views to the
north. Glacier Peak was hidden but the view was very nice. We also had a few
small views out to the south and peaks in the vicinity of La Bohn Gap. The
trailhed is at about 4400' and Sawyer Pass is at 4840'. There are a number
of ups and downs making the elevation gain more than 440'.
Our plan was to hike up Mt. Sawyer first then head over to Fisher Lake.
When Suzanne felt we had gone too far we headed back looking for the way
trail up Sawyer. We went a ways but did not find it. At that point the plan
changed to Fisher first then Sawyer. Just before reaching Sawyer Pass snow
began. It was not deep but it did cover most of the trail. Fisher Lake is
almost exactily due south of the pass so a compass heading should be enough
but we hoped to find the trail.
Suzanne found the unmarked turn off to the right. In a short distance we
turned left following minimal footprints from the day before. When we lost
the prints we headed up the hillside. The summer trail goes up a dry creek
bed. It's not so dry now. We followed the creek mostly on snow but with traces
of dirt verifying we were on route. After the first climb was a flat meadow
followed by another hill and another flat. The third and last climb put us
near the 5200' high point. Looking north we had a view of Glacier Peak.
A gentle descent took us down to Fisher Lake. The lake is completely thawed.
Last year Suzanne walked out to some rocks at the shore. This year the rocks
are sticking up 20' from the shore. The water is probably three to four feet
higher than then. A big log parallel to the shore provided a good place to
sit for lunch. The water wasn't much above freezing but Tony dove in anyway.
Quite a change from Austin a week earlier.
After lunch we decided to head down to lower Ptarmigan Lake. We passed one
camp site with two tents and no people. Another site had one fully packed
backpack but no people. The outlet had several logs forming an easily crossed
bridge. The route down to Ptarmigan was sketchy. We followed plastic tape
that was mostly in the middle of a rock gully. It was not always obvious but
also not difficult to descend. At the bottom we had a nice view of the lake
with an island near the right shore.
We clambored back up the gully and returned to Fisher Lake. There is a nice
view of Terrace Mountain. It looks like a good two day scramble. Going back
Suzanne did too good a job of following the trail. We lost our own footprints
and managed to stay on the summer route the whole way back. It had a little
more elevation gain than the way in. A snowball fight broke out between Meagan
and Tony. They seemed to be having a good time.
Back at Sawyer Pass we began to run into the crowds. This time we were careful
to look for the trail up Mt. Sawyer. We went well beyond where we backtracked
in the morning and still saw no trail. We decided to head straight up hoping
to run into the route. A few scatches later that is just what happened. I
was expecting a boot path but it is a real trail. In fact it is quite gently
graded. The trail traversed the south side then began to switchback up the
east slope. The green huckleberries were really thick.
There was some snow on the north side but the trail only passed through
a small amount of it. It was bare ground almost to the top but the summit
still had a covering of snow. We could see Glacier Peak, Sloan Peak, Mt.
Baring, and even Mt. Baker to the north and west. Mt. Stuart was to the southeast
and the peaks of the Cascade crest. There is a great view of Mts. Daniel and
Hinman. It was a little hazy but there was not a cloud in the sky. Megan headed
back when we detoured up Sawyer and now it was time for the rest us to head
The day was getting hot but the trail down was easy enough. When we reached
the Tonga Ridge trail we found the intersection is obvious when heading back
but hard to see when heading towards Sawyer Pass. It was nice to be mostly
in forest for the last few miles as it was much cooler. Back at the trahead
there were many more cars. It turned out to be a great hike. We saw two lakes,
a summit, great views, and a little off trail route finding. Now I just need
to come back in the fall for the huckleberries.