What a week! Five feet of fresh snow in the mountains.
Snoqualmie Pass closed down for half the week. Sno-parks closed down for
the weekend. Extreme avalanche danger everywhere. Where to go? After a decade
or more of procrastinating, I finally hiked on Blanchard Hill to Oyster
Dome in 2005. It is low and close to Puget Sound. It seemed to be a place
to face a reasonable amount of snow and no avalanche danger. Suzanne and
Gusto joined me. We headed out of Seattle at 8:15. Take exit 240 off I-5,
turn left under the freeway, and turn left again very quickly on Barrel
Springs Road. In only .60 mile turn right at the Blanchard Hill Trail sign.
We hit snow almost as soon as we left the freeway.
Just before the lower trailhead the road makes a switchback right and
climbs steeply to another switchback left. This part was all snow. A car
was turning around at the bottom of the hill as we approached. We made it
up the hill fine with all wheel drive. The 700' elevation parking lot was
all snow and slush. As we were getting ready the two guys in the car reached
the trailhead. On my earlier visit I could not find the trail. Now there
is a small sign saying the trail is 300 feet down the road.
We were on the trail by around 9:45. The route begins with a short
mile hike to the upper trailhead. There was snow on the trail from the
lower parking lot. At the upper lot there was more snow. We chose to take
the road route up to the Alternate Incline Trail. I recall finding a gate
a fair way up the road three years earlier. Now the gate is right at the
upper trailhead. There were tire tracks beyond the gate. The snow rapidly
grew deeper. Soon we saw ski tracks in the tire ruts.
The snow was soon 5 then 6 then 7 inches deep. It was cloudy when we
started but we were now out in bright sunshine. Below us we could see
low clouds. So much for the forecast of overcast with showers. On my earlier
visit there was no marker for the Incline Trail, just an obvious small
dirt path. I was a little concerned with finding it in all the snow. The
ski tracks ended and there were no other footprints. We found a small metal
trail marker on the side of the road. Into the forest we went.
A short distance into the forest is a much larger sign for the Incline
Trail and the Alternate Incline Trail. The alternate is longer but less
steep. Instead of climbing up the fall line it makes a number of gentle
switchbacks. We took the alternate. I expected the snow to be much less
deep in the dense forest. Not so. The snow was deep and getting deeper
with small increases in elevation. We brought snowshoes but since the
high point of the day was only about 2000' and right above salt water,
we chose not to carry them. There were a few times they might have been
useful. The snow was so powdery that we were able to slog through pretty
Lower down the trees were dripping and dropping flumph bombs but as
we ascended it cooled down to around 32 degrees and they bombs lessened.
At one point the Alternate Incline Trail began a flat leg to the left.
It sure seemed like a railroad grade. Like the one over to Lily Lake on
the Pacific Northwest Trail. I suggested we go back to the start of the
flat spot and look for a trail right that might be the way to Lizard Lake.
We found what looked like more of the railroad grade but no signs. Off we
went on this new section.
We were more out in the open here. That meant deep and soft snow. Crotch
deep postloling ensued. Somehow Gusto managed to walk right along in the
deep holes. After about 10 minutes and not much distance a big log blocked
our way. This seemed less and less like the way to Lizard Lake. We chose
to head back and continue on our original route. That route continued mostly
flat and in a short time we reached the junction with the PNT. It was well
signed with Lily Lake to the left and Lizard Lake to the right.
We went right and headed to Lizard Lake. It is not far at all and even
slogging in deeper snow it did not take long to arrive. I was here in early
spring before and the lake was high with skunk cabbage along the shore.
This time it was completely snow covered. A little blue sky overhead really
set off the bright white snow on the lake. One lake down and one to go. We
headed back to the junction and continued on towards Lily Lake. The PNT is
pretty flat from Lizard Lake to Lily Lake at about 2000'. That is also about
the elevation of Oyster Dome. Most of our climbing was over for the day.
There are a few large trees down across the trail. We managed to go
under or around them without too much trouble. Since they still have branches
it was a bit wet pushing through a few of them. A few bridges were noticeable
though under lots of snow. We came to another intersection with Lizard and
Lily Lakes signs. The left turn had no footprints. I guessed this was the
Lily Lake Trail coming up from the upper parking area. If so, this would
be an optional way back down. I sign would be useful here. So would remembering
no to leave the map in the car.
A few minutes later we reached a very confusing sign. It had distances
to eight different locations but no arrows. The distances did not seem to
make sense either. 1 1/2 miles to North Butte? Last time I climbed up a
short way from Lily Lake and we were almost there. We headed on and reached
the Lily Lake junction next. Suzanne suggested visiting now rather than on
the return leg. The snow was deeper here. I remembered big beaver dams near
this point and reading that they were since gone. In fact, there was no trace
of the dams.
We slogged on to Lily Lake. We crossed the outlet to the camping area
and went to the lake shore. Very blue sky now and all snow on the lake.
It was now well past noon and we had a bit to eat before heading on. Back
at the junction we headed west towards Oyster Dome. Curiously, no trail
signs on the east side of the hill mention Oyster Dome. Even the map at
the trailhead did not show it. Finally we had directions. The route parallels
the Lily outlet creek on an old road. We had to work our way around the snow
plastered trees in places.
The route crossed the creek to the left side and continued a gentle
descent. There were no tracks at all and Suzanne did a good job of staying
on route. We dropped right, crossed the creek again, and climbed to an
unsigned junction. A trench came up on our left and continued ahead. This
was definitely the Oyster Dome route from Chuckanut Drive. We now had a
last climb up to the dome. It was steep in a few places but no trouble
with good traction in the snow. When it thaws and freezes a few times this
could get really icy.
In short order we popped out at Oyster Dome. There was a group descending
and another group enjoying the view. We stopped and chatted while breaking
out our cameras. It was not as clear as it had been most of the day but
also not all cloudy either. The San Juan Islands were laid out below us.
The rock slab viewpoints were completely snow covered. Out of the forest
and into the sun it seemed much warmer. The group left and a few others arrived.
We arrived at 1:45 and spent half an hour. It took us four hours to reach
Oyster Dome and I did want to get back to the car before dark.
At 2:15 we packed up and headed down. With a nice trench in place we
made good time. In 36 minutes we were back at what I thought was the Lily
Lake Trail. Still no footprints. I had hoped the two guys who were right
behind us when we began the hike would have come up this route. Now we had
a choice. Take the route we came up and definitely get down before dark
or take the trail we were unsure about and hope it led back to the upper
parking lot. We chose the latter.
The trail is very gently graded and built to confuse. We knew the parking
lot was roughly below us. A series of switchbacks would have made perfect
sense. That was not the case. The route does make a few switchbacks then
begins a long long traverse to the right. I was beginning to fear we would
come out on Chuckanut Drive far from the car. Finally, with salt water now
in sight, it switched back and began a long long traverse to our left. In
time we could see the road below us. We must be almost to the upper parking
lot. Not so fast. We followed that road forever. We descended but never got
closer. A long time later we finally reached the road.
A short uphill road walk brought us to the upper parking lot. We had
met two women part way down the Lily Lake Trail who confirmed we were on
the right route. Two cars were in the snow covered lot. The road had two
ruts all the way down to bare dirt. It seemed there was a lot of melting
while we were hiking. One more mile of hiking brought us back to the lower
This was a fun day hike. We avoided all avalanche danger. We did not
have to worry about sinking shoulder deep in all the new snow. We did have
about as much snow as 2000' elevation on the shores of Puget Sound will
ever give you. Other than at Oyster Dome we saw very few people. It was
fun to puzzle out the route. My one earlier visit helped but it sure looked
different under a foot or two of snow. The view from Oyster Dome really is
nice. All in all, a very nice day to avoid the mountains and hike in the
Suzanne's report with photos is here:
Nwhikers report and photos
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Snowy Parking Lot
On The Trail
Upper Parking Lot
Alt Incline Trail
Log Across Trail
Oyster Dome View
One Last Dome View
Trips - 2008