Fall is the time for a larch hike. There is nothing
like their golden needles. Most years that time is about mid October. It
is often rainy or snowy or freezing cold or all three. This year we planned
to check out the North Cascades a little earlier. Suzanne was working on
the Skagit River on Friday. Bob, Kolleen, and I chose to be off work. We
couldn't decide on a destination that would work for all four of us. I needed
to be be back Saturday by early evening. At the last minute we chose Wing
Lake, near Rainy Pass on Highway 20. I met Kolleen and Bob in south Everett
at 6:30. We were at the 4850' trailhead by 9:40 and on the trail by 9:50.
The weather was beautiful but was forecast to be deteriorating the
next day. For that reason we chose to do the loop via Maple Pass on the
way up to Wing Lake. That would make for a shorter return route. We wanted
to have the best weather at Maple Pass. The route begins on the trail
to Rainy Lake. It is paved. In a short distance we left that trail for
the dirt trail to Maple Pass. The route is in forest and ascends at a
steady rate. The climb is steady but never overly steep.
At one point we had a view down to part of Rainy Lake. A little fall
color showed in the forest. The only negative is the sound and occasional
sight of the highway below. The growing views of peaks overcome that drawback.
The trail comes out of the forest and trends around the backside of the
ridge. This is where the good stuff began. Larch trees began to appear.
Some were still green but some were already golden.
I kept expecting to reach the pass and the route just kept going higher.
In fact, we crested a ridge at 6900'. That is 300' higher than Maple Pass.
We stopped at the high point for food and water. With all the photos we
were hiking at a slug like pace. We had plenty of time to reach Wing Lake
and these colors are available for such a short time that we continued our
slow pace. Bright red leaves were added to the views from the high point
down to Heather Pass. They were dull on one side and ablaze on the other with
the bright backlighting from the sun.
Old boot paths pre dating the existing trail were obvious. They went
straight up and the current trail is always built to a very moderate grade.
Our view south included Glacier Peak and the glaciers of Dome Peak. Travel
became even slower as the reds, oranges, and yellows grew in intensity between
Maple and Heather Passes. At long last we reached Heather Pass and then
the turn off to Lewis Lake.
The route to Lewis began with a regular trail. Larch here were quite
nice. The really good views were still ahead. The trail reached the edge
of the boulder field. Lewis Lake was visible well ahead. I decided to make
a mostly level traverse while Bob and Kolleen dropped lower. My way was
all on rock while theirs was partly along the edge of the rock lower down
and across rock.
I really enjoy bouldering and made very good time. I came to one snow
finger. I could easily have dropped below it but decided to head right
across. One step and I realized the snow was rock hard ice. I had zero
traction. Only the sun cupped divots gave me any purchase. By some miracle
I made it across without falling and sliding to the bottom. I reached the
Lewis outlet creek and the end of the rock ahead of the others. They soon
caught up and we hiked a short distance up to Lewis Lake. There was one
nice campsite just above the lake and along the trail. The lake is a very
nice green color.
Most of the way across the rocks had been in shade. It was a warm
enough day that the shade was welcomed. From Lewis up we were back in
the sun. The route up to Wing Lake is mostly a very obvious trail. There
is one place it ends in some rocks but a short climb to the ridge at left
and it picks right back up again. It's fairly steep but not hard going.
We had some nice red and orange colors at the lake but a short way up the
larch began to show up. The lower ones are still a little green but higher
up they are golden.
It's 1200' from Lewis at 5700' to Wing at 6900'. We were very slow
again as the colors were magnificent. At long last we reached the basin
of Wing Lake. The campsite at the outlet was not taken so we dropped our
packs and went looking for something better. There are several other sites
higher above the lake. They were nice but we liked our first choice. We
went back and set up camp. It was a little surprising to see that there were
no other campers at the lake.
The sun was lower but nice for some more larch photos. We headed around
the lake looking to see if we could get the whole lake in a photo. There
is a good sized waterfall still flowing from high on Black Peak. The peak
rises almost 2100' directly above the lake. We had decided that photos
took precedent over a climb of Black and arrived far too late to give it
a try. We did hike around the back of the lake and part way up to the col.
Where the sree slope flattened we stopped. Nice views back down. We headed
back to camp for dinner.
It cooled rapidly but we stayed out talking and looking at starts
until 9:30. The long light of summer is definitely gone. It was down to
40 degrees when we went to bed. It was still cool in the morning and we
did not stir until about 7:30. By then the sun was touching our tents.
We ate and took more photos. Two climbers arrived just before dark the
previous night. Another arrived early in the morning. Soon after another
hiker arrived. This one had a dog. It was Suzanne! She was not sure what
hike we settled on but chose this one and found us. Sadie seemed happy
to see old friends as well.
We all went for one more larch stroll then Suzanne headed back down
to Lewis where she had camped. We broke camp and headed down. It was another
slow descent as it took us an hour to drop the 1+ miles. Our group then
headed back to Heather Pass. The others took the lower route and I stayed
high. It was great fun scrambling across the rocks. I made it back to near
dirt trail well ahead of the others. When they arrived it took only a few
minutes to reach the main trail. Suzanne wanted to complete the loop so she
headed uphill and we went down. First we took her tent, sleeping bag, and
sleeping pad. She had a nice lighter hike out.
The last two miles went very fast. We passes a long string of hikers
coming in. We reached the trailhead at 1:15. It took about 2:15 from Lewis
Lake to the end. This was a terrific fall hike. We had sun and golden larch
and much more solitude than I expected. I can see why the loop is such a
favorite hike. It is not difficult and offers some spectacular scenery,
especially this time of year. This was one of the slowest hikes I have done
but one of the best. I'll have many more larch hikes in the future. Most will
be cold and damp. This one was almost perfect.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Color On Trail
Green & Gold Larch
Rock & Larch
Bob & Kolleen
Lots To See
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2006