Thunder Mountain Lakes

An annual goal of mine is to hike at least 10 new trips each year. It's mid September and this would be my 20th new trip. That's more than any year in the last few dozen. Suzanne led a group to Thunder Mountain Lakes a month earlier. They had intense heat and awful bugs. They also mistook  several summits. Only Thunder Mountain is actually a named peak on maps. She was ready for a return trip. The others had plans so this trip included Bob, Kolleen, Barry, and I. We were set to meet at the Skykomish RS at 9:00 am. We caught up with a big truck just beyond Index. He did 55 on the straight aways and 25 on the many corners. I lost track of all the cars behind us. Probably at least 50. He would not use the slow vehicle turn outs. He finally did pull over... 100 years before the ranger station. It was a fitting beginning for a series of strange events. Needless to say, we were late. Oops, I'm already ahead of myself. The strange things began when Suzanne bent over her pack and had a back spasm earlier in the morning. Always the trooper, she went backpacking anyway.

Joanna was hiking from Highway 2 to Snoqualmie Pass on the PCT. When she found out about our trip at the last minute she wrangled a drive to the start. She arranged with Suzanne to pick up her car in Kirkland and drive it back to Seattle where her designated driver would have to car to retrieve her. We stopped at the Surprise Lake trailhead and then jockeyed cars to have one there and one at the Tunnel Creek trailhead. Of course, as soon as the car came back to pick us up a trail came by. Then it stopped while blocking the tracks. Yawn... we had to wait. Finally it started up and we were soon off to Tunnel Creek. When we arrived Joanna had already taken off. And she forgot to give her keys to Suzanne. Hmmm... we have a problem. Well, surely she would take a break and let us catch up. Or maybe not.

We made good time up to Hope Lake. There were a few folks there fishing but no Joanna. After a break we were off south bound on the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail is well maintained and never steep. We crossed several meadows and there were still some flowers. Even lupine and paintbrush have survived into mid September. The trail is near the crest here and we had some nice views out to the Chiwaukum peaks. It's three miles from Hope Lake to Trap Pass. The junction to Trap Lake is unsigned but obvious enough. It was getting a little warm as we made the final traverse to the pass.

There is no trail all the way to Thunder Mountain Lakes. Some route finding skill is necessary. Suzanne had been there once and Barry had no trouble finding his way. Other than some cuts and bruises we did just fine. There are some branches to bushwhack through at first. The scramble up to the lake was a lot of fun. There is still some snow in ravines and lots of boulders and slabs to cross. Soon enough we climbed up to the last high point and looked down on Upper Thunder Mountain Lake. Very pretty.

There were already a couple groups at the lake and we found a spot at the south end for our camp. The bugs were a lot less bothersome than on Suzanne's last visit. Good thing as there was almost no wind. We set up camp, hunk food, and filtered more water. Then it was time to go scrambling. We did not have much info on just how to get to Thunder Mountain. Suzanne had climbed the peak behind the lake and thought it was Thunder. We now called this peak "Little Thunder". Our camp was at 6425' and Thunder Mountain is only 6556'. Of course it's not just a 131' walk up to get there.

We headed around the left (east) side of the lake and did not find easy terrain. Instead we scrambled up the southeast side of Little Thunder to the ridge top. It was pretty easy grass and dirt on the way up. Up on the ridge I found an animal trail heading down the ridge. Barry looked over the west side and found a steep route down to the rocky basin. We scrambled down. Barry was ahead and already heading up the slope just left of the ridge line. This went well for the most part. Soon we had to traverse on steeper slopes. In a few places a slip would be very bad. As we worked our way around we could see the summit. It was mostly forest on up. At a boulder field near the ridge top we stopped. We were about 200' below the top.

Barry went ahead beating through the brush. Bob soon followed. It was not clear how difficult the route was above as we could not see anything through the trees. Kolleen soon followed and Suzanne, Gusto, and I stayed put. The others were successful and we could here them on the summit. They came down much faster. We were not thrilled with all the side hilling of our route in and we decided to drop straight down the slope. At the bottom we found a wide ramp that brought us back to the head of the basin we originally dropped into. Climbing back up was easier than the down climbing had been.

Back on the ridge of Little Thunder it was an easy hike to the summit. At about 6600' we were looking down on Thunder Mountain, the upper lake, and our camp. Suzanne led us down the east side and we were back at camp quickly. We still had a few hours of light so Suzanne, Barry, and I set out to bag Nimbus Peak. It was right behind our camp. The route was easy enough and 300' later we were on the 6711' summit. Well almost on the summit. The top is a narrow fin that I could not climb. I did get on a rock next to it and my head was as high as the top. We dropped back to camp for a well earned dinner. We gained about 3500' to the lake and another 1000' or so of scrambling.

When the sun went down the moon came up. The nearly full moon made sure it never did get really dark. I would guess the temperature reached the upper thirties overnight. I found a tiny bit of ice on my trekknig poles in the morning. With no wind and a warm sleeping bag I slept just fine in my Tarptent Rainbow. Our goal for day two was an attempt on Thor Mountain. It is located about a mile east of the upper lake. We had seen if from our route in and again from the peaks the day before. It looked like we could go over the next peak east and drop down then climb to the top. Long distance views can be deceiving.

The next peak east is one Yumi tried to climb on the previous trip. She made it well up the west ridge before getting cliffed out. There is also a huge balanced rock on the ridge below the summit. We dubbed the peak "Yumi's Peak". Our route dropped down a little then traversed meadows, slabs, and some boulders to a wide slope leading to a saddle. We headed up to the saddle and a clear look at Thor. Uh, where did that steep drop off come from? Hmm... maybe this isn't such a good route. One steep rib dropped down but we could not see the lower part it was so steep. From the bottom the climb of Thor looked pretty straight forward. How to get down there? It is not obvious. It looks like a walk up the drainage from Trap Lake would be the best approach.

We still had to hike out and Thor looked like a full day if we could find a route within our skill level. We did head down to the southeast for a nice look at Square and Wolverine Lakes. We came back up to the saddle and Bob and Kolleen wanted to give Yumi's Peak a try from this side. We were already on the ridge top so we headed up. The ridge route went just fine. Soon we were approaching the summit. Barry and Bob scrambled the last 50' to the top. Just like Nimbus the very top was not friendly but we made it very close. Folks over at the lake were watching our climb. After Bob and Barry came down, Kolleen, Suzanne, and I took our turn. Three is about the maximum for the summit.

Now we retraced our steps back to camp. We packed up and by 10:10 we were ready to head on down. I was sorry to be leaving so soon. On our way back to Trap Pass we crossed a small snowfield and it was rock hard I just about went for an umplanned slide. We avoided any snow in the shade after that. We reached Trap Pass to find that Bob's shorts back pocked had ripped out. His wallet was nowhere to be found. Yet another strange turn on this trip. The map showed a trail heading immediately down from the pass to Surprise Lake. We started on the PCT and did not see a trail. After many switchbacks we found the intersection. We chose the direct shot to Surprise.

Down we went on many more short switchbacks to the lake. We took a long lunch break while Suzanne went to the head of the lake to visit with Sadie. Her dog loved this lake and some of her ashes were spread there. Back together again we headed down the last four miles. It only took us about 1:40 but it sure seemed to take forever to get back. We passed a lot fewer dayhikers than I expected on such a warm sunny September Sunday. Barry, Gusto, and I walked back to the highway while the car shuttle occurred. Soon Suzanne was back to pick us up.

This was a great trip. The lake basin is as beautiful as I was thought it was. The scrambling is fun too. Good company rounded out the trip. I hadn't done a trip with the others in a few months and it was great to catch up again. I suspect Suzanne and I will be back at some point to finish the last few hundred feet of Thunder Mountain too.

Waiting For Train
Tunnel Creek Trailhead
Hope Lake
PCT Meadows
Boulder Field
Trap Pass & Route
Nearing Pass
Berry Picking
Trap Lake
Meadows & Rocks
Small Snowfield
Bob & Kolleen
Suzanne & Fall Colors
Thor Peak
Blue Sky & Glacier Peak
Off Trail Route
One More Ridge
Thunder Mt. Lake
Thunder Mountain
Scrambling Down
Stuart & The Cradle
Scrambling Up
Little Thunder Summit
Lake From Lil Thunder
Yumi's Peak
Stuart Over Tarn
Lake From Nimbus
Thor & Yumi's Peaks
Sunrise From Camp
Morning In Camp
Light On Nimbus
Morning Near Camp
Mt. Hinman
Mt. Daniel
Daniel & Hinman
Kolleen & Square Lake
Yumi's Summit
Lower Thunder Lake
Thunder Mt. Lake II
North Side Of Nimbus
Heading Back
Surprise Lake
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Trips - 2008