Wing Lake

Two years ago Bob, Kolleen, and I hiked the Maple Pass Heather Pass loop and spent the night at Wing Lake. Suzanne came later and made it to Lewis Lake the first day. She came up to Wing in the morning of the second day. It was larch season and we had brilliant colors around the loop and spectacular golden larch trees at Maple Pass as well as from Lewis to Wing Lakes. It was time for a return. This time Suzanne and I were joined my David (Opus) and Gary. By 7:00 am we were out of Seattle heading north. It was also the first day of deer hunting season.

The forecast was for sunny and cold (mid 30s) on Saturday, a cold night, and then up into the 40s and still sunny on Sunday. Perfect time for a larch backpacking trip. When we arrived at the Rainy Pass trailhead it was 27 degrees with snow in the parking lot. Hmm... not quite what we were expecting. There were only a few other cars there. By 10:15 we were on our way. The trail to Heather Pass is very smooth and gentle. It gains about 1150' from the 4850' trailhead to the 6000' pass. Snow began immediately but was not yet tramped down and slick. We did fine without traction aids.

The way begins in forest but soon we had some openings which provided nice views to the surrounding peaks. After the junction with the route to Lake Ann we again broke out into the open. We could look down on Lake Ann and see larch trees on the slopes above. The larch looked at or just past their peak. With all the snow it was looking unlikely we would have great color for our expected loop over Maple pass on the way out.

Suzanne moved out ahead while the rest of us were busy with lots of photos. Soon we began to look for the trail to Lewis and Wing Lakes. We rose higher until we could see Suzanne down below in a meadow. Oops, we went a little too far. We dropped on down to meet her. Thankfully there was a boot path as I did not like the idea of crossing the long boulder field on snow without a track to follow. We crossed the meadow where there were some nicely backlit larch trees. The sun helped make up for the freezing temperature.

Once across the meadow we dropped a bit and promptly lost any route. We could see the whole boulder field was snow covered. Powdery snow and completely unconsolidated. Any step could fall through the big chasms between boulders. We had a discussion as to whether or not to proceed. We decided to at least give it a chance and I went out ahead. I angled left and soon ran into a boot path. It had only been set by a few people and was sketchy but it was there. Off we went.

The going across the boulder field was glacially slow. We had to test every step. Part way across the boulders became much larger. Suzanne's dog Gusto had some trouble here. She took off his pack and that helped a lot. We dropped off the big boulders to find last years snow pack with a few inches of new on top. A few short sections were actually not bad. Most of the way was a pain. At long last we dropped down to the Lewis Lake outlet creek. Crossing was easy. The route climbed the far bank and would through trees to a vantage point above Lewis Lake. That's not how I remembered it but tracks were better than no tracks.

We had been in shade for the last hour or more. My gloves were soaked from grabbing onto snowy boulders for balance. It was still no warmer than 32 degrees. My hands were almost numb. Gary and I had remembered to put in gaiters but David and Suzanne had wet and cold feet. On the shore of Lewis lake we stopped for lunch in the sun. It felt 20 degrees warmer. Several other backpackers caught up with us. Soon the group grew to six. A few of them did not look to be well prepared as they wore cotton jeans and tennis shoes. I hope they had dry clothes to change into.

By the time we finished lunch it was 2:00. Nearly four hours took us less than 4 miles. The route continued on and in fact it often was on the summer route to Wing Lake. Snow was about  4-8 inches deep. Not a lot but enough to obscure the route. We were soon back in the shade and the larch trees did not stand out like they did on our previous visit. The higher we climbed the more needles we found on the ground. Still, there were good photo opportunities. Unfortunately I was having camera troubles. About 70 shots ended up turning out black. I had no usable shots from the middle of the boulder field to Wing Lake. That was disappointing.

After some 5 3/4 hours we made it to 6905' Wing Lake. It was easily twice as long as on the prior trip when the ground was bare. Hunting for a campsite brought us to the other group. They set all the tracks and we thanked them. We found a good site for our camp. By 5:00 pm clouds were definitely moving in. Minute by minute we lost blue sky. What happened to the clear forecast? After dinner everyone headed indoors. It was dark by 7:00 pm as we settled in for a long night. Gary and I had my Hilleberg Nallo 3 and we had lots of room. It was also pretty warm. In the tent I never saw a temperature below 33 degrees all night. Inside the vestibule was sub freezing.

During the night I awoke a number of times. Many of them I could hear a pitter patter on the tent roof. Falling larch needles? Not all night. How could it rain if it was supposed to get down to 19 degrees? A 4:00 am bathroom break showed it to be ice pellets falling gently. By 7:00 am we were all awake and thoughts of looping over Maple Pass were rapidly being replaced with thoughts of just getting back across the boulder field in the rain.

When the rain stopped we packed up fast. By 9:05 we were underway. Thankfully the rain held off. Rain is not so bad but slushy snow on boulders is no fun at all. The route down was easy to follow though slicker than the day before. We had to test slushy foot steps and could not go as fast as we would have like. I had hoped than morning sunshine would give good photos of the larch to replace the ones I had lost the day before. It was not to be. It looked as much like mid January and mid October. When we reached Lewis Lake we chose to go around the right side instead of all the was around the left side where the trail goes.

This route was shorter though it did require more boulder and rock hopping than we thought. It probably took just as long as the longer route would have. We followed the outlet creek to where our track from the day before came down. Going mostly uphill on the boulder field was much easier. No more stepping down and hoping the step was solid and not into a void between boulders. We did make much better time here. It's just under a mile from Lewis Lake to Heather Pass but it seemed like much more. As we neared the end of the boulders we met the first of many day hikers we would see. After talking to us they chose Maple Pass over Wing Lake.

We had a quick break at Heather Pass and then headed down. Many many day hikers were out on this dark damp day. We had no interest in Maple Pass and headed for the car. The track was less snowy but slicker than on our ascent. Soon we were back at the trailhead. Coming out we cut nearly 2 1/2 hours off our ascent time. It was only a little after noon. As we drove west a strange thing happened. The sky turned blue and the temperature soared. by Ross Dam it was 57 degrees and by Marblemount it was 61. That was 24 degrees warmer than at Rainy Pass.

This turned out to be a fun trip. It was not at all what we expected. Gray and wet one day while freezing cold the other. No fall colors other than larch trees. The larch were great in some places though well past prime near Wing Lake. The boulder field was an experience. Not one I will likely do again soon. All in all it was a great weekend in the mountains.

The nwhikers report is here:  Nwhikers Wing Lake Report                    Some photos courtesy of Gary Westerlund

Snow At Trailhead
Trailhead Sign
First Views
Snowy Boulders
Snow Covered Trail
Lake Ann
Ridge Above Lake Ann
Island In Lake Ann
Heather Pass Meadow
First Black Peak View
Larch Above
Beautiful Fall Day
Snowy Boulders
Black & Larch
Blue Sky & Larch
Mt. Hardy & Golden Horn
Nearing Boulder Field
Lewis Lake
Sun Lit Larch
Looking Back
Starting Across Boulders
Reaching Lewis Lake
Peaks & Larch
Suzanne Near Wing Lake
Corteo & Larch
Looking Towards Camp
Sliver Of Wing Lake
Black Peak & Larch
Setting Up Camp
Beautiful Day!
My Nallo 3
Other Tents
Sunday Morning
Minimal Visibility
Clearer At Lewis Lake
More Boulders
Lewis Lake Reflection
The Boulder Field
Jim & Big Boulder
Last Larch Shot
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2008