The rainy season in Seattle has begun. After days of being trapped inside because of the rain I was getting pretty antsy so I decided to go out and face the monsoons head on. Latigo was dragged along as well, but I promise he had a good time playing in the rain and snow!
Last year, Maura and I snowshoed to Snow Lake near Snoqualmie Pass. There are a number of lakes that you can continue onto from Snow Lake and I wanted to check them out. My original goal for the day was to visit Snow Lake, Gem Lake, Lower Wildcat Lake, and Upper Wildcat Lake.
I was on the road at 10am and to the trailhead by 11am. The hydroplane inducing rain levels on the way up to the Pass did not bode well for the conditions for the rest of the day. There were about 10 other cars in the parking lot. I was surprised to see there were other people as crazy as me!
Snow Lake Trail #1013 begins in the woods near the second parking lot at Alpental. There’s a nice vault toilet and a big bulletin board at the trailhead so it’s hard to miss. The trail begins by gently ascending through open talus fields and forest. Across the valley you begin to see views of The Tooth, Bryant Peak and Chair Peak – that is if they aren’t hiding in the clouds as they were today. At 1.7 miles you’ll encounter your first trail intersection. To the left is the trail to Source Lake. The trail to Snow Lake continues to the right. The trail begins to ascend more steeply and it switchbacks to a ridge line with a beautiful view down to the Snow Lake basin. After a few switchbacks down to the lake at just over 3 miles you reach Snow Lake where there are numerous campsites (and normally lots of people).
On the south shore of the lake there are some ruins of an old cabin. The cabin was built in 1930 by Aldrich Fenton. His family and local Boy Scouts would visit it for 20 years until heavy snow caused the roof to collapse in 1950. Now all that remains is the fireplace and some stones from the walls.
I passed 5 groups on my way to the lake in addition to a ranger. The ranger inquired as to where I was headed and warned me that the inlet up ahead was running really high with all of the rain but that I might be able to hop across rocks with my long legs. A little bit further along the trail I encountered this raging torrent of water but Latigo and I jumped rock to rock easily enough.
The trail winds around the northeastern side of the lake and gradually gains elevation. At 3.4 miles from the trailhead you’ll encounter another junction. Continue left on High Lakes Trail #1012 to go to Gem Lake. The trail to the right will take you out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and down to the Middle Fork Road.
I was a little surprised that shortly after reaching this junction the trial wound back down to the shores of Snow Lake. But my GPS confirmed I was on the right track and after a quick log crossing over the Rock Creek outlet I was gaining elevation again. At around 4400 feet I noticed that the rain was turning into snow. As I climbed higher the snow gradually began to accumulate. By the time I reached Gem Lake at 5.1 miles there were about 2-3 inches of snow on the trail. Later in the day when the clouds lifted a bit I could see that on the north slopes of the taller mountains there was more snow accumulation from earlier snow falls – winter is coming!
Gem Lake is a pretty small lake situated at 4,857 feet. I imagine there are some beautiful views of peaks in the vicinity but I couldn’t see much through the clouds. The lake was beautiful and after passing the ranger at Snow Lake I hadn’t encountered any other people. I skirted around Gem Lake to continue the 1.9 additional miles to Lower Wildcat Lake but soon found my phone dead. Since my phone is my GPS and I was getting pretty soggy I decided to head back home.
The hike back went very quickly. There are a number of side trails that come off of the main trail so with the snow it became tricky at times to remember which way to go. Most of the trail today was covered in water so it was important to have good waterproof boots. When I arrived back at the trailhead at 5pm our Explorer was the only vehicle left in the lot. I didn’t encounter anyone on the hike back either. For such a popular hike it’s so rare to have so much of it to yourself.
I’m really glad I didn’t let the weather hold me back. I’m also thankful that I bought a weather-sealed camera so I wasn’t afraid to get it a little wet. It rained or snowed the entire day and temps ranged from 40 degrees at the trailhead down to 36 degrees at Gem Lake. Watching the clouds blanket the nearby peaks and roll across the lake basins was spectacular and seeing those first flakes of snow come down was really amazing. When the snow got deep enough, Latigo started rolling around in it like he typically does. Soon snowshoes will be necessary to complete this hike but when the time comes be sure to check avalanche conditions because the trail passes through a number of avalanche chutes and has been the site of accidents in the past.