Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Snow Lake: 37 Dogs and Counting
Yeah, Snow Lake is the most heavily traveled hiking trail in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and yeah, if you go there on a sunny Saturday afternoon in late summer or fall, you’ll be hiking with the masses. But there’s a reason: first and foremost, it’s a beautiful hike that never fails to deliver. Doesn’t hurt either that the trailhead is just a couple minutes off I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass, there’s ample parking at the Alpental lot, and at just under six miles roundtrip, it’s a moderately easy hike.
Fueled up on caffeine this morning, a couple friends join me and we drive up from Seattle. Mostly for the exercise, but we also want to get a quick taste of spectacular alpine scenery. Right away we bump into some hiking buddies of my friend Betty. It's not uncommon to see people you know up there.
The first part of the hike is a gradual uphill grade with lots of shady evergreen forest interspersed by old rockslide crossings. By the time we hit the first switchback a mile in, we’re warmed up. I particularly like the plentiful rock and wood steps, so the grade is never too steep (easier on my fussy Achilles tendons).
Our pace today is pretty slow since Betty is nursing a cold, and we arrive at the big rock overlook on the ridge above the lake around noon. Snow Lake lies shimmering deep sapphire blue below us in a bowl of steep talus slopes. With plenty of others munching their lunches along with us, it's like being at a city park. But that’s okay. It’s a lovely day and everyone’s in a good mood.
On the way back we take the Source Lake overlook side trail, where we find late season patches of bright orange columbines strewn amongst the talus.
As I often do on a busy trail, I start counting the number and variety of dogs leading their humans along the trail. Today I pass three standard poodles in a row. My record is 37 dogs, but today I get distracted and lose track in the mid-twenties.
By mid-afternoon we’re back at the car, a bit tired, sweaty, and content. I’ll be back before the snow flies, but next time I really need to sneak up on a less-crowded weekday. You should, too.
When You Go
To get to the Snow Lake trailhead, drive on I-90 east from Seattle. Exit at number 52/Snoqualmie Pass, and drive left under the freeway. Turn right into the Alpental Ski Area and drive 1.5 miles to the end of the road, where there is a large dirt parking lot. The trail is up the road on the right, visible from the parking lot. A Northwest Forest Parking Pass is required (get one at REI or at the Ranger Station over at Snoqualmie Summit). For you map junkies, here's a link to a topo map of Snow Lake.
The hiking season for Snow Lake is relatively short, depending on the winter snow pack. Generally it's open from early summer to the first big snowfalls in late fall. Every few years there seems to be an avalanche fatality on this trail, mostly showshoers. Personally I stay away during the winter and spring and just go hiking there when the snow melts.