Monday, April 27, 2015

Hiking the Northwest's Greatest Hits: Heather Lake

Every few years I trek to Heather Lake for a quick, rejuvenating dose of ancient forest and a lovely alpine lake. 

This relatively easy hike (4.6 miles round trip and elevation gain of 1,034 feet) is the closest and easiest alpine lake hike on the Mountain Loop Highway east of Everett, Washington. Which of course makes it very popular, especially on weekends.

Last time I hiked Heather Lake in late May 2011, we scrambled over snow the last stretch of trail.  On my recent hike, over a month earlier, the trail was already snow-free up to an alpine setting that resembles mid-summer instead of spring. Check out the comparison photos below.

May 29, 2011
April 20, 2015

Needless to say, this latest April hike was very different.  While the trail is now snow-free, it's still muddy in some spots.

After starting at the well-signed trailhead just 1.4 mile up the gravel road to Mt. Pilchuck (which was surprisingly quite rough, with some hefty potholes), we pass remnants of former giant trees along the lower trail.

About a half mile along, we come to what looks like a switchback, with the gravel trail continuing down and a messy, branch-covered trail continuing upward. Resist the temptation to take the switchback up and stay on the well-graded trail that drops down a bit.

Soon enough, we cross a small stream, traverse some board-covered trail, and emerge into lush, gorgeous old-growth forest.  Now this is what used to predominate our region.

 As you can see, the trail becomes quite rough in places, sometimes crossing intricate networks of roots and rocks.

Because my knee has been tweaky lately, hiking poles were helpful in these rougher stretches of trail (thanks to Susie for my ad-lib poles:). 

Arriving at the lake, we plop on a big boulder and lounge for a while in the sun, soaking in the rays and the ahhh-worthy view of the lake and cliffs beyond.  This is technically on the northeast flank of Mt. Pilchuck.

Although this is my fourth trip to Heather Lake, I've never before circumnavigated the lake on the well-established trail. Go for it to get different views and add a bit of mileage.

Avalanche path
Since it's a beautiful spring day, despite being a Monday we see plenty of people and a few dogs on the trail. But it's not overcrowded. 

On the way back down, I can't resist snapping more shots of the gorgeous green forest. Despite the logging last century, the forest has come back vigorously in the lower, second growth portion of the trail. And now, thankfully, it's protected around the trail at least.

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Happy trail and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!


Lainey Piland said...

Great photos and blog! I'm a sucker for old growth forest, and it always breaks my heart to see those huge old stumps along the trails and know that our whole region used to be covered with those massive trees.

Your snowpack comparison photos between now and 2011 are astounding! What a difference.

jill said...

Thanks Lainey! Yea, sometimes I try to envision what it used to look like around here.

jill said...

To follow up on abbreviated comment, yes, I find it a bit heartbreaking to see huge old stumps and know how much was lost of the original old growth forests. IMO inexcusable to cut one more old growth tree!

Suezy P said...

Jill....I could never tire looking at your photos or reading your narrative on the different places you travel to. The comparison photo was striking. The last photo reminds me of the posted comments - that tree's roots are holding on to anything to stay alive and stick we tenaciously hold on to the idea that things should not change and morn what once was. That said, I'm in total agreement with the is inexcusable to cut one more old growth tree.

jill said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment Suezy!

Ashley said...

Wow, what a comparison! This is also one of my go-to early season hikes. I like that it's a quick hike to such a beautiful lake. The trail does need some love though with all those exposed roots...

Ashley said...

btw, you should definitely share the story of your inspiring friend. :)

jill said...

Hey Ashley,
Yes, trail could use some TLC. And yes, told my friend she should share her story. Want to do it justice, though.