Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lake Lillian: Rough Trail, Splendid Payoff

We humans were made to walk. And there's nothing quite so elemental yet rewarding as a vigorous hike through incredibly scenic alpine landscapes.  We've got plenty of that here in the Pacific Northwest, like the trail to Lake Lillian just a few miles east of Snoqualmie Pass.

Despite the beautiful destination and being just an hour east of Seattle via I-90, some rough sections of trail and an old (but regrowing) clearcut keep the crowds down on this trail.

On a chilly fall morning we begin hiking to Lake Lillian early, bundled in layers as we walk along the frost-covered trail. Within a mile or so we get high enough for views of the Big Guy to the south (who dominates much of western Washington).

In about two miles, just after we enter the forest past the clearcut, two tall, strapping young guys come scrambling quickly down the trail.

"Wow, you must have gotten an early start!" I exclaim in surprise, since they don't have backpacks for an overnight outing.

"We saw a bear on the trail ahead," one of them says. 

So should we continue? Heck yes! After all, there's an older couple ahead of us on the trail who haven't turned around.

Where's the bear?

if you read my post a few weeks ago about hiking in silence, on this hike we definitely are not silent. Just in case Mr/Ms Bear is still around, we talk and sing loudly as we hike on upward. (How many times can you replace a song's original lyrics with "bear"? Lots: Jingle Bear, Hey Bear, Rocky Bearcoon, You are my Bearshine....)

Fortunately we don't encounter anyone else on the trail for the next mile. My songs are silly, loud, and slightly off key. Maybe I scared the bear away with my singing.

At the 3-mile mark, the trail plunges steeply down through shrubs and reaches a flat where we find Twin Lakes, two idyllic alpine lakes very quiet on a still Sunday morning.

I'm enchanted by the cairn someone placed in the middle of one of the lakes. Because if you know me, you know I love cairns.

After stopping for several photos, we're off for the final push to Lake Lillian. 

Past another scenic little lake the trail rises steeply, then continues up, down, through a major rockfall, and along a final push so steep and in such poor shape that we think maybe we wandered off onto a game trail.

Nope. Just when we think about turning around, the older couple we saw at the trailhead is coming down.

"You're almost there, just over the rise," they tell us.

And indeed, in less than two minutes, here we are. Even better, we're alone at this splendid alpine lake.

With such strong contrast in the bright morning sun, it's hard to get some good shots of the amazing fall color on the far shore. Here's my try:

For the first 20 minutes or so, we're blessed with that particular quiet of alpine high country, with no one else here. A slight breeze barely ripples the lake surface. 

We look around for a trail around the lake, but after the rough trail up, don't feel like climbing hand over foot up the even steeper rocks that rim the lake. A couple adventurous guys, who arrived a bit later, do. But the guy on the right was very wary and moved slowly, with trepidation.

Within about 30 minutes, at least a dozen other hikers have arrived, and there's not much room to spread out without scrambling. Time to head back down.

"Down" isn't totally accurate. We probably gain close to 800 feet (or more) on the way back to the trailhead.

While heading back uphill on the way out, two other women pass us. Although I don't get her name, I'm in awe of the gal who only has one lung. She tells us she had a lung removed last year when they found a tumor. And on this hike I, with two healthy lungs, can't keep up with her. How inspiring is that woman? Mega.

So here's to all those who persist despite overcoming illness and injury. May you all be blessed with such tenacity and find your way to this and other beautiful trails.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! And I'd love to hear in the comments below about your Northwest experiences.

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When You Go
According to the WTA website, this hike is 9 miles rountrip, with an elevation gain of just 2,000 feet. That's 2,000 hard-earned feet! You'll need a  Northwest Forest Pass to park at the trailhead. It's about 4 miles up a pretty rough dirt road a few miles east of Snoqualmie Pass on Gold Creek Road (north side of I-90).

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