Less than an hour east of Seattle, Washington, and right off Interstate 90, on our hike today we expect crowds on the trail. We're hiking past Snow Lake and continuing another couple miles and about 800 feet more in elevation gain to Gem Lake.
Way back in 2008, the hike to Snow Lake was my very first blog post. It's the most heavily used trail in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, although less than half the hikers continue to Gem Lake.
While we didn't start quite as early as planned, we're still rewarded with relative quiet on the way to Snow Lake starting up the trail at 7:45 a.m.
As we crest the saddle above Snow Lake, a couple miles along the increasingly rocky trail, the mist thickens. I get a little disoriented when we descend the trail down to Snow Lake because, well, we can't see the lake until we're literally right at the shoreline.
|Lunch at the lakeshore.|
Part of the beauty of this trail/area is the striking talus (big rocks) strewn along the trail and beyond. It adds to the drama but makes the hiking a little trickier. Let's just say it's not a smooth, footworn dirt path.
Actually, all the talus is evidence that geology happens. As I say to Julie, "I wouldn't want to be hiking here during an earthquake." Think rockfall hazard zone. (I took a couple quarters of geology at University of Washington and I work with geologists, so I think about these things.)
While you can scramble around and even scale Mt. Wright across the lake, we're too bothered by the aggressive mosquitos to linger after snacks. Several tents are scattered around the lake, and I feel a little like we're invading the backpackers' "living rooms." If you want much privacy, weeknights would be better.
The hike down on the rough, rocky trail is hard on my fussy knee, so I'm glad for trekking poles.
More backpackers are heading up as we're heading down. About 7-8 years ago I thought hiking/backpacking might be waning in popularity. I saw mostly Boomers and Gen Xers out on the trail. But with so many young tech workers moving to Seattle and social media blitzing, multitudes of Millenials are out here now.
Descending to Snow Lake reveals...a lake! It's still not completely clear, but it's visible and beautiful as always.
By the time we start hiking above the Snow Lake shoreline, the trail becomes thick with hikers and dogs. Things get worrisome when we see a group cutting downslope between switchbacks on the trail up to the saddle, causing dirt and rocks to slough off down the hillside. Sadly this is increasingly common and damages the trail and, ultimately, the lake.
The parking lot is full and then some when we get back. My feet and knees tell me this 10-mile hike was double the wear and tear of a smooth trail. But the loveliness of that alpine terrain—worth every step.
When You Go
When You Go
Parking for the Gem Lake hike is in the Alpental Ski Area parking lot at Snoqualmie Summit. You'll need a Northwest Forest Pass to park here. Overall the trip to Gem Lake is about 10 miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain of about 2,200 feet. The lake elevation is just shy of 5,000 feet.