Monday, October 8, 2018

Hiking Near Leavenworth: Solitude at Trout Lake

Here's an understatement: Leavenworth, our favorite faux-Bavarian town nestled in the north-central Cascades of Washington, is a popular destination. 

As I write this, Leavenworth's annual Oktoberfest is going on over several weekends, people are hiking the spectacular Enchantments area trails up Icicle Creek Canyon en masse (weather permitting), and the apple and pear harvest is in full swing.

For those hikers who value solitude in nature, think beyond the most well-known trails near Leavenworth. I've hiked some of these trails numerous times in the last year and haven't blogged about them because, well, most local hikers already know about them and they don't need more advertisements (I'm talking about you, Colchuck Lake, for starters).

Dramatic Colchuck Lake, NOT what this blog post is about. :)

While it's no longer possible to do the "greatest hits" hikes without a crowd on weekends, it's still possible to have a relatively quiet experience and not share the trail with many, or any, others. A few hints:

Go on a weekday if you can (although that's no guarantee anymore), go when it's raining (same), and go to a less spectacular but still invigorating hike like the trail to Trout Lake.

Last Friday morning we drove up to an empty parking area at the trailhead near the end of Icicle Creek Road. Due to an autumn chill in the air, we pulled on hats, gloves, and jackets and started up the trail into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Within a hundred yards or so, we passed the junction to Jack Creek Trail and skirted along Jack Creek, then crossed it on a sturdy bridge and headed up into the woods. 

Horseback riders also use this trail, and the tread has loosened from many passing hooves. It's soft underfoot. (On the way down, after raining for a while, this made for mud-caked boots.)

A couple miles on, I was startled by a whoosh of wings from flushing out a ruffed grouse. Dave pointed to depressions in the soft dirt along the trail and told me they were giving themselves a dust bath. Then I noticed several similar depressions along the trail and saw another grouse ahead.

Ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus)

After about 3 miles of hiking upward on long switchbacks through lovely forest, we passed another junction (always keep left going up!) and reached a few openings in the forest caused by big rockslides.

Then following a long traverse, the trail turned and continued up a small valley (the Trout Creek drainage) on a fairly level trail with minor ups and downs. By this point the views had really opened up.

Looking back towards Icicle Ridge, incoming rain.
For a couple more miles, we rambled up the drainage, passing through a few forested stretches and enjoying the brilliant golden larches and cottonwoods below.

As we entered a particularly lush patch of forest, the insistent rush of a mountain stream nearby drew us close to Trout Creek, flowing down valley from Trout Lake above. Unlike much of the forest east of the Cascade crest, a thick and damp underbrush carpets the forest here.

At a nearby junction that's also an old campsite, another signed trail diverges across the stream up towards Windy Pass, although the "bridge" across the stream is just a big log. We continued up the main trail through the woods another 1/2 mile to Trout Lake.

Approaching the lake, we entered a swath of forest that had recently burned in what was clearly an intense fire.

"There are spots that are still smoldering!" exclaimed Dave.

Indeed, when I stopped to look around carefully, I noticed at least half a dozen spots where smoke was wafting upwards from the ground or downed trees. It was eerie and unsettling.

Recently charred forest.
With low-lying clouds limiting visibility, combined with the smoking ground, we decide to not stick around very long. I made my way through brush and over some burned logs to a clearing by the shoreline to snap some shots (see photo at top of post too).

Despite the recent fire, I still think it was lovely.

Scorched shoreline marsh, thankfully green forest beyond.
Later I did a search and read that many of the trails up the Icicle had been closed for the last month due to the lightning-ignited Jack Creek fire, which didn't do much initially but flared up in September. Coincidentally, some of the trails just reopened within the last week.

So we retraced our steps back down as the low clouds overhead let loose with a steady rain. I didn't mind because it was helping diminish the remaining fire hot spots and, honestly, I enjoy a walk in the rain.

When we got back to the trailhead later afternoon, there was just one other car. They must have taken the Jack Creek Trail because we didn't see them. We didn't see anyone else but chipmunks and ruffed grouse, which I consider a stellar day hiking.

According to the WTA website, we walked 11.5 miles round trip to the lake and back, with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet up to 4,800 feet. It probably snowed at the lake that evening after we hiked, and by late November (Skadi, snow goddess willing) all the trails up Icicle Creek Canyon will be snow-covered.

Larix lyallii (Alpine Larch) on the left.
After Hike Eats
By the time we got back to Leavenworth, wet and a bit tired, we didn't feel like making dinner. So we went to a most unlikely but actually quite excellent place in town: The Wok About Grill, which is definitely a contrast to the bratwurst and brews beerhall tents set up around town right now.  

With a huge "salad" bar of fresh veggies, meats, tofu, noodles, and sauces to choose from, you select items in a bowl and then hand them to the chefs, who will quickly stir-fry them up into a healthy meal.

So get on out there if you can, soon. The larch needles are ramping up to their annual gold glow, the vine maples are still crimson, and it's the prettiest time of year to be out on the trail IMO.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

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When You Go
You might be wondering why I'm telling you about this hike at all when I clearly treasure quiet trails. I'm realistic; I know this blog isn't going viral in a big way. So if you've stumbled your way here, I consider you a kindred spirit.

To get to the trailhead, take Icicle Creek Road (Forest Road 76) outside Leavenworth for 16.3 miles (the last 4 miles aren't paved) to Rock Island Campground. Turn left, cross Icicle Creek, and after 0.2 mile turn left onto Forest Road Spur 615 (signed "Jack/Trout Trailhead"). In 0.2 mile bear right to trailhead parking (elev. 2850 ft). You need a Northwest Forest Pass to park there or risk a fine.


Unknown said...

I love hiking this time of year. Thanks for sharing such gorgeous photos. I did Colchuck the same weekend. There were a number of hikers, but all were extremely nice and considerate. I heard from friends hiking over the other ridge, I think Ingles Lake, that they were hiking with probably 200 others. That does seem like a lot on a trail. One thing I found when hiking to Snow Lake (on a week day) that many did not fill out the wilderness permit. When we were at the trail head to Colchuck and Stuart, there was a ranger with a box of wilderness permits and chatting with each person. He said this was a pilot program. So everyone filled out a permit. I also met the same ranger on the trail on my way down. I do hope more people realize the importance of filling out these permits, both for safety and for accountability. If these trails are going to be "loved" then they need support. Sorry for the soap box. Jill, thanks for sharing your travels.

Suezy P said...

Jill...I LOVED this post! Your run down on the hike up kept me on the trial, looking for signs of grouse with you...and you gave us the money shot - a photo of a ruffed grouse on an open branch...not typical if they know people are around. I'd be a nervous too, if I came upon remnants of a smoldering fire - I think you were pretty smart to not dally longer. About your blog going should because it is one of the best of its kind out there. You have immense depth of coverage of upper left corner of the world. I am happy you continue on. It seems that blogging about your experiences is a form a therapy. I think it is also a kind of philanthropy - you provide us with a gift of time and place - a beautiful record of what once was.

jill said...

Hi Susan, thanks for the comment! I totally agree with you on the need for more support for our trails, and see the need soon for limited permits on weekends, sadly. Glad you had a good experience hiking to Colchuck. I did it on Fourth of July, wow was it crowded, but generally people were nice. Wasn't crazy about those who needed to play their music out loud as they went. I hope we can coordinate again soon for a hike or something. ciao!

Suezy! I a so flattered and honored by your comments. And yes, I suppose the blog is a form of therapy, reliving and seeing the experience in a different, more reflective light. Yea, we saw several grouses, then the next morning a...shoot, the other similar birds but smaller, with the little curly cue on its head...a quail! Anyway, thanks again for your words! xo