Friday morning I was lazy. I had intended to do this hike then, but for some reason I just wasn't feeling it (maybe it was the comfort of my warm bed). After two days of lounging like a bum, however, my motivation returned and this morning I headed out early to see Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene. Lake Serene is an alpine lake at roughly 2500 feet. Bridal Veil Falls is fed by the lake and is at about 1600 feet.
The Lake Serene trail head is off of Highway 2 at about the 35 mile marker (look for Mt. Index Road). I arrived just after 7 AM and there were only 3 other cars in the parking lot. As is typical this was only temporary. Note that you need a Northwest Forest Pass to park here.
The first section of the trail is fairly easy. It's about 1.6 miles and climbs about 600 feet. It is narrow in places and there are a few creek crossings. Other than being careful on the slippery rocks there isn't too much to be aware of. It took me about 40 minutes (alone with no trail traffic) to finish this section of trail. The following pictures, like this section of trail, are rather unexciting.
At 1.6 miles there is a fork in the trail. One would stay left to continue on to Lake Serene or turn right up a steep hill to Bridal Veil Falls. I decided to do both and started with the falls, which are just 1/2 mile off the main trail. The trail to the falls, however, is fairly steep (400 feet up) and rocky and crosses moving water in several locations. Caution is necessary when crossing water as the rocks can be very slippery. Also, on this side trail to the falls I encountered the first of what would become literally hundreds of wood stairs. Big thanks to the people that built them, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't cursing them later in the morning.
In took me about 20 minutes to get up to falls from the trail fork. The water was rushing over Bridal Veil Falls in full force. The snow melt from higher up the mountain is feeding the falls. I did my best to get photos (and a video) but I was concerned about getting my new camera wet. There was a significant amount of spray coming from the falls. Extreme caution is warranted at the falls. To slip and go over would pretty much end your life and that's just no fun. I was lucky enough to have the falls area all to myself for the 5 minutes or so I spent up there. I did encounter multiple parties headed up as I headed down.
After seeing the falls I started the 2.5 mile hike up to Lake Serene. It was a half mile back to the main trail and then from there two miles up to the lake. It was a moderately strenuous hike up to the lake, but it only climbed about 1300 feet in that two miles. There were many stairs. Also, there were multiple places that the trail wasn't in the best of shape - partially blocked or washed out by boulders or down trees. I only saw a few people and they were all on their way down. There were a couple of places to get views of the valley but a lot of the views were obscured by clouds. All in all it wasn't bad until the last quarter mile in which I encountered snow.
The snow started at about 1/4 mile from the lake. I had to cross a snow field on a slope. I was able to follow the tracks of those who came earlier. To be quite honest I was fairly nervous on the snow. I don't know how easy it would have been to cross if I hadn't had hiking poles. The slow was packed well but slippery and I wished on more than one occasion for spikes on the bottom of my boots. Snow shoes wouldn't have helped much because of angle of the slope. I kept imagining myself slipping down the slope and having to climb back up. In the end I just went slowly and carefully and had no issues.
I ended up getting to Lake Serene about one hour and 45 minutes after departing the falls - not the greatest pace by any means but I stopped many times for photos and I lost time on the snow. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had the entire lake to myself. It was mostly frozen over but the small section that wasn't frozen was crystal clear and I could see all the way to the bottom. Mt. Index across the lake was massive and I found myself pretty awestruck. The summit of Mt. Index is 3000 feet higher than the lake and the sheer size of the mountain coming out of the lake is unbelievable. The way the clouds were coming and going combined with the cold really gave the place a spooky feel and for the first time I found myself wishing I wasn't alone. The coolest (scariest) event was the loud crack followed by huge thunder-like rumbling. It took me a second to figure out what it was before I realized - AVALANCHE!!!! I grabbed my camera and quickly set it to video to capture an avalanche coming off the sheer face of Mt. Index on the other side of the lake. The power and the sound was awesome. Below are a few pictures from the lake with two videos (one of the avalanche).
I ended up staying at the lake long enough to eat part of a sandwich and rest before heading back down. I soon realized that I was not alone on the mountain as I passed literally hundreds of people on the way down. Like many hikes before, the lower mountain and the parking lot were like Disneyland. It took me just one hour and 50 minutes to get from the lake to my car. All in all a pretty good day but I'd really like to go back on a sunny weekday later in the summer when the snow is gone.