I headed up the Mountain Loop Highway this morning to hike up to Heather Lake. My hiking buddy had done this hike ~10 days prior while I was out of town so I decided to match him. This is a fairly tame 4 mile round trip hike which climbs 1000 ft (1300 feet with ups and downs). Heather Lake lies in the shadow of Mt. Pilchuck which I just climbed last summer. The trailhead can be accessed on Forest Road 42 - the very same road that takes you to the Mt. Pilchuck trailhead.
I hit the trail very early (5:35 AM) and was guided by the light of my headlamp for the first half hour. At about 2000 feet I started encountering sporadic snow and at 2100 feet it became consistent. At that point I put on my microspikes for the rest of the trip up to the lake. Microspikes or snowshoes weren't absolutely necessary but the extra traction was nice. I had both with me. The snow on the trail was fairly compact but off the trail it was softer and there were many opportunities to posthole. The snow is plentiful but melting fast and in several areas it is apparent that water is running under the snow so careful steps were a must.
I took my sweet time getting up to the lake and once there I enjoyed the views of Mt. Pilchuck on the far side of the lake and watched for avalanches coming down the south and west slopes. I had hoped to catch one on film but it was pretty early. I'm sure with the warm temps I could have seen one later in the day. There is a trail that goes around the lake but the bridges are covered with fast melting and unstable snow and the south and west sides of the lake are in the avalanche zone so I didn't try it.
After relaxing for a few minutes I decided to try out my new snowshoes which I picked up recently at the REI winter clearance. I traded the microspikes for the snowshoes and explored around the lake off trail. I had a blast and the shoes did really well. After that I returned to my original spot to put the microspikes back on before departing and found a gentlemen with two large dogs enjoying a cold beer. Why didn't I think of that?
On the way back to the car I saw this fantastic huge old tree trunk that had a couple of new trees growing in, on, and around it. It was kind of creepy but pretty cool. I was back at the car within 4 hours of departure and I found a Forest Ranger checking for NW Forest Passes in every car. Of course I had mine but I'm not sure everyone else was so lucky. This is great little trip that can be done in just a few hours. It's also easy enough for kids, especially after the snow melts.