I'll apologize in advance. This is by far my longest blog post to date (and it may take a minute to load). This was my first backpacking trip since a college trip way back in 1999 (and I only remember that because of our rushing back down the hill somewhere in Great Smoky Mountain National Park trying to get back to Knoxville in time for the Tennessee/Auburn football game).
On top of this essentially being my first backpacking trip in forever I was going solo. I would have loved some company, but finding companions who can take a Friday off on very short notice is next to impossible. The weather was slated to be nice so I said "what the hell" and I went for it. Also, as my buddy and I are planning a multi-day trip in the North Cascades next month, I really wanted to get an overnight trip under my belt before then. My destination was Snoqualmie Lake. The map below indicates the position of the trailhead.
Before I even left the house, I made a long list of the items I'd "need" and laid everything out on a blue tarp in my garage for inventory. Did I carry too much? Probably. Was I comfortable? Yes. After packing up I headed out very early Friday morning. To get to the trailhead you pretty much just following the Middle Fork road along the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River (U.S. Forest Road 56) to the road's end. It's been recently graded (since the time of my Mailbox Peak climb) and you can do a steady clip of 20-25 MPH along it. A few potholes here and there but nothing my Honda Civic couldn't handle. When I got to the trailhead there was only one other car there and I'd later pass its owners as they were on their way down. I hit the trail about 7:45 AM Friday morning. Just past the gate at the trailhead is a bridge over the Taylor River which would become my constant companion all the way up to the 8.5 mile trip to the lake. Also note that the Alpine Lakes Wilderness permit box is beyond this bridge and not at the trailhead.
The first 6 1/2 miles of the trail is gently graded and easy to climb (maybe 700 feet total elevation gain). You can always see or hear the sound of the Taylor River to the south on the right side of the trail. This is a great option of a day hike for anyone just getting into hiking. The first section of the trail passes a junction where one could turn up the Quartz Creek trail which seemed pretty rocky. At about 2.8 miles is a very well built wood bridge over Marten Creek which was a great place to take a break and watch the rushing water fall by. There is a side trail here up to Marten Lake.
After breaking at Marten Creek I continued up to the turn-off to Otter Falls. This is just about a 1000 foot side trip on the north side of the trail marked only by a small cairn and someone's hand carved sign in the tree. If your head is down you will walk right by it (start looking after the creek - it's not too far). The side trip up to the falls is muddy and covered with roots but not too bad. I spent 30 minutes there having a snack and water break and watching the falls flow into the small Lipsy Lake (from there is an outlet down to the Taylor River). The falls are much higher than they appear in the pictures and the smooth rock is a really interesting contrast to all of the raging rocky falls elsewhere in the region.
The next 1/2 mile of trail leads up to the bridge crossing Big Creek. There is at least one place to camp on the side of this section of trail. The falls at Big Creek wield a lot of power but it's the bridge that is really interesting. It's a concrete road bridge built in the mid-60's. At one time there were plans to put a road through here connecting I-90 to Hwy 2. The craziest thing is that there you are, hiking along, just minding your own business is a densely forested region and then you emerge from the canopy onto the bridge and then 50 feet later you head right back into the canopy like it never happened.
The next 1 1/2 miles up the trail provided the first breaks in the trees (sunshine!) and the first looks at Treen Peak to the southwest. Note that the Green Trails map No. 175 shows 1.7 miles between the Snoqualmie/Nordrum Lake trails junction where a number of signs at the actual junction indicate 2.0 miles. The GT175 also shows a 0.3 mile section between the 1800 foot elevation marker and the split so there appears to be a disconnect. It's not enough to get anyone lost but it's worth mentioning. Also interesting is the apparent disconnect between some of the signs at the junction. Nordrum Lake is trail 1004 and Snoqualmie Lake trail 1002.
The trail from to the junction noted in the previous section is easy. From there to the lake, however, is much harder. It climbs about 1400 feet in two miles up to the lake. While 700 feet per mile would be cake with a light dayhike pack, the 35 lb pack I was carrying (and the 6.5 miles I'd already hiked) made this section pretty tough. This section of the trail can be very rocky at times. Also there are multiple spots where you must cross waterfalls (good spots to filter) and talus slopes. In the end this section took me two hours alone. In the end I reached Snoqualmie Lake right at 6 hours after departing my car (with multiple breaks and stops for over 300 photos).
There I was at the lake shortly before 2 PM and I was all alone. I quickly went about searching for possible camp sites (3 of which are pictured below) before I settled on a nice soft patch of ground where I found a built-in firepit. There is a muddier site with a better view and rocks to sit on right at the edge of the lake but I decided to skip the mud. Note that at the muddy site there is an amazing pair of rocks that I guess at some point were a single rock (based upon their orientation and my rudimentary knowledge of geology). I set up camp and took a few pictures before taking a well deserved break for a snack and some water.
After breaking I decided to explore the two-mile trail up to Bear and Deer lakes but was thwarted by blowdown after blowdown. I counted at least 20 trees down on the trail in the 1/2 mile or so I climbed the trail before I got to a set of 3 or 4 in a row and gave up. This section of trail would have been near impossible had I been carrying my heavy pack.
Later on I decided to explore the area at the north end of the lake where the flow of water heads downhill to the Taylor River. There are lots of big boulders and debris here. I chose a big boulder next to pretty good water flow to filter water and have dinner. I was really happy with the freeze dried fajitas (maybe just because I was tired and hungry). Later on I had my first attempt at hanging my food bag to protect it from nosy black bears and was proud of my work (I saw no bears).
As dusk approached I sat on the big rock by the muddy campsite. The wind had disappeared and the lake was eerily still. I relaxed and enjoyed the cooling air and near silence. Eventually a couple of guys came by and said hello and disappeared around a corner to set up a camp of there own. Another pair of day hikers showed up briefly before heading down. I later attempted to build a fire and while I could keep this small stuff burning all of the big stuff was just too wet. Before dark I decided to crash (I'd hiked/explored over 10 miles and had been up since 5:30 AM). Later from my tent I heard a female and male voice and in the morning I saw another tent at the muddy site. In the end I wasn't as alone as I thought (which actually gave me some solace).
When I woke up Saturday morning it was COLD!!!! My sleeping bag was very warm and it took a lot of willpower to leave it but at around 5:30 AM I did. After breakfast I packed up my stuff and at 6:45 AM I hit the trail for home. I caught a few morning shots on the way down during the beautiful morning with no clouds to be seen. When I emerged from the canopy at Big Creek I scared the hell out of a fellow named Rick who was day hiking and he and I shared a nice conversation as we hiked together back down to the cars. It took me just 3 hours from lake to car. It had been a great trip. Before the trip I was 2 parts excited and 1 part terrified but I can't really express in words how happy I am to have done it.
One final note. As I drove back down the forest road to home I came across this burned out car (stolen? murder? worse?) on a bridge. It wasn't there on Friday morning and I don't know its story, but it seemed to be an interesting contrast against the beautiful mountain backdrop.