62 – Elbow Lake

Right from the get go, our hike to Elbow Lake started off with a great sense of adventure. Here I am at the trailhead, pointing out a warning about a stream crossing.

(pic by Kent) . . . me at trailhead to Elbow Lake

The U.S. Forest Service sign made it very clear that the crossing was dangerous, and as warned, moments later we were faced with a major challenge. Washed out by flood waters during the early 2000’s, the original bridge over the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River is long gone, and now, the only access to the Elbow Lake Trail #697 is by crossing a make-shift bridge of logs that have jammed haphazardly across the river. Kent first made the crossing with our backpacks. Go here – http://youtu.be/lHbLlVrB-kU – to see the video I took as he made his way over with his pack, and then back again. Really, this was an exciting stream to cross, so do take the time to view the video!

Kent first crosses with packs, then returns to give me a hand

With both of our packs safely on the other side, Kent returned once again to give me a hand. The logs, damp from the spray of the rapidly moving water only inches below, did not feel as slick under my hiking boots as I had expected, and securely holding onto each other’s wrists, we safely made our way to the other side. To say that I am comfortable with stream crossings like this would be an over-statement, yet because we so carefully crossed together, as long as my focus was NOT on that rapidly moving river, I did not feel frightened.

(pic by Kent) . . . Me – crossing the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River

Once safely on the other side of the river, we put our packs back on and continued along the trail as it led us through the wild and scenic Mount Baker  – Snoqualmie National Forest.

The forest . . . along the trail to Elbow Lake

Occasionally a creek flowed over its bank and onto the trail, but compared to the stream crossing we had made at the very beginning of our hike, these creeks seemed so minor.

Small waterfall over our trail . . . we walk through

The trail continued to work its way up and around the forest, sometimes opening up to show us a magnificent view of the Twin Sisters.

Twin Sisters mountain range . . . from trail to Elbow Lake

Free from snow until about the 3,300′ level, we did not have to hike much further before all signs of the trail were buried under the snow.

Snow . . . along the “lost” trail

Standing on the snow between two creeks, our exact location could not be determined when checking the topo map. Rather than meander aimlessly through the steep, snow-covered forest, we decided to turn around and backtrack to where we had last seen the trail and hike back down to the trailhead.

Checking topo map for indication of trail lost in snow . . .

It was then that a couple of other hikers came along. Pointing to a ridge high above, they said they knew where to pick up the trail again, and that if we were headed to Elbow Lake, we could follow – so we did.

Hikers come by and give direction for scramble up mountain to rejoin the trail . . .

We followed as they set off scrambling up through the forest and along an extremely steep slope. Those guys moved fast. (They were lots younger than us. I’d guess, younger than my children. Maybe barely older than my grandchildren!) We were hurrying as fast as we could in our effort to keep up, but in no time, those guys were out of sight. Then in my hurry, I failed to dig my boot deep enough into the soft soil as I climbed up the steep hillside, and I slid a few feet back down the hill. Fortunately, my backward slide was stopped by a snag. There were very large trees further below and I felt glad the snag had kept me from crashing into one of them, but it was rather wild looking branch and my knee twisted slightly as I stopped. At about the time I was bringing myself back to an upright position, we heard a call from the guys from above that they had found the trail. It was something like 23 more meters. (Meters?) We weren’t sure how much further that might be, but it must not have been too much further (maybe only 75 or so feet?) because we could hear them as they yelled. We decided to continue our climb up the hill – only at a slower, more controlled pace, and we finally reached the top of the ridge. Once again, we were on the trail.

We find the trail after scramble up steep forested mountain side

There was no snow on that ridge, and the other hikers had drawn an arrow on the ground to indicate which direction we should go to reach the lake. Back on track, Kent’s fishing pole was sticking out of his backpack, and we were still hopeful that we could hike into Elbow Lake – and maybe even have fried fish for dinner.

Along the trail . . . to Elbow Lake

We continued along the trail, but gaining a little more elevation as we got closer to the lake, once again, we hit snow. This time it was deeper, steeper and more slippery. For the most part, we weren’t sinking very far into the snow as it was frozen pretty solid, and we tried to stay to the inside of the snowy trail, but it was slippery and getting dangerous. Plus, remember my twisted knee? With every step, it was beginning to hurt more.

Icy snow trail conditions along the steep sideslope

We did not have much further to go to reach the lake, but there was snow everywhere, the trail conditions had become treacherous, my knee was hurting more and more, the lake would be nothing but a frozen snow field, it was already after 4:00 p.m., we were well over three miles from our original starting point, don’t forget those logs we had to safely make our way over in order to get over that raging river. Assessing our situation, we decided to eat a snack and then turn around and head back down to the trailhead.

We turned around when snow became dangerous along side slope trail

Here I am, hiking back down to the trailhead through the snow.

(pic by Kent) . . . me along snow-covered trail

Funny thing about this second river crossing, even though we crossed the same way as we had at the beginning of our hike with Kent first crossing with our packs and then returning to give me a hand, even with my sore knee, that raging water below us no longer felt that intimidating. Here I am, ready to cross the river for the second time.

(pic by Kent) . . . Me – ready to cross the river for the second time

Would I go back? Yes, definitely! But let’s wait until the snow is off of the lake. This hike has all the things that I enjoy the most. There is plenty of excitement as the rather challenging trail works it way up through a beautiful forest, past some very old trees and beautiful streams. With stunning mountain views along the way and the destination a beautiful alpine lake, how could I not want to go back?

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