Having camped at the Gorge Creek Campground after we hiked to Blue Lake – Rainy Pass the day before (see #164 – Blue Lake – Rainy Pass), this was the day we were finally (finally!) going to hike the Sauk Mountain Trail. It was a long drive up a steep, twisted, rutted, more-or-less one-lane gravel road to the trailhead of Sauk Mountain, but once we pulled into the parking lot and took in the view, we were in awe. We had been experiencing several days of thick, lingering fog in the lower elevations, and what a treat to have gained enough elevation to escape that dreary fog. This is the view right out of the parking lot – thick clouds below with clear, blue sky over head. Perfect!
At the Sauk Mountain trailhead.
It’s always nice to have facilities at the trailhead, and this has got to be one of the prettiest toilets with the grandest view I have ever seen!
The trail climbs up – constantly, up, up, up.
For approximately 1,000′, it’s nothing but switchbacks, up, up, up.
There’s a beautiful view of Mount Baker from the switchbacks leading to the top of Sauk Mountain.
We could see where the Sauk River meets the Skagit River as we climbed up those switchbacks.
And here’s Mount Shuksan from the Sauk Mountain Trail.
From the top of Sauk Mountain, there is a junction to another trail that will take you close to 1,000′ down again to the shore of Sauk Lake. Although there are said to be a couple of nice campsites near the lake, I doubt if that lake gets many visitors as the trail did not look very well traveled. It’s a pretty little lake.
We ran into snow on the back side of Sauk Mountain.
This is an in and back hike (or in this case, up and down!), we turned around to make the hike back down to the trailhead.
But of course, not before we sat and took in the view as we enjoyed the picnic lunch we’d packed in our backpacks.
Sauk Mountain is the site of a former fire lookout, so the views are spectacular, making this very popular hike well worth the effort. For more information and driving directions to the trailhead, go here – http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/sauk-mountain. In the winter months, the Sauk Mountain Road is a popular snowshoe destination as well. Go here – http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/sauk-mountain-snowshoe – for more information on snowshoeing there. The views are spectacular along that road, so I can see why it is popular for snowshoeing too. Happy Trails!
Having recently upgraded from a two-person, three season tent to a three-person, four season tent and anxious to give that new tent of ours a try in the great outdoors, we car camped along the beautiful Gorge Lake at the Gorge Lake Campgrounds. Not far from Rainy Pass, the Gorge Lake Campgrounds is our favorite over the more popular (and crowded and noisy) Colonial Creek Campground. Gorge Lake Campgrounds sits enough off of Highway 20 and, protected by Gorge Lake, doesn’t suffer from all the traffic noise that often interrupts the beauty of the Colonial Creek Campground, and since it’s such a small campgrounds, it has a more wilderness-like feeling to it. We left home early in the morning on our two-hour drive to the campgrounds, and it was all but empty when we arrived.
Once our camp was set up, we headed to the Blue Lake trailhead to hike.
There was a little snow on the boardwalk leading into the forest, but we were expecting snow and were well prepared with both our snowshoes and ice trekkers.
We were in search of the golden larches, and it felt like we hit the jackpot!
The trail was an easy thousand foot elevation gain over its just over two miles to the lake, and as we got higher, more snow covered our path. The snow was crusty so our ice trekkers made for great traction.
Sunshine, golden larches, snow, a beautiful day and the best hiking partner, who would ask for anything more?
Blue Lake was pretty much frozen solid, and in a position that was mostly shaded, so the larches weren’t showing as brilliantly gold as the ones along the trail to the lake, but it certainly was a lovely, alpine lake. We sat above the lake and enjoyed a picnic lunch before heading back down to the trailhead.
Just because it was business that took us to Olympia didn’t mean that we couldn’t take time out to explore some of their urban trails too. We like the charm of Olympia and could easily relocate there, so we did our best to add in as much outdoor, urban trail time as possible between the business sort of commitments of our day. Having thoroughly explored the Capitol grounds and buildings earlier in the day (see #162 – Olympia Capitol Buildings & Grounds), next on our list was their lovely Waterfront Walk along the Port of Olympia and Fiddlehead Marina.
There is a lovely boardwalk along the dock at Fiddlehead Marina.
We were “here”!
Fiddlehead Marina, beautiful – even on an overcast day.
I admired the houseboats docked at Fiddlehead Marina.
Live entertainment was provided by this playful little harbor seal. So sweet!
For more information on the Port of Olympia, Fiddlehead Marina and this walk, visit the Port of Olympia website here – http://www.portolympia.com/.
Visiting Olympia on business, we planned our trip to include plenty of extra time so that we could enjoy the city. In many ways, Olympia is similar to my home town of Bellingham. It’s rather like a small version of Bellingham and I always feel right at home there. I enjoy the fact that it’s not as congested nor crowded, that it doesn’t seem to still be stuck in the trying-to find-it’s-new identity mode like Bellingham, it’s quaint, composed, classy and to me has more sophistication and charm than you can find further north. It was the season for fall colors, and even on an overcast, drizzly day, colors were intense.
We spent several hours along the paths and trails throughout the Capitol grounds before heading into some of the official Capitol buildings for our own, private tour. We covered a lot of ground!
Then we went inside for our own, private tour of some of the Capitol buildings.
We were surrounded by beautiful marble.
And lots more detail.
Then it was time for lunch – a working lunch on the Capitol grounds. Others were out on their lunch breaks getting fresh air and exercise along the trails through the Capitol grounds, and some were repeatedly running up and down the steps of the Legislative Building for their daily workout (who needs a gym anyway?).
Dock Butte has been on our list of hikes to get around to doing for quite some time so when we learned that the snow was lingering there, we grabbed our snowshoes hoping for a chance to use them. We also brought our ice trekkers, because the temperatures had dropped since that first snowfall and since snowshoes do better in fresh powder than on ice, there was a good possibility that the snow on Dock Butte would be crusted over and the ice trekkers would give us safer footing on some of the snow-covered side slopes. Either way, we were prepared. Here we are, at the trailhead for Blue Lake.
After less than a mile along the Blue Lake trail, we took a side trail that would take us to Dock Butte. Sometimes almost completely covered with stray roots, the trail to Dock Butte is a less traveled trail and not as well maintained as the more popular trails. It is a well enough worn track though and we managed to find our way without too much difficulty.
If you are looking for more hikes in the Baker Lake area, I highly recommend putting this trail on your gotta-get-to list. Just look at the wonderful view of Mount Baker from along the way.
It wasn’t too long before we hit snow. It was frozen solid and at times even a bit difficult to push in the trekking pole into, so it didn’t look like we would get the opportunity to use our snowshoes on this hike after all.
I was very glad that we had brought our ice trekkers though. The snow along this long sideslope was frozen solid and in places, the footpath through the snow might not have been wide enough for snowshoes. I stepped carefully and with the help of my poles, and the occasional hand from Kent, felt safe and secure during this crossing.
Many of the tarns we passed were partially frozen. I like how Kent Doughty caught my reflection in this one.
One of our favorite lunches when out hiking just happens to be leftover pizza. Having made a pizza covered in black bean, chicken breast, mushrooms, olives and cheese the evening before, these leftovers seemed even tastier than usual as we sat below Dock Butte to eat. Once the site of a fire lookout, we savored every tasty bite as we replenished the calories we had exhausted during our climb to get such a magnificant view. With so many of our favorite local peaks visible, it was such a lovely spot for lunch!
After our picnic, we hiked back down to re-join the trail to Blue Lake so we could check out the lake too.
A very deep lake and said to have some good trout fishing, guess we’d better bring our backpacker fishing poles next time. 🙂
Driving directions with road and trail conditions and more information about the trail to Dock Butte and Blue Lake can be found on the Mount. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest website. Go here – http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mbs/recarea/?recid=17610 – for that, and for recent trip reports on the Washington Trails Association website, go here – http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/dock-butte. The Dock Butte trail is rated as “more difficult”, most likely due to its lack of regular maintenance than length (only about 4 miles round trip) and elevation gain/loss (only 1,400′).
Car camping at the Ida Creek Campgrounds (go here – Car Camping at Ida Creek Campgrounds – to read about that) in the Leavenworth area after our backpacking trip into the Enchantments (go here – Backpacking the Enchantments – to read more about our Enchantments trip) so we could enjoy another day of hiking before making the long drive home, Eight Mile Lakes was our destination. Getting there was an easy drive up a well-maintained gravel road. The morning sun lighting the fall colors along the way was a special treat!
Ready to make the 6.6 mile hike up another trail, we paused long enough at the trailhead to snap this photo.
The trail made a steady climb and often we passed through open areas with impressive looking pines.
We stopped to refill our hydration units with fresh water from Eight Mile Creek.
We passed some impressively sized boulders along the way.
And crossed a few streams.
Reaching the first of the two Eight Mile Lakes, called Little Eight Mile Lake, we continued around this lake to make the final climb to the upper Eight Mile Lake.
The last stretch was steep and took us through an area recently burned by forest fire.
It seemed worth our effort to make the climb to Big Eight Mile Lake as it was truly a beauty. We stopped for a picnic lunch on the shore and basked in the afternoon sunshine before turning around and heading back to the trailhead.
It had been a long hike with approximately 1,300′ of elevation gain, so Snickers bars made the perfect high-energy quick snack to help us power back down to the parking lot.
If you’ve been following the blog posts about our backpacking trip into the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, you already know that it was not the fact that the Government was in the middle of its 2013 shutdown that kept us from entering the inner core of the Enchantments but an early snowfall with lingering cold temperatures that caused a buildup of ice on the rebar steps over giant granite slabs that prevented us from going any further than the Lower and Upper Snow Lakes. If you missed that story, go here –https://60before60.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/63-snow-lakes/ – and you’ll be caught up in a flash. Meanwhile, we had the week off and enough food and gear with us for that week, so what did we do? We packed up and decided to move on.
Enjoying the views along the trail as we make our way back down to the trailhead.
And it was like any other day on the trail – absolutely beautiful!
Having fun along the trail . . .
The fall colors in the thick understory were a welcome treat to the eyes as we entered a lower elevation forest previously lost to a forest fire.
Even though the Government shutdown was still in progress and all Government campgrounds were closed, as it turned out, the management of some of the campgrounds in the National Forests is contracted out to private companies, so there were several in the Leavenworth area that were open for business. Car camping this time rather than backpacking, here’s our campsite at Ida Creek.
Camping near Nada Lake during our backpacking trip into the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (go here – https://60before60.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/62-backpacking-the-enchantments-snow-lakes-trail-to-nada-lake/ – to read about our hike to Nada Lake), isn’t this quite the view to enjoy while sipping the morning cup of coffee? With a view like this, it was almost easy to disregard the fact that even though the sun was shining, it was only 27 degrees F and our little tent had frost on top of its rainfly. We knew it was going to be cold during the night the day before when we packed in, so came prepared with plenty of warm layers of polar fleece clothing. I had even brought a few of those packets of Hot Hands hand warmers and tossed a couple into the bottom of my sleeping bag before turning in for the night. I slept very comfortably, and was glad I had warm feet.
Not long after we had finished our morning coffee and breakfast, we began to see more hikers heading in, and others packing out. The weather forecast had indicated that the conditions would be improving after that first day of snow and cold, and it appeared that even though the Government was in the middle of a shut down, word was getting out that the Alpine Lakes Wilderness was not one of those Government areas that was closed. This was a National wilderness area, and while the toilet building at the trailhead was padlocked and had a sign on its door that it was closed due to the Government shutdown, the parking lot at the trailhead was open, there were no barricades anywhere, there were no armed guards like some people were saying were guarding some of the National Parks and Monuments, and this Wilderness was open for business.
Some of the hikers stopped by our camp as they passed by Nada Lake to take a short break and enjoy the view and shared with us what they knew about the trail conditions near Snow Lakes. The two Snow Lakes were about 1,400′ higher in elevation than where we were at Nada Lake, and as we had feared, it was reported that the snow there was at least six to to eight inches deep. Some of the hikers were heading back down to the trailhead because snow and ice was built up to such a degree on the rebar steps on the huge granite slabs that must be crossed, making entry into the inner core area of Enchantments impossible. Our original plan was to pack up our camp after breakfast and move to one of the campsites at Lower Snow Lakes so we would be in a better position for day hikes into the inner core area, but the idea of camping on snow and not being able to go any further didn’t sound very appealing. Instead, we changed our plans and decided to simply keep our lovely campsite there at Nada Lake and day hike up and back to the Snow Lakes instead. Here’s a view looking back at Nada Lake as we started up the trail Snow Lakes.
This photo is from one of my favorite sections of the trail. As I mentioned before, the Snow Lakes are about 1,400′ higher in elevation than Nada Lake, so as we continued to climb along the trail, we continued to find more and more snow. This photo was taken about where it became necessary to put our ice trekkers on our boots for better traction along the ice covered talus. I particularly enjoyed this part of the trail as I stood next to this snow topped boulder. The snow its roof, it reminded me of a little house.
Because of the recent low temperatures, Upper Snow Lake was frozen over. Its water was so low, with a big bathtub ring, it seemed more like a puddle to me, and I was glad that we had kept our campsite down at Nada Lake. I felt we had the better reflective view for coffee and knew the temperature wasn’t as cold where we had camped, but how about that mountain peak behind Upper Snow lake? I thought it quite impressive!
We had brought a picnic lunch with us on this hike and sat on the shore of the Lower Snow Lake on a boulder warmed by the afternoon sun as we ate our lunch.
After lunch we explored around the two Snow Lakes a bit before making our way back down the snowy trail to our camp at Nada Lake.
Seems we often come to a stream with not quite a bridge over it when we are out hiking, and this trail was no exception. Here, Kent Doughty offers me his hand as I step down to the log that has become this stream crossing yet is nearly completely submerged. Thank you sweetheart!
Right up until the moment that we put on our backpacks in the parking lot by the trailhead, we felt fortunate to be able to go on this particular backpacking trip, yet not quite sure that we could do it. First off, the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is a very unique and fragile environment. To protect it, the U.S. Forest Service limits the number of backpackers allowed into the area at any given time by holding an annual lottery for permits. In order to obtain our permit, we submitted our application last February indicating the dates we desired, and did not find out until March if our permit was accepted. Also, at just over 4,000′ elevation gain over the six miles from the trailhead to where our permit allowed us to camp our first night out, this was the steepest and longest backpacking trip we had ever done. Our backpacks were heavier than usual as it had snowed the night before and weather forecasts predicted the temperature to drop to 27 degrees our first night out. We carried extra layers of warm clothes and more food than we usually packed for a week in the backcountry. We left the parking lot prepared for the snow that had already fallen and the low temperatures, planning on a tough day of hiking. Because the trailhead is about a four-hour drive from our home, the night before we headed to son Brian’s home as he lives just under an hour’s drive from the trail so we could begin our hike as early as possible. Here Maybee, Brian’s trusty dog, bids us her good-bye as we head out the door.
Then, it just so happened that the 2013 Government shutdown began the day before the date of our permitted trip, and with all National Parks closed, we didn’t even know for sure if we would be allowed on the trail. It wasn’t like we could simply call the parks office and ask them because, after all, their offices were closed and all unessential employees had been furloughed. We had stopped at the parks office in Leavenworth on our way to Brian’s the night before, and discovered a note taped to their window indicating that if people had printed out their permits, they should leave them on the dashboard of their vehicles and go on their trip. The Government websites had all been taken off-line a few days before, so if you had not printed your permit before the Government shutdown, it sounded like it was just too bad. Fortunately, we had printed our permit the weekend before we left home!
It had snowed the day before at the higher elevations, and because of the Government shutdown, getting accurate weather information and current snow levels and trail conditions was impossible, unless you ran into someone in the parking lot or something that had just come out of the area. We were lucky, and found a guy that had spent the night in his van because some of the campgrounds were also closed due to the Government shutdown when we arrived at the trailhead early that morning. He told us that he had been on a different trail near the area that was at about the same elevation and that in some places he had found himself plowing through shoulder high snow. He had also heard that Aasgard Pass was closed due to there being three-foot drifts of snow. Aasgard Pass is another, even steeper but shorter, way of entering the Enchantments – but seriously, if you know me at all, you would pretty much figure that any pass with a name that sounds even remotely like “Aasgard” (regardless of how it might be spelled!) is a route that I would avoid, and we had planned our route along the Snow Lakes Trail and planned to camp at Nada Lake the first night. We headed out from the trailhead expecting to run into snow at higher elevations near Nada Lake, and set off ready for a long, steep day of hiking.
First off, we crossed Icicle Creek.
Then the trail started to climb. One switchback after another, up, up, up we hiked. By then, the fog had cleared and it was a beautiful blue-sky kind of day.
We had lots of talus slopes to cross. Long, steep talus slopes, so were forever glad that they were not covered with ice and snow.
Four thousand feet of elevation gain over six miles of trail makes for a long hike – especially considering that for this trip, my pack weighed in at somewhere over forty pounds. Whew, I needed a little break here before continuing on.
The views were beautiful along the trail. Great views always seem to make it a little easier for me – especially on long, steep trails. I think this is a view of the famous Aasgard Pass. Just look at all that fresh snow! I couldn’t imagine my climbing that one with this pack!
After awhile, we had gained enough elevation that we started hitting snow and ice on those talus slopes. Fortunately, I had brought my trekking pole and had ice trekkers handy in my pack if the going got slippery.
Yep, before long, the trail was completely covered with snow, and it was cold. Time to pull out the neck gator, hat and warm gloves.
Finally! We reached Nada Lake and found a spot that was relatively snow free in which to set up camp.
Not a bad view of Nada Lake from camp as we sipped hot chocolate and ate a vegetable soup for dinner.