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You know, for an easy, beginner hike Heather Lake is pretty unbelievable
posted by John : March 19, 2017


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Wait a minute


Living where we do it's hard to break out of the Snoqualmie Valley. There are so many incredible trails here that it seems folly to spend hours driving to anywhere that isn't super epic. As a result, almost all my trips are centered around the three forks of my home river. (The exception being Mount Rainier because, Hello, it's Mount Rainier.)

But change is good. It leads to growth. So occasionally I venture away from home to experience what other parts of Washington are like.

This time it was a trip to the Mountain Loop Highway. There are many incredible places up there, but since the drive time is about the same as going to Rainier it rarely happens. This time it was to meet with other admins and moderators for a little Facebook group I help maintain. (It's called Washington Hikers and Climbers, in case you haven't heard of it. Come join 55,000 of your closest hiking friends, but please don't talk about dogs or guns or dogs with guns.)

Someone with far more knowledge of the area than I chose Heather Lake. It's close to town, not too crazy, and promised good scenery for those of us new to the area. Heck, with only 1,000 feet of gain and just a few miles we'd still be smelling good when we met folks from the Facebook group at the bar afterward.

The trail runs mostly in the second growth forest with only reminders of the monster trees that once stood here. Passing the huge stumps with springboard notches in their sides the trail climbs steadily until reaching the lake basin. The trail gains only 200 feet in the last half mile so there's plenty of time to catch your breath before it's snatched away by the awe-inspiring cliffs of Mount Pilchuck.

In the Snoqualmie Valley there are few lakes that really blow me away. Snow Lake is amazing and Lake Lillian is a sentimental favorite. (And yes, I realize Lillian isn't technically in the Snoqualmie watershed.) If Heather Lake were just off I-90 instead of 25 miles east of I-5 on single-lane roads it would be overflowing with hikers year round. Although there were a few cars spilling out of the small lot at the trailhead it was remarkably manageable.

The far side of the lake was dominated by steep slopes full of avalanche debris and the lake itself was still almost completely frozen. A small area near the outlet was ice-free and yes, there were crazy people swimming there. Well, one, but she was definitely crazy enough for a whole bunch of people.

Between the smooth snow on the lake and the rugged upper slopes it was a dreamy site. I lounged in the warm sun while some put up hammocks to sway in the slight breeze. I would have stayed all day if I'd had the chance, but I had places to be.

It was a little depressing leaving the sunny lake for the woods, then leaving the snowy trees for the mud. I took solace in the expectant faces of so many on their way up the trail knowing they'd find a more crowded, but still glorious destination.

Of the few trips I've taken up the Mountain Loop Highway they've all be outstanding. The area definitely deserves more exploring. I just need a few more good excuses to drag my sorry self up north. Where will I go? I've got some ideas, but I don't think I want to spoil it for you.

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