Lake 22 Day Hike
Lake 22 is a short, relatively easy day hike accessible off the Mountain Loop Highway, near Darrington. My family has a place at Lake Goodwin, about a 45 minute drive to the beginning of the Loop. Many trails and peak climbs are accessible off this highway, and it is a veritable playground in the summertime. Each time I am at The Lake (as we call the “summer” home — which is actually used year-round), I try to incorporate in a hike with my stay. In winter, of course, this is not an option, unless it’s a snowshoe hike. But a handful of the lower elevation hikes off the MLH are good shoulder season hikes. I had the incredible good fortune of doing one of those, Lake 22, on each shoulder of this past winter — late last October, and then again last week, on the second to last day of March.
Because of it’s easy accessibility, Lake 22 is an extremely popular hike. Washington Trails Association describes it as “the center of an oasis of alpine wetlands nestled in the Northern Shoulder of Mt. Pilchuck”. Who wouldn’t want to go there? Especially on a trail that’s a mere 5.4 miles round-trip to the lake, with an optional 1.3 mile loop hike around said oasis.
First Encounter with Lake 22 — July, 2015
In all my summers at The Lake, I’d read about but always avoided hiking Lake 22 because of the crowds. But curiosity and opportunity combined one late afternoon in July, 2015, and I finally relented. On that day, my son Kyle, his equally high-energy friend Jack, and I climbed Vesper Peak, also off the Mt. Loop Highway. After finishing the challenging, nine mile round-trip, 4400 foot elevation gain hike, none of us were ready to be done hiking for the day. So we drove to nearby Lake 22 trailhead, and zipped up the additional 1350 feet of elevation to the lake, taking the loop trail around with a multitude of other people. Back at The Lake for a late dinner, we discussed our fabulous day, reveling in our 16 mile, 5550 feet elevation day. And recounting how surprisingly busy Lake 22 was. After that, I decided I wouldn’t go back unless it was well before or after the typical summer hiking season. I wanted less people, plus a chance to see this gem in different weather and conditions.
October 2016’s Wet and Wild Hike
When I returned to Lake 22 in October of the following year, it was during an extreme rainstorm and following a period of very heavy rain. The trail starts in rainforest, and water is pretty much a constant on lower parts of the trail even in the summer. But on this day, my friend Michael and I literally hiked through water the entire way. First, it was pouring rain pretty much the entire hike. And, from the get go, stream beds were overflowing, and we had to cross multiple creeks that were more like raging rivers in inches to over a foot of water. It was spectacular, walking right through rapids, and with water racing down the trail. Though we had full Gore-tex on, there was simply no way to stay dry. The amount of water made the trip slow going, as we had to tread carefully to stay upright. Poles were a necessity. And it was exquisitely painful on my feet, being in cold water for that amount of time.
We were completely rewarded for our efforts once to the lake, though, by cascades of dozens of waterfalls streaming off the sheer north face of Mt. Pilchuck. Michael said it reminded him of Rivendell, the home of Elf leader Elrond, as depicted in the Lord of the Rings movies. (Not having seen them, I will have to take his word for it!) But the vast number of falls plummeting down was truly breathtaking. We took the trail around the lake, marveling at the sheer amount of water flowing over even that part of the trail, our entire hike taking place in a deluge.
Winter’s Surgical Interlude
Then there was the knee replacement in November and the foot ankle/ankle surgery in December. Hiking to and through waterfalls to get to alpine lakes wasn’t on the radar — both from a winter weather and a recovery standpoint. My post-op course was a little rocky, and a couple setbacks kept me in the post-op boot for longer than expected. I was finally cleared to begin hiking without the boot a month ago. I was so ready! Throughout the month of March, I took many progressively longer low-land hikes, and I knew I’d be ready for Lake 22 again when opportunity presented itself last week.
3/30/17 — Spring Conditions with Plenty of Snow!
I went to The Lake for a solo writing retreat. On day two, writing complete, I found myself drawn back to Lake 22. This time, my friend Doug came down to join me. We’d checked trail reports, and the hike looked doable. Predictably, all the boots that had traveled the trail earlier in the week and month had tamped down the snow. Reports said the numerous snow bridges over the creeks weren’t too worrisome. We decided we’d start the hike, and turn back if at any point either of us felt unsafe. The day looked to be blessedly free of rain, although we were well prepared with rain gear. We also wore gaiters and brought traction devices to strap on our boots should we need them in the snow.
I was worried the trail would be wet after October’s experience. But as soon as Doug and I started, I could tell it was not going to be anything close to that experience. The early creek crossings were easily negotiated on well-placed rocks. The trail is both well made and maintained to handle the huge volume of hikers, and it was easy to find a way across. The water was rushing, particularly in the falls, where it should be. We stopped on the first bridge for a spectacular view. The whole section is classic rain forest — moss everywhere, blanketing the ground and hanging from branches in a magical setting of old growth western and mountain hemlock, alder, and red cedar trees. Very pleasant hiking, and neither of us even got our feet wet, which thrilled me to no end.
The trail opens up at 1.5 miles. This is the area where we’d expected to encounter snow, but, surprisingly, it was snow-free for a bit longer. We did come to a section where avalanche debris covered the trail. Logs, criss crossing each other, made for difficult navigation, and a determined lone hiker was seeking help to make it more passable. A young couple in front of us tried to help, but it seemed the job was too big for mere mortals without machinery. We waited patiently for a bit, then the young woman, a bit impatient (like me!) to get going, said she thought we should just leave it as it was. I agreed with her, and the women ruled on this one. The determined man reluctantly let us go by, although we noticed that he stayed behind, continuing to puzzle out a solution to the problem.
Very shortly after, the trail hit snow for real, just before re-entering forest again for the final .6 miles to the lake. This section was a bit dicey, and we could see how many people had post-holed through snow down to the creek bed below. Doug went through once, to his thigh. I did not go through at all, for which I was grateful. Just before the lake, we caught our first glimpse of Mt. Pilchuck, right at the same place where we came to some fantastic snow formations in the creek below.
There were several people at the lake, and not a lot of space to disperse them. The bridge to cross the creek was basically impassable with snow. The younger couple got across the bridge, but the trail beyond and around the lake was not doable unless one had snowshoes. Doug and I chose to drop down onto a flat, open area, which, we
realized, was on top of the mostly frozen lake. Making sure not to get to close to the only portion of the lake that was thawed out, we set ourselves up in a lunch spot with a simply fantastic view of the breaking clouds and fog dancing across the face of Pilchuck. While we ate, the sun came out some, and a series of snow slides over on the mountain provided a constant reminder of where we were. The whole setting was pretty awe-inspiring, as we enjoyed homemade sandwiches and fruit salad with the spectacular show.
We both decided to put traction devices on for the first part of the hike down. Doug had micro-spikes, and I used inexpensive Costco Yak Trax knock-offs. His worked better than mine, but the addition of any traction device was useful, no question. The descent went much quicker than the ascent. Back at the open area, we noticed two things. First, the skies had cleared enough that we could see White Horse and Three Finger Jack off in the distance, which was very cool. And second, the determined hiker HAD had success in moving things around with the avalanche debris, such that the crossing on the way down was considerably easier than coming up. Way to go and thanks to this man on a mission!
The rest of the hike down was easy and uneventful. I took some pictures of the falls I had been too focussed to snap on the way up. We arrived back at the car extremely happy with the hike, and very pleased that we had taken a chunk of the day to do it. I loved being back in the mountains again after a long winter of recovery. And I know it’s just the first of many more to come.