8 November 2015
Twin Lakes and Lake Lillian
9 miles, 2000 ft. climb to 5300 ft. maximum elevation
I got off to a late start this morning since I had a bit too much fun in Seattle last night celebrating a wonderful friend’s 40th birthday. Rather than scrambling to pack up my gear in the dark, I took my time organizing the extra winter equipment I planned to take along, including some newly acquired snowshoes. Today’s solo-hike involved driving through Snoqualmie Pass and up mountain backroads, whose peaks had accumulated even more snow this weekend. As a precaution, I loaded up snow chains for the tires because anything can happen in these transitional weather conditions, and I definitely didn’t want to get stranded so close to home. Trailhead #1322, aka Mount Margaret Trail, is just a tad under an hour from our home in Issaquah. With a final swig of coffee, I headed out just as the sun was rising in the east. The drive on Interstate 90 this morning showed signs of a great day to come. The sun’s rays sparkled through the morning fog, illuminating shadowy peaks against the crisp fall sky. I couldn’t help myself – I had to take a split second picture of this stunning scene unfolding before me.
After turning off the highway at the local winter ski destination of Alpental, I drove a few miles further up a logging road before reaching the parking area. I was the first one, i.e. the only soul, at the trailhead. I quickly packed up my gear, but decided to leave my snowshoes behind (rookie mistake!), followed the sign up the 100 yards, and began my adventure for the day. The trail started off on an old logging road, which was colored with various hues of pink, grey, white and black stone-sized gravel. After a half-mile on this stretch, the trail transformed into a narrow path filled with twists and turns for another mile through cut-forests. Looking south in this morning light, I saw glimpses of snow peaks, including Mount Catherine, Silver and Tinkham Peaks as well as Keechelus Lake resting peacefully under the floating mist. The view was entirely captivating, but the early signs of snow underfoot made me giddy and wanting to seek more! My quest for snow was granted almost immediately as I entered the tall forest of mature evergreens adorned in white. I was so excited by my first EVER snow hike I actually giggled out loud like a little girl. Can’t help it – I’m from Hawaii, where snow usually comes in the form of shaved ice.
After a few hundred feet of sliding my way through the snow with my trekking poles, I decided it was time to strap on my Hillsound Trail Crampons. It made such a difference in my steps to have these spikes crunching through snow a few inches in depth. Being able to focus on my surroundings instead of my movements, I was able to take advantage of being the first one on the trail this morning. I tracked various animal prints along the trail and across into the deeper snow, including rabbit, deer, forest rodent and wild cat. It made me realize how these hiker trails also offered access to resident creatures to reach areas for shelter and food more readily. Ah, the wonders of natural cohabitation!
Unfortunately, the few inches of snow along the trail quickly turned into a couple of feet, and I found myself calf-high in cold white flakes. This was the moment I regretted my decision not to take along my new snowshoes. Oh well, I had to make do. At least I was wearing winter weight pants that covered my boots all the way down to the heel. I have to say these Freedom LRBC pants from The North Face were so well-designed that I was comfortable throughout my 5.5 hours in the snow. The gaiters covered my boots, keeping me warm and dry even when I slipped into the snow banks or crossed icy cold water; and when I got too hot, the inner-thigh mesh vents zipped easily up and down for maximum protection and breathing. The best part is that these rockout pants come in a shorter size for vertically-challenged ladies like myself (and they still fit nicely at the waist and through the hips without being baggy). What can I say? The city girl in me still has a fashionista’s perspective…
After exiting the mature forest, the trail dropped steeply towards Margaret Lake. Two young gentlemen who came up after me (and, yes, passed me, being the slow hiker I am due to my excessive need to capture every novel and beautiful moment on the trail) were actually returning back up my way. They were looking for the route to the summit of Mount Margaret and had missed the boot path just prior to this descent. It was then that I also realized I had dropped my driver’s license somewhere along the way. They hadn’t seen it on the way up behind me, but said they would leave it on the windshield of my car if they happened upon it. I gave them directions to the trail they were looking for, and we didn’t cross paths again. I made my way down the 200 ft. of steep, snow-covered trail to Margaret Lake. The lake was already frozen over, but still a sight to behold against the vivid greens, reds and whites of winter.
After I stopped briefly at Margaret Lake, I headed towards Twin Lakes, two shallow lakes that could seemingly host a few ice skaters in the months to come. Though little in size, Twin Lakes still held picture-perfect postcard views with snow-capped peaks overlooking the tree-lined basin. From there, I followed snow-covered snowshoe tracks from previous days’ hikers as the trail was dotted with stream crossings from the lake outlet and muddy meadow. There were times where I lost the trail and tracks. Thank goodness, I can now read a map and use a compass – I just had to stop and regain my sense of direction. Whew!
Once I found the trail on the other side of the outlet, it led me back into a canopied forest filled with moss-covered boulders and felled trees. This part of my journey to Lake Lillian kept me breathing hard with its undulating terrain, including a snow-covered talus slope that offered me a miniature waterfall just at the crossing. I was even granted a view of a fully cascading waterfall from Rocky Run, just on the other side of this pass. It was too far for me to get to today, but still worthy of a moment to take in from afar. One last push up the ridge brought me to my final lake destination for the day.
Lake Lillian. A natural wonder so majestically captivating, with its glassy dark water reflecting the strikingly white snow-covered basin. I stood at the edge of the lake for the longest time, enjoying my lunch and watching the clouds come in. I’m glad I got to her when I did, because the air turned cold just as I finished wondering around my little corner of the lake for more postcard-worthy shots. It was time to go – the snow was about to return for the day, and I didn’t want to be anywhere in the open when it did.
The snow started lightly as I headed back into the forest. There, I came across a pair of hikers, dressed tights and sneakers, who had with them a beautiful dog. They were looking for a way to the summit, which was two miles back from where we came. The couple stayed on to search for another access as I continued on my way home. After I crossed the talus slope, the snow became beautifully steady, as if each flake was destined to slowly land at its perfect spot. On my return, parts of the trail that were “dry” were now coated with a dusting of snow. By the time I got past the previous two lakes, about 2-3 more inches of snow had accumulated on the trails, covering up even some of my freshly-made tracks. Visibility beyond the ridge was non-existent, but the snow in front of me was pristine. There were logs neatly blanketed in white, tiny branches balancing flaked overlays, and boulders peeking out from under their snowy fortresses. How could I not play in this Winter Wonderland for even a little bit?
Alas, the snow dissipated as quickly as it came, and the clouds parted ways just as I reached the clear-cut forest trail. Dew-covered trees I had passed earlier were dusted in alpine white on my return. Where I had first noticed a hazy Keechelus Lake in the morning, I could clearly see its full existence in the afternoon light. Within just a few hours, I had experienced what felt like a lifetime of changes. Remarkable. Giddy.Awe-inspiring. And, guess what? The young Samaritans found my license and left it tucked under my wiper. Thank you!