Heather Lake and the Last of the Snow

Well, here I am, wondering what kind of an outdoorsy person I actually am. In the last 6 months I’ve only had TWO outings that I’ve felt qualified to post about. I’d say it’s embarrassing, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. A knee injury in early January has had me quite out of the game. I’m as healed up as I’m going to be now, and I’m slowly testing my strength just as winter, and the difficulties it poses to exploring outside, is waning.

At least I can say my first real excursion this year was both a great trip and a genuine challenge to someone who has done nothing more strenuous than her regular job since October (not that my regular job is a cake walk, but at least I haven’t come home with sore muscles in a while)! Heather Lake is a hike I’ve been wanting to take for a bit, based on the beautiful photos a friend of mine posts whenever she goes. She and I have been trying to get together for a day trip for a while now, and as luck would have it, our schedules finally lined up right as my knee felt well enough to get back to *outdoor* business as usual.

Heather Lake was actually third on our list, but weather was not in our favor. We started with the Lake Keechelus snowshoe trail, but the snow was so wet we were sinking in deep, even with snowshoes. We made it about a half mile before giving up and turning back. Our second choice was just down the road, and figuring we’d face the same problems there, we decided to backtrack all the way to Granite Falls and do Heather Lake, even though we knew it would be pouring rain. It was pouring for sure, but it was absolutely worth it. Just look at this amazing snow!

HeatherLake3-12

Snowy hikes are absolutely EVERYTHING. I’ve never snowshoed before, and never been on a trail icy enough to need traction. I don’t know why I always felt so intimidated though – once you have the proper gear (and a bit of healthy respect for trail dangers) you’re all set. However, I was surprised by how much more difficult the weather made what would normally be an easy trip! We ran into icy snow patches immediately, but the lower half of the trail was mostly impacted by snow melt. The sudden warmer temperatures turned bare trail into a running stream and turned the actual streams into swollen waterfalls. I was thankful for my waterproof boots, to be sure.

The elevation gain on this hike is about 1,000 feet, which doesn’t seem like much to me, but by the time we made it to the top we were in a whole different world. My (very uneducated) guess is that there was as much as 10 feet of snow in some places… the tree wells were awfully deep, and not fully uncovered. We were high above the actual lake when we reached it, and had to walk along precarious ice bridges to get there. Where previous hikers had stepped off to the side was obvious – there were 5 foot deep footprints with running water below them. I feel lucky we could make it when we did – another week and I doubt it would have been possible to make it to the lake without falling in.

We did make it to the lake though, and it was absolutely gorgeous. I mean… where the lake is was gorgeous. Most of it was still covered under a blanket of deep snow.

We sat on the one edge of my friend’s blanket that was still dry (the constant drizzle soaked everything to the core) and shared a thermos of coffee while watching and listening to the small avalanches rolling down the mountain sides across the lake. The power of all of that snow, and all of the water it melts into is just unbelievable.

HeatherLake3-12(2)

A few soggy selfies later and we were ready to hurry back down. A rainy day hike is really only a good hike when you’re still moving fast enough to stay warm! I’ve got to say, though, I was really enjoying the challenge of figuring out how to use microspikes and poles for the first time on such a precarious path! A hill of deep wet snow would flatten out into narrow ridges of slippery packed ice and then suddenly drop into a stream that we could only get down to by sliding, and then we’d have to really dig in to climb back up the snow bank on the other side. I learned a lot, but loved every second of it! Now I’m only disappointed that I couldn’t enjoy more snowy hikes when the season was still here – I’ll just have to make more plans for next winter.

If you go: Be prepared and dress for the trail! We saw a lot of people in nothing but leggings and Nikes with no real coats or gear. It would be so easy to get injured or stuck in the unstable snow, especially around tree wells, and without proper equipment, first aid supplies, etc. it could quickly become dangerous. I’ve never considered more the basic safety rule of heading into the wilderness: “Always be prepared to spend the night”.

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