Snow Lake, Washington

At the end of July, I took to the mountains and hiked to Snow Lake not to be confused with Snow Lakes near Leavenworth, WA (Central Cascades region). The Snow Lake trailhead is located about an hour’s drive east of Seattle in Snoqualmie National Forest. One must arrive before 8am in order to get a parking spot and beat the hordes of people.

I hiked with a friend-of-a-friend and with trekking poles for the first time ever. I was told that trekking poles can reduce energy exertion by as much as 30 percent. I do not know how a person measures that but I did find hiking slightly easier with trekking poles. At a minimum, they provide stability.

The hike to Snow Lake was a moderate 11.6 km / 7.2 mi round trip meander with varying degrees of tree cover. We could not have asked for more perfect weather on the day of our hike. Weather is everything when traveling and doing outdoor activities. It can make or break a trip.

The tricky thing about the Snow Lake trail is that at about the 3.2 km / 2 mi mark, the trail splits. Continuing straight will take you on the original trail and switching back to your right will take you on the new trail. We were unaware of the split and somehow missed the switchback and therefore, continued on the original trail which took us up a scree (small loose stones covering a slope). This is not the scree but it looked similar to this (the rocks were larger than these):

Presented with the scree, I wondered what this friend-of-a-friend had gotten me into and why there was no mention of the scree on the Washington Trails Association website! She’d hiked this trail before and looked equally as confused and scared as to how we ended up at a scree because she had no memory of it.

We carried on, climbing/crawling from rock-to-rock up the slope. It was dangerous and the only inkling of a trail were cairns, human-made piles of stacked stones. I was leading through this area and spotted the first cairn. It seemed as though there were a thousand rocks between us and the cairn. Most unsettling was that I could not see any other cairns but that changed when we reached the first cairn. A quick scan of the rocks and I spotted the second cairn.

Twenty minutes later we emerged near a small waterfall, crossed over a stream, and merged back in with the main trail again. It was at this point when we knew we had made a wrong turn somewhere but were not sure where. The answer was obvious when I looked back at my photos.

We had followed the white stone “arrow” which pointed in the direction of the original trail versus looking behind us to see the switch back to the new/main trail. In the screenshot below, the black route is the new/main trail. The red route is a guesstimate of our diversion on the original trail.

I am happy we accidentally ended up on the original trail because the view was spectacular and included Source Lake which would not have been in view on the new/main trail.

Shortly after merging back in with the main trail, we saw our first glimpse of Snow Lake. It was magnificent.

I’ve got a few hikes under my belt now and the hike to Snow Lake is my favorite. It’s easy (even if you follow the original trail up the scree) and the view is a grand payoff.

The water was freezing but that did not stop people from jumping off a cliff on the other side of the lake. We ate our lunch on the shoreline, soaked up the sunshine, and mentally prepared ourselves to descend the scree. Descending is much more dangerous than ascending. I was not looking forward to it.

Thirty minutes into our descent and we were wondering where the scree was. It felt like we should have reached it in the amount of time we had been hiking. We kept hiking. No scree. We wondered where the hell we were when we were on the scree. We also wondered how the hell we found ourselves back to the main trail after the scree. We were bewildered. And impressed.

It was only after I got home and spent some time on the Internet tubes did I piece together the scree puzzle. I found information about the original trail and based the photos I’d taken and I was able to pinpoint our position and conclude that we were badasses, hiking up the scree and along the original trail.

Snow Lake trail is now my #1 go-to hike for visitors.

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