- Ranking: 3.5/5 I had a hard time with this ranking…Perhaps if It was the first of the Alpine Lakes hikes I had been on, it would have been a solid 4, but…Everything in this area measures up against the Enchantments, a difficult feat to match. Still, this hike has it all. Big views from ridgelines, several lakes to choose your favorite from, meadows, forests, and…The challenge of elevation gain. A worthy destination!
- Difficulty: 7/10 The ranking should have been an 8 after the heat index is added, but…Who would be crazy enough to do it when the temps reach 90…Right? Anyway, there is over 3300ft of elevation gain on this out and back, and the trails in some places aren’t well marked. Look for old signage high on trees. This part of the country is rugged, but the beauty is unmistakable…
Maps. I used the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Map, put out by ALPS. A great overview map of the region, and it lists trails by number, mileage, and elevation, to help you plan your visit. For greater resolution, use Green Trails map #175.
Permits: Are self issue, and can be picked up at the trailhead. Don’t forget like I did! Must also have a Northwest Forest Pass, or equivalent to park at the trailhead. For more information on this hike, and others in the region, look at the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest website. For this hike, click on US highway 2 link, and then the West Fork Foss Lakes Trail #1064.
A journey into a different section of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness this time, to Big Heart Lake. On the map, it looked like an intriguing hike, as it showed it going by 4 different lakes. Since I’ve not travelled here before, thought this would be a good overnight trip, as it was only 7.5 miles in. Unfortunately, Greg was unable to come, so this would be a solo endeavor this time…
Once I got to the trailhead, (it’s a 3 hour drive from Puyallup), it was around 10:40am, and it was starting to heat up. We’ve been under a regular heat wave as of late, and today was no different. The sooner I get on the trail, the better. The beginning of the trail is more like walking up a dry creek bed, until about a 100 yards or so, it becomes more trail like, winding along the West Fork of the Foss River.
…Once safely across, I continue to follow the cairns…That is, until they mysteriously stop…Where did they go???
The trail decides to cross the river, and at this point, the river has obliterated the trail from last year’s floods. Someone has put up rock cairns as trail markers, and I follow them to a log crossing. Once safely across, I continue to follow the cairns…That is, until they mysteriously stop…Where did they go??? I stand on top of downed trees, and boulders, and cannot look ahead to find another…Well, according to the map, the trail does follow the river uphill…Sorta…And, it appears that two other people have come to the same conclusion, and are marching up the river bed, over all the obstacles.
I decide to follow, looking for some sign of where the trail is…5 minutes later, and two re-crossings of the river, for it’s a jumbled mess here, I spot some bright pink surveyors ribbon, and can see farther along that it leads along the river. Looking around, I can see that many boot prints have gone this way before, so I start to follow it…Through thick scrub brush, and vine maple, that constantly tear at me, trying to impede my progress…
Up over boulders covered in moss, over downed trees, and finally, across a large tree that fell across the river channel, and sits at least 15 feet off the ground. But, I can see the ribbon continuing on the other side, so I forge onward…I continue to fight my way through thick, grasping brush and tree limbs, until finally, I stagger out onto the trail, at the same time two hikers were coming down the trail.
“Fine now…I could hear you crashing through the brush, but I couldn’t see you, so you scared the S*#@ out of me!”
I’m not sure whose face showed more relief, mine, or hers. I know why I was relieved, but I wasn’t sure why she looked so relieved. I didn’t figure it was because she shared the same enthusiasm that I did, happy that I was no longer staggering through brush…Once triumphantly back on course, I asked them how they were doing…The woman that was so relieved, said, “Fine now…I could hear you crashing through the brush, but I couldn’t see you, so you scared the S*#@ out of me!” Ahh…Now I understand the look…I’m sure I sounded like a water buffalo trying to shed something stuck in its horns, as I came through the undergrowth..Saying our goodbyes, I continue on, and realize that I’m already tired, and I’m only about a mile into the hike! All that bushwhacking tired me out, but hey, at least I’m back on the trail! Then it hits me…I forgot to fill out a backcountry permit! Great…Just great…Are things going to continue to go south from here on??
I’m determined to try and change my luck. I continue to press on through forest to Trout Lake. At least, I’m now in the shade, but the heat is starting to crank up, and I notice that I’m already wet from sweat. After a mile and a half from the trailhead, I reach Trout Lake. A pretty lake that is pretty shallow, so it’s fairly warm, and as the name implies, it has trout within its banks.
This makes it a good lake to reach for families that want to spend the day fishing, or swimming.
I notice a few campsites along its banks, and a toilet. One down, three to go. From the far reaches of the lake, the climb begins in earnest…Not only is the way up persistent, but so are the biting black flies. They would harass me all the way to the upper reaches of the trail. Once out of the trees, I can see a huge waterfall cascading down over barren rock, and even though it’s a long ways off, you can tell that it is large.
…The backpack suddenly feels as if it weighs 500lbs, and I notice that my pace has slowed to a crawl.
I remember wondering to myself then, if I would come close to it. Here the trail switch backs through a clearing that is filled with scrub brush, and offers no protection from the unrelenting sun. The backpack suddenly feels as if it weighs 500lbs, and I notice that my pace has slowed to a crawl. I keep pulling on the camelback, and before I know it, I’m out of fluids, and continuing to get cooked by the midday sun.
Finally, I made it to a small stream in the shade towards the top of the grade, one that I’ve dubbed Salvation Creek.
Man, I need some water, now, and I don’t feel so good anymore. On the way up, I pass a mother with children, sitting out of the sun as much as possible, and I find out that her husband went ahead to find water. It’s amazing how quickly the heat on this kind of upward push can drain you and your reserves. Finally, I made it to a small stream in the shade towards the top of the grade, one that I’ve dubbed Salvation Creek. I sat down right in the stream, and filled my camelback and quickly downed another Nalgene bottle of fluids. Now, I feel better!
What a relief to have that behind me. It was 1800ft of elevation gain, in about a mile and a half, all the while being parboiled by the sun. Soon I reach the top and my musings from earlier have been answered. The huge waterfall that you could see was actually coming out of Copper Lake, and you get right next to it! From here, though, it is not as impressive as it was further down the draw, as you can only really see the upper reaches of it as it cascades over the rock ledge.
Copper Lake is large, surrounded on three sides by steep, barren slopes, interspersed with clingy alpine firs, it’s amazing that they can grow amidst so much jumbled rock. There is still the occasional snow field present here, adding to the rugged beauty. Clear, turquoise blue waters fill the lake, and give it the appearance of deep waters. As the trail follows the banks, you can see down into the waters to the bottom, the water is so clear. Several people are here camping, and fishing.
This lake is reached at around 4.4 miles, and I still have 3 to go! Sigh. Rounding the far reaches of this lake, looking back, I can see the tendrils of smoke creeping above tree line. Is that an illegal campfire, or the result of the thunderstorms that had hit this area the day before? I had stopped to ask some of the people here at the lake if that was new, or a campfire, and they too, surmised that it was probably from a lightning strike. Not good, especially seeing as how it stood between me and my way home!
Just one more thing that’s not gone my way. Where’s the love?
I wasn’t too concerned, though, as it seemed they were on top of the small fires that had been started, as a helicopter was making constant runs to Malachite Lake to scoop up water for fire fighting. The whirrs of its blades were constant this day, so I felt that they probably knew about it. Half a mile later, I pass right by Little Heart Lake, determined to reach Big Heart Lake soon, I want the pack off of my back. At this point, I still have almost two miles to go, and it’s more uphill. I do stop to take a quick picture, and wouldn’t you know it! The camera tells me to replace the battery pack. What! It showed a full charge before I left the house, and now this?! Just one more thing that’s not gone my way. Where’s the love? I’m disappointed, as I have not even reached my destination yet!
I guess now is as good a time as ever to learn how to take photo’s with the camcorder…The terrain begins to change as I continue upward, and the trees thin out. What views! On one clear ridge line, through the haze of the local fires, I can see Mt. Baker in the distance, and clear down to Trout Lake, far below me. Amazing views! I forget how tired I am, and try to coax a few more pictures out of my camera. Quick, hit the power switch, set the shot, “snap!” and then just as quickly, power off. Hmm… It seemed to work, so I’ll save it till I get to Big Heart.
…Not surprisingly, it smelled like a campfire, but this one was not welcome, nor comforting.
On occasion, from this ridgeline, I get quick glimpses of the choppers carrying their drop buckets of water, heading south. As I reach the final ridgeline, I can see smoke wafting across the trail, and you can tell that its source is close! Right at the highpoint, I see a large old growth fir that was blasted by a lightning bolt, leaving its characteristic Zorro slash down the length of the tree, incinerating it.It was burnt, and the ground around it was still smoldering, not 10 feet from the trail. Not surprisingly, it smelled like a campfire, but this one was not welcome, nor comforting.
I decide to continue on to the lake, it doesn’t appear that there is that much fuel for it to ignite, pretty rocky here with large boulders, and monster old growth. Not a lot of underbrush or low-lying branches to ignite. Still, I have to stop and consider my options, as this is my way out! Decision made, it’s on down to the lake. Finally! There it is!
What a gorgeous lake, it too, has that deep, dark blue that almost has the shade of a precious gem, and every time the sun sparkles off of its surface, it only re-enforces that notion. It too, is ringed by stark granite cliffs that tumble to the water’s edge, looking like fortresses of rock meant to protect this sparkling jewel from thieving eyes. Large snowfields still cling to the rock buttresses that prop up steepled pinnacles of rock. Along its borders, are alpine firs clinging to any spot they can find a foothold, looking like rows of soldiers meant to protect the castle.
At its outlet, there is another large waterfall, spilling down steeply angled rock. One of the prettier alpine lakes that I’ve seen in this wilderness. Having read others accounts from guidebooks and trail reports, I know that there are several campsites along its edge, and I desire to find one that overlooks the entire lake, as this will make it easier for me to take pictures.
A perfect spot to admire the lake from, and satisfy my digital appetite.
True…I will be farther from water, but after having already walked 7.5 miles and 3300ft of elevation gain, I figure what the heck..That’s nothing compared to the day already…I find that spot, and an eagles perch it is! I even have my own viewing rock that sits over 80 feet off of the lakes surface, with sheer drops on either side. A perfect spot to admire the lake from, and satisfy my digital appetite.
After setting up camp, I take advantage of the last rays of sun, and head down to the water’s edge, to fill up, and to get clean. It’s surprising, that a lake this deep, and still clearly being fed by snow melt, would be this warm!So relaxing to lay here, and let the days weariness leave my bones. I drag my weary body onto the nearest rock after a refreshing dip in the lake, and allow the sun, (now my friend), to dry me and my clothes.
AAAAaarrrgggghhhh…I may throw myself off of the cliff! They are absolutely horrible!
Back at camp, I am constantly harassed by noseeums, and mosquitoes! AAAAaarrrgggghhhh…I may throw myself off of the cliff! They are absolutely horrible! Even after lathering up with 98% Deet, they kamikaze themselves at my eyes, nose, mouth, and ears, places devoid of Deet. From my vantage point in camp, as I sit to have dinner, I can look left, and see the lake and surrounding snow draped peaks. Look right, and I can see Mt. Baker in the distance, across the deep chasm that I climbed earlier today.
…Like the spotlight across a stage, the moon shines its full reflection on the lake, sparkling and reflecting off of the slight ripples created by the gentle breeze, making the night more blue than black.
Also from here, I can watch the helicopter make its methodical way up the ravine, as I’m almost even with it here, and close enough to see the spray coming out of its bucket. Night falls, and I almost welcome it, as it means that I will put this tired body to rest. Before I do, though, I get to be a solitary witness to the full moon creeping up over the opposing peaks, and as it cleared the top, its reflection illuminated the surface of the lake, reminding me of the neon of Vegas that light up the night. Outstanding! Like the spotlight across a stage, the moon shines its full reflection on the lake, sparkling and reflecting off of the slight ripples created by the slight breeze, making the night more blue than black.
An incredible sight, that pictures and words do no service to describe. I feel fortunate to have witnessed such an event. Having filled my memory banks, I wander off to bed.