Ranking: 4/5 Here’s one that has it all, and should appeal to all hikers. Like lots of lakes on your hike? Check. Want lots of above treeline big views? Yep, got that covered.. How about solitude, route finding, ridgeline trails, and fishing? All that and more are part of the trail on this loop hike, which is just one more part of its charm, as the views are constantly different.
Difficulty: 7/10 Yes, there is elevation gain, as well as big mileage on trails that in places are overgrown and hard to follow. In some instances, they disappear meaning you will need some route finding skills. That, and some map discrepancies will make it a challenge in places, but it’s well worth the effort, for the small glitches here and there only add to the experience! .
Maps: We used the Alpine Lakes Preservation Society (ALPS) map of the area, a great map that is tear resistant and waterproof, which can be picked up at REI. Or, for better resolution, pick up a Green Trails Map, #176, but remember! There might be some discrepancies around Icicle Creek junction, where trails #1551 and #1592 meet! Go to the Mt. Baker/Snoqualmie Natl. Forestwebsite, and look for trails off of highway 2. This link, for the PCT south from that website, gives you some rudimentary info on the area you’ll start from.
Permits: You will need a Northwest Forest Pass to park at the trail head, and the a self issue permit is required at the trailhead
.Greg and I had already hiked in the area, so we were familiar with the long drive to get to the trailheads on this side of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, so we opted this time to drive over and get a campsite at Money Creek campground, so we could get an early start the following morning.
Knowing that we would need an early start on this hike, (the first day covered 10 miles), and the drive to the trailhead was 3 hours away, we decided to camp the first night at Money Creek Campground, only a few miles away from the trailhead. And, after our last foray into the area, we also knew that we would be close to the bustling burg of Skykomish, which would give us a place to eat dinner. It’s always nice to start a 3 day journey with a nice meal!
This hike would cover 31.5 miles into some of the more rugged backcountry the Alpine Lakes Wilderness has to offer, so getting a good night’s sleep and a full belly ranked high on our to do list. Perfect, since we had already scouted this area from the last hike, we were able to drive right to the Money Creek campground, and secure our spot. Starting on a Thursday, we figured it wouldn’t be a problem to find a site we could live with…
After getting to the campground, we drove around on the East side first to look for a site, and it appeared that they were full, so we ventured over to the West side, to find a spot. Money Creek Campground sits tucked in a bend of the Skykomish River, and straddles the Old Cascades Highway, thus bisecting the campground into two sections. We drove around until we found a spot at the far west end of the campground, and decided this would be a good spot. A nice campsite, near a trail that led down to the river.
At this point, there was a railroad trestle crossing the river, and the tracks ran by only 30 to 40 feet from our spot for the night. After setting up, and walking down to the river, we witnessed a train rolling by, and thought that it wouldn’t be too bad…Hopefully, we would only get one, or at the most, two that would pass by in the night…It was a good thought, anyway. That, and the fact that there were only a few spots left, all here on the west side, should have raised the question as to why all the empty spots were over here…After setting up camp, we headed for town, and dinner.
…and were sitting around the outskirts of the hole on blocks, looking like old abandoned hulks left to rot on the side of the road, jacked up with wooden blocks so that the tires could be removed…
Skykomish is a small town on the banks of the Skykomish river, and they are currently in the process of cleaning up the soil underneath the town, so right where the center of town used to be, there is this huge pit, half filled with water, and the buildings that were over this now large pit, had all been moved, and were sitting around the outskirts of the hole on blocks, looking like old abandoned hulks left to rot on the side of the road, jacked up with wooden blocks so that the tires could be removed.
It appears that they still have some work to do, and may not be done until 2012, but thankfully, since we couldn’t afford to wait that long for food, we found that the Cascadia Inn was still open, and serving dinner. Their Prime Rib dinner was excellent, and we were pleased to find such good food so close to the campsite! If you’re ever in the area, be sure and stop, the food will not disappoint!
Tanks full, we return to our camp, to enjoy a fire, another treat that we don’t get often on our backcountry experiences. The roar of the fire and its glow are a welcome distraction before turning in, and it’s not long before we start to get drowsy, watching the sparks wind their way up like fireflies in the dark, before winking out, leaving your eyes to sink down, and watch a fresh batch jettison from the tips of flames. And, just like counting sheep, it brings about lethargy and yawning, so we head for the bags.
…With the light from the headlamp piercing our tent, the demonic shrill of the whistle, (which I’m convinced is being tugged on maniacally by the all too gleeful engineer), and the shuddering ground that feels as if a herd of buffalo are intent on trampling us into the dust, it’s all that I can do to keep from bolting from the tent, screaming, “Run for your lives!!!
Settled in, it’s not long before we’ve succumbed to sleep, and then it happens….WHOOOOOO!!!! WHOOOOOOOOWHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! I almost leap out of bed, rudely jerked out of sleep, to what I’m sure at that precise moment is a truck doing 90, headlights blazing, pinpointing its target so that there is no chance of missing our tent, its intended target! Sure, my rational mind tells me it’s just a train, but my body doesn’t seem inclined to want to take that chance, and it’s screaming at me to get the heck out of the way!
With the light from the headlamp piercing our tent, the demonic shrill of the whistle, (which I’m convinced is being tugged on maniacally by the all too gleeful engineer), and the shuddering ground that feels as if a herd of buffalo are intent on trampling us into the dust, it’s all that I can do to keep from bolting from the tent, screaming, “Run for your lives!!!” Seems that site is right at the bend in the track, so the headlight is upon you as it comes across the trestle, and then the track veers off somewhat, but no matter. The effect that you are about to be run over, has already been felt. That would happen another 3 or 4 times during the night, so forget a restful sleep. And, the urge to bolt never leaves me the rest of the night. Just perfect…