A couple weekends ago I had an unexpected opportunity to run off to the mountains. I ended up on Mountain Loop Highway, a couple hours north-east of Seattle. My first hike was to Lake Twenty-Two, followed by a relaxing break at a picnic area. You can read about that in my previous post.
After a good hour of relaxation, I was ready to continue my adventure. My plan for the rest of Saturday was to continue along the highway and hike the Big Four Ice Caves trail.
In the winter, a gated barrier is placed about 20 miles along the highway from Granite Falls. There were quite a few cars parked at the barrier, however the gate itself was open! I motored on through and continued on to Big Four Picnic Area. This trail is likely the most popular of all the trails in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, due to it’s easy grade, short mileage, and proximity to the highway.
The picnic area trailhead starts on a boardwalk through a marsh. There were lots of birds singing as well as plentiful skunk cabbage exuding it’s fragrant odour. I crossed a nice bridge over the South Fork Stillaguamish river. The trail then climbs gradually through the forest before emerging into a large flat basin. There are obvious signs of avalanches – downed and broken trees, and scoured rock. I’m amazed at the strength and power of snow.
The walls of the basin tower nearly 4000 feet upward. There’s a roar of waterfalls, and amazing conical piles of snow in notches at the base of the waterfalls. Earlier in the season, the waterfalls are avalanche chutes, continuously dumping snow to the same place. As the temperature rises through spring, water starts to flow onto the cones and ends up creating a hole through the top. The water hollows out the snow pile where it meets the rock face, and then underneath the snow to reach the stream.
There were only a few groups of hikers in the basin. I found a perfect rock nearly in the middle of the basin where I sat for a bit and enjoyed the sound of the waterfalls. I also saw a couple of small avalanches track down the waterfall chutes.
The hike back was simple and quick. Before I knew it I was back out to the picnic area. It was dinner time, so I pulled out my pot and cooked up a delicious pasta dinner with the Big Four as my backdrop. It was a perfect place to spend my evening until I was ready to snuggle into my makeshift bed in the back of my Subaru.