There’s nothing better than waking up from a good night’s sleep surrounded by mountains. I also had the bonus feeling of accomplishment for having completed two hikes on the previous day. You can read about those hikes here.
I clambered out of my cosy nest in the car and once again had the lovely sight of Big Four Mountain. I pulled out my breakfast dishes and boiled some water while staring at the peaks. It was a bit cloudy, and a bit cooler too. Soon enough I was back in the car, retracing my route back along Mountain Loop Highway. I’ll have to come back later in the season to complete the whole loop, snow-free!
My plan for this day was to hike the third popular trail on this section of the Mountain Loop Highway – Heather Lake. Some day trippers from Seattle will hike both Lake Twenty-Two and Heather Lake in a day. Combining them makes for an even 10 miles, and about 2400 ft of elevation gain. I had briefly thought about doing both hikes on Saturday, but quickly realised that I wasn’t yet in shape for a 10-miile day.
Instead I got a leisurely and short drive to the trailhead. There were only a handful of cars in the lot, which meant a nice quiet start. I had 2.2 miles to go, and about 1000 feet to climb. I took it pretty easy, working through the stiffness of morning muscles. It was about a 10% grade with lots of switchbacks through the new growth forest. There were some pretty obvious signs of the logging heritage of this area: an old forest road, springboard notches, and enormous stumps.
The forest started to change around me as I reached higher elevations. I could hear the roar of nearby creeks and waterfalls and see some big trees that the early century foresters left behind. The snow started about 0.3 miles from the lake. It was pretty muddy too so I stopped to put my gaiters on. The trail briefly descended and I popped out of the trees to the lakeshore.
Heather Lake is nestled in a cirque behind Mt. Pilchuk. Similarly to the day before, waterfalls were streaming down the steep walls. The lake ice looked much thinner than at Lake Twenty-Two so I stayed well back from the edge of the snow. I found a good spot to sit and enjoyed a mid-morning snack. I was pretty awed by the avalanche chutes across from me. It will be quite a treat to come back later in the year and hike the loop around the lake!
I put my crampons on to help with the trip down. The day was warming up and the snow was getting more slippery. Once through the snow I packed away my crampons and gaiters and stretched out my legs for the downhill. On my way down I crossed lots and lots of people on their way up. I was in no rush so I politely pulled aside to let them pass. About half a mile from the trailhead it started to rain lightly. I had my raincoat buried in my pack but decided I didn’t really need it. I did feel badly for the hikers heading up the trail who seemed to have very minimal gear. Mountain weather can be incredibly different than in the wide river valleys. In fact, it was full sun and 75 degrees out in the city, but rainy and 50 degrees on Mountain Loop Highway.
I made it back to my car around noon. The trailhead was packed with dozens of cars, lining both sides of the narrow forest service road. I took a few minutes to change out of my damp clothes then gave up my parking spot to another eager hiker.
As I headed down the road and along the highway I couldn’t help but feel proud of myself. I had hiked about 12 miles over a couple days, seen two beautiful alpine lakes, stood under the immense walls of a mountain, and enjoyed some important time away from the busy-ness of the city.