Saturday, October 20, 2012

Heather Lake 09-29-2012 (Mtn Loop Hwy)

Late September through mid-October can be a great time to get out and enjoy the transition from the green of a Washington summer into the grey of a Washington winter.

Heather Lake is a great hike virtually year-round and even offers itself as a nice snowshoe destination when the snow really piles up.

Round trip distance from the trail head to the lake is about 5.5 miles (including the loop around the lake) and elevation gain is about 1,300 feet.  This limited mileage, relatively low elevation gain and easy to follow trail means that Heather Lake is a great destination for those new to hiking, those with a limited amount of time or when the weather is questionable.

On this particular date in late September the plan was to go hiking with my daughter (plus her dog) to Heather Lake.  In addition, we would be hiking with my sister, her husband, their dog and two friends of theirs (plus their dog).  Unfortunately, my daughter came down with a high fever the night before so she wasn't able to come along this time.  Her pup kindly offered to stay home with her.

The five of us healthy people (and two dogs) met up at the supermarket in Granite Falls before we continued out the Mountain Loop Highway to the ranger station at Verlot.  The turnoff to the Heather Lake trail head is just a short distance beyond the ranger station.  Cross the bridge over the Stillaguamish River and turn Right onto the Pilchuck Mountain Road.  Follow this road for a few short miles and park at the obvious trail head.

In the winter, this road is often gated just beyond the trail head.  Even in snow, it is often possible to drive to this trail head.

Parking at the trail head does require a Northwest Forest Pass.  If you don't have one (or forgot one) there is a one-day-pass 'pay station' (drop your money/check into a slot, no credit cards or change) or you can back track to Verlot to purchase one there (if they are open).

Our weather had the potential to be rainy and wet.  Luck was on our side and we stayed dry throughout our trek.  Out in this area of the Cascades, weather is often different that it was from wherever you came from.  Sometimes it's better, sometimes it isn't.  Be prepared for a wide variety of conditions.

The trail to Heather Lake is easy to follow.  There aren't any major trail junctions along the way so it's relatively difficult to get lost as long as you stay on the trail.

While the trail is easy to follow, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of trail obstacles.  The trail frequently has large rocks, tree roots and even boulders which require nearly constant attention as to where your next footstep will land.  Without appropriate focus and caution, an ankle injury or a fall is very likely.  Hiking poles... highly recommended.

As reported in my last trip report to Heather Lake, there are many parts of this trail that have running water over the trail.  It's often as if you are hiking in a creek bed.  When temperatures drop below freezing, the trail of water becomes a trail of ice.

The only real trail junction on this trail is when you reach the lake.  At the junction you have the option of continuing around the lake in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.  If you are in need of a back country restroom break, take the clockwise route (to the left) and in a short distance you'll see a toilet sign and faint trail off to the left.

 As shown in the above two photos, Heather Lake sits in a steep-walled glacial carved cirque.  Without a wide-angle camera lens it is difficult to capture the full scale in photos.

There was a little bit of snow on the far side of the lake and colors were just starting to shift from summer green to fall gold.
 During our visit we noticed something red poking out of the lake at the far end.  Near as we can tell it could be someone's tent that blew away and (mostly) sunk.  From a different angle it appeared to be fabric attached to a pole, with one end completely submerged.  A shame to see it, but it will be a difficult (and cold) retrieval.  Someone should drop off a kayak or something.

 Parts of the trail around the lake are on a nice sturdy boardwalk.

At the far end of the lake, I spotted an unusual formation in the walls of the cirque.  Using full zoom I managed to capture these images which appear to be columnar basalt (but tilted at an angle instead of the more frequently seen vertical columns).  That is a pure guess on my part - don't use that statement as a fact in any geology research assignment.  :)

Our return to the trail head was uneventful and we ended our journey with some salad, pizza and beer at Alfy's Pizza in Granite Falls (right next to the grocery store).

Our route map and profile:

If you take a look at the above map, you'll notice that the lake just to the east of Heather Lake is Lake Twenty-Two... the destination for my most recent hike.  Trip report coming soon (relatively speaking).

Happy Hiking!


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

22 Today

Had a nice & colorful hike to the Pilchuck Lookout yesterday... going to see what's going on at Lake 22 today (weather pending).  2nd destination of the day is probably going to be Cabela's.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Hard To Bellieve

Monday morning.

Blue Sky.

Fall Colors.

No Work.

Dropping kids off at school, helping a buddy with a computer & audit issue and then it's off to Mount Pilchuck before the rain and wind returns (which is supposed to be only a few hours away).

If I'm not in cell contact by sunset it probably means that I'm stranded on the Pilchuck
Rd (or Mtn Loop Highway) by downed trees.  After surviving the Goat Lake storm a few months ago I'm hoping that today's weather forecast is uneventful as they usually are.

Still in disbelief that the sky is blue.


Happy Hiking!


Saturday, October 13, 2012


Months of nice weather must have spoiled me.
Today was my scheduled October hike date and I totally skipped it.
Instead, just hanging out with the family, going to a gymnastics meet, taking dogs to the vet, counting the number of shoes that my wife has in the closet... that kind of stuff.

Last night I had decided to go do a first-visit hike at the Pilchuck Tree Farm.  With the forecasted wet weather it seemed like that would be a good place to spend the day exploring.  Unfortunately, when I started doing the research it came to my attention that the area has been closed to the public since October 7th due to the concerns about wildfires.

Same situation with the Walker Valley area (also nearby, just east of Big Lake).  There was a wildfire out there last week and that (in addition to the long dry spell) spurred the closures.  Walker Valley was going to be closed through this coming Sunday.  I assumed Pilchuck Tree Farm would probably reopen the same day.

Anyway, while eating lunch and reading the newspaper today, I learned that the Walker Valley area was actually reopened at 6a.m. this morning.  I assume Pilchuck is also open and I could have gone out there today... maybe I'll visit the area tomorrow.

Plus, it looks like I'll have a number of hiking opportunites over the next week or so.  Too bad the weather looks consistantly damp. 

Oh well... so be it.

Stay tuned, I still owe you a Heather Lake trip report from September.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Here Comes The Rain Again, Possibly

After months of fantastic weather (and not nearly enough hiking opportunities), it sounds like we are in for an extended duration of wetish weather.

This Saturday (Oct 13) is my next scheduled hike day - although it may be trumped by a gymnastics meet depending on how Mikayla is feeling about her arm injury.

My point is simply that I may be hiking on Saturday and it may (or may not) be wet.  Depending on how the forecast looks as Saturday approaches, it's safe to say that I won't be targeting any of the main objectives that were on my wish list (like Trappers Peak or Hidden Lake Lookout).

Instead, I'll settle for something more low key that isn't heavily dependant on views.  Maybe I'll finally do the entire Chain Lakes Loop since I've seen the scenery so many times but haven't done the less scenic portion of the trail near Iceberg Lake.  Maybe it's a good day to finally visit Lake Annette off I-90.

If the weather is just so-so, maybe I'll venture up Hannegan Pass/Peak or possibly Mt. Baker's Goat Mountain (but no views?  maybe not).

Please contact me if you are interested in hiking in sunshine.  Liquid sunshine, actually.

Happy Trails!