Last Fall my friend, Todd, and I attempted to hike Blanca Lake a little too late in the season. Although the trail started out fine, as we gained elevation the snow appeared and kept getting deeper to the point where it was not safe for us to continue so we turned around just prior to Virgin Lake.
You know the feeling when you set out but you don’t quite reach your goal and it just keeps nagging at you. This was Blanca Lake for me. The hike is roughly 14 miles roundtrip and it feels like its either straight up hill or straight down hill. The trail is in great condition. Although its pretty dusty since we haven’t had rain in quite awhile. The trail does have a pretty constant presence of loose rocks and exposed roots. You have to pay attention to where you are stepping or you can easily take a spill.
The first two miles are a walk from the car to the trailhead due to a couple large washouts. This is along a road so it’s a pretty easy trek. The first mile or so of the actual trail wanders through the forest. Normally I imagine it is pretty nice, but we are experiencing some significant wildfires on the West Coast so most of the ridge lines are cloudy in smoky haze. It smells like a constant campfire. This is a popular trail but you only really see a few handfuls of people along the trail.
The hike up to Virgin Lake is definitely a workout. I didn’t quite have the views from the ridgeline due to all the smoke. Virgin Lake is pretty small and doesn’t appear to have any inlet or outlet for the water as it is pretty stagnant. It did provide for some nice reflections though.
What I wasn’t expecting is the hike from Virgin Lake down to Blanca Lake. It is steep!!! It’s about a mile in distance and pretty much straight down until you can see the lake. Lots of stairs and rocks to step over. When your legs are already tired you really take this section slow as one fall could have some significant problems!
Alpine Lakes in Washington are all unique. Colchuck has its own green color. Lake Ingalls is a deep blue. Blanca Lake is one of a kind. It is a smooth, creamy foam green. You can feel the chill of the water when you see it. You come out of the forest to an opening where your first sight of Blanca exists. It’s larger than I thought, but that water is exactly what you see in pictures! Breathtaking! The shore of the lake is filled with logs. Not really sure where they came from. Landslide? Most of the edge of the lake is big rocks and no trees. They are all at one end of the lake by the waterfall.
I set up my hammock among the rocks and decided to dip my tired feet in the lake. Wow is that late cold!! It makes Colchuck seem on the warm side! They are alpine lakes for a reason! I wish the smoke was gone because it surrounded all the ridges around the lake so you really couldn’t see. It has been another really horrific summer of forest fires in California and Canada.
After lunch I decided to pack up and head back to the car. The mile hike out and up to Virgin Lake was rough. Your legs are already tired and this is a steep, narrow section. I was so happy to see Virgin Lake as I knew the rest of the trail was pretty much downhill. It took about 3 hours each way.
This was my first hike to try out my new Garmin InReach mini. I locked in the GPS before I started and marked a way finder point. I dropped a few other points along the way so those on my map share could see where I was. It worked really well and kept time, distance and pace which I can see on my phone. I was super happy with its performance and it does give some peace of mind knowing in an emergency I can send to an SOS message and/or let someone know my condition.
All in all a great hike, but it’s a one and done hike for me!