The larches are here, the larches are here!!

I’m sure larches are not unique to Washington state, but we celebrate them like a true state treasure!  Every fall, you will see daily posts on various hiking pages asking about the status of the larches.  Are they green?  Have them begun to turn?  Are they actually yellow now???  It’s like watching Black Friday shopping, only we never exactly know when Larch Black Friday will be.  Fortunately it not just one day a year.  This year has been a bit challenging due to our crazy weather recently.  October has always been the best time to see the larches in their golden splendor, but this year they are a bit slow to turn.    The larches started to turn and many are yellow, however a week ago we had a pretty good dump of snow.  The cold temps halted the color change and the cold temps are hanging on.  We’ve had a couple sunny days lately so that should get them moving again soon.

As this is a very popular hike in the fall, you can anticipate not being able to park in the lot at the trailhead.  It’s not uncommon to be a half mile from the trailhead.  Luckily I was able to find a spot (compliments of owning a Jeep!) in the parking lot (well on the hillside of the lot, but the Ranger said I was good!).  Lake Ingalls trail is about 9 miles out and back with about 2,500 foot elevation gain.  The high point is around 6,500 feet.

One thing I love about fall hiking in Washington is the sun is out, the sky is blue but it’s a little chilly.  You can get away with wearing a fleece jacket and sunglasses!  Perfect!  The trail was a combination of sections of either snow, ice, slush, frozen dirt, exposed rocks or just plain of sloppy mud.  It made it challenging to decide when exactly to put on microspikes.  I decided safety was better than falling so I put them on about halfway up to the pass.  Sections of this trail are very narrow with a large slopped drop-off right next to the trail.  When I say narrow, I mean I mean about a foot wide.  Wearing microspikes just made these sections easier to navigate.

Even though there was a lot of cars in the lot, I didn’t encounter many hikers on the trail. I stopped frequently to take photo, because the scenery was amazing!  Once you reach the pass, this is normally where you get to see mountain goats along with the larches.  Unfortunately no mountain goats this time:(. Plenty of larches though!  It’s always impressive once you reach the pass to look across the basin and see all the larches.  Against a really blue sky, white snow and the grey mountains they are just spectacular!  From the pass over the Lake Ingalls is about 3/4 of a mile of mostly flat walking.  It gives you many opportunities to stop and just take in the view.  It’s a lot of WOW moments!  Once you reach the other side, there is a fairly steep rock section to get up to Lake Ingalls.  There wasn’t a ton of snow in this section, so it was deep mud and sections of ice.  Not fun going up, but worse going back down on the way out!

The lake is simply gorgeous!  It is a deep blue.  I sat and ate lunch for about a half hour or so.  I knew the weather would be kinda chilly so I brought my jetboil with me so I could have some hot chocolate by the lake.  This was a great decision!!  Yummy!

I started back around 2:30 so the sun was starting to go down behind the surrounding mountain peaks so the temperature was starting to drop a bit.  I put on my puffy jacket for a bit, but once I got moving I had to take it back off.  The hike out of the lake and back into the basin but a bit sketchy.  It had been sunny all day so the trail down was super slick.  There were sections of mud and ice which made finding secure footing a little challenging.  Slow and steady got me back to the main trail with no incidents.  The rest of the hike back to the parking lot was pretty uneventful which is good because my feet were tired!

The best thing after a challenging hike is a roadside stand hamburger and fries!!  Perfect post hike food!

Fall Hiking is full of color! Well, usually…

We eagerly anticipate Fall hiking in Washington state.  It is the best time of year.  The temperatures are cool but the sun is out, skies are blue and the leaves are yellow, orange and red.  We can’t forget about the larches!  We wait months for these 45-60 days of spectacular hiking!  We decided to head up to Lake Valhalla to enjoy some of these spectacular colors.  Lake Valhalla sits in a basin so we all were eager to sit on the shoreline and gaze out on the colorful hillsides, eating our lunch and loving all the grey jays who come to visit and steal food if they can!

It’s October 8!  The peak of fall season!  We saw weather reports of a little snowfall at Steven’s pass, but nothing much to worry about.  Just a reminder to take micro spikes (just in case) and more layers.

We headed East on Highway 2 in the rain.  By Skykomish the rain had turned to slush.  Not long after, it was heavy snow.  As we headed up the pass, the road was covered in several inches of snow.  Not all cars could make it up to the summit.  At this point, we had left Fall and jumped all the way into Winter!

We parked at the Smithbrook trailhead.  It was snowing hard!  A few inches of snow had already fallen. We donned our fleece, puffy jackets and hit the trail!  About 50 feet in the trail disappeared.  Trees were folded over due to the weight of snow and they were blocking the trail making it disappear from sight.  Once we were able to clear off a few branches, the trees sprung back up and revealed the trail.

We hiked up through the switchbacks and out into the open.  Normally there are sweeping views of the mountains, but the cloud cover was really low so all we could see was snow falling and clouds.  There really isn’t nothing more peaceful than hiking through roughly a foot of fresh powder.

As we reached the intersection with the PCT, we ran into two northbound hikers who were on their last 20 miles.  They were cold and wet, but motivated as the end was in sight!  We wished them well and congratulated them on such a huge accomplishment.

We hit the saddle and could see peekaboo views of Lake Valhalla.  It was dark and moody due to the low ceiling.  No fall colors in sight!  Just snow.  Lots and lots of snow!  We made our way down to the lake just as the wind started picked up.  It was gusting pretty good and throwing what felt like ice pellets right at us.  It was clear we would not be staying at the lake for more than a quick view.  We sought out some shelter from a gathering of trees nearby and eat a quick lunch.  It was getting pretty chilly so we decided to head back, in case the wind decided to make a consistent appearance.  Hiking back 4 miles in a headwind with ice pellets is never enjoyable!  Once we made it out of the valley the wind had stopped and the clouds were beginning to clear.  The surrounding peaks became visible.  We ran into a second set of PCT hikers that were calling it quits.  The snow was the last straw after a few rainy, cold days for them.  One was from England and the other sounded local.  He said he would be back next year to finish!

Although we headed out for Fall colors we did enjoy the fresh snowfall.  We all can’t see 45-60 days of Fall hiking this year!  It looks like winter has arrived early this year and plans to stay!

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