October in Washington state is a busy hiking time! Partly because we generally have fantastic weather and secondly because of our fall leaf colors and larches! Larches? Never heard of those? Well, they are a deciduous conifer tree. This means they have pine needles, but unlike most conifers, larch needles turn bright yellow in the fall and then fall off over the winter only to grow back in the spring. In Washington October is called “Larch March” because so many people flock to the handful of hikes where you can find larches. I normally head over to Lake Ingalls because they are pretty spectacular there but the weather hasn’t been very good lately for the hike. We decided to head up to Maple Loop Pass this time.
Maple Loss Pass is on Highway 20 at Rainy Pass. Highway 20 is only open for half the year because of the amount of snow it receives. We are close to it closing this year. Normally in mid-October we might have a dusting of snow but nothing major. The fall leaf colors are pretty amazing in October and Maple Loop is known for larches. I was pretty excited to see them again this year.
After a crazy long drive to get there, we arrived to snow in the parking lot. Not a good sign! Clearly the recent heavy rains have resulted in heavy snow up in the mountains. Even on a weekday the parking lot was almost full at 9 AM. We headed out on the trail and within the first half mile or so, we were walking down a dedicated footpath with a couple feet of snow on the sides. So much for seeing all the larches and fall colors! We have clearly moved straight to winter!
I do love winter hiking! It is so pretty. Fluffy white untouched snow as far as you can see. Rock formations look like clouds as they are covered in snow. Trees are a fraction of their normal size as they are buried in the snow. The treetops are folded over to make them look like Dr Suess trees. We had a recent wind storm so we had to climb over quite a few alder blowdowns. They cover up quite a bit of space when they fall.
Once we got up to the lake we were able to see some larches on the other side of the valley but we could also see some storm clouds rolling in. The wind was starting to pick up and I was starting to question if we would be able to make the entire 7.5 mile loop. Well that question was answered before we made it up to Maple Pass. We hit the first ridge where you could see across the valley and ran into some hikers coming down from Maple Pass who informed us there was not visible trail from Maple Pass so they had to turn around. They had been breaking trail for a bit through knee to waist deep snow. sDue to the wind picking up and the pending rain/storm we decided this would be a good place to turn around.
It was so crazy to see that much snow this early in the season! It makes you feel like fall just got skipped over and winter is here to stay! I guess it’s time to break out all the winter hiking gear as snowshoe season is clearly upon us soon!